Care for the Sick in Early Christianity: Lessons for the Current COVID-19 Stricken Church

Jeremiah Mutie

Southern California Seminary


Debates on whether early Christians relied solely on exorcism and other miraculous healing under the assumption that all diseases are a result of demonic activity, continue. On the one end of this scholarly continuum are those who hold that early Christians only approached disease and healing as purely spiritual phenomena (hence, focusing on exorcism and other kinds of miraculous healing), while, on the other end, others have argued that early Christians accepted a naturalistic view of the causes for diseases and, consequently, sought naturalistic solutions to diseases. However, like in many other areas of life and thought in early Christianity, there is truth in both of these contentions. Rather than choose sides in this debate, this paper will argue that, just like in other areas, early Christians chose and modified existing approaches to sickness and death based on their understanding of the scriptural teachings on these subjects. As such, their approaches provide some key lessons to the current Covid-19 stricken Church.


Covid-19, sickness, Hippolytus, medicine, therapeutics, care, Tertullian, Cyprian Plague, Epidemic, pandemic, magic, healing, exorcism

Arnobius, Adversus nationes, in: The Case against the Pagans: Newly Translated and Annotated, v. 1-2, tr. G.E. McCracken, Ancient Christian Writers, Westminster 1949.

Cyprianus, De mortalitate, in: The Writings of Cyprian, Bishop of Carthage, v. 8, ed. R.E. Wallis, Ante-Nicene Fathers, Buffalo 1886.

Eusebius, Historia ecclesiastica, in: Ecclesiastical History, v. 14, ed. A.C. McGiffert, Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers Second Series, Buffalo 1890.

Hippocrates, Corpus Hippocraticum, in: Hippocratic Writings, ed. G.E.R. Lloyd, New York 1978.

Hippolytus, Traditio Apostolica, in: The Apostolic Tradition of Hippolytus, tr. B.S. Easton, New York 1934.

Plato, Dialogo de Critica, in: Plato, The Dialogues of Plato: Selections from Charmides, Lysis, Other Dialogues and the Laws, v. 4, tr. B. Jowett, New York 1914.

Tertulianus, De corona, in: Tertullian, Ante-Nicene Fathers: Latin Christianity: Its Founder, Tertullian, v. 3, ed. P. Schaff – A. Menzies, Christian Classics Ethereal Library, Grand Rapids 1885.

Amundsen D.W. – Ferngren G.B., The Early Christian Tradition, in: Caring and Curing: Health and Medicine in the Western Religious Traditions, ed. R.L. Numbers – D.W. Amundsen, New York 1986, p. 40-64.

Baldovin J.F., Hippolytus and the Apostolic Tradition: Recent Research and Commentary, “Theological Studies” 64 (2003) p. 520-542.

Barrett-Lennard R., The Canons of Hippolytus and Christian Concern with Illness, Health, and Healing, “Journal of Early Christian Studies” 13/2 (2005) p. 137-164.

Bradshaw P., Redating the Apostolic Tradition: Some Preliminary Steps, in: Rule of Prayer, Rule of Faith: Essays in Honour of Aidan Kavanagh, O.S.B, ed. A. Kavanagh – N. Mitchell – J.F. Baldovin, Collegeville 1996, p. 3-17.

Bradshaw P.F. – Maxwell E.J. – Phillips L.E., The Apostolic Tradition: A Commentary, ed. H.W. Attridge, Minneapolis 2002.

Brent A., Hippolytus and the Roman Church in the Third Century: Communities in Tension before the Emergence of a Monarchical Bishop, Supplements to Vigiliae Christianae 31, Leiden 1995.

Case S.J., The Art of Healing in Early Christian Times, “The Journal of Religion” 3/3 (1923) p. 238-255.

Casella B.P., Covid Vaccine Helps Us Get Back to Normal, “Optometry Times” 13 (2021) p. 6.

Crouch H.E., History of Basal Cell Carcinoma and Its Treatment, “Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine” 76 (1983) p. 302-306.

Daley B.E., Hope of the Early Church: A Handbook of Patristic Eschatology, Cambridge 1991.

Ferngren G.B., Medicine and Health Care in Early Christianity, Baltimore 2009.

Finn T.M., Ritual Process and the Survival of Early Christianity: A Study of the Apostolic Tradition of Hippolytus, “Journal of Ritual Studies” 3/1 (1989) p. 69-89.

Gilger P., “Litany for a Pandemic: What a Jesuit Learned under Quarantine in Milan”, America 222/10 (2020) p. 18-25.

Harnack A., The Mission and Expansion of Christianity in the First Three Centuries, v. 1, tr. J. Moffat, New York 1905.

Harper K., Pandemics and Passages to Late Antiquity: Rethinking the Plague of c. 249–70 Described by Cyprian, “Journal of Roman Archeology” 28 (2015) p. 223-260.

