Pastoral Care

Link to Student Projects on King Alfred's Pastoral Care

In the late 9th century, King Alfred, ruler of the kingdom of Wessex (now southwestern England), began a series of translations from Latin into Old English. One of the books he translated with the help of some clerical scholars was Pope Gregory I's Liber Pastoralis, which was written in Latin in the 6th century. In Modern English Alfred's translation is usually called Pastoral Care. Pope Gregory's book, which he had copied and sent to his bishops, is a manual on the duties of a bishop and how he should teach and guide the Christian souls under his care. It became one of the most important ecclesiastical texts in early medieval Europe.

After Alfred translated Pastoral Care, he added a long prose Preface addressed to the bishops in his territory, as well as a metrical preface in the voice of the book itself. In the prose Preface, Alfred argues that England is in a state of moral and cultural decline, and outlines a program for educational reform. A series of translations from Latin to English of "the books most needful for all men to know" are to be the cornerstone of this program. Then Alfred, like Gregory, had the manuscript copied and sent out to his bishops.

Below are images of pages from two different manuscripts of Pastoral Care. The Hatton manuscript was written in the 9th century, and was probably copied in Alfred's scriptorium. The Cambridge manuscript was copied in the 11th century.

To accompany these pages there is also a modern English translation and transcription (a print edition of the Old English) of Alfred's Prose Preface.

Pastoral Care Manuscripts