I wrote this fairly long paper while in seminary, 27 pages (if I remember correctly). I had a great desire to investigate as fully as I could what was written about the gift of healing in the three centuries following what was written in the Bible, because the early church fathers directly followed the apostles, who were taught by Christ directly, and I thought they might have some insights as to how the gift of healing works.
This paper, alone, absolutely does prove that the gift of healing did not cease after the apostles left us, but that wasn’t my purpose in writing. And other books have covered this, but not nearly as thoroughly, to my knowledge. I haven’t checked in many years.
I did take a class entirely on Patristics (early church fathers) in seminary, and the professor didn’t once mention any of the miracles written about during that period. I asked him why during class, and he actually admitted he was a cessationist. A couple of other students then also spoke up, questioning why we were taught church history in such a censored way. I wrote this particular paper for another class and professor.
I would have posted this years ago, but the footnoting didn’t carry over into this format, nor did the bolding of many key words and phrases, which helps readability. So none of the footnote numbers are in the text, but the footnotes are listed at the end. Since I may not get around to solving this problem, I thought I’d post it anyway to at least get the material online, in case there is interest, and can help in some way.
God bless! May ‘ONE’ happen (Jesus’ desire for us in John 17:20-26), which I believe will likely include something like this: Sid Roth Interviews John Paul Jackson … Beyond-Asbury, ‘ONE’-Happens, All-Get-Healed REVIVAL!!!!!!!
“HEALING” — The III Centuries after “The Apostles”
Dr. John Woodbridge
Church History I
Trinity Evangelical Divinity School
March 6, 1990
© 2013 Jeff Fenske
Healing has been a topic of great interest to me for most of my Christian life. For in 1974, while studying book of Acts (the catalyst of my conversion), it seemed clear to me that the gifts of the spirit that the apostles were practicing were both for then and now, that these gifts had not ceased. Then, in the early ‘80s, when I realized I had a healing need that doctors could not decifer or cure, I spent much time studying, praying, fasting, and even experimenting, in order to understand this subject for my own benefit and others.
One of the topics I desired to study at seminary was spiritual gifts in the church fathers’ writings. While I was doing research for this paper, I discovered that there was no thorough and detailed treatment of this issue in which an author had determined to extrapolate all that could be learned about healing from the church fathers, the writers who had lived during and shortly after the apostles had written the Scriptures.
The goal of my paper became: (1) to find as many texts as I could on this subject from extra-Biblical writings prior to A.D. 400 [I have found additional texts since]; (2) to exclude none of these texts, in order that as much as was possible, a complete representation of these writers’ views on healing would be given; (3) to include as much of the quotes as is practical, giving readers greater access to the source itself, so they can determine for themselves what is being said by any given quote; (4) to bold the print of what I think are highlights of these quotes, in order for readers to more easily and rapidly assimilate what is being stated; (5) to write a detailed analyses of every aspect of healing that I see portrayed in these writings; (6) and to emphasize what seem to be themes that were commonly held by the fathers as significant to healing.
The prophet Joel stated that God would pour out His Spirit in the later times, which process God the Father begun by placing His Holy Spirit on His one and only Son. From that day on, Jesus was thereby equipped to perform many diverse signs and wonders by the power of the Holy Spirit. Jesus later sent His own disciples out, and then the “72,” to do the same works He had been doing— by the power of that same Holy Spirit. Then, upon His departure, He promised to not leave His disciples as “orphans,” but that He would send the Comforter, the Counselor, that same Holy Spirit they had performed miracles by when Jesus Himself was with them. In Acts, especially, these disciples and many other Christians as well performed countless miracles. The frequencies were immense and the effects were staggering. For example:
Acts 2:43 Everyone was filled with awe, and many wonders and miraculous signs were done by the apostles.
Acts 6:8 Now Stephen, a man full of God’s grace and power, did great wonders and miraculous signs.
Acts 8:6,7 When the crowds heard Philip and saw the miraculous signs he did, they all paid close attention to what he said. With shrieks, evil spirits came out of many, and many paralytics and cripples were healed.
