Church History Teasers (Part 4): Gregory’s ‘Pastoral Rule’
Brief Outline of ‘The Pastoral Rule’ by Gregory the Great
Purpose for Writing: To argue “what rashness it is for the unskillful to assume pastoral authority, since the government of souls is the art of arts!” (134).
Part 1: No Title Given
1. The unskillful should not venture in approaching the office of authority.
2. None should enter a place of government when not practicing in life what they have learnt by study.
3. On the weight of government; and that all manner of adversity is to be despised, and prosperity feared.
4. For the most part the occupation of government dissipates solidarity of mind.
5. Of those are able to profit others by virtuous example, but fly from it in pursuit of their own ease.
6. Those who fly from the burden of rule through humility are truly humble when they resist not the divine decrees.
7. While some laudably desire the office of preaching, others, just as laudably, are drawn to it by compulsion.
8. Of those who covet pre-eminence, and seize on the language of the Apostle to serve the purpose of their own greed.
9. That the mind of those who wish for pre-eminence for the most part flatter themselves with a feigned promise of good works.
10. What manner of man ought to come to rule!
11. What manner of man ought not to come to rule!
Part 2: ‘Of the Life of the Pastor’
1. How one who has, in due order, arrived at a place of rule ought to demean himself in it.
2. That the ruler should be pure in thought.
3. The ruler should always lead in action.
4. The ruler should be discreet in keeping silence and profitable in speech.
5. The ruler should be a near neighbor to everyone in compassion, and exalted above all in compassion.
6. The ruler should be, through humility, a companion of good livers, but through the zeal of righteousness, rigid against the vices of evildoers.
7. Rulers should not relax his care for the things that are within his occupation among the things that are without, nor neglect to provide for the things that are without in his solicitude for the things that are within.
8. The ruler should not set his heart on pleasing men, and yet ought give heed to what to phase them.
9. The ruler ought to be careful to understand how commonly vices pass themselves off as virtues.
10. The ruler’s discrimination should be balanced between correction and connivance, between fervor and gentleness.
11. How intent the ruler ought to be on mediations in the sacred law.
Gregory argues that “no one presumes to teach an art till he has first, with intent meditation, learnt it”. The Pastoral Rule is Gregory’s own estimate on the heaviness of pastoral care, with a contemplation of the expectations and implications of taking such an office. “For certainly no one does more harm in the Church than one who has the name and rank of sanctity, while he acts perversely”.
While Gregory’s Rule was composed in the 6th century, the overall principles considered reach across cultural constraints and still have much value for evangelical pastors today. The overall thread in Gregory’s argument seeks to prove humility as the key to unity in the church and effectiveness in the pastoral office. To accomplish this Gregory makes known how “vices assail us” and “how well-guarded virtues strengthen us”.
Gregory warns pastor’s of being ‘mastered’ by too many things. When occupied in many affairs the heart becomes distracted in “divers directions”. Gregory likens this condition to one on a journey who forgets where he is going. Yet the other extreme is considered with the same circumspect eye. There is equal danger in dwelling solely within the “contemplative life”. The pastor who ‘neglects his neighbor’ is equally misguided, “whoever abounds in virtues” and “refuses to feed the flock of God” is convicted. Gregory made much of the tension in the pastoral office, being both active in ministry to others and active in the personal contemplative life. The balanced fusion of public and private life illustrates the ideal pattern for spiritual devotion. This is a principle well heard in an age of perpetual distraction.
Gregory also attacks the vice of pride. He writes, “he that seeks, not the ministry of good works, but the glory of distinction, is himself a witness against himself”. The vice of pride is exposed in that “while he [the pastor] delights himself in his place of honor, he becomes the curse of ruin to his subordinates”. Therefore, “let everyone measure himself wisely” lest he reign unto condemnation. This word is useful today, seeing that the CEO/celebrity pastor model, which is often desired, lends to the bred pride in place.
Gregory calls for men aspiring the office of authority to “be pure, in action chief; discreet in keeping silence, profitable in speech; a near neighbor to everyone in sympathy, exalted above all in contemplation; a familiar friend of good livers through humility, [and] unbending against the vices of evil-doers through zeal for righteousness”. While desiring to be an example, those desiring pastoral office ought to show these qualities in the very gravity of life. Knowing that actions speak louder than words Gregory argues that virtue is shown in walking “better through example than through words”. Yet, whoever “enters the priesthood undertakes the office of herald”, therefore he must also be wise with words. How much more pertinent is this today when secular culture and skeptical seekers wait and bait for pastoral failure? “Let rulers, then, maintain outwardly what they undertake for the benefit of others: let them retain inwardly what makes them fearful in their estimate of themselves”.
Lastly, Gregory warns that coveting “being loved by the church instead of” God may lead to smoothing “down with flatteries the offence of his subordinates which he ought to have rebuked”. The fear of His eternal judgment should outweigh any temporal human judgment that might come in offending ones brother. This truth rages against the self esteem protective sentimentalism of today’s church, and speaks to the need of the renewed place of church discipline. Gregory prescribes that one must “meditate daily on the precepts of Sacred Writ, that the words of Divine admonition may restore in him the power” of God to undertake the office of pastor. This rightly places the word of God at the center! While Gregory’s Pastoral Rule was written in the 6th century it is very relevant for the church of today.