The Landscape of Pastoral Care in 13th-Century England
- ISBN: 9781316510384
- Published By: Cambridge University Press
- Published: December 2017
Pastoral care was one of the major duties of the medieval clergy. While the subject has received the attention of historians studying the 14th and 15th centuries, pastoral care in the 13th century has largely been overlooked. With the aptly titled The Landscape of Pastoral Care in 13th-Century England, William Campbell seeks to recover “the lost realities of pastoral care” in the 13th century (9). He also focuses his analysis on England and Wales while suggesting that his analysis of these areas could be applied to other areas of Western Christendom.
According to Campbell, the 13th century was a landmark era because it saw a general consensus on the definition of pastoral care. The vast majority of writers during this period centered their definitions of pastoral care around three components for clergymen: preaching sermons, celebrating the sacraments, and hearing confessions. Rather than accept an anachronistic definition of pastoral care, Campbell readily adopts the 13th-century definition and dedicates a section of his book to each component.
The first two parts of the book essentially constitute a wide-reaching survey of English pastoral care in the 13th century. Part 1 surveys the different people who could provide pastoral care, such as parish priests, friars, monks, and canons. Part 2 examines the forms pastoral care took through preaching, the mass, and confession. While much of what Campbell explores in these two sections is not unexpected or earth-shattering, they are important. The existing scholarship lacks a good survey of pastoral care in the 13th century. Moreover, the author’s survey of pastoral care should form the basis for further research on pastoral care in the later Middle Ages. It provides those approaching the topic for the first time with a solid footing to explore other areas. Everything that Campbell examines in this survey is found in some form or fashion in the Later Middle Ages. Furthermore, though this book primarily focuses on England and Wales, this survey also seems applicable to other areas of Western Christendom. The main vehicles for pastoral care were also found across medieval Europe, namely parish priests, friars, and monks.
This study is at its most convincing when discussing case studies of individual dioceses. In the final section of the book, Campbell examines the dioceses of Lincoln, Exeter, and Carlisle in order to ascertain how widely pastoral care was available on the ground. His selections for case studies are very shrewd. These three dioceses differ from each other in significant aspects—most importantly in geography and wealth. While much of the medieval evidence from Lincoln and Exeter survives, there is far less documentary evidence from Carlisle, since it was caught in the middle of periodic warfare between Scotland and England in centuries past. Previous scholars have plundered medieval records from Lincoln and Exeter when researching a wide array of topics. Few have dared to foray into the relatively meager evidence from Carlisle. Admirably, Campbell does and he uncovers that the availability of pastoral care varied widely due to geography. He demonstrates that parishioners in poorer dioceses with geographically sparse settlements had more difficulty accessing pastoral care than others.
Campbell is adept at using evidence to prove that pastoral care was widely available to parishioners. Ordination lists of priests, diocesan statutes, and pastoral handbooks are used to support his argument. It is not easy to utilize a wide variety of sources with great skill, yet Campbell is well-versed in them and wields them to successfully support his argument. Furthermore, his writing is quite accessible and easy to follow. It is not often that scholarly monographs provoke a chuckle from readers, yet Campbell's book does so quite nicely. For example, while discussing how some parish priests might wander off from their parochial church, the author notes that “monasteries seldom wander off” (43). Altogether, this is an engaging study of pastoral care.
Perhaps the most questionable part of Campbell’s analysis is his proposal that scholars visualize pastoral care as a “marketplace of religion,” where people had choices as to where and how they received pastoral care (268-269). Whereas there is some logic to this view, perhaps it goes too far in visualizing medieval parishioners as “consumers” of religion. After all, parishioners were still obligated to receive certain aspects of pastoral care from parish priests. In sum, whether pastoral care constituted a “marketplace of religion” is a minor criticism of a good and insightful study.
The Landscape of Pastoral Care in 13th-Century England paints a vivid, detailed picture of pastoral care in 13th century England. Campbell shows, rather convincingly, that there were multiple avenues for English parishioners to receive pastoral care: from parish priests, friars, monks, and canons. Additionally, their education was particularly suited to overseeing the spiritual care of their flock, and Campbell successfully argues that pastoral care in the 13th century was effective. As he points out, the English religious world after 1300 was built upon pastoral care ideals instituted in the 13th century. However, pastoral care was unevenly distributed. Some parishioners had an easier time receiving pastoral care than others simply because of geographical realities. The book offers a nuanced view which furthers our understanding of a major aspect of the medieval Church.
Justin S. Kirkland earned a PhD in history from the University of Iowa.
Justin KirklandDate Of Review:June 28, 2022