Peter Brown (Through the Eye of a Needle: Wealth, the Fall of Rome, and the Making of Christianity in the West, 350-550 AD, 504-5) summarizes the arguments of some posthumously published lectures of Michel Foucault on pastoral power:
“It had deep roots in the ancient Near East and in Early Christian discourse. It was ‘absolutely specific and different from political power’ as it had usually been conceived in the Greco-Roman world. It was a power that was thought of as more than usually insistent, wide-ranging, and absorptive. It was ‘directed to all and each’ member of a flock of believers. The bishop was supposed to love the members of his flock. He loved each one of them equally. And he loved them all – up to the very edge of the human community, where . . . the poor gathered like a black band on the far horizon, marking the extreme edges of society.” Pastoral love was viewed as “a specific, localized manifestation of the inexhaustible love of God Himself for all humankind.”
Brown/Foucault point to another difference between pastoral and political power:
Pastors had “a form of power shorn of ‘all those disturbing features that make men tremble before the power of kings.’ The ideal relation of a bishop to his flock was that of a father to his children and of a shepherd coaxing his sheep. He was supposed to be bound by innumerable strands of fellow-feeling to all members of his congregation, like a head to a vast body.” Fortunatus captured the tone in his description of Leontius of Bordeaux: “One would say that he had begotten this people as their father. For he admonished them in so gentle a voice that you would think he was speaking to parts of his own body.”
Beyond Foucault, Brown points to the ways that this new form of social and political power related to the growing wealth of the church: “just as the bishop’s power took the strange form of power without power, so the wealth of the church took the equally strange form of wealth without wealth. It was nominally ‘the wealth of the poor.’ It was wealth held in trust for non-persons.” But this anti-wealth wealth and counter-political power translated into real clout in the sixth century: “through basing themselves on counterfactual power joined to counterfactual wealth . . . the bishops and clergy . . . rose to prominence in a society where worldly, lay power had remained as solid and abrasive as ever” (507).