Acts 8:13 Simon himself believed and was baptized. And he followed Philip everywhere, astonished by the great signs and miracles he saw.
Acts 14:3 So Paul and Barnabas spent considerable time there, speaking boldly for the Lord, who confirmed the message of his grace by enabling them to do miraculous signs and wonders.
Acts 15:12 The whole assembly became silent as they listened to Barnabas and Paul telling about the miraculous signs and wonders God had done among the Gentiles through them.
Acts 19:11 God did extraordinary miracles through Paul, Acts 19:12 so that even handkerchiefs and aprons that had touched him were taken to the sick, and their illnesses were cured and the evil spirits left them.
Acts 28:9 When this had happened, the rest of the sick on the island came and were cured.
But the data doesn’t end there. Early Christian literature demonstrates that miracles continued on into the fourth century, although they seem to have subsided greatly in the third and fourth centuries. The so called “church fathers” have left much for us from which we can glean. They report how the martyrs were empowered to die with boldness, how the blind received sight, how the dumb spoke, how those oppressed by demons were delivered, even how the dead were raised. Many of these miracles fit under the category called “healing”— miracles that cause human bodies to recover from various abnormalities and various sicknesses which may even be demon caused. The church fathers often used the term “healing” for all types of sicknesses, as does the Bible. And those who healed these abnormalities had what the Bible calls and what they reiterated— “the gift of healing” and/or the ability to drive out demons. The texts are rich with significant details as to the frequency of these healings, how they occurred, along with their results. Christ’s love was demonstrated in a very tangible way and as a result, many non-believers became believers, and God received much glory! I’ve arranged the following texts in chronological order.
The Didache was written as early as A.D. 70 (many think later) by an unknown author(s). The following two passages are taken from this work. I’ve included this first passage not to give evidence for miracles occurring during this time, but to show how anointing oil was used. Specifically here, it demonstrates how anointing should be done prior to the baptism of women. This use of anointing with oil prior to baptism is probably not a Biblically supported practise, but the method of anointing is significant because of James’ directive to anoint the sick with oil. It is interesting that the author(s) here consider the forehead alone to be the bodily part which is to be anointed, as opposed to the oil being poured over the person’s head. This shows that the oil couldn’t have been poured, but would rather have had to have been applied in very small amounts, for large amounts would have been discomforting and embarrassing to the person baptized.
Ordain also a deaconess who is faithful and holy, for the ministrations towards women. For sometimes he cannot send a deacon, who is a man, to the women, on account of unbelievers. Thou shalt therefore send a woman, a deaconess, on account of the imaginations of the bad. For we stand in need of a woman, a deaconess, for many necessities; and first in the baptism of women, the deacon shall anoint only their forehead with the holy oil, and after him the deaconess shall anoint them: for there is no necessity that the women should be seen by the men; but only in the laying on of hands the bishop shall anoint her head, as the priests and kings were formerly anointed
Farther on in The Didache, evidence is given that the conclusion we have to the Gospel of Mark is authentic, and to be applied:
With good reason did He say to all of us together, when we were perfected concerning those gifts which were given from Him by the Spirit: “Now these signs shall follow them that have believed in my name: they shall cast out devils; they shall speak with new tongues; they shall take up serpents; and if they drink any deadly thing, it shall by no means hurt them: they shall lay their hands on the sick, and they shall recover.” These gifts were first bestowed on us the apostles when we were about to preach the Gospel to every creature, and afterwards were of necessity afforded to those who had by our means believed; not for the advantage of those who perform them, but for the conviction of the unbelievers, that those whom the word did not persuade, the power of signs might put to shame: for signs are not for us who believe, but for the unbelievers, both for the Jews and Gentiles. For neither is it any profit to us to cast out demons, but to those who are so cleansed by the power of the Lord; as the Lord Himself somewhere instructs us, and shows, saying: “Rejoice ye, not because the spirits are subject unto you; but rejoice, because your names are written in heaven.” Since the former is done by His power, but this by our good disposition and diligence, yet (it is manifest) by His assistance. It is not therefore necessary that everyone of the faithful should cast out demons, or raise the dead, or speak with tongues; but such a one only who is vouchsafed this gift, for some cause which may be advantage to the salvation of the unbelievers, who are often put to shame, not with the demon¬stration of the world, but by the power of the signs; that is, such as are worthy of salvation: for all the ungodly are not affected by wonders.
