Winter Conference 2021

Winter Conference 2021

The Church in Sickness and in Health

Saturday, 16 January 2021
Online via Zoom

Image: Saint Carlo Borromeo ministering to the plague victims. Credit: Wellcome Collection. Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0)

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 other saints offered hope against further 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. Scientific research has also made possible procedures which raise ethical issues on which many churches have reflected, including the use of STEM-cells, cloning, or the genetic manipulation of embryos.  On the other hand, Christian theologies of healing have offered medical practitioners important perspectives in debates around what constitutes a good life, and a good death, had provided important insights on what might constitute healing, often particularly relevant to those facing terminal illness.

Alongside physical health, the Church has been concerned with spiritual health and salvation. The Church has rituals intended to restore the spiritual health, such as exorcism to banish demons from the afflicted. Metaphors of disease have been used to convey the threat to the spiritual well-being of the Church and Christendom, such as identifying heresy as a plague that threatened the faithful.

Book a place:

To secure a place, please complete the booking form attached to this leaflet and return, to the Conference Organiser, Professor Elizabeth Tingle, via email,, no later than Thursday 31 December 2020.