Tag Archives: early church

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

Yes, even New Years resolutions have a Christian history


New Years sparklers 2013

Early in my training as a church historian, I learned the important fact that here in the West, pretty much everything has a Christian history. So I wasn’t surprised to find that New Years resolutions are rooted in old Christian practices too. Here’s what I discovered about the subject. Enjoy, and Happy New Years!

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

New from Christian History magazine: The history of hell


The editorial team at Christian History magazine is working away on our Issue #101 on Healthcare and Hospitals in the Mission of the Church, which will release this fall.

Meanwhile, project editor Jennifer Trafton and a writing team including myself, Jennifer and Edwin Woodruff Tait, and Jennifer Trafton have finished work on “The history of hell: A brief history and resource guide.” You can check it out here.

Summer 2011 confab of (early and medieval) historical theology wonks


Boston College: The Old World's enduring influ...

Boston College, with its Old World architecture

Folks, what’s the Boston Colloquy in Historical Theology? Why, it’s a group based at Boston College with a unique mission to rehabilitate historical theology as a discipline in service of the church. As it says on their website, ” The Boston Colloquy in Historical Theology (BCHT) is a professional organization of scholars devoted to the study of early and medieval Christian theology. Organized by Khaled Anatolios, Stephen F. Brown, and Boyd Taylor Coolman in the Theology Department at Boston College, the BCHT annually brings together scholars from these disciplines to foster conversation, stimulate thought, and promote scholarship.”

This summer’s meeting of the Colloquy looks to be an interesting one–see the list of papers below. Continue reading

Stuff Chris Armstrong likes, #1


Picture of Benny Beaver (en), mascot of the at...

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!

Social justice, early-church style


Giotto's Franciscan allegory of poverty: Poverty is a winged gaunt woman dressed only in rags, at whom children throw stones or brandish sticks. Christ himself marries this woman to St Francis. Numerous angels, as well as the personifications of Hope and Chastity, are present as witnesses. As offerings, two angels carry worldly goods heavenwards. The reactions of the world are depicted at either side: on the left a young man imitates Francis, and on the right the rich express ridicule.

The most recent issue of neoconservative Acton Institute‘s organ, Religion & Liberty, brings an interesting interview with “paleoorthodox” pundit Thomas C. Oden. Actually it is an excerpt of the interview; other bits of interview, dealing with Marxist liberation theology and the current condition of Oden’s United Methodist Church, can be found here.

The excerpt printed in Religion & Liberty ranges from early Christian treatment of the poor to global South missionaries coming to the West. Here are some of Oden’s comments on the value of patristic exegesis for today’s Christians–in particular where such exegesis was applied to social issues:

Why do you think many evangelicals, in their searching, are drawn to patristic thought and commentary? What can churches do to encourage those that are searching?

They’re drawn to patristic thought because it is wise. They are hungry for wisdom. They are looking for reliable Christian teaching and, in many cases, evangelicals have not been exposed to these documents because they have been focused on Christian doctrine since the Reformation. Continue reading