The Care of Souls Tradition

The moral meaning of care is not only shaped by narratives, it is also historically embedded in practices such as the care of souls (curd dnimdrum). The care of souls refers to the care of troubled persons whose difficulties—whether spiritual, mental, or physical—are approached in the context of the pursuit of the religious goals of life or, in nonreligious contexts, the search for ultimate meanings (cf. Clebsch and Jaekle; Browning). The care of souls tradition—the explanations offered in its literature and the interpretation of its practices—sheds light on the origins and content of contemporary ideas about care.

The word care in the care of souls refers both to the tasks involved in the care of a person or group and to the inner experience of solicitude or carefulness concerning the object of one's care. In the framework of the first meaning of the word, the care of souls consists of helping acts that are directed principally toward "healing" and the means by which healing is brought about, for example, reconciliation (including penitential reconciliation for those who have sinned), sustaining (including compassionate consolation), and guiding (spiritual and moral guidance).

The selection of the term care of souls to designate these activities (the word cura in the term care of souls is frequently translated as "cure" of souls) reflects the historical emphasis on a comprehensive idea of healing in the care of souls tradition (McNeill; Clebsch and Jaekle). Socrates regarded himself as the physician or healer of the soul, as did other philosophers (McNeill); and Gregory of Nazianzus (362 c.e.) said all pastors are physicians of souls, "who must prescribe medicines, or cautery, or the knife"(McNeill, p. 108).

The word soul in the care of souls can have a variety of meanings, depending on the philosophical explanation chosen or the religious tradition in which the term is used. John McNeill calls the soul "the essence of human personality" (p. vii). It is spirit intertwined with the body without being a mere expression of bodily life. The soul is regarded as being susceptible to disorder and anguish, while being endowed with possibilities for well-being and blessedness. The care of souls, then, is the healing treatment of persons in those matters that reach beyond the requirements of physical life, in pursuit of the "health of personality" (p. vii). But the welfare of the soul was not isolated: Caring for the healing of the soul, mind, and body have often been integrated (May, 1982). Thus, when we speak of "the care of the whole person," we are speaking of something comparable to the ancient idea of the care of souls.

The care of souls conveys the primary message that there is invariably a hierarchy of values in what it is that humans choose to care about, and that among those values, care for the spiritual should be preeminent. Socrates exhorted his hearers in Plato's Apology "not to care for your bodies or for money above and beyond your souls and their welfare"; and in the Phaedo he argued that "the cultivation of the soul is the first concern"(McNeill, p. 20). Some scholars believe his exhortation greatly influenced the emergence of the idea of the care of the soul in ancient Greece and in Christianity (McNeill).

Another prominent feature of the care of souls has been the way in which it calls attention to the subjective experience of those who are suffering and their need for relief in the form of personal attention. In the Hebrew scriptures, the

Psalmist speaks out of bitter anguish: "I looked ... and beheld, but ... no man cared for my soul" (Ps. 142:4—5; McNeill). The sufferer then appealed to the Lord to be his refuge in the land of the living. In the care of souls tradition, God, self, and other humans care for the troubled soul. The one who gives care must be very attentive to the needs of the individual sufferer. For example, Gregory the Great, renowned for his pastoral leadership in the Western church (590—604), taught that the guide of souls must be a compassionate neighbor to all, a shrewd observer, and watchful and discerning like the physician of the body (McNeill). But one problem remains constant: whether the sufferer will seek and/or accept care (McNeill).

The contrast between negative and positive care that one finds in Seneca and the Myth of Care was also presented by Jesus, who contrasted the heavy burdens (the "yoke") that many people bear—the worrisome cares of life—with relief or solicitous care (Matt. 11:28-30). He exhorted his followers not to be anxious about the necessities of life, but instead to trust that they would be cared for by the heavenly Father who knows their needs (Matt. 6:25-34; Davies).

The care of souls tradition produced three major bodies of literature that are of special historical interest to contemporary bioethics. First, casuistry arose within the context of the cura animarum. In contrast to the rigid ethics of the medieval penitential documents, in which priest-confessors were instructed on how to deal with various categories of sinners, casuistry had the objective of bringing the lives of ordinary people under the influence of religious and moral standards by emphasizing practical, case-based moral reasoning that avoided excessive abstractions and complications (McNeill).

Second, those who cared for souls cared for the sorrows and anxieties of individuals, partly by writing a body of so-called Consolation literature. For example, Seneca and Plutarch in the classical age and Cyprian and Ambrose in the third and fourth centuries c.e. composed Consolation literature, offering sympathy for the ills of life, suffering, and persecution (McNeill).

Third, in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, when the idea of death was so vivid, the care of souls tradition produced a vast Ars moriendi literature, commending the art of dying well (willingly and joyfully, rather than in despair) and how to help the dying person (Clebsch and Jaekle; McNeill).

Finally, care had the constantly changing function of sustaining souls through the pitfalls of the earthly pilgrimage of each period of history. For example, during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, sustaining the troubled soul became the dominant function of the care of souls. Because of the Enlightenment, hopes and human aspirations for this life ran very high, and pastoral sustenance attempted principally to keep believers mindful of their individual destinies beyond this life (Clebsch and Jaekle). This was precisely the environment in which care (Sorge) appeared in Goethe's Faust.

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