What is the significance of King Alfred's Preface to the Pastoral Care?

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The Book of the Pastoral Rule, originally known in Latin as Liber Regulae Pastoralis or Regula Pastoralis, is often referred to in English as Pastoral Care. Written by Pope Gregory I ca. 590, the treatise lays out the responsibilities of the clergy. It was circulated throughout Europe, and Gregory late revised it. By 600, the Pastoral Care had reached England. King Alfred, known as the Great, translated the work into Old English. In his preface, he noted that Augustine of Canterbury, as Gregory’s emissary, had brought the book in 597.

Alfred’s translation and the accompanying preface both formed part of his project, which included other texts as well, that aimed to pastoral knowledge and by extension education in the England of his day. It is acknowledged that numerous clerical scholars also contributed to the translation. Alfred intended that all the bishops in England should have a copy, and thereby stand not only to learn the material but to teach it to other clergy. In this important ecclesiastical text, Alfred created a how-to manual of a bishop’s duties, and of the ways to teach and guide Christian souls.

Consistent with this goal, Alfred includes a preface—or rather, two prefaces. The prose preface includes his translation methods and explains the reasons he carried out the project. He expresses his concern for the declining oral state of England, which he aims to reform. The verse or metrical preface approximates the voice of the text, including the types of biblical passages and quotations included.

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