Hospitals — A Christian Invention

Tomorrow at The Donelson Fellowship, I’m finishing my series of messages entitled “Our Unbearable World” with a sermon about the difference Christianity has made in human history. You shouldn’t be surprised to learn that it was Christians who “invented” hospitals. The key name to remember is Basil – St. Basil of Caesarea.

The Greeks and the Romans idolized the human body. The original Olympics and other athletic games in antiquity were conducted with little or no clothing because the human body was glorified. Every Roman city had its gymnasium and its hot baths and its stadium. I can take you to one set of ancient Roman ruins after another, and I can show you the bath house, the stadium, even the latrines. But I cannot show you a hospital. They glorified the naked healthy body, but they disdained the sick.

In the Roman world there was no compassion toward the sick. Yes, there were a few doctors. Luke, the writer of the third Gospel was a physician. But these were primarily for the wealthiest of Romans. There were a few medical facilities, but they were primarily for soldiers and gladiators. The chronically ill were often abandoned even by their own families, and compassion was unknown. But Christians began changing that.

The next time you need a hospital, you can thank St. Basil. He was born three centuries after Christ in a wealthy Christian home in Cappadocia in Turkey. He was well-educated and planned for public life. But his sister led him to faith in Christ, and Basil decided to devote himself to a quiet life of study, prayer and writing. He settled on the family estate, preaching to nearby groups and helping the poor.

In 370, Basil became the Bishop of Caesarea; and using his own fortune, he founded a hospital for the care of the sick and even for the care of lepers, who were outcasts. We can say with reasonable confidence that this is the first hospital in human history. In the decades that followed, many such hospitals sprang up in the Christianized world, then gradually spread everywhere.

In this age when people are disparaging Christian influence, let’s remind them that hospitals were the invention of Christians.

PS – So were universities, universal free public education, orphanages, child labor laws, women’s rights initiatives, abolitionist movements, and so forth. For my entire message click here. To learn more about Basil and other heroes of Christian history, click here. For info about TDF services and schedules click here.