pastoral theology


A special branch of theological science which treats of the care of souls. It comprises those practical rules and applications based on the doctrine and experience of the Church which the priest, as shepherd of souls, should faithfully fulfill in the exercise of his sacred office. It presupposes a knowledge of dogmatic and moral theology, including canon law and other branches which enter into his ecclesiastical training. Pastoral theology has always been practised in the Church, but its consideration as a formal treatise is a matter of recent centuries. Jesus instructed His disciples in the exercise of their new ministry. Saint Paul gave priestly direction to Timothy and Titus. The Fathers of the Church have left many writings on the care of souls. During the period prior to, and attendant on, the revolt of Luther, clerical discipline and practise were in a sorely neglected condition. One of the immediate ends of the Council of Trent was the reform of the clergy. From that time pastoral theology has developed as a separate science. The model for priestly practise is Christ, the Good Shepherd, Whose life portrayed the ideal teacher, priest, and ruler. The priest should strive to practise Christlike prudence and charity, mindful of the admonition of Saint Paul that “the letter killeth, but the spirit giveth life.” From Sacred Scripture and tradition which includes the official documents of popes, general councils, Roman congregations, decrees of provincial councils and diocesan synods, and episcopal letters, the priest will find pastoral direction. Official bulletins like the “Acta Apostolicre Sedis” and various periodicals like “The American Ecclesiastical Review” and “The Irish Ecclesiastical Review,” will inform him of current legislation, authentic interpretations, and offer him approved advice. The threefold office of the priest affords an adequate division of pastoral theology. As teacher he must preach the word of God to his flock. He must provide for the cate- chetical instruction of children and the ignorant with special preparation for their Confession, Communion, and Confirmation. As minister of the sacraments, besides the requisite dogmatic and moral theology, he should possess other knowledge such as “pastoral medicine,” which treats of the relations of bodily conditions to religion and morality. How to attend the sick and dying, the use of sacramentals, vespers, church music, processions, and relics are usually treated under sacramental discipline. As a ruler the priest has duties which concern the organization of the parish, the building and upkeep of the church, the establishment and management of parish schools, various spiritual societies, social work, missions, collections, and records.

MLA Citation

  • “pastoral theology”. New Catholic Dictionary. CatholicSaints.Info. 12 June 2010. Web. 2 December 2021. <>