F.P. Retief, L. Cilliers


Christianity made its appearance at a time when religion, even magic, played a much more important role in health care than it does today. As Ferngren and Amundsen (1994:2957-2960) point out, this is not necessarily because the ancients were more credulous or superstitious than we are today, but mainly because they realized that so much of life, including ill health, lay beyond their control. Ancient civilizations on the shores of the Mediterranean believed in a multitude of gods or goddesses, magical forces and supernatural powers which affected their health. But at least since the days of Homer there also existed physicians who practised some form of empirical medicine, and during the 5th and 4th centuries BC the Hippocratic doctors established the foundations of rational or scientific medicine as we know it today, where superstition, magic and supernatural factors were not relevant.
Health care based on the teachings of Christ, as recorded in the New Testament, is primarily of a religious nature (Wassermann 1997:6-12). Although this need not imply conflict with secular medicine, history tells us that antagonism did soon arise, and despite the fact that positive influences are acknowledged, the view that the Christian church eventually retarded the advance of medical science (in Medieval times in particular) is a common one (Porter 1997:110-112). However, Nutton (1984:1), Avalos (1999:7-15) and others have warned that much research still needs to be done to verify traditional statements on this issue. In this study we have endeavoured to analyse the intricate interplay between the Christian church and rational medicine (as represented by Graeco-Roman medical concepts) during the first 1500 years of Christendom.

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