The last chapter of Mark is almost certainly quoted here. The commission is clearly to not only preach the gospel, but that signs and wonders will accompany the preaching. Healing and deliverance are included. Because of necessity, it says, the gifts were given to new converts as well. The gifts are not meant to be a sign to those giving them, but are to be a sign bringing conviction and shame to those unbelievers who would not be persuaded through the preaching alone, but who could be influenced by miracles (“for all the ungodly are not affected by wonders”). As a result, they could receive salvation “not with the demonstration of the world, but by the power of the signs,” meaning what Christians bring is so different from what the world brings that it shames certain unbelievers when they realize they have experienced the power of the Almighty and Holy God.
A beautiful harmony is suggested by this quote, showing that miracles occur “by our good disposition and diligence, yet (it is manifest) by His assistance.” In other words, this may be what occurs. (1) God sees the needs of the unbelieving community; (2) He desires signs and wonders to be accomplished; (3) He tells the church to accomplish them; (4) the church draws near to God by praying and fasting and holiness; (5) God draws near to them, filling them with His Spirit; (6) the church obeys by laying their hands on sick people or by verbally rebuking evil spirits while having the humility and compassion of Christ, (7) then God, moving almost as one with the church— His body— does His part in the miracle process, either by healing the individual by His creative power or by driving the demon out by His holy power. In this way, God and His church work in tandem— the Father at the helm of His ship.
Clement of Rome writes the following in A.D. 95, near the time of the death of the last of the first apostles.
Moreover, also, this is comely and useful, that a man “visit orphans and widows,” and especially those poor persons who have many children. These things are, without controversy, required of the servants of God, and comely and suitable for them. This also, again, is suitable and right and comely for those who are brethren in Christ, that they should visit those who are harassed by evil spirits, and pray and pronounce adjurations over them, intelligently, offering such prayer as is acceptable before God; not with a multitude of fine words, well prepared and arranged, so that they may appear to men eloquent and of a good memory. Such men are “like a sounding pipe, or a tinkling cymbal;” and they bring no help to those over whom they make their adjurations: but they speak with terrible words, and affright people, but do not act with true faith, according to the teaching of our Lord, who hath said: “This kind goeth not out but by fasting and prayer,” offered unceasingly and with earnest mind. And let them holily ask and beg of God, with cheerfulness and all circumspection and purity, without hatred and without malice. In this way let us approach a brother or a sister who is sick, and visit them in a way that is right, without guile, and without talkativeness, and without such behaviour as is alien from the fear of God, and without haughtiness, but with the meek and lowly spirit of Christ. Let them, therefore, with fasting and with prayer make their adjurations, and not with the elegant and well-arranged and fitly-ordered words of learning, but as men who have received the gift of healing from God, confidently, to the glory of God. By your fastings and prayers and perpetual watching, together with your other good works, mortify the works of the flesh by the power of the Holy Spirit. He who acts thus “is a temple of the Holy Spirit of God.” Let this man cast out demons, and God will help him. For it is good that a man help those that are sick. Our Lord hath said: “Cast out demons,” at the same time commanding many other acts of healing, and, “Freely ye have received, freely give.”For such persons as these a goodly recompense is laid up by God, because they serve their brethren with the gifts which have been given them by the Lord. This is also comely and helpful to the servants of God, because they act according to the injunctions of our Lord, who hath said: “I was sick, and ye visited Me, and so on.” And this is comely and right and just, that we visit our neighbours for the sake of God with all seemliness of manner and purity of behaviour; as the Apostle hath said: “Who is sick, and I am not sick? who is offended, and I am not offended? But all these things are spoken in reference to the love with which a man should love his neighbour. And in these things let us occupy ourselves, without giving offence, and let us not do anything with partiality or for the shaming of others, but let us love the poor as the servants of God and especially let us visit them.
