Here is the rest of the conclusion of the “compassionate ministry” chapter draft from Getting Medieval with C S Lewis (the first part is here). Here we see more of how Lewis applied the classic medieval virtue of mercy in his own life, as well as how he accused modern materialists of forgetting that we cannot solve all of our problems by application of better and better techniques.
More concretely, Lewis was also lavish in his almsgiving. He said this on giving: “Giving to the poor is an essential part of Christian morality. I do not believe one can settle how much we ought to give. I’m afraid the only safe rule is to give more than we can spare. In other words, if our expenditure on comforts, luxuries, and amusement, is up to the standard common of those with the same income as our own, we are probably giving away too little. . . . For many of us the great obstacle to charity lies not in our luxurious living or desire for more money, but in our fear – fear of insecurity. This must often be recognized as a temptation.”
Barfield, who was Lewis’s trustee as well as his friend, observed how Lewis followed this principle in his own life. “He gave two-thirds of his income away altogether and would have bound himself to give the whole of it away if I had let him. . . . There were substantial donations to charitable institutions, but what he really liked was to find someone through a personal connection or hearsay whose wants might be alleviated. He was always grateful to me for suggesting any lame dog whom my profession [as a lawyer] had brought to my notice.” (14) Nor did he worry about wasting his money on undeserving types. Instead, he reflected, “It will not bother me in the hour of death to reflect that I have been “had for a sucker” by any number of impostors; but it would be a torment to know that one had refused even one person in need.” Continue reading
Posted in Medieval Wisdom for Modern Protestants
Tagged alms, almsgiving, C S Lewis, Cecily Saunders, healing, healthcare, hospice, medicine, Medieval, mercy, Middle Ages, Palliative care
Works of Mercy (Photo credit: jimforest)
More from the “hospitals chapter” of my Getting Medieval with C S Lewis:
During this time, a new theology of sickness sprang up: “like monks, martyrs, saints, and finally apostles, the sick could function as mediators between God and His people. Their intercessional prayers on behalf of patrons and caregivers were believed to be valuable.” This was an important development, and in the 12th century, in a more urban and more economically stable and flourishing Europe, it would contribute to a massive uptick in the foundation of hospitals by wealthy lay donors.
And that was a good thing – the “charitable revolution” of the 12th century – because by the 11th, monasteries were nearing the end of their hospitalling. The culprit? Economic change: Continue reading
Basil (Photo credit: el_finco) Not actually Basil the Great, but the herb, which has been used since ancient times as an anti-inflammatory.
Here’s the next bit of the “hospitals chapter” in Getting Medieval with C S Lewis. It follows from this bit on Lewis, this introductory bit, and this description of the very first proto-hospitals in the earliest Christian church
Basil’s House of Healing
The hospital itself, it is generally agreed, begins to emerge in the fourth century from the compassion of a well-known monk—Basil, now called “the Great.” In setting the scene for this story, historian Timothy S. Miller reminds us that Lewis’s “two-edged” description of the faith (body affirming + spirit affirming) characterized monks as well as laypeople – in a way many moderns find surprising. Mentioning some of the monks’ more severe ascetic practices (for example, the unforgettable Simeon Stylites’ long stretches sitting atop a pole in the desert), Miller admits, “Their lifestyles of severe self-denial may seem to pull against the truth that God made us human beings and called us ‘very good’—bodies and all.”
“But,” continues, Miller, “if monastics really thought of the body as evil, then how is it that some of the greatest strides in the history of healthcare arose within monasticism? Monks cared for the ill in Benedictine monasteries, Franciscan leprosaria, the institutions of the monastic ‘hospitallers,’ the many hospitals of the Augustinians, and so on throughout the history of monasticism.” Basil started it all, and his story “decisively dispels” our “myths of body-hating monks.” Continue reading
Posted in Medieval Wisdom for Modern Protestants
Tagged Basil the Great, Benedict of Nursia, Crusades, healing, healthcare, Hospitallers, hospitals, Jerusalem, mercy, Simeon Stylites, the poor
The plague in Rome. Painting by Jules Elie Delaunay
Moving on in the “hospitals chapter” in my Getting Medieval with C S Lewis:
What does a distinctively Christian practice of mercy look like?
To see what a distinctively gospel-centered approach to care for the body looked like in the early and medieval church, we turn to a case study: the early development and medieval rise of the hospital
What, then, did this distinctively Christian practice of mercy look like in the early and medieval church? A key case is that of the hospital. Before Christianity, there were no hospitals in the Roman Empire. Within a few centuries of Christ’s coming, an institution that would later develop into the hospital begin to emerge as a unique new form of religious philanthropy on the face of the earth.
Church parish networks
Before it did, however, there was plenty of Christian healing and helping going on—with healthcare usually happening in the context of needy members: widows, orphans, the poor. But it was happening in the church. Specifically, it was happening within parish networks. As a regular part of their worship, the earliest Christians gathered alms to be distributed by deacons for the help of those in need. By the mid 200s, the benevolence mission of the church had birthed a complex of minor clerical orders, and a report from Cornelius, bishop of Rome, in 251 described a strategic system that involved dividing the city into seven districts, with deacons and subdeacons appointed to care for the people in each one. Gary Ferngren relates that the Roman church in that day spent up to a million sesterces a year—a huge amount of money—in supporting and caring for 1,500 needy people. Continue reading
The Parable of the Good Samaritan by Jan Wijnants (1670) shows the Good Samaritan tending the injured man. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Here’s the next bit of the “hospitals chapter” in Getting Medieval with C S Lewis. It follows from this bit on Lewis and this introductory bit.
