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by Gary B. Ferngren

Drawing on New Testament studies and recent scholarship on the expansion of the Christian church, Gary B. Ferngren presents a comprehensive historical account of medicine and medical philanthropy in the first five centuries of the Christian era.

Ferngren first describes how early Christians understood disease. He examines the relationship of early Christian medicine to the natural and supernatural modes of healing found in the Bible. Despite biblical accounts of demonic possession and miraculous healing, Ferngren argues that early Christians generally accepted naturalistic assumptions about disease and cared for the sick with medical knowledge gleaned from the Greeks and Romans.

Ferngren also explores the origins of medical philanthropy in the early Christian church. Rather than viewing illness as punishment for sins, early Christians believed that the sick deserved both medical assistance and compassion. Even as they were being persecuted, Christians cared for the sick within and outside of their community. Their long experience in medical charity led to the creation of the first hospitals, a singular Christian contribution to health care.

Download Medicine and Health Care in Early Christianity epub
ISBN: 0801891426
ISBN13: 978-0801891427
Category: Other
Subcategory: Medicine & Health Sciences
Author: Gary B. Ferngren
Language: English
Publisher: Johns Hopkins University Press; 1 edition (June 1, 2009)
Pages: 264 pages
ePUB size: 1295 kb
FB2 size: 1715 kb
Rating: 4.9
Votes: 201
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Book Review: Medicine & Health Care in Early Christianity

Gary Ferngren has done a great service for the church in researching and writing this scholarly book. The book itself is only 152 pages long but the endnotes and bibliography are another 100. There is a wealth of information in this book.

In the first chapter, Ferngren explains method, approach, and primary references in researching this topic. He also explains why he engaged in this endeavor and that is because much of the research in this field has been presumptive. In the following chapter, Ferngren discusses the early reception of Greek medicine into Christianity. He mentions Dr. Luke as well as some of the early Fathers who welcomed Hippocratic medicine. Moving on into the next chapter, Ferngren explores early Christian views of disease etiology. Here he dispels the common myth that early Christians saw all diseased as caused by demonic activity, and explores the naturalistic causes they saw behind some diseases. In chapter four, he refutes the common view that Christianity is a religion of healing. While he affirms the eschatological emphasis of physical healing at the second coming of Jesus, he sees Christianity cast primarily as a saving religion in the here and now. The next chapter considers medical philanthropy in the early church. Here Ferngren discuss how Christianity was the only religion in Greco-Roman society willing to care for those infected with diseases, exposed babies, and the leprous outcasts. In chapter six, Ferngren considers the early-organized healthcare efforts of the early church. Basil the Great founded the first hospital, and many would follow employing physicians and nurses. Ferngren provides some concluding observations and summarizes his study in the final chapter.

Context is so important. As one reads the Gospels, it is obvious that demonic activity causes a variety of problems with people. The prevailing notion has developed that early Christians saw all illness and disease as attributable to demonic causes. This is simply not the case. Ferngren cites example after example of attribution to naturalistic causes directed ultimately by the providence of God. It is easy to forget that Jesus walked on the earth following Hippocrates and the advent of Western medicine. Dr. Luke was a physician trained in Greco-Roman medicine. Ferngren argue persuasively that it was not until late antiquity and the veneration of the saints that the church became more superstitious regarding illness and disease. Understanding original context is so important, and Ferngren does an excellent job to show why.

Although the entire book is worth reading, I found this one of Ferngren’s a strongest contributions.
I am a retired surgeon serving most of my time in a public hospital resisting beneficently the inexorable drift into bureaucracy that has no knowledge of what a hospital is all about and where it came from in the first place. While there are signs of a turn around to the heart and soul of medicine , in our land ,there is still a long way to go. While I have not finished the Ferngren book this is the kind of dedicated research that is just so necessary and should be in every library. We must explore our roots if we are going to get things right in this age of subjectivism that runs away with the truth often turning a text into a pretext which when repeated enough turns it into a heresy.
Sincere thanks for getting this book so efficiently to me.
Excellent information
I read a copy of this book from the library I work at. It was so good in fact, that I ordered 2 copies to give as gifts to our pastor and his assistant.
A+ buz!
Dr. Ferngren presents a well-documented and rigorously researched account of how early Christians viewed medicine and what contributions early Christians made to the Western conceptualization of medicine. Contrary to popular belief, the majority of orthodox Christians in the early church did not view the body as evil and natural remedies for bodily ills an inherently pagan practice. Rather, following the dictum that "all truth is God's truth," Christians incorporated Greek medicine into their practices in caring for the sick. Early Christians were not miracle-workers, but ordinary inhabitants of the Roman Empire who cared for each other and those outside of the church with whatever means were at their disposal, including Greek medicine.

Those Christians, such as the ascetics, who refused medical treatment did so because they believed that one drew closer to God through suffering. Rather than believing that medicine was deplorable or suffering necessary to rid the soul of the body (as the Gnostics would have thought), the ascetics believed in the use of medicine to care for the suffering, but rejected medical care for themselves that they might grow closer to God through the travails of sickness.

Ferngren further discusses the great contribution of Christian thought to Western understanding of the sick and suffering. While the ancients largely ignored the poor, seeing only the rich and powerful as worthy of notice by the gods, Christianity saw all human beings as created in the image of God and thus worthy of God's attention. During plagues, Christians cared for the sick and suffering that the Roman government left to die on the streets. Eventually, Christians founded the first hospitals.

Christians believed first that they should care for the sick. If medicine originating among pagans offered a remedy for a given illness, Christians used the remedy to relieve suffering. Christianity was not a religion of healing, but a religion of caring.

The accounts of Christ's miracles were not meant to be emulated, but were a sign that the Messiah had come, symbols of the clash between God and Satan, good and evil. Christians did not believe that they could or should perform miracles, but that they should love and care for their neighbors as Christ commanded.

Ferngren explores the etymology of specific medial terms used in ancient Greek and Roman literature to offer a precise understanding of the various views held by the ancients regarding care for the sick. His lucid prose and patient, careful research makes this book an excellent contribution to the study of Christian views of science and medicine as well as Christian perspectives on caring for the sick.

(Full disclosure: I wrote my undergraduate honors thesis under Dr. Ferngren at Oregon State)