Visiting these poor sick people, healing them and casting out demons from them was mandatory, according to Clement. This was a fitting thing to do with their time, and it gave much glory to God. Preparation of their hearts are significant as well. Fasting, prayer, and waiting on God (“watching”) are emphasized— “let them holily ask and beg of God, with cheerfulness and all circumspection and purity, without hatred and without malice.”
“Cheerfulness” is even an ingredient here. It is clear from Clement that it wasn’t so much what they said, but Who they knew, and how well they knew Him. If they had spent much time with their Father in humility and continued in that same servant mode, then they had become holy vessels in which God could dwell. Love was to be the motivation, not personal gain, and yet when their motivations were proper, heavenly rewards were guaranteed. The image here presented is a dynamic offensive church, full of grace and power, having the “goods” to sell to those in need.
And now you can learn this from your own observation. For numberless demoniacs throughout the whole world, and in your city, many of our Christian men exorcising them in the name of Jesus Christ, who was crucified under Pontius Pilate, have healed and do heal, rendering helpless and driving the possessing devils out of the men, though they could not be cured by all the other exorcists, and those who used incantations and drugs.
Justin Martyr writes this much later, in A.D. 155, of the great magnitude and force of the church during this period, and the sharp contrast between the results that Christ’s church could achieve as opposed to those people filled by a different spirit. His wording indicates the extent of the operation: “numberless,” “throughout the whole world,” and “many.”
In a dialogue form of writing, Justin is here speaking boldly to Trypho, a non-believing Jew whom Justin is trying to convert, about the gifts all new converts to Christianity receive.
“Now it is surprising,” I continued, “that you hate us who hold these opinions . . . knowing that daily some [of you] are quitting the path of error; who are also receiving gifts, each as he is worthy, illumined through the name of this Christ. For one receives the spirit of understanding, another of counsel, another of strength, another of healing, another of foreknowledge, another of teaching, and another of the fear of God.”
To this Trypho said to me, “I wish you knew that you are beside yourself, talking these sentiments.” And I said to him, “Listen, O friend, for I am not mad or beside myself; but it was prophesied that, after the ascent of Christ to heaven, He would deliver us from error and give us gifts. The words are these: ‘He ascended up on high; He led captivity captive; He gave gifts to men.’ Accordingly, we who have received gifts from Christ, who has ascended upon high, prove from the words of prophecy that you, ‘the wise in yourselves, and the men of understanding in your own eyes,’ are foolish, and honour God and His Christ by lip only. But we, who are instructed in the whole truth, honour Them both in acts, and in knowledge, and in heart, even unto death.
Clearly, from Justin’s point of view, Trypho could be assured of getting the gifts Christ chose for him to have if he were to become a Christian, and these gifts were Justin’s major selling point. Justin compared the lives of the unconverted Jews to their own, appealing to the obedience— even unto death— which Trypho saw only in Christians as evidence that God was with them. There is a clear distinction between what the Jews had and did from what the Christians had and were doing. And it is likely that all of these gifts, including teaching, were specially enabled by the Spirit in that teaching was no longer teaching in the Jewish sense, but rather became Spirit led and/or empowered teaching. Counsel became Spirit led counsel in an obvious way. Otherwise it is doubtful that Justin could push the gifts with such fervor, and is unlikely that he would put clearly observable gifts like healing and foreknowledge with a gift like the fear of God if this fear of God gift was experienced only at the same level as Jews would experience it. These gifts must have been specially enabled and evident. These gifts are also mentioned as giving honor to God.
Taitian, A.D. 167, states:
For the demons . . . . Should any one wish to conquer them, let him repudiate matter. Being armed with the breastplate of the celestial Spirit, he will be able to preserve all that is encompassed by it. There are, indeed, diseases and disturbances of the matter that is in us; but, when such things happen, the demons ascribe the causes of them to themselves, and approach a man whenever disease lays hold of him. Sometimes they themselves disturb the habit of the body by a tempest of folly; but, being smitten by the word of god, they depart in terror, and the sick man is healed.
