HEALING IN THE PATRISTIC PERIOD (100-600)
HEALING IN CHURCH HISTORY
Divine Healing did not cease with the close of the first century or with the completion of the New Testament canon. It continued to occur in each of the three major historical periods (patristic, medieval, reformation to modern times).
When major authorities endorsed the gifts, they occurred openly and widely within the Church. When those in authority no longer endorsed the gifts, there was a decline in their usage and their occurrence.
Healing gifts usually became manifest among the pietistic God-seekers but when their occurrence threatened the structure or status quo, ecclesiastical leaders often tried to terminate them.
Interestingly, almost every major personality of Church history had some exposure to and acceptance of the miraculous and the gift of healing.
The following materials are being compiled gradually, as more and more testimonies are coming to light while history is uncovered. We will add to these materials when we discover them and as time permits. Clearly, the miraculous element of New Testament church life has not ceased since the beginning of the Christian Church.
J. Sidlow Baxter states that there are four different attitudes concerning healing and miracles in the history of the Church (Baxter, Divine healing of the Body, 1979, p. 62). In summary they are:
1. Signs and Wonders ceased with the end-of the Apostolic age. Anything which appears to be such is either spurious or not occurring by divine means.
2. Signs and Wonders ceased because they belonged only to the earliest centuries. They ceased because they were no longer needed as “divine credentials” since the Church had been widely established and officially sanctioned.
3. Signs and Wonders faded out gradually as the condition of the organized Church deteriorated.
4. Signs and Wonders have never ceased among true Christian believers, but have occurred from the Apostolic age until now.
The position of this website’s founders is the last. God has never ceased to do miracles in his Church – as will be seen in this, and further historical sections on this site.
We have confined our records to experiences of demonic deliverance or physical healing, though there are many times more extant records regarding the use of spiritual gifts throughout history.
THE PATRISTIC PERIOD
JUSTIN MARTYR (ca. 100-165)
Justin was a Christian apologist who had studied all the great philosophies of his day. About the age of 32, he was converted to Christianity. In his Second Apology (ca. 153), Justin, in speaking about the names, meaning, and power of God and Christ, writes concerning the exorcism and healing of the demonized:
‘For numberless demoniacs throughout the whole world, and in your city, many of our Christian men exorcising them in the name of Jesus Christ, who was crucified under Pontius Pilate, have healed and do heal, rendering helpless and driving the possessing devils out of the men, though they could not be cured by all the other exorcists, and those who used incantations and drugs.’
TERTULLIAN (ca. 160 / 170-ca.215 / 220)
Not many details are known concerning Tertullian’s life. He was reared in the cultured paganism of Carthage. He became a Christian (n.d.) and joined the Montanist group about 206. He was a prolific writer. In his work To Scapula, Chapter 5 he gives this account of expelling demons and healing:
‘All this might be officially brought under your notice, and by the very advocates, who are themselves also under obligations to us, although in court they give their voice as it suits them. The clerk of one of them who was liable to be thrown upon the ground by an evil spirit, was set free from his affliction; and was also the relative of another, and the little boy of a third. How many men of rank (to say nothing of common people) have been delivered from devils, and healed of diseases! Even Severus himself, the father of Antonine, was graciously mindful of the Christians; for he sought out the Christian Proculus, surnamed Torpacion, the steward of Euhodias, and in gratitude for his having once cured him by anointing, he kept him in his palace till the day of his death.’
ORIGEN (ca. 185 – ca. 254)
Origen was born in Egypt and raised by Christian parents. His father Leonidas was martyred in 202 when Origen was about 17 years old. He was devoted to writing, and in his writings, recognizes the Scripture where Paul lists the “charismata”, and in another work he speaks of those who obtain the “excellent gifts of the Spirit”. In Principles, he also speaks of the Holy Spirit as the one “in whom is contained every kind of gifts”. He then goes on to observe that some have the “word of wisdom”, others the “word of knowledge”, others “faith” and that this has been bestowed on them “by the Spirit”. In Against Celsus, Origen notes that traces of Signs and Wonders are still preserved among those who regulate their lives by the precepts of the gospel. Also in Against Celsus, Origen notes that the Christians were still expelling demons from those “persons possessed with them”
HIPPOLYTUS (d. ca. 236)
Hippolytus was a presbyter and teacher in the Church at Rome. His book The Apostolic Tradition gives one a conservative picture of Roman Church order and worship at the end of the 2nd century and beginning of the 3rd century. The following is a selection from his book:
In the section called “Of a Gift of Healing” we read, “If any one among the laity appear to have received a gift of healing by revelation, hands shall not be laid on him because the matter is manifest.” Concerning the demonized, Hippolytus suggests, “But if there be one who has a devil, let him not hear the word from the teacher until he has been cleansed.”
