Back to top

On the Origin of the Pastoral Care | De origine Regulae pastoralis

Oxford, St John’s College, MS 28, fol. 6v [By permission of the President and Fellows of St John's College Oxford]

Introduction to the Text

This short preface to Pope Gregory the Great’s Regula Pastoralis (Pastoral Rule or Pastoral Care) offers an unusual account of the genesis of that text, composed—so the preface says—during travel that Gregory undertook through Gaul in an attempt to avoid becoming pope. By contrast, the standard narrative of the Pastoral Care’s origin sees it completed presumably in Rome, not long after Gregory’s papal inauguration, and sent off thence to John, bishop of Ravenna. (History supports the second version of events: Gregory was first in Constantinople, then Rome, prior to assuming the papacy.) Gregory’s initial reluctance to become pope is a constant in both origin stories, however, even if he is more active in his escapism in the preface presented here. The tally noted in the preface extends Gregory’s time in office by four months. He was pope from September 3, 590 to March 12, 604: thirteen years, six months (not ten months), and nine days. The etymology of Gregory’s name is sound.

The preface also alludes to a second alternate history of the Pastoral Care, one that is introduced in a more displaced way: “And others think that…” This origin story is vague with its mentions of an “emperor of the Goths” and a “demented leader of the Romans,” but these could be references to Justin II, Emperor of the Byzantine Empire (r. 565-74), and Leovigild, the Visigothic king with whom he contended. (Justin II notably suffered from mental illness.) This would place the text’s purported composition sometime between 565 and 574; for context, Gregory entered monastic life in 574.

Introduction to the Source

To the best of my knowledge, this text has not been previously edited or translated. I have found it in two English manuscripts that were produced centuries apart and that bear no direct relation to one another: Oxford, St. John’s College, MS 28 (s. x med. and x3/4 or x/xi; the Pastoral Care is in the slightly later part), fol. 6v and Oxford, Merton College, MS 16, (s. xiv ex., xv1), fol. 139va. The text must certainly exist in more manuscript witnesses of the Pastoral Care, from a range of times and—one assumes, given the text’s continental origin—of places.

About this Edition

I have transcribed this text diplomatically from St. John’s College, MS 28 and double-checked it against Merton College, MS 16. The two witnesses follow each other word-for-word except for two presumed misspellings: MS 16 reads tritor for nutritor and plicipatum for principatum. The only other differences are the spelling, punctuation and abbreviations used: a remarkable fixity, in view of the centuries between the two known versions. On my decision to translate brigalis as “Bruges”: brigalis is described as a city in gallia belgica (“Belgian Gaul”), and Bruges was indeed settled by the late sixth century, so it would have been an option to a fleeing Gregory. But I have not found brigalis as an attested Latin term for “Bruges” (or indeed for anywhere else in Belgian Gaul). Brigalis, then, is either evidence of a further place-name for Bruges or a name of a different city.

I would like to thank the Lynne Grundy Memorial Trust for funding my travel within the UK to examine the Oxford manuscripts named here and the Scriptorium Working Group at Yale University for discussing this fascinating little text with me, as well as the team behind the Global Medieval Sourcebook.

Further Reading

Godden, Malcolm. “Prologues and Epilogues in the Old English Pastoral Care, and Their Carolingian Models.” Journal of English and Germanic Philology, vol. 110, no. 4, 2011, pp. 441-73.

St. Gregory the Great. The Book of Pastoral Rule. Translated by George Demacopoulos. St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 2007.

Neil, Bronwen and Matthew Dal Santo, editors. A Companion to Gregory the Great. Brill, 2013.


Transcription by Alexandra ReiderTranslation by Alexandra ReiderEncoded in TEI P5 XML by Danny Smith

Suggested citation: Anonymous. "On the Origin of the Pastoral Care." Trans. Alexandra Reider. Global Medieval Sourcebook. Retrieved on June 06, 2023.