Taitian speaks of the power and effectiveness of the word of God in driving out demons, and the necessity of having donned the breastplate of the Spirit— likely a reference to Paul’s “breastplate of righteousness” in Eph. 6. He indicates a holy life is crucial for such warfare to be effective. These Christians must “repudiate matter” in order to have power over these evil spirits, dying to their sinful nature. Another interesting aspect of this paragraph is this line: “There are, indeed, diseases and disturbances of the matter that is in us” and what follows. It seems that Taitian is saying that the demons can affect and afflict even Christians if they aren’t living holy lives.
Further along in his letter To the Greeks, Taitian addresses the subject of what Christians should do when they themselves get sick. Whether they should seek man’s remedies or God’s alone. Demonic remedies are also referred to. For Taitian, it seems to be an issue between Whom or in what will they trust, and between what is “bad” and what is “good.”
But medicine and everything in it is an invention of the same kind. If any one is healed by matter, through trusting to it, much more will he be healed by having recourse to the power of God. As noxious preparations are material compounds, so are curatives of the same nature. If, however, we reject the baser matter, some persons often endeavour to heal by a union of one of these bad things with some other, and will make use of the bad to attain the good. But, just as he who dines with a robber, though he may not be a robber himself, partakes of the punishment on account of his intimacy with him, so he who is not bad but associates with the bad, having dealings with them for some supposed good, will be punished by God the Judge for partnership in the same object. Why is he who trusts in the system of matter not willing to trust in God? For what reason do you not approach the more powerful Lord, but rather seek to cure yourself, like the dog with grass, or the stag with a viper, or the hog with river-crabs, or the lion with apes? Why do you deify the objects of nature? And why, when you cure your neighbour, are you called a benefactor? Yield to the power of the Logos! The demons do not cure, but by their art make men their captives. And the most admirable Justin has rightly denounced them as robbers. For, as it is the practice of some to capture persons and then to restore them to their friends for a ransom, so those who are esteemed gods, invading the bodies of certain persons, and producing a sense of their presence by dreams, command them to come forth in public, and in the sight of all, when they have taken their fill of the things of this world, fly away from the sick, and, destroying the disease which they had produced, restore men to their former state.
Taitian indeed takes a hard line, even including the idea of punishment. His mention of charlatans who put demons into people to make them sick and then charge fees to take them out is a rather unknown tactic to westerners today. But what is possibly most intriguing about this passage is how Taitian doesn’t question whether it’s God’s will to heal the Greek saints he’s writing to. Rather, he questions why anyone would want to glorify matter (medicine)— actually deifying it — when the glory could be entirely given to the living God if the sick would trust solely in Him. To Taitian, the ends do not justify the means, for a greater end is at stake. Merely getting cured is not the issue. His statement: “Yield to the power of the Logos” gives the impression that God is not intentionally withholding His healing power from Christians, that it is His desire to heal. Healing is more a matter of yielding, letting God do what He already wants to do. God’s power is waiting, ready to heal, and the Christian’s part is to just yield to it.
In a rather different tone comes this amazing narrative, written by Emperor Marcus Aurelius, who reigned during A.D. 161-80, illustrating what some of these early Christians had to encounter. Yet the grace of God was always sufficient to however big their trial. The apostle Paul stated, “just as the sufferings of Christ flow into our lives, so also through Christ our comfort overflows.” Many were obviously full of the presence of God during their ordeals. Marcus Aurelius gives his account of the torture and healing of:
Sanctus . . . . But his poor body was a witness to what he had suffered— it was all one wound and bruise, bent up and robbed of outward human shape, but, suffering in that body, Christ accomplished most glorious things, utterly defeating the adversary and proving as an example to the rest that where the Father’s love is nothing can frighten us, where Christ’s glory is nothing can hurt us. A few days later wicked people again put the martyr on the rack, thinking that now that his whole body was swollen and inflamed a further application of the same instruments would defeat him, unable as he was to bear even the touch of a hand; or that by dying under torture he would put fear into the rest. However, nothing of the sort happened: to their amazement his body became erect and straight as a result of these new torments, and recovered its former appearance and the use of the limbs; thus through the grace of Christ his second spell on the rack proved to be not punishment but cure.
