Healing in the Early Church by
Publication Date: 2009-07-01
This monograph presents the most comprehensive investigation yet made into the healing activity of the Early Church. In contrast to early skeptics like B. B. Warfield, the author is convinced there was a vigorous healing ministry in the centuries that followed the apostles, though it fluctuated somewhat and changed its mode. Exorcism is prominently attested throughout the period. The pre-Nicene Fathers recognized its great apologetic value as a dramatic demonstration of the superiority of Jesus Christ over pagan gods. Interest in healing miracles per se appears to have been particularly characteristic of the less educated members of the Church and those who were chaste in their devotion to the cause of Christ. Amongst these groups gifts of healing were found, becoming rare it seems by the mid-third century, but well attested again later in monastic circles. In the pre-Nicene period anointing with oil (in the name of Christ) was clearly an avenue of healing and, though mentioned comparatively rarely, may have been widespread as part of the regular ministry of local clergy to the sick. Baptismal healing, physical as well as spiritual, also took place. In the post-Nicene Church the shrines of the martyrs became a prominent locus of healing. Devotion to this cult may have been encouraged by Church Fathers as an acceptable alternative to magical practices. But evidence suggests syncretism did occur and martyr's relics could be invested with quasi-magical awe. Most Fathers were positive about the medical profession, seeing it as an avenue of God's work, and in the late fourth century one pioneered the hospital which then spread throughout the eastern Mediterranean. In an appendix to his work, the author sets down nine pointers from the healing activity of the Early Church, and his own experience, to assist those engaged in the healing ministry today.