The Effects of Christianity (Part 3)
April 23, 2019
by Peter Amsterdam
The Effects of Christianity (Part 3)
(Points from this article were taken from How Christianity Changed the World by Alvin J. Schmidt1)
In this third article of the series, we will continue to examine the positive effects that Christianity has had on the world since the death and resurrection of Jesus. The focus in this post will be twofold—the advent of hospitals and schools.
There is some evidence of a concept of healthcare facilities prior to the rise of Christianity. In ancient Mesopotamia and Egypt (5000–2000 BC), some sort of hospitals existed, and as early as the 5th century BC in India, the Buddhist religion had institutionalized healthcare facilities. In Roman times there were military hospitals for soldiers, but these were not available to the public.
For the first three centuries, Christians were intermittently faced with severe persecution; therefore, the only way they could care for the sick was to take them into their homes to tend to their illnesses. Once Christianity was legal and could be freely practiced, beginning in 324 AD, Christians were in a much better position to provide institutional care for the sick and dying. The church council of Nicaea in 325 AD instructed bishops to establish a hospice in every city that had a cathedral. The purpose of a hospice was not only to care for those who were ill, but also to provide shelter for the poor and for Christian pilgrims. This aligned with what Jesus taught.
I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me. Then the righteous will answer him, saying, “Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?” And the King will answer them, “Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.”2
The apostle Peter wrote, Show hospitality to one another without grumbling,3 and the apostle Paul instructed church leaders that an overseer (bishop) must be … hospitable.4 As a part of hospitality, church leaders were expected to take in both strangers and other Christians in need, which included helping to care for the sick and dying. The first hospital was built by St. Basil in Caesarea, Cappadocia (Eastern Turkey), about 369 AD. The next was built in a nearby province, Edessa, in 375 AD. The first hospital in the West was built in Rome about 390 AD by Fabiola, a wealthy widow who was an associate of St. Jerome, an important Christian teacher. She founded another hospital in 398 AD, about fifty miles southwest of Rome. St. Chrysostom (d. 407) had hospitals built in Constantinople in the late fourth and early fifth centuries. By the sixth century, hospitals had become a common part of monasteries. In the ninth century, during the reign of the Holy Roman Emperor Charlemagne, numerous hospitals were built. By the mid-1500s there were 37,000 Benedictine monasteries that cared for the sick. By that time, hospitals were plentiful in Europe.
While the Crusaders, who fought eight wars between 1096 and 1291 to liberate the Holy Land from Muslim rule, deserve harsh judgment for some of their actions, one thing they did right was to construct hospitals in Palestine and other Middle Eastern areas. They also founded healthcare orders, which were dedicated to the provision of healthcare for all, Christian and Muslims alike. The Order of Hospitallers recruited women for nursing the sick. The Hospitallers of St. Lazarus devoted themselves to nursing.
The Knights of the Order of Hospitallers of Saint John of Jerusalem not only operated and maintained hospitals, but also admitted the insane. They founded a Christian insane asylum in 1409 in Valencia, Spain.5
In the United States, one of the very first hospitals was founded by the Quakers in the early 1700s, and that was one of only two hospitals until the early 1800s. In the second half of the 1800s, many more hospitals were built, usually by local churches and Christian denominations. The hospitals were often named after the denomination which sponsored them, such as Baptist Hospital, Lutheran Hospital, Methodist Hospital, and Presbyterian Hospital. Others were given names such as St. John’s, St. Luke’s, St. Mary’s, etc.
Another area influenced by Christianity was public education for all children. Today, free public schools are common; however, this wasn’t always the case. Prior to the 1500s, most education in Europe, especially at the elementary level, was supported and operated by the church in cathedral schools. Sadly, few people overall were literate, as very few attended the church schools.
