The Care of Souls Through the Centuries

A collection

“Following the only true and steadfast Teacher, the Word of God, our Lord Jesus Christ, who died, through His transcendent love, become what we are, that He might bring us to be even what He is Himself.

  Irenaeus, Against Heresies

“The scope of our art is to provide the soul with wings, to rescue it from the world and give it to God, and to watch over that which is in His image, if it abides, to take it by the hand, if it is in danger, or restore it, if ruined, to make Christ to dwell in the heart by the Spirit: and, in short, to deify, and bestow heavenly bliss upon one who belongs to the heavenly host.”

                               Gregory of Nazianzus, Oration 2.22       

“The shepherd needs great wisdom and a thousand eyes to examine the soul’s condition from every angle.”

      John Chrysostom, Six Books on the Priesthood, II.4

“No one ventures to teach any art unless he has learned it after deep thought. With what rashness, then, would the pastoral office be undertaken by the unfit, seeing that the government of souls is the art of arts. … For no one does more harm in the Church than he who having the title or rank of holiness, acts evilly.”

                      Gregory the Great, Regula Pastoralis, I.2

“Disturbers are to be rebuked, the low-spirited to be encouraged, the infirm to be supported, objectors confuted, the treacherous guarded against, the unskilled taught, the lazy aroused, the contentious restrained, the haughty repressed, litigants pacified, the poor relieved, the oppressed liberated, the good approved, the evil borne with, and all are to be loved.”

                                    Augustine of Hippo, Sermon ccix 

“Let the Christian learn to cast both his heart and his cares upon God’s back, for God has a strong neck and strong shoulders; He can easily carry the load. Moreover, He has commanded us to commit our cares to Him. Nor can we lay and cast too much upon Him; He only likes it even more.”

                           Martin Luther, Sermon on 1 Pet. 5:5-11

“On the goal and end of this seeking and leading to Christ of lost sheep … is to bring them into the fold of Christ, so that they give themselves wholly to Christ … hear his voice in all things, and use all these things which the Lord has appointed for further the salvation of his sheep. … In a word, in the community of Christ alone the salvation of Christ is to be received.”

Martin Bucer, On the True Pastoral Care

“Nay, after conversion we need bruising, that reeds may know themselves to be reeds, and not oaks; even reeds need bruising, by reason of the remainder of pride in our nature, and to let us see that we live by mercy. And that weaker Christians may not be too much discouraged when they see the stronger shaken and bruised.” 

 Richard Sibbes, The Bruised Reed

“The goal of spiritual care should never be a change of mental condition. . . . I do not provide decisive help for anyone if I turn a sad person into a cheerful one, a timid person into a courageous one.  That would be a secular–and not a real––help. Beyond and within circumstances such as sadness and timidity it should be believed that God is our help and comfort.  Christ and his victory over health and sickness, luck and misfortune, birth and death must be proclaimed. The help he brings is forgiveness and new life out of death.”                                      

                               Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Spiritual Care

“To be rooted is perhaps the most important and least recognized need of the human soul.” 

Simone Weil, The Need for Roots

“To speak pastorally with another certainly does not preclude getting involved in every conceivable profane subject. But it must be done in such a way as to bring God’s Word into force as the great proviso over this talk. The conversation must quite concretely move in the direction of revealing the relation in which all things stand to the Word of God.”

         Edward Thurneysen, A Theology of Pastoral Care

“The cure of souls . . . means helping another by making clear to him that he is ordained a witness of Jesus Christ and that he is usable as such.”

                                        Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics

“Forgiveness in the Christian sense is not the same as forgiveness in the therapeutic sense. Christian forgiveness is being pardoned of sin by gratuitous love.  Forgiveness in the therapeutic sense is being accepted even in our weakness and folly. In therapeutic forgiveness we forgive in order to be healed.  In Christian forgiveness we forgive out of gratitude for God’s forgiveness of us. Forgiveness in the biblical sense does not cancel the judgment upon sin but brings one through judgment. … Forgiveness is not a technique to achieve inner healing, but healing will certainly follow the assurance that our sins are forgiven through faith in Jesus Christ.” 

Richard Burnett
The Reverend Richard E. Burnett, Ph.D., is the Executive Director and Managing Editor of Theology Matters.


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