This will be the last of my posts on this thread, connected with what I hope is my next book, that I’m calling tentatively, The Creation of Charity: How Christianity Transformed our World. Here I talk about one of the lesser-known aspects of early Christianity – a surprising one to most people.
Arguably the most important development in the Christian history of charity came in the institutionalization of giving, not on the governmental level but through extra-mural ecclesiastical organizations. Of these, none proved more historically significant than the invention of the hospital.
Most health care in the Greek and Roman worlds took place in the home, with families bearing the responsibility of nursing the sick. That, of course, is not the most effective mode of health care, but even simple nursing often produces salubrious results. Certainly, there were doctors trained in medical science who attended the sick, but these were private initiatives and as a rule benefited only with those of means. Doctors worked as individuals, out of their homes or through home-visitations to those who could afford their fees. There were no public institutions dedicated to health issues, let alone any that did so without charge. Hospitals – defined as buildings or building complexes that provided both outpatient and inpatient health care by professionally trained doctors and nurses based on the most advanced medical knowledge of the day — were a Christian invention. The services they provided were free of charge.
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