What was Pastoral Care like in Late Medieval Europe?

Pastoral care of local parishioners was not Martin Luther’s Protestant invention. On the contrary, already in Late Medieval Society, conscientious attention to the spiritual nourishment of the Christian community was central. A new book by Deena Copeland Klepper draws our attention to the handbook by Albert von Diessen and its role

Pastoral Care and Community in Late Medieval Germany: Albert of Diessen’s “Mirror of Priests”
Series: Medieval Societies, Religions, and Cultures
By  Deeana Copeland Klepper
Cornell University Press (December 15, 2022)
ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 1501766155
ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-1501766152

Little is known about Albert von Diessen, who lived in the late Middle Ages. He may have been born in Tegernsee. However, he ended up as an Augustinian Canon in Diessen, a small town at Ammersee in Southern Bavaria, where he wrote a mirror for priests between 1365 and 76, The Speculum Clericorum. In the autographs of the three different versions of the handbook, he mentioned himself as “Albertus presbyter et Canonicus regularis Monasterii sancta Marie virginis in Diessen” (Münchenm clm 5668, 159 and clm 18387,84).

The three autographs and the nearly 60 extant copies of these manuscripts hold a collection of administrative, legal, and pastoral advice, which turned the Mirror into a late medieval bestseller. Besides the handbook, Albert co-authored an Epytaphium Prealtorum in Diessen, a short chronicle, which he completed in 1365. He also wrote other similar chronicles and was responsible for the collection and edition of the title deeds and gifts belonging to the Augustinian chapter house in Diessen. This priory was a beneficiary of the local counts of Andechs-Diessen and was built at the same time as Diessen was upgraded to a significant local market town. How the Chapter House organised the priest’s assignment to the 20 or more local parishes serviced by the Augustinian canons has yet to be discovered (unfortunately, the archive is now missing).

Judging by his work, Albert was well-versed in the intellectual tradition of the Augustinians – the rules and regulations, canon law, the liturgical tradition and the theological foundation, including works of Augustine, Hugh of St. Victor, Bernard of Clairvaux and others. His “speculum” enjoyed widespread success. With nearly 60 extant copies preserved in Bavaria, we may presume his work set its mark on pastoral and communal life in Late Medieval Bavaria.

The Speculum Clericorum

Deeana Copeland Klepper has meticulously explored how local religious culture was constructed in this medieval European Christian society by closely studying this Mirror of Priests. The author shows how ostensibly universal religious ideals and laws were adapted, interpreted, and repurposed by those responsible for implementing them, thereby crafting distinctive, local expressions of Christianity.
The vision of the Christian community that emerges from Albert’s pastoral guide is one in which the messiness of ordinary life is evident. Geographic and legal boundaries outlined Albert’s imagined parish―property and jurisdictional rights, tithes, and sacramental responsibility―as well as symbolic realities.

By situating the Mirror of Priests within Albert’s physical and conceptual spaces, Klepper affirms the centrality of the parish and its community for those living under the rubric of Christianity, especially outside the larger cities. Thus, pivoting between the materiality of texts and the sociocultural contexts of an overlooked manuscript tradition, Pastoral Care and Community in Late Medieval Germany offers fresh insights into the role of parish priests, the pastoral manual genre, and late medieval religious life.



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