A Theory of Religious Praxis
Roy Lazar A
Pastoral or Practical?
The youngest branch of the oldest discipline of the academic world is Pastoral or Practical Theology. Is it pastoral or practical? Pastoral is from predominantly Catholic circle denoting a science dealing with the religious activities of the Christian community. Practical is from the German Reformation churches giving a theoretical framework for the life and action of a Christian community. Pastoral is derived from the Latin word, Pastor, which means shepherd indicating the priest who is supposed to carry out the work of the Good Shepherd, Jesus Christ. Hence, pastoral theology means literally a science that deals with the activities of the shepherds, whereas practical theology extends its sphere of reflection to all the activities of the believing community. Though there are subtle differences between these two terms both are dealing with the praxis of the religious community, hence both the terms are used overlapping with each other and at times substituting one another. This article prefers to use the latter, i.e. practical theology, which includes also the shepherding activities of a Christian community.
Among the numerous definitions available for pastoral/practical theology, the following one from Stephen Pattison and James Woodward is very apt in describing the discipline:
Pastoral/practical theology is a place where religious belief, tradition and practice meets contemporary experiences, questions and conducts a dialogue that is mutually enriching, intellectually critical, and practically transforming.
Practical theology since its inception into academic enterprise has come a long way to establish itself as a science with its specific objectives and methodology on par with other disciplines.
Developing the Theory of the Praxis
The encounter between Christian beliefs and practices with Greek philosophy already in the first century after Christian era gave birth to theology as a science – making faith intelligible and communicative. Patristic age succeeded in the formulation Christian principles in Greek categories and after St. Augustine’s enrichment of Christian theology with platonic concepts Thomas Aquinas achieved great success through his monumental work, Summa Theological to give theology a scientific character. Practical theology has its existence only from the time of Trent in the 16th century after Reformation, who progenitor, Martin Luther demanded that theology had to be practical in order to be orthodox. But the content of practical theology was instructions for carrying out the works within the church, mainly for the pastors/priests. Therefore, the word pastoral was in use to indicate the works of the pastor, namely, the cure or care of the souls (cura animarum), by the priest but to be carried out only at the commendation the bishop, the head of the local church. Hence, the primary sources of pastoral theology for a long time were the following: a) Magisterial teachings of the church, which were meticulously catalogued in manuals; b) Catechism books for new converts; c) Sacramental rites and liturgical rubrics; d) Code of canon law, d) Moral theology guidebooks, e) Manual of practical tips for parish priests, etc.,
Practical Theology as a Science
Practical theology as a theological discipline was first introduced by Franz Stefan Rautenstrauch (1734-1785) in 1774 at the theological faculty of Vienna University. It was undertaken at the instruction of Empress Maria Theresia as part of her reform measures in the society, as well as, in the Catholic Church in order to form worthy ministers and perfect Care-givers for the souls (Seelsorgers). Rautenstrauch had not introduced anything new to the understanding of pastoral theology but gathered together the concepts of priestly praxis of the 17th and 18th centuries and presented them as lessons on the duties of pastoral task and on the modes of fulfilling them....
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