Holman S.R., The Hungry are Dying: Beggars and Bishops in Roman Cappadocia, Oxford Studies in Historical Theology, Oxford 2001.

Horstmanshoff H.F.J., “Galen and His Patients”, in: Ancient Medicine in Its Socio-Cultural Context: Papers Read at the Congress Held at Leiden University 13–15 April 1992, ed. Ph.J. van der Eijk. – H.F.J. Horstmanshoff – P.H. Schrijvers, Amsterdam 1995, p. 83-99.

McNary-Zak B. – Nada C. – Lawrence M. – Richard U.S., Useful Servanthood: A Study of Spiritual Formation in the Writings of Abba Ammonas, Cistercian Studies, Trappist 2010.

Montalto S.A., The Covid 19 Vaccine: Fear It Not!, “Malta Medical Journal” 32/3 (2020) p. 1-3.

Mutie J., Death in Second-Century Christian Thought: The Meaning of Death in Earliest Christianity, Eugene 2015.

Mutie J., Attitudes toward Death in Greco-Roman and Early Christian Cultures, “Pakistan Journal of Historical Studies” 2/2 (2017) p. 89-115.

Rebillard É., The Care for the Dead in Late Antiquity, v. 59. tr. E.T. Rawlings – J. Routier-Pucci, Cornell Studies in Classical Philology, Ithaca 2010.

Sarris P., The Justinianic Plague: Origins and Effects, “Continuity and Change” 17/2 (2002) p. 169-182.

Stark R., The Rise of Christianity: A Sociologist Reconsiders History, Princeton 1996.

Stewart-Sykes A., On the Apostolic Tradition: An English Version with Introduction and Commentary, Crestwood 2001.

Temple of the Holy Spirit: Sickness and Death of the Christian in the Liturgy: The Twenty-First Liturgical Conference Saint-Serge, tr. M.J. O’Connell, New York 1983.

The Canons of Hippolytus, ed. P. Bradshaw, tr. C. Bebawi, Liturgical Studies 2, Nottingham 1987.

Thomas J.C., The Devil, Disease, and Deliverance: Origins of Illness in New Testament Thought, Sheffield 1998.

Tauffragen and Bekenntnis: Studien Zur Sogenannten ‘Traditio Apostolica’ Zu Den ‘Interrogationes De Fide’ and Zum ‘Romischen Glaubensbekenntnis’, ed. W. Kinzig – C. Markschies – M. Vinzent, Arbeiten Zur Kirchengeschichte 74, Berlin 1999, p. 83-99.

Vinzent M., Writing the History of Early Christianity: From Reception to Retrospection, Cambridge 2019.

Wolterstorff N., Tertullian’s Enduring Question, in: Inquiring About God, v. 1, ed T. Cuneo, Cambridge 2010, p. 283-303.



Mutie, J. (2021). Care for the Sick in Early Christianity: Lessons for the Current COVID-19 Stricken Church. Vox Patrum, 78, 65–88.

Jeremiah Mutie 
Southern California Seminary


Zgodnie z regulacjami prawnymi zawartymi w ustawie o prawie autorskim i prawach pokrewnych z dnia 4 lutego 1994 r., autor przekazuje autorskie prawa majątkowe dotyczące składanego dzieła wydawcy czasopisma "Vox Patrum". Przeniesienie praw autorskich do składanego dzieła następuje na wszystkich polach eksploatacji, w szczególności tych wymienionych w art. 50 ustawy o prawie autorskim i prawach pokrewnych: 1. W zakresie utrwalania i zwielokrotniania utworu – wytwarzanie określoną techniką egzemplarzy dzieła, w tym techniką drukarską, reprograficzną, zapisu magnetycznego oraz techniką cyfrową. 2. W zakresie obrotu oryginałem albo egzemplarzami , na których dzieło utrwalono – wprowadzanie do obrotu, użyczenie lub najem oryginału albo egzemplarzy. 3. W zakresie rozpowszechniania utworu w sposób inny niż określony w pkt. 2 – publiczne wykonanie, wystawienie, wyświetlenie, odtworzenie oraz nadawanie i reemitowanie, a także publiczne udostępnianie utworu, aby każdy mógł mieć do niego dostęp w miejscu i czasie przez siebie wybranym.

Za zgodą Redakcji czasopisma artykuły i recenzje opublikowane w półroczniku "Vox Patrum" mogą być przedrukowywane w innych publikacjach.

Autor, w celach niekomercyjnych, może w dowolny sposób, bez zgody Redakcji, rozpowszechniać swój tekst w wersji elektronicznej.

Redakcja publikuje teksty on-line na licencji Creative Commons Uznanie autorstwa-Bez utworów zależnych 4.0 Międzynarodowe.