Ministry to the Sick
Part 2 History

Chapter s22 The Patristic Period [400-799 CE]

Secular History

Church History

Ministry to the Sick and Dying

Secular History

Secular medicine was at a very "primitive" stage at this time according to our standards. 

570 Mohammad was born in Mecca

622 Mohammad's emigration (Hegira) from Mecca (= AH 1; Anno Hegirae = year of the Hijra)

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Church History

1.  The concept of "sacrament" is still "fluid."  Our "seven" are not determined until about 1150 CE (Peter Lombard).

2.  Only the Order of the Faithful celebrate sacraments.   Sacraments were not administered to those in the Order of Catechumens or the Order of Penitence (except in danger of death).

3.  Fifth Century "Clergy Crisis" --  With the expansion of the Church to rural areas, there were not enough "overseers."  The community leader (overseer / bishop) presided over the assembly (and at all liturgical celebrations, including healing).  --- When the overseer could not preside at all assemblies (especially rural communities) the elders (Presbyters / like our "parish council members") were authorized (ordained) to preside in absence of the overseer (bishop) at Eucharist, baptism, anointing, etc.  (In the Roman Church, the post-baptismal anointing was reserved to the overseer.  This is the origin of Confirmation as a (separate) sacrament. 

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Ministry to the Sick

416 CE  The earliest evidence of oil being used in the West by priests to anoint the sick is found in a letter of Pope Innocent I to Bishop Decent of Gubbio:

"Your next question concerns the text from the epistle of the blessed apostle James: 'Is any among you sick? Let him call for elders of the Church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord; and the prayer of faith will save the sick man, and the Lord will raise him up; and if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven.' This must undoubtedly be accepted and understood as referring to the oil of Chrism, prepared by the bishop, which can be used for anointing not only by priests but also by all Christians whenever they themselves or their people are in need of it. The questions whether the bishop can do what undoubtedly can be done by priests seems superfluous, for priests are mentioned simply because bishops are prevented by other occupations and cannot visit the sick. But if a bishop is in a position to do so and thinks it proper, he, to whom it belongs to prepare the Chrism, can himself without hesitation visit the sick to bless them and anoint them for it is of the nature of a sacrament.  How could one think that one kind of sacrament should be allowed to those to whom the rest is denied."

Richstatter Commentary:  
1)  the community leader blessed the oil (just as the community leader presides over all prayer acts of the community)
2)  the oil is "Chrism" -- not a separate oil for the sick;
3)  the oil us used as medicine;
4)  the blessed oil is taken home (by the baptized) and applied to where it hurt / Or they drank it for internal ills;
5)  the emphasis is on the prayer of the church more than on the oil.
6)  The anointing with oil blessed by the bishop is recommended to the faithful in order to correct and "substitute" for the use of "magic" remedies. 

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Copyright: Tom Richstatter.  All Rights Reserved.  This page was created by Fr. Thomas Richstatter, O.F.M.  Every effort has been, and is being made to acknowledge sources when the ideas are not my own.  Any failure to comply with the United States Copyright Act (Title 17, United States Code) will be corrected immediately should I become aware of it.  This site was updated on 09/11/12.  Your comments on this site are welcome at trichstatter@franciscan.org