A development of Byzantine Christian charities during the 4(th)-7(th) centuries and the birth of the hospital

Here we present the ‘Abstract‘ of the corresponding paper by Nam SH.


This study aims to examine the beginning and the development of Christian Charities during the 4(th)-6(th) centuries which would eventually result in the birth of the hospital in modern sense in the first half of the 7(th) century. For this purpose, I looked carefully into various primary sources concerning the early Christian institutions for the poor and the sick. Above all, it’s proper to note that the first xenodocheion where hospitality was combined with a systematic caring, is concerned with the Trinitarian debate of the 4(th) century. In 356, Eustathios, one of the leaders of homoiousios group, established xenodocheion to care for the sick and the lepers in Sebaste of Armenia, whereas his opponent Aetios, doctor and leader of the heteroousios party, was reckoned to have combined the medical treatment with his clerical activities. Then, Basil of Caesarea, disciple of Eustathios of Sebaste, also founded in 372 a magnificent benevolent complex named ‘Basileias’ after its founder. I scrupulously analysed several contemporary materials mentioning the charitable institution of Caesarea which was called alternatively katagogia, ptochotropheion, xenodocheion. John Chrysostome also founded several nosokomeia in Constantinople at the end of the 4(th) century and the beginning of the 5(th) century. Apparently, the contemporary sources mention that doctors existed for these Charities, but there is no sufficient proof that these ‘Christian Hospitals,’ Basileias or nosokomeia of Constantinople were hospitals in modern sense. Imperial constitutions began to mention ptochotropheion, xenodocheion and orphanotropheion since the second half of the 5(th) century and then some Justinian laws evoked nosokomium, brephotrophia, gerontocomia. These laws reveal that ‘Christian Hospitals’ were well clarified and deeply rooted in Byzantine society already in these periods. And then, new benevolent institutions emerged in the 6(th) century: nosokomeia for a specific class and lochokomeia for maternity. In addition, one of the important functions of Sampson Xenon was, according to Novel 59, to hold a funeral service for the people of Constantinople. Nevertheless, there is no sufficient literary material that could demonstrate the existence of a hospital in modern sense. The first hospital where outpatient service, hospitalization and surgery were confirmed was Sampson Xenon in the first half of the 7th century, figured in the tale of Stephanos of the The Miracles of St. Artemios. Why was the early Byzantine literary so reticent as to write the medical activities in the Christian Charities? It’s because Christian innovation didn’t rest on the medical treatment but caring for the poor and the sick, depending on the word of Mt. 25.35-36. In this meaning, I’d like to say that the Early Byzantine history of Christian Charities or ‘Christian Hospitals’ consists of only a footnote of the verse.

(Source: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25985781)


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