I’ve recently stumbled across Shedd’s Pastoral Theology at GoogleBooks. It contains several interesting insights into the theory and practice of Reformed parochialism. But even more intriguing is the fact that it illustrates the survival and idealization of the old, European ecclesiastical model within the untamed vastness of multi-denominational, disestablished America. And no, it’s not Roman Catholic or Anglican!
In a couple of installments, I’m going to share some great quotes from this Pastoral Theology and add a few observations.
“We define Pastoral Theology to be, that part of the clerical curriculum which relates to the clergyman’s parochial life. It contemplates him in his more retired capacity, as one who has the care of individual souls. The pastor is a curate, and Pastoral Theology relates to the clergyman’s curacy. These terms, which are not so familiar to the American as to the English ear, if taken in their etymological signification, denote precisely the more private character and duties of the clergyman. They are derived from the Latin curare, to take care of. A curate is one who has the care of souls. The apostle Paul speaks of ‘watching for souls.’ The pastor, or curate, is a watcher for souls” (320-321).
“The Christian minister, by his very vocation, is the sacred man in society. By his very position, he is forbidden to be a secular member of community, and hence he must not be secular, either in his character of his habits. It is true, that the clergy are not a sacred caste, yet they are a sacred profession. Hence, society expects from them a ministerial character and bearing, and respects them just in proportion as they possess and exhibit it. The clergyman is sometimes called the ‘parson.’ Though the word has fallen into disuse, owing to the contemptuous employment of it, by the infidelity of the eighteenth century, its etymology is instructive in this connection. Parson is derived from the Latin persona. The clergyman is the person, by way of emphasis, in his parish. He is the marked and and peculiarly religious man, in the community. His very position and vocation, therefore, make it incumbent upon him to be eminently spiritual. His worldly support is provided by the Church, to whom he ministers, and his acceptance of it is an acknowledgement upon his part, that a secular life is unsuitable for him, and a demand upon their part, that he devote himself entirely to religion, and be an example to the flock” (323-24).
I find it very useful to understand the etymological background of these older terms for ordained ministers, curate and parson. What is more, they tap a pastoral-theological well that is full of rich and relevant truth.
The idea of the minister as the parson or persona of a community reveals a federal dimension to parochialism. He is the head of a community. He is in a unique position as what the Puritans would call a ‘publick person.’ He is poised to be the blessing or bane of a social unit whom he represents and whom he is called to serve. Consequently, the minister as parson functions in a kind of priestly capacity. He stands for the community to God and for God to the community. He is, in a sense, the embodiment of Christ, the Great High Priest for others.
The idea of pastor as curate highlights the paternal character of parochialism. We care for souls under us, a definite number with whom we are bound. This may be a sub-aspect of the federal aspect.
It is true, the Bible never gives ‘ministers’ or ‘pastors’ the designation of curate or parson. This is extrabiblical terminology – or maybe we might call it biblical-theological (i.e., thematic) terminology. It does give them something close, however, such as ‘overseers’ and ‘men of God’; and for that reason, I’m not so skittish about them. (Although ‘curate’ definitely has a high church ring to it.)
But Protestants, minus the Church of England, rightly rejected the terms of ‘fathers’ and ‘priests’ for those in the ministry. I speculate that these sacerdotal themes inherent in the Scriptural doctrine of the ministry grew beyond the bounds of all modest, biblical proportion in the development of the Church. Pastors are paternal figures, yet our Lord warns against calling men ‘father.’ And while they have priestly functions, they are never called priests. To give them this term in an official capacity is not only to transgress biblical language but to tend in the direction of denigrating the finality of Christ’s priesthood and the universal priesthood of all believers.
That being said, we shouldn’t dismiss priestly concepts from our ministerial thought and practice. It can very much enrich both. Paul did, Peter did. And obviously so do did Shedd, a staunch Presbyterian.
All of this is relevant for the ministry in relation to the believing congregation. But Shedd makes takes another step, which reflects more classical ideas of parochialism. But we’ll leave that to the next installment!