The Pastor

Reviews of “The Pastor: Readings from the patristic period”

The PastorFrom the book cover

“These texts from the early pastoral tradition provide a stunning critical resource for ministry today.”
Thomas C. Oden,
Drew University

“Culbertson and Shippee have made an important contribution not only to students of the ancient church but also to those concerned with pastoral care in our time. They rightly argue that the writings of early Christians represent an important resource for the modern church precisely because of our historical distance from late antiquity. To see perennial human problems in a vastly different social setting is to find some new purchase on those problems as they appear to us today.”
Rowan A Greer,
Yale Divinity School

“This book is a welcome contribution to the literature on pastoral care as exercised by the early church. The editors have brought together an impressive collection of wisdom from a wide variety of ancient sources which reflects a perceptive understanding of human nature and the application of Christian truths to the human condition-and this long before the Enlightenment and the rise of psychotherapy. The texts also reveal the underside of the tensions between clergy and laity, clergy and hierarchy, men and women, ideals and realities. The book is a pioneering effort to introduce the earliest texts of pastoral care to English readers, and it fills a need which until now has been neglected. I recommend it to all who are interested in the care of souls and its classical roots.”
Carl A Volz,
Luther Northwestern Theo. Sem.


Library Journal (July 1990)

This is an excellent selection of texts from the second to the seventh centuries C.E. concerned with clergy role, training, methods of handling dissent, and temptations to abuse their office. The introductions clarify the relevance of continuing issues to contemporary discussions of ministry and ecclesiology. Highly recommended for seminary and academic libraries.


The Living Church (Nov. 4, 1990), p. 16.

Edited by the pastoral theology professor at the University of the South and a Yale doctoral candidate, this book brings us excerpts from letters, canons, and essays of the earliest centuries of the church (Ignatius of Antioch through Gregory the Great) which have pastoral applications today. Adds a much-needed dimension to the field of pastoral care, to wit, important texts from the tradition. A fascinating introduction traces the concept of “pastor” through history.
Travis du Priest,
Book Editor


National Catholic Reporter (Nov. 9, 1990)

Beginning in the second century with Ignatius of Antioch’s letter to Polycarp, and including others of the fathers and select canons (“The Dos and the Don’ts”), the editors work up John Chrysostom’s “On the Priesthood” and select letters from Leo the Great, capped by Gregory the Great’s “The Book of Pastoral Rule.” This volume might be an excellent companion volume to Cyril Richardson’s classic Early Christian Fathers, which was faithful friend (or should have been) to a couple of generations of seminarians.


Union Theological Seminary Alumni News (December 1990)

A first-of-its-kind collection of pastoral wisdom from the early church. Serves as a valuable resource for modern pastoral practice, spotlighting the perennial nature and role of the pastor.


Theological Book Review, Vol. 3, No. 2, January 1991, p. 42.

In evaluating the work of a pastor today there has been an imbalance caused by a neglect of the tradition of the church. This is corrected by the present work, which is a most interesting collection of extracts from the patristic period bearing on the work and spirituality of the Christian minister. The sources include not only leading church figures but also relevant canons of church councils. This book is commended not only to students of the early church but generally to those involved in pastoral work.
Andrew Lenox Conyngham
St. Catharine’s, Cambridge, England


Second Century: A Journal of Early Christian Studies, Volume 8, No. 2, Summer 1991, pp. 124-125.

Patristic theology is primarily pastoral. Yet often the study of writings from the first six centuries of the church is pursued in ways that make the polemical, philosophical, and political aspects stand out. But if one reads around those texts that are profiled in these ways, the pastoral concerns will emerge. Even contemporary interests in social, economic, and deconstructionist approaches locate much of the data for their questions within or near texts that also can be looked at for the descriptions of shepherding the flock.

Thus it is likely that any who read ancient Christian literature will find this volume helpful. It is comprised primarily of selected English translations of patristic texts, ones that have been common property of the general public. Shippee at various junctures has either improved existing translations or provided some of his own, but freshness of English rendering is not the goal. That means, of course, that on occasion some nineteenth-century translations create a musty atmosphere, yet that does not weaken the presentation. Such mustiness avoids the ever-present danger of making these early pastors so up-to-date that they speak first to us and last to their own time.

