Human Development

Soul care

It has been advocated that every Christian should have a spiritual guide with whom he or she share her spiritual experiences. The caring implied here derives from the idea of a spiritual director or mentor but without the authoritarian implications, with the aim of aiding spiritual growth. Hunger for a deeper spiritual life and awareness of the limitations involved in trying to carry on alone lead to agreeing with a spiritually mature and respected person to meet on a regular basis within defined expectations and roles, although the structure of the relationship allows considerable choice and depends on the nature of the two people concerned. Although usually a relationship between a more and a less spiritually mature person, two people may act as spiritual guides for each other or they may be group guidance. Whatever the structure, of central importance is the discerning of the leadership of the Holy Spirit and a nurturing in Christian spirituality and growth. Some also stress the importance of the goal of a growth in prayer and of life in the Spirit, a "dying" to the sinful impediments to union with God and experience of His forgiveness.
The main aims are soul cure, through remedy for sin, and soul care as spiritual development through the various stages from depravity to holiness. Overall, in line with Christ's teaching, what is sought is a total reorientation of the person's life. It is clear from Christ's teaching that he considered the individual person to be of immense worth. There is an obvious connection between soul care and both psychotherapy and pastoral counselling. Where soul care is said to differ is that, rather than seeking to alleviate anxiety, or using anxiety as a means of growing and of understanding what God is saying, the anxiety is not the focus but rather the longing to give one's self to God more fully and know more deeply His presence in one's life. The main aim is spiritual rather than psychological growth, although both may proceed together, and psychological spirituality is not confused with Christian spirituality.
Soul care is referred to in ancient times. Socrates referred to himself as a healer of souls (a term from which "psychiatrist" derives). The Old Testament refers to wise men who counselled and whose function is now performed by the rabbi. And the role of the good shepherd is described in both Old and New Testament. The tradition of soul friend dates from earliest Christian periods, particularly in monastic orders. The rules of St Columbanus, for example, state that everything must be done with counsel, this bringing safety of conscience and exoneration of the soul. The counsel was not necessarily from a priest but should be from someone knowledgeable of the scriptures. Children when they were confirmed would have a soul friend with whom they would read psalms, hymns and the rules of the church. Clearly to be a soul-friend in monastic terms could seem an onerous task. Advice is given on the necessary qualities, in particular the need for holiness and wisdom. Correction should be offered without sharpness or reproof although the seeker of a soul friend was recommended to seek out one who would spare him the least. If a penitent did not follow the soul friend's advice then he could refuse to continue as soul friend. A soul friend was confessor in the broadest sense as well as director of souls. The desert fathers also acted as guides on the spiritual road; again, theirs was no authoritarian leadership and teaching was primarily by example. Other examples are the [startsy] of the Russian Church, who took Christ the good shepherd as their example and who suffered with and for their "sheep".
However, although the 14th and 15th centuries were times when spiritual guidance was practised extensively, following the Council of Trent (1545-1563) the practice narrowed to a role of guarding orthodoxy and avoiding both heresy and questionable mysticism. In the protestant tradition, as well, mutual admonition and guidance came to replace spiritual guidance of a personal and individual nature and also the direct action of God in the individual life was stressed.