So how did all of this translate into a Christian emphasis on bodily care? For the early and medieval churches were notable for healing. Yes, miraculous healing, on occasion. But also, and much more frequently, the sort of healing that comes from basic nursing care and the application of medical knowledge (however rudimentary during most of the period we’re studying).
The Pagans in the Roman world of Christianity’s birth had no such distinctive. They had “no religious impulse for charity that took the form of personal concern for those in distress.” Indeed the Pagans taught neither compassion nor active mercy as virtues. To be merciful only helped the weak—those who were drags on society.
It is important that we “get” how radical this change was, from the Pagan to the Christian attitude toward illness and healing: “In the cramped, unsanitary warrens of the typical Roman city, under the miserable cycle of plagues and famines, the sick found no public institutions dedicated to their care and little in the way of sympathy or help.” Continue reading
Yep. The Christian History editorial team is celebrating the printing of Issue #101: Healthcare and Hospitals in the Mission of the Church. For full access to this full-color issue (including a magnified view for us old people–just click on the magazine to enlarge), see here.
The issue tells the fascinating story of how early and medieval Christians pioneered the healthcare institutions on which we now rely, including the modern hospital.
Christian History itself is moving forward in full and glorious health. Projects in the pipeline for 2011-12 include the following:
–a guided tour of 1,000 years of worship from Constantine to Luther,
–a larger issue or even book on the history of Christianity in America,
–an issue showing how influential early African Christianity (especially North African) was in the development of the faith,
–an issue exploring the ways the church responded to the travails and malaises of industrial society from the early 1800s through the beginning World War II, and
–a special keepsake issue on the history of Christmas.
If you haven’t signed up for the magazine yet at http://www.christianhistorymagazine.org, now is the time! Tell your friends!
Now here’s a fascinating story:
In the spring of 1824 in the young capital city of Washington, D.C., Ann Carbery Mattingly, widowed sister of the city’s mayor, was miraculously cured of a ravaging cancer. Just days, or perhaps even hours, from her predicted demise, she arose from her sickbed freed from agonizing pain and able to enjoy an additional thirty-one years of life. The Mattingly miracle purportedly came through the intervention of a charismatic German cleric, Prince Alexander Hohenlohe, who was credited already with hundreds of cures across Europe and Great Britain. Though nearly forgotten today, Mattingly’s astonishing healing became a polarizing event. It heralded a rising tide of anti-Catholicism in the United States that would culminate in violence over the next two decades.
Working from sources in Europe and America, Nancy Lusignan Schultz deftly weaves analysis of this significant episode in American social and religious history together with the astonishing personal stories of both Ann Mattingly and the healer Prince Hohenlohe, around whom a cult was arising in Europe. Mrs. Mattingly’s Miracle has the dramatic intensity of a novel and brings to light an early episode in the battle between faith and reason in the United States-a battle that continues to inspire debate in American culture to this day. Continue reading
Yes, this is the mascot of OSU. Yes, it's a beaver. Don't anger it.
Some links I’ve run across and would like to share.
First, the Oregon State University historian of science, medicine, and ancient Greece & Rome Gary Ferngren (who I’ve quoted many times on this site–go ahead, search on his name–and am hoping can help us out on Christian History issue #101 on healing in the early church & the Christian invention of the hospital) was captured on video three years ago debating OSU colleague Marcus Borg at a meeting of the OSU Socratic Club. A straightforward, clear presentation of “traditional Christianity.” Worth watching.
Second, an interesting article on Salon.com about a question that has occupied my mind over the years: Why are Christian movies so awful? The “presenting symptom” here is the movie Soul Surfer.
Third, a poem by my creatively and intellectually outstanding future daughter-in-law, Hannah Sauerwein, on being sick. It moves in a different, perhaps more reflective, ambit than this poem by the master of humorous poetry, Ogden Nash. But it certainly has its own charm. Proud to know Hannah!
Ta ta for now!
Posted in Uncategorized
Tagged apologetics, Early Christianity, early church, film, Gary Ferngren, Greece, healing, health, Marcus Borg, medicine, movies, Ogden Nash, Oregon State University, poetry, Soul Surfer
This is a third post grabbing some insights from a fascinating book by Darrel W. Amundsen—Medicine, Society, and Faith in the Ancient and Medieval Worlds (Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1996). The first post shared some of Amundsen’s observations on early Christian attitudes toward medicine and physicians. The second revealed Amundsen’s insights into what medieval Christians thought caused illnesses.
“There is, in the literature, a definite appreciation of God’s hand in a Christian’s suffering and of the salutary effects of sickness in the Christian’s life. Continue reading
Posted in Medieval Wisdom for Modern Protestants, Resources for Radical Living
Tagged death, Gregory the Great, healing, health, illness, medicine, Middle Ages, plague, Pope Gregory I, Spirituality
From a fascinating book by Darrel W. Amundsen—Medicine, Society, and Faith in the Ancient and Medieval Worlds (Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1996)—come the following observations on early Christian attitudes toward medicine and physicians. These excerpts come from chapter 5, “Medicine and Faith in Early Christianity” (sentences not in quotation marks are comments from me). See here for further insights from Amundsen, on what medievals thought caused illness. And see here for some of his observations on the spiritual usefulness of illness and the meaning of plague.
“While among pagans  and Christians the same range of attitudes toward medicine and healing existed, there was one essential difference between pagans and at least those Christians who had actively embraced the gospel. . . . This pervasive difference between pagans and Christians resulted from the highly personal relationship existing between the individual Christian and an omnipotent God who was typically viewed as a having a direct concern with and involvement in the life of the believer. Continue reading
Posted in Resources for Radical Living
Tagged Augustine of Hippo, Gregory Nazianzen, healing, health, Jerome, John Chrysostom, medicine, Origen of Alexandria, paganism, stoicism, suffering