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The Book of Pastoral Care: Part I, Chapter 1

The Inexperienced should NOT obtain Authority

By Pope St Gregory the Great


No one presumes to teach an art that he has not first mastered through study. How foolish it is therefore for the inexperienced to assume pastoral authority when the care for souls is the art of arts. For who does not realize that the afflictions of the mind are more hidden than the internal wounds of the body? And, yet, how often do they who are completely ignorant of spiritual precepts profess themselves physicians of the heart, while anyone who is ignorant of the power of medicine is too embarrassed to be seen as a physician of the body.

By divine order, everyone in a position of authority in the present age is disposed to reverence religion, but there are many who through the temptation of authority in the holy Church aspire to the glory of honor. They want to be seen as teachers and they lust to be superior to others, just as the Truth attests: “they seek the first place at feasts and the first chair in the assemblies.” (St Matthew 23:6-7) They are all the more unable to minister worthily to the office of pastoral care because they have come to the position of teaching humility solely by the means of vanity.

For indeed; the message of the teacher is confused when one thing is learned and another taught. (Hosea 8:3) Against these persons, the Lord complains through the prophet saying: “They have ruled and not from me; they have been established as princes but I knew it not.” (St Luke 23:27) They reign by their own authority, not by the will of the supreme Ruler. They are not sustained by virtue nor a divine calling but by the kindling of their own greed. They seize rather than attain a position of spiritual authority. Nevertheless, the internal Judge both advances and ignores them because those whom by permission he tolerates, he surely by the judgement of condemnation will not know. Just as he said to those who came to him for a miracle: “Depart from me, workers of iniquity, I know you not.” (Isaiah 56:11)

The inexperience of pastors is rebuked by the voice of the Truth when, through the prophet, it is said: “The shepherds themselves knew no understanding.” (Jerimiah 2:8) In essence, the Truth laments that He is unknown by them and declares that He does not recognize the authority of those who do not know Him, because those who do not know the Lord are known by the Lord, as Paul says: “But if anyone know not, he will not be known.” (1 Corinthians 14:38)

This inexperience of pastors often, in truth, coincides with the merit of the laity, because however much pastors are at fault for not having the light of knowledge, it is by the means of a severe judge that those who ignorantly follow also become offenders. It is for this reason that the Truth, Himself, says in the Gospel: “If the blind lead the blind, then both fall into the pit.” (St Matthew 15:14) Also the psalmist, not speaking his own will, but through his ministry as prophet, declares: “Let their eyes be blinded that they not see and let their backs always be bent.” (Psalms 68:24)

For indeed, those persons are “eyes” who, placed upon the face of the highest dignity, undertake the office of leading others; while those who cling behind them are called the “backs”. Therefore, the back is bent by the blinded eyes because when those who lead lose the light of knowledge, then certainly those who follow are bent down carrying the burden of their sins.


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