(Four Talks Given at the Spring Delegates Meeting, March 6 and 7, 2003 at St. Mary’s Basilica, Livonia, Michigan)

St. Gregory The Theologian (329-389)

In Defense Of His Flight to Pontus De Fuga The Second Oration

Aphrahat, The Persian Sage +345

Select Demonstrations Number 10 “Of Pastors”

John Chrysostom 347-407

On The Priesthood

Pope Gregory The Great (Gregory Dialogus) 540-604

The Pastor Rule

The Pastoral Life In the Fathers Of The Church

St. Gregory The Theologian (329-389)

In Defense Of His Flight to Pontus De Fuga The Second Oration

I. Introduction

1. Gregory The Theologian, his family

2. The Fourth Century and the Church

3. The Early Life of Gregory

II. The Second Oration (or In Defense Of His Flight To Pontus)

I. The Importance of the pastoral office in the Church

2. Gregory’s reasons for fleeing after his ordination

A. The unexpectedness of his ordination

B. Gregory’s desire for the contemplative life

C. His problems with unworthy clergy

D. His lack of qualifications

3. The Difficulties of the pastoral office: The pastor as an example

4. The comparison between an earthly physician and the pastor

5. The ministry of the Word

A. The many who are not qualified for this work

B. The difficulty of the subject matter

C. The necessity of training

6. The Example of St. Paul as a pastor

7. The Voices of the Old Testament Prophets

8. The importance of spiritual preparation for the office

9. The importance of time in the training of a pastor

10. Gregory’s “fear” of the “subject matter”

11. The sad state of the priesthood

12. Gregory’s final defense

Aphrahat, The Persian Sage +345

Select Demonstrations: Number 10 “Of Pastors”