The editors chose and organized their selections according to a three part grid: chronology, geography, and genre. Chronology is the constant, but there is enough attention to geography and genre that a rather full sweep of the topic is provided. Egypt, Syria, Turkey, Italy, France, Spain, and North Africa are represented; letters, homilies, orations, canons, and worship/service books offer their fare. For all the strength of this volume, Palestine is strangely absent unless one places Pseudo-Clement there; the genre of liturgy also is represented only by sections from the Apostolic Constitutions.

The introduction is masterful. By employing a careful historical method and yet turning an eye to contemporary ministry, it “avoid[s] a rush to relevance” and provides a small but “thick description” of its subject. Its center and that of the entire book is “moral formation and reformation.” Both the aspects it unfolds and the principles it develops are well chosen and employed. Church leadership of the highest order was often found among those who had already served well within the church rather than among those who felt themselves to be individually called. Personal discipline and preaching were not sterling characteristics of early pastoral ministry. Sexism was frequent. In fact the rules forbidding various attitudes and practices reflect how strong various errors were.

Yet the central concern for pastoral care, for the spiritual formation of all Christians, particularly Christian leadership, is never out of focus. In an age when much modern psychology has little or no interest in the gospel or a life of virtue, in a time when such insights are treated as antithetical to modern freedom and wholeness, this book offers remarkable resources that show how people can grow to be all they can be. It does not sidestep the dark sides of Christian failure, but more importantly it presents the strengths of grace and the Christ-like life. No other volume known to me does that so well through the translated words of ancient leaders. Whatever historical surveys one finds helpful, they cannot replace this guide.

As the editors hoped, the individual readings are introduced well enough through short paragraphs, biblical citations, and explanatory notes that they can be read on their own. A remarkably thorough, up-to-date, and yet concise bibliography enhances the value of the volume. Indeed, the books listed are well employed throughout the work. A clear map along with indices of locations and scriptural and nonscriptural references allow this piece to be used in answering specific questions. A subject index, however, would also have been of assistance. Yet all readers will show poor judgment if they do not make their way through the entire volume. It is done with such competence and flair that specialists who are historians with no particular interest in ministry other than its being a feature of the early church will need to consult it. Those, however, who as believers and ministers are attempting to serve contemporary congregations will devour this book. No seminarian should be without it.
Frederick W. Norris
Emmanuel School of Religion, Tennessee


Sewanee Theological Review (December 1991)

When I taught a seminary course last year on the history of pastoral care in the early church, there was no adequate collection of primary texts that I could recommend to students. Thanks to Philip Culbertson and Arthur Shippee, there is such a book now–and a very fine one at that. Much more than a mere anthology, this volume offers a rich collection of texts from thirty different patristic sources, ranging chronologically from the beginning of the second century (Ignatius of Antioch) to the end of the sixth (Gregory the Great), and geographically from Aphrahat in East Syria to the Canons of the Council of Elvira in Southern Spain. In addition, we are given a two-part introduction to problems of historiography and pastoral identity, as well as a seven-page bibliography, indexes of scriptural and non-scriptural references, and even a map.

The selected texts are well chosen to illuminate the three areas of concern that the editors specify in the preface: 1) the formation of the ordained person’s character, 2) pastoral spirituality and its expression in Christian service, and 3) the early church’s absorption in worship and pastoral care. There is relatively little here that would tell the contemporary pastor how to deal with specific pastoral problems, since the editors resolutely refuse to see the early church as a “golden age” containing all the answers. Here they part company (rightly, in my view) with Thomas Oden and his Classical Pastoral Care Series, which tends to romanticize and homogenize the ancient Christian writers. Rather, Culbertson and Shippee insist that we let the questions emerge from the texts themselves, so that we might learn as much from the problems the early Christians faced as from the solutions they adopted for their time.

It is just here that I sense unresolved tension between the approaches of the two editors. Shippee, writing as a historian, urges us “to avoid a rush to relevance, but instead to gain a strong or significant irrelevance, since relevance and significance are not the same” (p. 3). When he considers the church then and now, it is the discontinuities that seem most salient to him. For Culbertson the pastoral theologian, however, it is the continuities that stand out: “Much of the material in this book has a ring of familiarity about it because we are facing the same issues, and making the same mistakes, in the church today as our pastoral forebears did some twelve to twenty centuries ago” (p. 12). Both points are well taken, and there is no law that coeditors must always agree. However, the reader might have been better served by a synthetic statement doing justice to both emphases than by an introduction with two halves so unequally yoked together.

