Studies in Church History: The Church in Sickness and Health

5 August 2020

The Ecclesiastical History Society is inviting proposals for a special issue of its publication “Studies in Church History” on the theme ‘The Church in Sickness and Health’.

From the earliest times, the Church has cared for the sick and the health of society both in a physical and spiritual sense. Anointing and praying for the sick was combined with medical care for the afflicted. The intercession of the Virgin Mary, St Roch and St Sebastian, for example, was sought to protect the faithful from plague, while other saints offered hope against further diseases. Religious foundations such as leper and plague hospitals cared for the diseased but also isolated them to protect the health of society. The institutionalisation of the Church’s care for the sick led to the foundation of hospitals and medical schools. Leading London hospitals, such as Bart’s and St Thomas’s, developed from medieval monastic foundations and today the Catholic Church is the largest non-governmental provider of healthcare.

In spite of the Church’s concern for the sick, from the Early Church to the present there have been tensions between medicine and religion, the balance between the will of God and scientific intervention. For some Churches being a doctor was regarded as being incompatible with being a minister. This uneasy relationship can be seen in the resistance of some faiths to certain medical procedures. Scientific research has also made possible procedures which raise ethical issues on which many churches have reflected, including the use of STEM-cells, cloning, or the genetic manipulation of embryos. On the other hand, Christian theologies of healing have offered medical practitioners important perspectives in debates around what constitutes a good life, and a good death, had provided important insights on what might constitute healing, often particularly relevant to those facing terminal illness.

Alongside physical health, the Church has been concerned with spiritual health and salvation. The Church has rituals intended to restore the spiritual health, such as exorcism to banish demons from the afflicted. Metaphors of disease have been used to convey the threat to the spiritual well-being of the Church and Christendom, such as identifying heresy as a plague that threatened the faithful.

Papers are invited that consider how the Church has responded to – and defined – sickness and health from the Early Church to the present day. Possible themes, may include but are not restricted, to the following:

  • The Church’s response to disease, plagues and pandemics
  • Practices relating to visiting and caring for the sick
  • The Church and medicine; clergy and physicians
  • Religious institutions and medical care; hospital chaplains
  • Medicine and Christian missions
  • Churches’ responses to science, medical research, and medical intervention
  • Historical perspectives on what constitutes a good life, a good death and healing.
  • The Church and spiritual health
  • Theological metaphors of sickness and health

Please submit proposals for ehseditorial@gmail.com by 15 October 2020, using the form on our website: https://ecclesiasticalhistorysociety.com/churchinsicknessandinhealth/

Accepted papers will require full submission by the end of January 2021.