Archive for the ‘Book Review’ Category

Pastoral Rule

This week, I began re-reading an older copy of The Christian Priest Today by the late Archbishop Michael Ramsey. It is an excellent work with much to consider, both for clergy and lay people. The book is informative and inspirational for all contemplating Holy Orders, the newly ordained, and for those who have been “around the block” once or twice.

The book references St. Gregory the Great’s treatise entitled Pastoral Care or Pastoral Rule (Regula Pastoralis). I confess that I had not read this remarkable book, and I have become thoroughly side-tracked from my initial reading of Abp. Ramsey’s book. The fathers of the Church are always timely, and I thought I would periodically post some of the text here from A.D. 591 as we prepare enter into A.D. 2018.

That the unskillful venture not to approach an office of authority.

No one presumes to teach an art until he has first, with intent meditation, learned it. What rashness is it, then, for the unskillful to assume pastoral authority, since the government of souls is the art of arts! For who can be ignorant that the sores of the thoughts of men are more occult than the sores of the bowels? And yet how often do men who have no knowledge whatever of spiritual precepts fearlessly profess themselves physicians of the heart, though those who are ignorant of the effect of drugs blush to appear as physicians of the flesh!

But because, through the ordering of God, all the highest in rank of this present age are inclined to reverence religion, there are some who, through the outward show of rule within the holy Church, affect the glory of distinction. They desire to appear as teachers, they covet superiority to others, and, as the Truth attests, they seek the first salutations in the market-place, the first rooms at feasts, the first seats in assemblies Matthew 23:6-7, being all the less able to administer worthily the office they have undertaken of pastoral care, as they have reached the magisterial position of humility out of elation only.
For, indeed, in a magisterial position language itself is confounded when one thing is learned and another taught. Against such the Lord complains by the prophet, saying, They have reigned, and not by Me; they have been set up as princes, and I knew it not Hosea 8:4. For those reign of themselves, and not by the Will of the Supreme Ruler, who, supported by no virtues, and in no way divinely called, but inflamed by their own desire, seize rather than attain supreme rule. But them the Judge within both advances, and yet knows not; for whom by permission he tolerates them surely by the judgment of reprobation he ignores.

Whence to some who come to Him even after miracles He says, Depart from Me, you workers of iniquity, I know you not who you are Luke 13:27. The unskillfulness of shepherds is rebuked by the voice of the Truth, when it is said through the prophet, The shepherds themselves have not known understanding Isaiah 56:11; whom again the Lord denounces, saying, And they that handle the law knew Me not Jeremiah 2:8. And therefore the Truth complains of not being known of them, and protests that He knows not the principality of those who know not Him; because in truth these who know not the things of the Lord are unknown of the Lord; as Paul attests, who says, But if any man knows not, he shall not be known 1 Corinthians 14:38. Yet this unskillfulness of the shepherds doubtless suits often the deserts of those who are subject to them, because, though it is their own fault that they have not the light of knowledge, yet it is in the dealing of strict judgment that through their ignorance those also who follow them should stumble.

Hence it is that, in the Gospel, the Truth in person says, If the blind lead the blind, both fall into the ditch Matthew 15:14. Hence the Psalmist (not expressing his own desire, but in his ministry as a prophet) denounces such, when he says, Let their eyes be blinded that they see not, and ever bow down their back Psalm 68:24. For, indeed, those persons are eyes who, placed in the very face of the highest dignity, have undertaken the office of spying out the road; while those who are attached to them and follow them are denominated backs. And so, when the eyes are blinded, the back is bent, because, when those who go before lose the light of knowledge, those who follow are bowed down to carry the burden of their sins.

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A tip of the biretta to John Dixon over at St. Athanasius for letting me know about Melville Scott’s The Harmony of the Collects, Epistles and Gospels. Originally published in 1902, this little gem is available in reprint from Lulu for $20.00 in hardcover or a paltry $10.00 in trade paperback.

Apart from the fact that the Lulu edition has a typeface that proves actually readable,  the book begins with an analysis of the themes and teachings of the Collects, Epistles, and Gospels of the Christians Year as set out in the 1662 Book of Common Prayer.   Scott shows not only the theme of the day and how the lessons and collect relate to each other, but also how the propers for each Sunday interrelated with those of the Sundays both previous and following.

This is an outstanding “secret weapon” for preachers who use the traditional propers of the 1662 Book of Common Prayer and with the 1928 American book favored by us unreconstructed traditionalist folk.  The book also serves well for laymen at two levels.  In the first and most basic instance, it affords folks a great devotional commentary to supplement the Sunday sermon.  Secondly, it shows the genius of an actual BCP (as opposed to post-1979 imitations) in presenting a cycle of Scripture that draws a parson into the themes of the Christian year and, eventually, brings newcomers to the Church into a common place in the annual readings with parishioners who have been around a bit longer.

The benefits to catechesis are apparent, and, a shared thematic approach to the propers is a great avenue for building community in parishes of any size.  Finally, the expository treatments of each lesson provide a great, off-the-shelf Bible study that works with the homily wherever the priest is preaching from the lessons appointed for particular Sundays.


A great companion to Scott’s book is the weightier Sermons on the Epistles and Gospels by Isaac Williams and also available from Lulu. (No, I don’t get a commission.)   Originally published in the mid-19th Century, this book is more a commentary on the Sunday propers than a short-cut for desperate preachers who are looking for a little something to fill up an otherwise blank page.

Williams’ sermons exhaustively cover the Epistle and Gospel lessons found in the eucharistic lectionary of the 1662 Book of Common Prayer, and it works just fine for the 1928.  For each set of lessons, the reader has a solid exposition of the day’s Epistle as a lead-in to an exposition of the Gospel.  Williams then concludes with devotional thoughts and practical application of the text.  Williams does an remarkable job showing the theme of each set of lessons, and offers examples of how the lessons tie into the theme of the day.  In this way, the reader or the preacher (whether desperate or not) can handily move from exegesis to exposition to practical application.

The publisher, listed as The Anglican Expositor of British Columbia, deserves thanks for bringing these works back into an accessible, reasonably-priced, and well-made book.


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