But the heart of the volume is the ancient texts themselves in all their variety, and I would be remiss not to provide some hints of their contents. The historians, pastoral theologians, and pastors who read this book will learn from Origen that teachers in the church are like physicians, in that those who need their assistance most are often reluctant to seek them out (p. 40). They will hear Cyprian argue that a biblical text that speaks only of men includes women as well, since the two are one flesh (p. 55), and Athanasius strain to persuade a colleague to remain in the episcopacy, since someone has to be bishop even if no one wants the office very much (p. 69).

They will listen to ancient Christians struggle over financial support for clergy (p. 91), the frequency of eucharistic communion (p. 119), the presence of clergy at banquets (p. 145), the need for a bishop to be freed from administrative duties so as to have time for study (p. 152), and the proper Christian response to beggars on the street (p. 161). There are also lengthy extracts from John Chrysostom’s On the Priesthood and Gregory the Great’s Book of Pastoral Rule, probably the two most influential treatises on the subject from the early church.

Although it is perhaps best suited to be a textbook in seminary courses, this volume would repay careful attention from a group of clergy colleagues who might meet to discuss one chapter at a time. It could also be used for individual study in conjunction with Carl Volz’s topical overview entitled Pastoral Life and Practice in the Early Church (Minneapolis: Augsburg, 1990). As Philip Culbertson writes, “If we have no sense of identity [as pastors], whether the church’s historical identity or our own, then we are of little use to the lost and suffering who seek our pastoral care” (p. 12).
Arthur G. Holder
Professor of Pastoral Theology
Church Divinity School of the Pacific, CA


Theology Digest (Summer, 1991), p. 156

When Professor Culbertson, of the University of the South, Sewanee, Tennessee, could not find a suitable text for his
course on “Source Documents in Pastoral Care,” he teamed up with his friend, Arthur Shippee, to write one. From the
first six centuries they chose texts:

  1. that address how the character of a pastor is formed, and how it is kept on the right track in the midst of both worldly temptation and ecclesiastical strife;
  2. that address the way pastors nourish their personal spirituality and then act it out in Christian service; and
  3. that reveal the early church’s absorption in worship and pastoral care.

They have provided introductions and notes.


Monos (July 1991)

Our approach to pastoral ministry is challenged and invigorated by these texts from the early church. This is a valuable resource with texts from such people as Ignatius of Antioch, John Cassian, Athanasius, John Chrysostom, Leo the Great, and Gregory the Great.


Review and Expositor (Fall, 1991)

Pastors can gain a wealth of insight into the character, personal spirituality, and duties of the pastoral office from this carefully selected collection of texts from the patristic period. Organized chronologically and geographically, selections demonstrate the rather broad range of expectations and perceptions attached to the office in different times and places. Clement and Origen of Alexandria, for instance, emphasized education; Tertullian and Cyprian of Carthage moral purity; Athanasius and the desert monks asceticism and contemplation.

The editors have supplied helpful introductions to the sources and and guidance to additional resources. Here and they they needed to qualify a few points: whether the Didache was written fifty years after Ignatius (many scholars date it before Ignatius), Tertullian’s reference to the “Pontifex Maximus” (surely not the high priest of the state cultus or the emperor as a note suggests), and whether Jerome was born as early as 331. Overall, however, the book offers reliable guidance, in some cases to little known materials on pastoral ministry. Bibliographical notes, maps identifying places referred to and indexes to scriptural and patristic writings augment the value of it for reference.
E. Glenn Hinson


Irish Biblical Studies 14, June 1992, pp. 150-51.

This work could hardly be more timely. It appears just as experienced observers detect a “sea change” in pastoral studies. It is realized that there has developed “a kind of amnesia about the Christian tradition which needs to be rectified.” The past generation of pastoral care has found its illumination in the Scriptures and the Human Sciences- “more reference to Jeremiah, John and Jung than to Jerome,” as our editors put it. The rich resources of the five centuries following the New Testament have been largely ignored.

Historians dipped into that formative period to trace how doctrines of the creeds were propounded and defended against threatening heresies. These were not just writers or theorists. Indeed, as our editors claim “if we were to examine their job descriptions, if we could peruse their time sheets, we would find something different: they spent most of their time being pastors.” They “did theology, as theology should be done then and now, in order to buid up the life of the people of God, as a community and as individuals, and that provides the secure basis for pastoral work.”

The study of these texts is made easy by a general introduction, followed by an introduction to each group of texts and authors, giving dates, locations,[here something is missing from the copy of the review sent to me].

