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
My students and I have been talking a lot lately about the role of secular leaders vis-a-vis the church–especially the early church. A while back some words of British Prime Minister Tony Blair launched me into some research and reflections on this same topic–and a brief survey of the records of emperors Constantine, Theodosius I, and Justinian I. The results follow:
(Then, not content with putting together one article on this, I went on to look at some later leaders–so this post will be followed by a “part II“):
When World Leaders Pray
Some observers are upset with Tony Blair’s recent public avowal of faith. But what impact has Christianity really had on our leaders?
“Humility, conscience, and responsibility.” These are the traits London Times writer Michael Gove believes political leaders learn when they submit themselves to God.
Gove made this statement last week after Tony Blair publicly stated that he would be judged on the Iraq war by “my Maker.” Blair’s closest advisors flinched—believing such an admission of faith by a Prime Minister “plays badly.” These are the same advisors who insisted the PM not end his Iraq war broadcast with “God bless you,” because “people don’t want chaplains pushing stuff down their throats.”
Sadly, the British spin-doctors are probably right to worry. After all, ever since the European public found out about the Bible study classes being held at the White House, many have been convinced Bush is “a fundamentalist crazy.” “To listen to the European reaction,” says Gove, “one might have thought they were bringing back witch trials in Massachusetts.” Continue reading
Here’s a buffet table of snips & snails from a few years ago, from the front section of Christian History & Biography issue #89: Richard Baxter & the Puritans.
On the menu are possibly the oldest church ever discovered, several Hollywood renderings of Christian historical themes, a couple of museums related to Asian Christianity in the U.S., a virtual tour of the Roman catacombs, and a flaming polemical tract by Baptist firebrand Roger Williams (who, by the way, is an ancestor of mine–I like to think I get my “free spirit” side from ol’ Rog):
Oldest church discovered, Christian history in the movies, rare book by Roger Williams
Oldest church discovered?
n seminary, we learned that the Roman Christians didn’t start erecting public church buildings until after Constantine legalized their faith in 313 A.D. As a result, almost all evidence from the first three centuries of the church has come to us in the form of manuscripts, not architecture or furnishings. Now archaeologists have uncovered a building in the northern Israeli city of Megiddo, near the biblical site of Armageddon, that challenges the conventional wisdom. Continue reading
In the rush of our shot-out-of-a-cannon lives, It’s so easy for us to feel drained, dried-out, and distant from God. Recently I had the chance to share the response of one spiritual giant (and ordinary, wounded man) to this syndrome. Over the years, Leadership Journal editor Marshall Shelley has graciously allowed me to share stories of some of history’s most intriguing Christian leaders in the pages of his high-quality magazine.
By the way, for those who like to bemoan the current state of the churches categorized under the loose heading “evangelical,” I would point out that any movement whose leaders are wise enough to look to the church’s heritage for wisdom has got a powerful antidote to modern fads and crotchets. Mr. Shelley knows this particularly well: his father, Bruce Shelley, is a church historian (long of Denver Seminary, author of Church History in Plain Language):
When Details Get You Down
Maintaining a spiritual life amid war, famine, and plague is what made Gregory the Great.
How can I maintain a spiritual life while dealing with people’s incessant problems and needs? The question didn’t originate with a pastor whose cell phone kept interrupting his prayer life. It goes back at least as far as Gregory, the first practicing monk to be elected, over his own objections, to the papacy. Gregory (540-604) preferred the life of solitude and contemplation, but it was his abilities as a leader as well as his writings on the integration of the inner life with active ministry that that caused him to be called, “Gregory the Great.” When he became pope in 590, Rome had been attacked for several years by the Lombards, a fierce Germanic tribe that had crossed the Alps to plunder the Eternal City. The emperor, distant in Constantinople, was distracted by a war with Persia, and could not offer aid to Rome. The years of war, famine, and plague had prompted Rome’s senatorial class to flee the city, when meant that the newly-elected Pope Gregory I was the only civil authority left. So he was immediately thrust into managing supplies and troop movements, and negotiating with terrorists. Continue reading
Posted in Medieval Wisdom for Modern Protestants, Patron Saints for Postmoderns
Tagged active life, contemplation, contemplative life, discernment, Greogry the Great, monasticism, papacy, Rome, Spirituality, suffering