Time often causes our memory to fade. And over time, the memory of the church began to fade when it came to ministry of healing. There were several theological events that changed the way the church viewed healing. Gradually she moved away from the mindset and pattern of Jesus and the early church. None of these theologians were heretics—they were human. They were seeking God, defending their faith, and pushing systems of belief with new ideas. Often their disciples took their teaching too far.
Augustine was the Bishop of Hippo and a champion against the heresies of his day. He was a proponent of the sovereignty of God—at the expense of man’s responsibility. Prior to him, the church had held a “warfare worldview”—meaning the forces of evil were at war against Christ and his church. This warfare caused sickness, bondage, and death and could only be overcome by the power of the Holy Spirit. Augustine’s pursuit of God’s sovereignty moved the church over time into a “blueprint worldview”—an understanding that everything in life happens due to the predetermined will of God. His disciples pushed this idea to new heights.
Augustine was skeptical of healing for most of his ministry, but in the later years of his life he experienced one which changed his view. Sadly this change of heart came long after his writings were dispersed throughout the church. Over the next few centuries the church stopped believing that sickness was from the devil and started believing that God brought sickness for personal sanctification. In other words, sickness comes from God and suffering makes us more like Jesus.
Around 400 AD, Jerome translated the Old and New Testament from their original languages into Latin. The Vulgate (his translation) became the most important and only recognized translation of the Bible for a thousand years. His translation of sozo in James 5:14-15 from Greek to Latin became “saved” rather than “healed.” Over time, the church stopped using these verses to pray for the physically ill and started using them to pray and anoint people who were dying. It eventually became the foundational verse for the Last Rites or Extreme Unction, a Roman Catholic sacrament given to one who was dying and not expected to recover.
For centuries, the philosophical view of the church was similar to that of Aristotle. Although a pagan, he had taught that there is both a spiritual realm and a physical realm (which is very similar to the biblical view). The physical realm mirrored the spiritual, yet both were real. His disciple Plato believed only in the physical. If it could not be reasoned or tested, it did not exist. Thomas Aquinas burst on the scene in the middle ages as a church scholar and thinker. His writings pushed the church to a place where reason was emphasized more than revelation. The value of what could be tested and seen became more important than the miraculous. The age of reason pushed this even farther with the belief that miracles no longer happened, or if they did, the ones doing them must be far more holy than the average Christian. In other words, miracles were rare and those who performed them were super-saints.
The sovereignty of God is biblical, but our choices carry responsibility. Reason is important, but the supernatural is also just as real. Sozo does mean “saved”, but it also means “delivered” and “healed.” But these events and their meaning when separated by time, ignorance, and unbelief helped bury healing and over time—beliefs changed.
(Next week we will look at several other things that took place in church history that hastened this change of belief.)