Tag Archives: plague

Birth of the hospital in the West – the first stirrings in the early church


The plague in Rome. Painting by Jules Elie Delaunay

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

Early

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 Hospitals Issue of Christian History is almost here! A taste . . .


The Hotel-Dieu, a Paris hospital founded by the church in the Middle Ages

Well, I’ve been a ghost on my own blog, but it’s been for a good cause: Christian History Issue #101, on Healthcare and Hospitals in the Mission of the Church, is headed to the printer this Friday, Sept. 30. (To see it when it goes online in the coming weeks, watch this space.)

A small taste of the issue, my editor’s note:

Christian History’s founder, the late Dr. Kenneth Curtis, thought and wrote a lot about what our faith has to say to those who suffer illness and those who care for them. As the magazine returned to the red barn in Pennsyl­vania in 2010, Ken made several lists of topics he hoped the revived Christian History could address in future ­issues. At the very top was this one: the church’s role in the history of healthcare. I resonated with this topic from the start, but I did wonder, What kind of story is there to tell here? As it turns out, quite a powerful one.

As I began studying the topic I discovered two unexpected things: first, the church was much more influential in the history of healthcare than I had expected; and second, the modern hospital can be traced directly back to ancient and medieval Christian institutions. Continue reading

Medievals on the usefulness of illness and the meaning of plague


Cover of "Medicine, Society, and Faith in...

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

Thanksgiving in the midst of fear: Plague-time poet John Donne still celebrated God’s goodness


With Thanksgiving coming soon and plenty in the world to be worried about and afraid of, these words from John Donne (introduced by me, updated by long-time CT writer Philip Yancey, and posted a few years back on http://www.christianitytoday.com), still speak to me:

[Twenty] Thanksgivings ago in the pages of Christianity Today, Philip Yancey shared a powerful meditation on giving thanks in a time of suffering and fear. Its source was one of Christianity’s most complex and compelling poets: John Donne.

Born in England in 1571, “Jack” Donne spent his youth in dissoluteness and rebelliousness, expressed in witty erotic poetry. Turning at last to Christ, Donne came to see himself as a prodigal saved only by grace.

Through a middle age marked by increasing devotion to Christ—but also by poverty and discouragement—he turned his evident poetic skill to the great themes of love, death, and God’s mercy. Then in 1615 he became an ordained Anglican priest, whereafter he poured his creative energies more into sermons than poems.

During a near-fatal illness in the year 1623, however, Donne turned again to poetry, completing his most famous volume, the Devotions upon Emergent Occasions. Continue reading