The whole period, although removed by fifteen centuries and thousands of miles from our western, modern scene, is found to have a remarkable relevance and significance for us. We find many of the same reasons for joy and anger, the same elations and disappointments, the same rewards and struggle that face those exercising ministry now. Tradition is important because of that continuity of condition.

Only a few features as set out below may illustrate the point:

  • qualifications and suitability for office must be sifted with caution. Self-assured sense of inner calling needs proof and public support;
  • in the ongoing evolution of eccelsiastical structures and offices these fathers did not question the essential oneness of God’s people and their diversity in things non-essential; discipline in matters of family and sex were of much concern, but continence applied to more than sex; it was as important in matters of food, drink, and lifestyle;
  • reimbursing pastors had to be ensured and with it guarding against temptations to take financial advantage of their ability in high office to participate in lucrative business transactions;
  • those with more wealth had clearly stated obligations to the weak, poor and deprived;
  • secular and political forces had to be resisted, but on well thought out theological bases; as bishops and priests were often of higher social class and education they knew from experience how church and state might best relate to each other;
  • preaching ought to have more solid content and less dramatic form, with more variety; hearers should be educated for listening in order to understand;
  • the age-old problem of innocent suffering and the source of evil was tackled repeatedly, as was depression of spirit;
  • what may surprise readers is the “modern” flavour of such matters as confidentiality, non-judgmental attitudes, pastoral listening and treatment of the individual without generalizing, self-knowledge as the secret of growth and maturity, non-verbal communication and body language.

This selection of texts, comprehensive as it is, does not claim to be complete. It had to be subjective. However, it supplies all that is necessary to restore the balance of the “trialogue” of Scripture, Reason and Tradition. While one realizes that providing an index of subjects would have been a formidable undertaking, such a further tool for reference would have enhanced the value of this work. Not the least merit of this book is the light it sheds on how Scripture was interpreted and applied over the varying circumstances of such a long period of time. We must not turn to these pages for “proof texts,” any more than we ought to use the Bible that way. Yet like the Bible, this selection will prove its own interpreter and illuminate many areas of contemporary pastoral practice.
James R. Boyd


Book Newsletter, ed. Roderick Olson, No. 553, Summer 1992

The names Ignatius of Antioch, Clement of Rome, Cyprian of Carthage, Augustine of Hippo, and Ambrose of Milan readily evoke memories of historical (often historic) theologial controversies. These Fathers of the church, however, were also pastors of churches.

The editors have culled from patristic writings these pastors’ personal convictions about the role of pastor. Culbertson and Shippee took up the project in response to their view that modern pastoral theology is in danger of becoming a “stepchild within the psychotherapeutic world.” The pastoral insights that emerge from the church Fathers are often relevant to present-day pastors; even when they are irrelevant, they can still be significant as well as interesting.

In the chapter on the Latin Triumvirate, for example, the editors raise the very practical question of whether the preaching of Ambrose, Augustine, and Jerome presented the Christian life as an ideal so noble and so high that it had no practical impact upon the moral life of their contemporaries-surely a relevant issue for rigorist preachers of today. A lively work of history, the book lets readers know better some of the people upon whose shoulders today’s pastors stand.


Patristics, Vol. XXI, Nos. 1&2, December 1992

By the words of the editors, “rarely does the teaching of pastoral formation make direct reference to the fascinating history and tradition of the early church” (xi), we are given insight as to both the thesis and importance of this book. It appeals not only to scholars and students of church history-particularly those interested in reviewing the primary sources-but also, perhaps more importantly, to clergy, ministers, and spiritual counselors who are ever struggling in this world to perfect the art of pastoral care.

The editors have compiled a varied collection of wisdom from the ancient sources which represents the ecclesiastical problems as well as the major components in the process of clergy character formation. The ten chapters cover pastoral writings from the second to the mid-sixth century by such authors as Ignatius of Antioch, Clement, Origen, Athanasius, the Cappadocians, Chrysostom and Leo the Great. There is also a selection of pastoral canons from several early church councils. Each text is excellently introduced by providing current articles and references on the author and period; and seven pages of bibliography as well as an index of scriptural and nonscriptural references grace the end of the book. The editors admittedly underwent an intellectual ascesis in choosing which authors and portions of texts to include, which resulted in a compilation which is varied, appeals to several modern issues (for example, the early understanding of women in the church), and by way of historical argument allows the reader to review the human condition in a vastly different social, cultural, and theological setting.

