Healing in the History of Christianity

By Amanda Porterfield | Go to book overview

6
Christianity and the Global
Development of Scientific
Medicine

As a result of their long interest in human suffering and religious healing, Christians have constantly found themselves involved with medicine and concerned about the relationship between medical practice and religious faith. Over the centuries, many Christians practiced medicine as part of their religious outreach and employed it to recover natural health as God allowed. But the relationship between Christianity and medicine, and the boundaries between them, have always been complicated. Even when extreme Christians denied themselves natural remedies in order to prove their faith, they used medicine as a metaphor for Christ, the sacraments, the scriptures, and the blessings of the saints. Toward the other end of the spectrum, Christians enthusiastic about medicine as a primary expression of Christian service often insisted on its secondary status with respect to conversion. And even further along that spectrum, many Christians in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries put medicine first.

The global expansion of Western Christianity in the modern period coincided with the development of scientific medicine and its worldwide preeminence as a resource for human welfare. Christian missionaries figured importantly in these developments. They were the first to introduce scientific medicine in many parts of the world, and their leadership as practitioners and proponents of scientific medicine played historic roles in making health care an important component of global development. At the same time, the partner-

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