Martin Luther (1498–1546) advocated a state school system in which students of both sexes would be taught in the local language in primary schools, followed by Latin secondary schools and universities.6 His coworker Philipp Melanchthon (1497–1560) persuaded the civic authorities in Germany to start the first public school system. Luther also advocated that the civil authorities should compel children to attend school. Over time, Luther’s idea of compulsory education took root in other countries. Today the concept that every child should attend school is written into law in most countries.
Education for the Deaf
Teaching the deaf an inaudible language largely originated because of three Christian men—Abbé Charles-Michel de L’Épée, Thomas Gallaudet, and Laurent Clerc. L’Épée was a priest who developed a sign language to use in teaching the deaf in Paris in 1775. His goal was that the deaf would be able to hear the message of Jesus.7 Thomas Gallaudet and Laurent Clerc brought L’Épée’s sign language to the United States.
Laurent Clerc, born in a small village near Lyon, France, lost his hearing when he was one year old. He attended the National Institute for Deaf Children of Paris and eventually became a teacher there. Thomas Gallaudet, a clergyman who wanted to help the deaf, attended the school where Clerc taught in order to learn sign language. These two men decided to travel to the United States in order to open the first school for the deaf there. Before returning to Europe in order to learn more about working with the deaf, Gallaudet said to a deaf girl, “I hope when I come back to teach you much about the Bible, and about God, and Christ.”8 The two men started a school for the deaf in 1817. In 1864, Gallaudet’s son founded the first college for the deaf, which later became known as Gallaudet University in Washington, D.C.
Education for the Blind
Not much is known about care for the blind in the first few centuries after Jesus’ death and resurrection. In the fourth century, Christians operated some facilities for the blind. In 630, a typholocomium (typholos = blind + komeo = take care of) was built in Jerusalem. In the thirteenth century, Louis lX (St. Louis) built a hospice for the blind in Paris. In the 1830s, Louis Braille, a dedicated Christian Frenchman who lost his sight at an early age, developed a means by which the blind could read. He came upon a system used by the military which incorporated raised dots to enable the reading of messages in the dark. From this idea he developed his own system of pricked raised dots which allowed the blind to read. On his deathbed, he said, I am convinced that my mission is finished on earth; I tasted yesterday the supreme delight; God condescended to brighten my eyes with the splendor of eternal hope.9
It is commonly accepted that the oldest existing university in Europe is the University of Bologna, Italy, founded in 1158. It specialized in canon law (church law). The next university in Europe was the University of Paris, founded in 1200. It originally specialized in theology, and in 1270 it added the study of medicine. Bologna became the mother of several universities in Italy, Spain, Scotland, Sweden, and Poland. The University of Paris became the mother of Oxford and of universities in Portugal, Germany, and Austria. Emmanuel College, a British Christian college within the University of Cambridge, became the mother of Harvard in America.10
Harvard University, one of America’s most prominent, was established to train ministers of the gospel. Its original motto was (in Latin) Truth for Christ and the Church. It was founded by the Congregational Church. Other prominent American universities were also founded by Christian denominations, such as the College of William and Mary (Episcopalian), Yale University (Congregational), Northwestern University (Methodist), Columbia University (Episcopalian), Princeton University (Presbyterian), and Brown University (Baptist).
Christianity played an important role in the history and development of educational facilities and hospitals, and thus has helped to make the world a better place.
Unless otherwise indicated, all scriptures are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
1 Alvin J. Schmidt, How Christianity Changed the World (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2004).
2 Matthew 25:36–40.
3 1 Peter 4:9.
4 1 Timothy 3:2, also Titus 1:7–8.
5 W. E. H. Lecky, History of European Morals (New York: Vanguard Press, 1926), 81.
6 Martin Luther, “Preface,” Small Catechism, in The Book of Concord, ed. Theodore G. Tappert (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1959), 338.
7 Harlan Lane, When the Mind Hears (New York: Random House, 1984), 58.
8 Ibid., 185.
9 Etta DeGering, Seeing Fingers: The Story of Louis Braille (New York: David McKay, 1962), 110.
10 Schmidt, How Christianity Changed the World, 187.