1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Pastoral Staff

PASTORAL STAFF, in the Christian Church, an ensign of office or dignity. It is some five feet long, ending at the top in a crook (volute) bent inwards, and made of metal, ivory or wood. If of metal, it is hollow; if of wood, it is usually covered with metal. The crook is usually richly ornamented, and is divided from the shaft by a boss; the shaft is commonly separated into sections by rings, so that it can be taken to pieces.

The pastoral staff is the ensign proper of cardinals (except cardinal-deacons) and bishops; but the former are entitled to use it only in the churches from which they derive their titles, the latter only in their dioceses. The pope so early as the time of Innocent III. did not carry the pastoral staff, and it would seem never to have been his custom. The ferula that the Ordo of Cencius Sabellius (ch. 48) speaks of was not a pastoral staff, but the symbol of authority over the papal palace, with which by its transference he was invested. This ferula, mentioned by Luitprand of Cremona in his account of the deposition of Benedict V., and the baculus aureus of the Historia dedicationis ecclesiae cavensis (Acta Sanctorum, 4 March, i. 354) are sceptres. Abbots carry the pastoral staff only when specially empowered by the pope to do so, and then only in the territory under the jurisdiction of their monastery and in the churches subordinated to it. With certain restrictions the pastoral staff is also sometimes conceded to dignitaries of cathedral and collegiate churches, but never to abbesses (Sacra Congreg. Rit. 29 Jan. 1656).

The pastoral staff, as its name implies, symbolizes the pastoral office and authority, a symbolism already known to Isidore of Seville (De ecclesiast. off. ii. 5). This symbolism is expressed in the words used, at least since the 10th century, by the consecrator in delivering the pastoral staff at the consecration of a bishop and the benediction of an abbot. The pastoral staff is carried in the left hand, in order that the right may remain free to give the blessing. The bishop is directed so to hold it {Cerem. episc. ii. 8, 25) that the crook is turned towards the people. It is used not only at pontifical High Mass but at all solemn pontifical functions, e.g. vespers, consecrations, processions. It is uncertain at what period the use of the pastoral staff was introduced; but the evidence tends to show that it was about the 8th century, in Gaul or Spain. The pastoral staff was certainly in use in Gaul in the 6th century (Vila S. Caesar. Arelat. ii. 18), in Spain at least as early as the 7th, and in Ireland also in the 7th; in Italy, so far as the available evidence shows, its introduction was comparatively late. It had originally nothing of its present liturgical character; this was given to it in the post-Carolingian period.

As regards the development of the form of the pastoral staff, there are four principal types: (1) staves with a simple crook, the oldest form, which survived in Ireland until the 12th century; (2) staves with a ball or knob at the top, a rare form which did not long survive as a pastoral staff; (3) staves with a horizontal crook, so-called Tau-staves, used especially by abbots and surviving until the 13th century; (4) staves with crook bent inwards. These last already appear in miniatures of the 9th century; from the 11th onwards they predominated; and in the 13th century they ousted all other forms. Originally plain, the crook was from the 11th century onwards often made in the form of a snake (5), which in richer staves encircled the Lamb of God or the representation of a figure. Since the 13th century the snake, under Gothic influence, developed into a boldly designed tendril set with leaves, which usually encircled a figure or group of figures, and the knob dividing shaft and crook into an elegant chapel (6 and 7). Finally, at the close of the middle ages, the lower part of the crook was bent outwards so that the actual volute came over the middle of the knob, the type that remained dominant from that time onwards (8). As a decoration, rather than for practical reasons, a fine folded cloth (pannisellus, sudarium, velum, Eng. veil), was from the 14th century onward often suspended from the knob of the pastoral staff. This was done both in the case of bishops’ and of abbots’ staves, but is now confined to the latter (Cerem. episc. i. 11, 5; Decr. Alex. VII. 27 Sept. 1659; Sacr. Congr. Rit. 27 Sept. 1847).

From the pastoral staff must be distinguished the staff of the chorepiscopus (director of the choir) and cantors, which is still in use here and there. This, which is also known as bordonus, was developed out of the choir-staves, originally no more than sticks to lean on during the long services.

The Reformation abolished the pastoral staff almost everywhere.[1] In the Church of England, however, it was retained among the episcopal ornaments prescribed by the first Prayerbook of Edward VI., and, though omitted in the second Prayerbook, its use seemed once more to be enjoined under the Ornaments Rubric of Elizabeth’s Prayer-book. Whatever the theoretical value of this injunction may have been, however, in practice the use of the pastoral staff was discontinued until its gradual revival in the last decades of the 19th century.

In the Churches of the East, a pastoral staff (Gr. ῥάβδος, Russ. possoch, paterissa, Syr. and Nest. chutra, Arm. gavazan hayrapetatz, Copt. šbot) is borne among the Syrians only by the patriarch, in all the other rites by all bishops, in the Greek Church also by archimandrites and abbots, and in the Armenian Church sdso by the vartapeds (teachers). The staff of Armenian bishops is reminiscent of that of the West, from which it is apparently derived; that of the vartapeds is encircled at the upper end by one or two snakes. The Coptic patriarch uses an iron cross-staff. For the rest, the pastoral staff in the Oriental rites is T-shaped. It is of wood inlaid with ivory and mother-of-pearl. A veil is attached to the staff among the Greeks, Armenians and Copts. The bishops of the Coptic, Syrian and Nestorian Uniate Churches have adopted the Roman pastoral staff.

See Ch. Cahier et A. Martin, Mélanges d’archéologie (Paris, 1856), iv. 145 seq.; Rohault et Fleury, La Messe (Paris, 1889), vii. 75 seq. For the Anglican usage see the Report of the Sub-committee of Convocation on the Ornaments of the Church, &c. (London, 1908).  (J. Bra.) 

  1. Among curious exceptions is the pastoral staff still carried by the Lutheran abbot of Lokkum.