Ecclesiastical History Society: The Church in Sickness and in Health

Following the postponement of its 2020 summer conference due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the Ecclesiastical History Society invites articles for a peer-reviewed volume of Studies in Church History on the Church in Sickness and in Health.

From the earliest times, the Church has cared for the sick and the health of society both in a physical and spiritual sense. Anointing and praying for the sick was combined with medical care for the afflicted. The intercession of the Virgin Mary, St. Roch, and St. Sebastian, for example, was sought to protect the faithful from plague, while further saints offered hope against other diseases. Religious foundations such as leper and plague hospitals cared for the diseased but also isolated them to protect the health of society. The institutionalisation of the Church’s care for the sick led to the foundation of hospitals and medical schools. Leading London hospitals, such as Bart’s and St. Thomas’s, developed from medieval monastic foundations and today the Catholic Church is the largest non-governmental provider of healthcare.

In spite of the Church’s concern for the sick, from the Early Church to the present there have been tensions between medicine and religion, the balance between the will of God and scientific intervention. For some Churches being a doctor was regarded as being incompatible with being a minister. This uneasy relationship can be seen in the resistance of some faiths to certain medical procedures and research (for example STEM-cells, cloning, genetic manipulation of embryos).

Alongside physical health, the Church has been concerned with spiritual health and salvation. The Church has rituals to restore the spiritual health of some, such as exorcism to banish demons from the afflicted. Disease was also used metaphorically to convey the threat to the spiritual well-being of the Church and Christendom, particularly portraying heresy as a plague that threatened the faithful.

Papers are invited that consider the place of the Church in sickness and in health across confessions from the Early Church to the present day. Possible themes, may include but are not restricted, to the following:

  • The Church and disease; plagues and pandemics
  • Visiting the sick
  • The Church and medicine; clergy and physicians
  • Religious institutions and medical care
  • Medicine and Christian missions
  • Hospital chaplains
  • The Church and medical research and science
  • Religious belief and (the rejection of) medical intervention
  • The Church and spiritual health
  • Hospices

Please submit proposals by 15 October 2020 using the form on our website: Full papers will need to be submitted by end of January 2021. For any queries, please contact Dr. Tim Grass at

View all posts