The thirty-seven extracts were chosen for different reasons: for example, Ignatius’ Letter to Polycarp, Origen’s Homilies and Cyprian’s Letters 11 and 67 address how the character of a pastor is formed and develops in the midst of temptation and strife; John Cassian’s The Gifts of God, Pseudo-Clement’s First Letter on Virginity, Ambrose’s On the Duties of the Clergy, and Chrysostom’s On the Priesthood refer to personal spirituality acted out in Christian service; and finally, The Apostolic Constitutions and Augustine’s Letter 213 reflect the early church pastor as one absorbed in worship which is the basis of pastoral care. In sum, this medley of texts not only reveals the vitality and comprehensiveness of early Christian pastoral life, affording the student of church history the insight that the Patristic era was not simply a period of doctrinal and theological dispute; but also permits the modern pastor to discover an almost lost, perceptive understanding of the human being and the human condition which modern psychotherapy and post-Enlightenment models have yet to discover.

The book is an outgrowth of Professor Culbertson’s course in the theory and practice of ministry at the seminary level. The inclusion of books and articles of reference pertaining to each ancient text makes the book a good sourcebook companion for most courses on pastoral care; thus it appeals to both teacher and student. Particularly appealing to this reviewer was the section Verba Seniorum (the Apophthegmata Patrum), as these texts highlight the fact that many of the same pastoral problems as well as the basic principles of pastoral formation found in the rich Syriac monastic tradition ran parallel with and were applied in the more worldly pastoral situations of such larger cities as Antioch, Carthage, Rome, or Constantinople.

There are a few minor issues I have concerning the book. Why wasn’t the Corpus Christianorum, Clavis Patris Graecorum included in the list of sources (as was the Series Latina). Most of the Greek writings are listed there. Secondly, the selected portions of the texts could lead the reader to misunderstand both the historical context as well as the message of the entire text. For example, the reader is given only chs. 1, 21-22 of Tertullian’s On Modesty (pp. 48-49), which highlight a conversation on the power to forgive sins. Without the rest of (or more of) this text, I believe, the reader can easily view Tertullian as being blatantly anti-institutional and anti-Rome. In other words, hopefully these extracts will challenge readers to research the fuller picture in regards to the pastoral situation at hand, and not deter them. To the editor’s credit, articles for such research are provided. Finally, the editors chose English translations from among several sources, some of which are in need of revision (such as the Ante-Nicene and Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers series). Even though Shippee did an admirable job of making the translations more inclusive-as well as translating several texts-nonetheless the extracts beckon updated translations. This, though, does little to detract from the great merit of this book. Perhaps this work will influence scholars to translate other Patristic texts on early church pastoral care, for example, the Paschal Epistles of St. Cyril of Alexandria.

In sum, The Pastor is a most welcome contribution to the literature on early church pastoral care. The uncovering of this pastoral element of the Patristic mind and consensus Patrum is most desperately needed both in the area of sources for study as well as an inspirational aid for those everyday women and men struggling as pastors in the various vineyards of the Lord.
Daniel Rogich
St. Mary’s Serbian Orthodox Church
Clairton, Pennsylvania


Church History (December, 1993), p. 588.

The editors use the word “pastor” in the general sense of one who served the Christian community rather than in the more defined sense of an ordained clergyperson, Lutheran pastor. They argue persuasively that modern pastoral theology is a combination of psychology and counseling which often ignores the lived, practiced experience of the church. However, they believe that modern Christians can benefit from the lived experience of the Fathers of the church, something with which few readers of the journal would disagree. The authors begin with the Apostolic Fathers and finish with Gregory the Great. Happily, they do not feel obligated to find obscure texts in order to look original; their collection mixes the familiar and unfamiliar, for example, John Chrysostom’s On the Priesthood and Gregory’s Pastoral Rule along with selected conciliar canons.

The editors range widely; they include more than two dozen authors along with the conciliar texts. The selections from the Verba Seniorum include sayings of Syncletice, who, the editors explain, is “unfortunately this book’s only female author” (p. 68); they deserve credit for attempting to broaden the all-male scope of this book. I would personally be surprised if many “modern” seminary instructors took this book seriously in training their charges, but church historians will be grateful for this handy compendium of patristic readings on the notion and practice of pastoral work.
Joseph F. Kelly
John Carroll University
Cleveland, Ohio

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