I. Introduction

1. Aphrahat, Persian Sage and 1st of the Syriac Fathers

2. Priest? Bishop? Abbot of Mar Mathai near Nineveh?

3. Monastic? “Sons Of the Covenant”

4. The 23 Demonstrations

II. On Pastors

1. The example of the shepherd

2. Old Testament examples Jacob, Moses, David, Amos

3. The significance of the Old Testament shepherds

4. The warnings of Ezekiel

5. The example of Jesus Christ the Good Shepherd

6. Jesus commits his flock to Peter, who has committed it to his successors

7. The pastor and the pursuit of other occupations

8. Who should not be a pastor (the stupid and the greedy)

9. The task of “feeding the flock”

John Chrysostom 347-407

On The Priesthood

I. Introduction

1. John Chrysostom

2. The historical background to the treatise: His friend Basil

II. On The Priesthood. The introductory remarks of the author

1. Book One

A. His friendship with Basil: their common interest in monasticism

B. The intervention of John’s mother

C. Rumors of ordination and the “arrangement” between Basil and John

D. John’s flight, Basil’s ordination, and the return of Basil

2. Book Two

A. John’s explanation for his flight—Basil’s reaction

B. “If you love me, feed my sheep”!!

C. The difficulties of the priestly ministry

D. John’s “lack of qualifications” and his knowledge of Basil

3. Book Three

A. The dignity of the priestly office

B. The priest at the liturgy

C. The “storms” that trouble the priest

D. The “beasts” that confront the priest

E. The unworthy who seek the office of bishop

F. The priesthood as compared to the monastic life

G. The vice of envy and its effect on priests

H. Good monks don’t always make good pastors

I. Special trials for the bishop (widows and virgins)

J. Additional trials for the bishop (visiting, interacting with people)

K. Anger and Depression

4. Book Four

A. The ministry of teaching and preaching

B. The importance of reading Scripture

C. The importance of content over style in preaching

5. Book Five

A. The importance of study and preparation

B. Characteristics that the preacher must have: ability and indifference to praise

C. Vices the preacher must deal with: slander by others, and envy

D. The priest should judge his own sermons and not worry about others

6. Book Six

A. The accountability and temptations of the priest

B. Basil and John’s final exchange

Pope Gregory The Great (Gregory Dialogus) 540-604

The Pastoral Rule

1. Introduction

1 Western Europe in the 5th and 6th Century

A. 476 AD Western Roman Emperor Overthrown

B. 488 AD Invasion by the Ostrogoths

C. 493 AD Ravenna taken by the Ostrogoths

D. 496 AD Clovis King of the Franks is baptized “Catholic” i.e. not Arian

E. 527 AD Justinian comes to power

F. 540 AD Pope Gregory born

G. 568 AD Lombards conquer northern Italy

H. 598 AD Synod Of Toledo, Spanish Visigoths leave Arianism for orthodoxy

2. Gregory: aristocrat, monk, deacon, diplomat and pope

II. The Pastoral Rule

1. Titles of the work (Pastoral Rule, Pastoral Care)

2. Widespread popularity of the work

3. Gregory’s Fourfold Plan

A. (Part One) Who should take on the pastoral office

B. (Part Two) The life of the pastor

C. (Part Three) Teaching and Admonishing those that are put under the pastor

D. (Part Four) The importance of self examination


A. The difficulties surrounding the pastoral office (physician, teacher, ruler)

B. Practice what you preach

C. The desire for honors

D. Too much on your mind

E. The guilt of the qualified who refuse the pastoral office

F. The ministry of preaching

G. A good thing to desire the office of bishop (if you want to be a martyr)

H. Mental games: What great things I could do if I were the bishop

I. Those who should and those who should not rule

J. The Book of Leviticus: physical afflictions that disqualified an OT candidate


A. Ten Virtues that the pastor must have

1. Purity of thought

2. First in action

3. Discreet in silence

4. Profitable in speech

5. A near neighbor in sympathy

6. Exalted above all in contemplation

7. Familiar friend of the righteous

8. Unbending against the vices of evil through zeal for righteousness

9. Not neglecting his inward spirituality for the care of material things

I0. Not being oblivious to the needs of others

B. To Please (people) or Not To Please??

C. The importance of reading scripture


A. Prologue and acknowledgement of his indebtedness to Gregory the Theologian

B. Various kinds of people and how they are to be dealt with

C. One remedy does not suit all

D. Examples

1. Men and women

2. Young and old

3. Happy and sad

4. The educated and the simple

5. The sowers of strife and the peacemakers


A. The importance of self examination

B. Pope Gregory admits his own failings


There are things in life that we all say that we are going to do. For a number of years, I have been telling myself that I should look into the patristic writings on the pastoral life. I was aware of Pope Gregory of Rome’s treatise on the pastoral life. Of course I hadn’t read it. I had also heard that Gregory Nazianzus had written a treatise on the pastoral life. I hadn’t read that either. St. John Chrysostom’s treatise on the priesthood is well known. I had read that. Maybe, after being a priest for thirty three years it was time to find out what I was supposed to be doing.

A few weeks ago I received a phone call from my son who is in his first weeks of seminary training at Holy Cross. He called and asked me a question that went something like “er, dad, is there a decent book on the pastoral life and work of the priest…. I better find out what I am supposed to be doing in a few years…..” I was tempted to say “sure, just get a copy of the “priesthood made simplified”.

Without being unduly critical of the seminaries (I was in both Catholic and Orthodox seminaries) — and having read these Fathers I have come to a new appreciation of the seminaries — I had the feeling that they had not taught me how to be a priest. I knew the distinction between homousios and homoiousios, (or at least I knew where to look it up) But my pastoral training was almost non existent. Even my training in homiletics was pretty bad. The seminary had given me a good theological education, but my pastoral education was wanting. (Can you think of a great teacher of Pastoral Theology?) If you are like me, you were not prepared for what you find yourself doing most of the week. Perhaps it would be worthwhile to look at some of the ancient sources to see if they could shed some light on the subject.

Then I did something dangerous. I agreed to give these talks before I had done the reading and the research. What if what I discovered would bore the brother priests to tears. I had told just about every Irish joke I knew. And with the bishop present, I had better not tell them the other stories. So, like a fool, I rushed in where angels feared to tread. I decided to seek out what the Fathers might have to say on the life of a pastor. And I discovered why my seminary professors had not insisted that we read these sources in the seminary….having read them; we would have probably run from the seminary.

My original intent was to discuss three patristic works on the pastoral life; those of Aphrahat the Persian Sage, Gregory The Theologian and Pope Gregory the Great of Rome. Initially I chose not to include St. John Chrysostom’s document on the priesthood assuming that all of you would be very familiar with it. But Chrysostom’s work is too valuable to overlook.

Introductory Dialogue

What is our mission, our task, our ministry, our vocation, our calling, our “job” if you will? What is it that we find ourselves doing week in and week out? I am going to suggest that before we examine what these four fathers of the church have said on the subject we might spend a few moments listing what today in the 21st century regard as the work of the priesthood. Here I mean the pastor of one of our typical parishes.

I must add here that as we examine the writings of the fathers, much of what they had to say was most likely addressed to men who were bishops. But as all of you well know the bishops were very active as pastors. What was said specifically to them would apply in large measure to the parish priest in our times.