“Moreover, from the day they are chosen, let a hand be laid on them and let them be exorcised daily. And when the day draws near on which they are to be baptized, let the bishop [himself] exorcise each one of them, that he may be certain that he is purified.
But if there is one who is not purified let him be put on one side because he did not hear the word of instruction with faith. For the [evil and] strange spirit remained with him.
And laying his hand on them he shall exorcise every evil spirit to flee away from them and never to return to them [henceforward]. And when he has finished exorcising, let him breathe on [their faces] and seal their foreheads and ears and noses and [then] let him raise them up.”
Novation of Rome is noted for two reasons: 1) He was the “antipope” of the “Puritan” party in the Church and 2) He gave the Western Church its first full-length treatment of the Trinity. In Chapter 29 of Treatise Concerning the Trinity he writes:
“This is He who places prophets in the Church, instructs teachers, directs tongues, gives powers and healings, does wonderful works, offers discrimination of spirits, affords powers of government, suggests counsels, and orders and arranges whatever other gifts there are of charismata; and thus make the Lord’s Church everywhere, and in all, perfected and completed.”
GREGORY THAUMATURGUS (ca. 213 – ca. 270)
Gregory was the Bishop of Neo-Caesaria and a pupil of Origen in the first half of the 3rd century. He had a successful ministry, both numerically and supernaturally. There was a marked increase in the number of Christians at the completion of his ministry in Neo-Caesaria. Basil in his work On the Spirit wrote the following account of Gregory, who was called Gregory the wonder-worker. Though there is no specific mention of healing there is sufficient reference to conclude that he a signs and wonders ministry which undoubtedly would have included healing.
“But where shall I rank the great Gregory, and the words uttered by him? Shall we not place among Apostles and Prophets a man who walked by the same Spirit as they; who never through all his days diverged from the footprints of the saints; who maintained, as long as he lived, the exact principles of evangelical citizenship? I am sure that we shall do the truth a wrong if we refuse to number that soul with the people of God, shining as it did like a beacon in the Church of God: for by the fellow-working of the Spirit the power which he had over demons was tremendous, and so gifted was he with the grace of the word ‘for obedience to the faith among. . .the nations.’ that, although only seventeen Christians were handed over to him, he brought the whole people alike in town and country through knowledge to God.
He too by Christ’s mighty name commanded even rivers to change their course, and caused a lake, which afforded a ground of quarrel to some covetous brethren, to dry up. Moreover his predictions of things to come were such as in no wise to fall short of those of the great prophets.
To recount all his wonderful works in detail would be too long a task. By the superabundance of gifts, wrought in him by the Spirit, in all power and in signs and in marvels, he was styled a second Moses by the very enemies of the Church. Thus in all that he through grace accomplished, alike by word and deed, a light seemed ever to be shining, token of the heavenly power from the unseen which followed him. To this day he is a great object of admiration to the people of his own neighborhood, and his memory, established in the churches ever fresh and green, is not dulled by length of time.”
ANTONY (ca. 251-356)
Our knowledge of Antony depends largely upon his biography written by Athanasius shortly after his death. Chapter 38-42 of this biography shows Antony’s work with the supernatural, especially in dealing with demons.
“We must not boast of casting out devils, not be elated at the healing of diseases, nor should we admire only the man who casts out devils, and account that one useless who does not. A man should observe carefully the discipline of each monk, and either imitate it, strive to excel it, or correct it. To work miracles is not ours; that is the Saviour’s work. At any rate, He said to His disciples: “But do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you; rejoice rather in this, that your names are written in heaven.”
The fact that our names are written in heaven is evidence of our virtuous life, but to cast out devils is but the charismatic gift of the Saviour who bestowed it. To those who boasted of their miracles and not of their virtues, saying: “Lord, did we not cast out devils, in thy name, and work many miracles in thy name?” He answered, “Amen, I say to you I know you not.” For the Lord knows not the ways of the unholy.”
HILARION (ca. 291-371)
Hilarion was an ascetic. He was educated and converted at Alexandria. By the time he had been in the desert for 22 years, he became widely known by reputation throughout the cities of Palestine. Jerome in his Life of Saint Hilarion tells of a number of the miracles, healings and expulsion of demons which occurred during his ministry. Here are a few selected ones:
“A certain woman of Eleutheropolis, finding herself despised by her husband because of her sterility – after fifteen years of married life she had brought forth no children – was the first who dared to intrude upon blessed Hilarion’s solitude. While he was still unconscious of her approach, she suddenly threw herself at his knees saying: “Forgive my boldness, forgive my importunity. Why do you turn away your eyes? Why do you shun my pleas? Do not look upon me as a woman, but as a creature to be pitied, as one of the sex that brought forth the Redeemer, for ‘they that are whole need not the physician: but they that are sick.’
He stood still, and, finally aware of the woman, asked her why she had come and why she was weeping. When he learned the cause of her grief, raising his eyes to heaven, he commanded her to have faith and believe. He followed her departure with tears. When a year had gone by, he saw her with her son.”
Facidia is a small suburb of Rhinocorura, a city of Egypt. From this village, a woman who had been blind for ten years was brought to blessed Hilarion. On being presented to him by the brothers (already there were many monks with him), she told him that she had bestowed all her substance on physicians. To her the saint replied: “If what you lost on physicians you had given to the poor, Jesus the true Physician would have healed you.” Whereupon she cried aloud and implored him to have mercy on her. Then, following the example of the Saviour, he rubbed spittle upon her eyes and she was immediately cured. (15:254-255).
A charioteer, from Gaza also, was struck by a demon while in his chariot and his whole body so completely stiffened that he could neither move his hand nor bend his neck. He was carried on a stretcher to the saint, able to move only his tongue to indicate his petition, but he heard and understood that he could not be healed until he believed in Jesus and renounced his former occupation. He believed, he promised, he was cured, rejoicing more in the salvation of his soul than in the cure of his body.” (15:254).
Jerome concludes the section which he devoted to telling Hilarion’s life by stating, “There would not be time if I wanted to tell you all the signs and wonders performed by Hilarion. (15:262-263).
MACRINA THE YOUNGER (ca. 328-379/380)
Macrina was the sister of Basil, Bishop of Caesarea and Gregory Bishop of Nyssa. Gregory wrote a biography of his sister’s life and tells the story of how she was healed. He also shares the miracle which was given to him by a military man:
“It happened that my wife and I were eager to visit the monastery of virtue (for that is what I think that place should be called) in which the blessed soul spent her life. There was with us our little girl who was suffering from an eye ailment resulting from an infectious sickness. It was a terrible and pitiful thing to see her as the membrane around the pupil was swollen and whitened by the disease. As we entered the monastery, we separated, my wife and I, for I went to the men’s quarters where your brother Peter was Superior, and she went to the women’s quarters to be with the holy one. After an interval of time, we thought it was the hour for us to go home. We were getting ready to leave, but a kindly remonstrance came to us from both quarters. Your brother urged me to remain and share the monastic table. The blessed one would not let my wife go, and she would not give up my daughter, whom she was holding in her arms, until she had given them a meal and offered them the wealth of philosophy. She kissed the child as one might expect and put her lips on her eyes and, when she noticed the diseased pupil, she said: “If you do me the favour of remaining for dinner, I will give you a return in keeping with this honour.” When the child’s mother asked what it was, the great lady replied: “I have some medicine which is especially effective in curing eye diseases.” When a message came to me from the women’s quarters about this promise, we gladly remained and disregarded the urgent necessity of starting on our way.
When the feasting was over and grace said (the great Peter, having entertained and cheered us with special graciousness, and the great Macrina, having said goodbye to my wife with every courtesy), we started the journey home bright and happy. Each of us told his own story on the way. I spoke of everything I had seen and heard in the men’s quarters, and she told everything systematically, as in a history, and did not think it right to omit the smallest details. She was telling everything in order, as if going through a treatise, and when she came to the point at which the medicine was promised, interrupting the narrative she said: “What have we done? How did we forget the promise, the medicine for the eyes?” I was annoyed at our thoughtlessness, and quickly sent one of my men back to ask for the medicine, when the child, who happened to be in her nurse’s arms, looked at her mother, and the mother fixing her gaze on the child’s eyes, said: “Stop being upset by our carelessness.” She said this in a loud voice, joyfully and fearfully. “Nothing of what was promised to us has been omitted, but the true medicine that heals diseases, the cure that comes from prayer, this she has given us, and it has already worked; nothing at all is left of the disease of the eyes.” As she said this, she took our child and put her in my arms and I, also, then comprehended the miracles in the gospel which I had not believed before and I said: “What a great thing it is for sight to be restored to the blind by the hand of God, if now His handmaiden makes such cures and has done such a thing through faith in Him, a fact no less impressive than these miracles.” (58:189-190).
SAINT BASIL (ca. 329-379)
Basil was a Cappadocian Father. His friendship with Gregory of Nazianzus was formed at the University of Athens. His letters show him to be a warm pastor who was concerned for the spiritual and physical well-being of his people.
His friend Gregory of Nazianzus shares at least two incidents of healings through the ministry of Basil. One had to do with the Emperor’s son who had become sick. When the care of the physicians failed, Basil was called to the bedside. According to eyewitnesses the boy’s “disease relaxed” and had it not been for his father’s interference (going back to the care of the physicians) the boy would have lived.
The second incident happened when Eusebius the Bishop called for his help. Eusebius was sick and in pain and was healed. Gregory says that Eusebius “never ceased to wonder at and describe the powers of (Basil).”
Gregory tells of two healings which happened to Basil’s sister Gorgonia. The following is Gregory’s description of them.
“You know how her maddened mules ran away with her carriage, and unfortunately overturned it, how horribly she was dragged along, and seriously injured, to the scandal of unbelievers at the permission of such accidents to the righteous, and how quickly their unbelief was corrected: for, all crushed and bruised as she was, in bones and limbs, alike in those exposed and in those out of sight, she would have none of any physician, except Him Who had permitted it; both because she shrunk from the inspection and the hands of men, preserving, even in suffering, her modesty, and also awaiting her justification from Him Who allowed this to happen, so that she owed her preservation to none other than to Him: with the result that men were so less struck by her unhoped-for recovery than by her misfortune, and concluded that the tragedy had happened for her glorification through sufferings, the suffering being human, the recover superhuman, and given a lesson to those who come after, exhibiting in a high degree faith in the midst of suffering, and patience under calamity, but in a still higher degree the kindness of God to them that are such as she.
For to the beautiful promise to the righteous “though he fall, he shall not be utterly broken,” has been added one more recent, “though he be utterly broken, he shall speedily be raised up and glorified.” For if her misfortune was unreasonable, her recovery was extraordinary, so that health soon stole away the injury, and the cure became more celebrated than the blow.
She was sick in body, and dangerously ill of an extraordinary and malignant disease, her whole frame was incessantly fevered, her blood at one time agitated and boiling, then curdling with coma, incredible pallor, and paralysis of mind and limbs: and this not at long intervals, but sometimes very frequently. Its virulence seemed beyond human aid; the skill of physicians, who carefully examined the case, both singly and in consultation, was of no avail; nor the tears of her parents, which often have great power, nor public supplications and intercessions, in which all the people joined as earnestly as if for their own preservation, for her safety was the safety of all, as, on the contrary, her suffering and sickness was a common misfortune.
What then did this great soul, worthy offspring of the greatest, and what was the medicine for her disorder, for we have now come to the great secret? Despairing of all other aid, she betook herself to the Physician of all, and awaiting the silent hours of the night, during a slight intermission of the disease, she approached the altar with faith, and calling upon Him who is honoured thereon, with a mighty cry, and every kind of invocation, calling to mind all of His former works of power, and well she knew those both of ancient and of later days, at last she ventured on an act of pious and splendid effrontery; she imitated the woman whose fountain of blood was dried by the hem of Christ’s garment. What did she do? Resting her head with another cry upon the altar, and with a wealth of tears, as she who once bedewed the feet of Christ, and declaring that she would not loose her hold until she was made whole, she then applied her medicine to her whole body, viz., such a portion of the antitypes of the Precious Body and Blood as she treasured in her hand, mingling there with her tears, and, O the wonder, she went away at once feeling that she was saved, and with the lightness of health in body, soul and mind, having received, as the reward of her hope, that which she hoped for, and having gained bodily means by spiritual strength. Great though these things be, they are not untrue. Believe them all of you, whether sick or sound, that ye may either keep or regain your health.”
Gregory also describes the healing of Basil’s father. Here is his description of the father’s illness and healing.
“His whole frame was on fire with an excessive, burning fever, his strength had failed. He was unable to take food, his sleep had departed from him, he was in the greatest distress, and agitated by palpitations. Within his mouth, the palate and the whole of the upper surface was so completely and painfully ulcerated, that it was difficult and dangerous to swallow even water. The skill of physicians, the prayers, most earnest though they were, of his friends, and every possible attention were alike of no avail. He himself in this desperate condition, while his breath came short and fast, had no perception of present things, but was entirely absent, immersed in the objects he had long desired, now made ready for him… What then was the response of Him who was the God of that night and of the sick man? A shudder comes over me as I proceed with my story. And though you, my hearers, may shudder, do not disbelieve: for that would be impious, when I am the speaker, and in preference to him. The time of the mystery was come, and the reverend station and order, when silence is kept for the solemn rites; and then he was raised up by Him who quickeneth the dead, and by the holy night. At first he moved slightly, then more decidedly; then in a feeble and indistinct voice he called by name one of the servants who was in attendance upon him, and bade him come, and bring his clothes, and support him with his hand. He came in alarm, and gladly waited upon him, while he, leaning upon his hand as upon a staff, imitates Moses upon the mount, arranges his feeble hands in prayer, and in union with, or on behalf of, his people eagerly celebrates the mysteries, in such few words as his strength allowed, but, as it seems to me, with a most perfect intention. What a miracle! In the sanctuary without a sanctuary, sacrificing without an altar, a priest far from the sacred rites: yet all these were present to him in the power of the spirit, recognized by him, though unseen by those who were there. Then, after adding the customary words of thanksgiving, and after blessing the people, he retired again to his bed, and after taking a little food, and enjoying a sleep, he recalled his spirit, and, his health being gradually recovered, on the new day of the feast, as we call the first Sunday after the festival of the Resurrection, he entered the temple and inaugurated his life which had been preserved, with the full complement of clergy, and offered the sacrifice of thanksgiving.
AMBROSE (ca. 339-397)
Ambrose was the Bishop of Milan. When ordained as a bishop his first act was to distribute his wealth among the poor. He was an outstanding preacher and teacher, and very outspoken. Augustine was influenced by Ambrose. The following are some of the experiences recorded by Paulinus in his Life of St. Ambrose.
“But, when the bodies of the holy martyrs [Protase and Gervase] were raised and placed on biers, the diseases of many were shown to have been healed. Even a blind man, Severus by name, who even now piously serves in the same basilica which is called the Ambrosian, into which the bodies of the martyrs were taken, when he touched their garments, received his sight immediately.
Likewise, bodies possessed by unclean spirits returned to their homes with the greatest gratitude after they had been healed. And as by these beneficient works of the martyrs the faith of the Catholic Church increased, so did the heresy of the Arians decrease.
Thus one of the number, suddenly possessed by an unclean spirit, began to cry out that those were tortured as he himself was tortured who denied the martyrs or who did not believe the unity of the Trinity as Ambrose was teaching. But they, confused by this statement, although they ought to have been converted and to have done penance worthy of such confession, killed the man by immersing him in a pond, thus adding murder to heresy; for a fitting urgency led them to this end. Indeed, the holy bishop Ambrose, having become a man of great humility, preserved the grace given him by the Lord and increased daily in faith and in love before God and man.
About the same time, there was a certain man of the Arian heresy, violent beyond measure as a disputant and harsh and immovable as regards the Catholic faith. This man was in the church one day during a sermon by the bishop. Later, he himself related that he saw an angel there, speaking into the ears of the bishop as he preached, so that the bishop seemed to be proclaiming to the people the words of the angel. By this sight he was converted, and the faith which he formerly attacked he himself now began to defend.
After the death of Justina, when a certain soothsayer, Innocent by name, but not in deed, was being tormented by the judge during a trial for his offences, he began to make confession of something other than was being sought. He exclaimed that he was suffering greater torments from the angel who was protecting Ambrose, because in the time of Justina, to arouse the hatred of the people against the bishop, he had gone to the very top of the church and had performed sacrifices at midnight. But, the more insistently and unceasingly he carried on his evil practices, the more did the love of the people for the Catholic faith and for the bishop of the Lord increase. He admitted that he had also sent demons to kill him, but that the demons had reported that they not only could in no way approach him; further, they could not even get to the doors of the house in which the bishop was staying, because a fierce fire protected the entire building, so that, although they were a distance away, they were burned. He then terminated the wiles by which he thought he could affect something against the bishop of the Lord. Another had even come to his bed chamber with a sword to slay the bishop, but, having raised his hand with drawn sword, he stood fixed, with his right hand stiffened. And when he acknowledged that he had been sent by Justina, the right arm which had been stiffened when it was raised for the evil deed was restored by the confession.
About the same time, when the illustrious man, Probus, had sent to the bishop his servant, a secretary, who was being troubled by an unclean spirit, the demon went out of the servant as he left the city, for he feared to be brought into the holy man’s presence. And it happened that, as long as the boy was in Milan at the bishop’s house, no influence of the demon appeared in him, but, when he had sent out from Milan and come again toward the city, the same evil spirit which formerly possessed him began to vex him again…”
Ambrose, in his own writing, The Holy Spirit (Fathers of the Church) states that healings and tongues were still given by God:
“Behold, the Father established the teachers; Christ also established them in the churches; and just as the Father gives the grace of healings, so the Son also gives it; just as the Father gives the gift of tongues, so the Son also has bestowed it.”
MORE TO COME!
We have many more testimonies of healings from the Patristic period, which will upload to the site in due course as time permits.