Irenaeus, perhaps the most significant church father prior to St. Augustine, being a prolific writer of incredibly sound doctrine, makes these incredible observations in Against Heresies, A.D. 185.
Moreover, those also will be thus confuted who belong to Simon and Carpocrates, and if there be any others who are said to perform miracles— who do not perform what they do either through the power of God . . . . For they can neither confer sight on the blind, nor hearing on the deaf, nor chase away all sorts of demons— [none, indeed,] except those that are sent into others by themselves, if they can even do so much as this. Nor can they cure the weak, or the lame, or the paralytic, or those who are distressed in any other part of the body, as has often been done in regard to bodily infirmity. Nor can they furnish effective remedies for those external accidents which may occur. And so far are they from being able to raise the dead, as the Lord raised them, and the apostles did by means of prayer, and as has been frequently done in the brotherhood on account of some necessity— the entire Church in that particular locality entreating [the boon] with much fasting and prayer, the spirit of the dead man has returned, and he has been bestowed in answer to the prayers of the saints.
Irenaeus speaks of an entire church praying and fasting out of great necessity, and because of this great miracles occurred— the dead were raised. Many of the church fathers show that the closer the church gets to God the more effective are the workings of the gifts. In fact, the gifts were working so completely here it appears that God healed every possible type of ailment that could have occurred, including physical accidents (if indeed this is to what Irenaeus is refering to when he says “external accidents.”).
In the following account, Irenaeus gives an incredible picture of the extent of the working of the gifts during this same period in a statement reminiscent of the Acts passages quoted above. This is perhaps the most significant of all extra-Biblical quotes ever written about spiritual gifts in the early church.
Wherefore, also those who are in truth His disciples, receiving grace from Him, do in His name perform [miracles], so as to promote the welfare of other men, according to the gift which each one has received from Him. For some do certainly and truly drive out devils, so that those who have thus been cleansed from evil spirits frequently both believe [in Christ], and join themselves to the Church. Others have foreknowledge of things to come: they see visions, and utter prophetic expressions. Others still, heal the sick by laying their hands upon them, and they are made whole, Yea, moreover, as I have said, the dead even have been raised up, and remained among us for many years. And what shall I more say? It is not possible to name the number of the gifts which the Church, [scattered] throughout the whole world, has received from God, in the name of Jesus Christ, who was crucified under Pontius Pilate, and which she exerts day by day for the benefit of the Gentiles, neither practising deception upon any, nor taking any reward from them [on account of such miraculous interpositions]. For as she has received freely from God, freely also does she minister [to others].
Irenaeus’ terminology “it is not possible” certainly indicates more than a few pockets of Christians who were doing these works. In addition, these are the exact healing works most often done both by Jesus in the Gospels and by the Christians in Acts— laying hands on the sick, casting out devils, and raising the dead. These miracles were durable as well. For example, those dead who were raised up “remained among [them] for many years,” and those who had been sick were made “whole.” Again the assertion is strong that each believer received these gifts whereby the Holy Spirit could operate tangibly through them: “the gift which each one has received from Him.” Irenaeus also deals with the reason these gifts were given and used: “so as to promote the welfare of other men . . . nor taking any reward from them . . . For as she has received freely from God, freely also does she minister.” These gifts were to be used for the benefit of others. The method these Christians used to heal the sick is also addressed. “Others still, heal the sick by laying their hands upon them.”
Hippolytus wrote sometime from A.D. 200-235 the following description, giving his explanation of the significance of Christ’s atoning crucifixion experience for our sins as well as for our sicknesses. Although he doesn’t make this absolutely clear. The idea is that He became sin for us so we can be free to not sin, and He became sick for us so we can be free to not being sick. Hippolytus seems to indicate that even physical death was atoned for, and this is why the dead could be raised.
He is scourged by Pilate, who took upon Himself our infirmities. And by the soldiers He is mocked, at whose behest stand thousands of thousands and myriads of myriads of angels and archangels. And . . . . And He who gives life bountifully to all, has His side pierced with a spear. And He who raises the dead is wrapped in linen and laid in a sepulchre, and on the third day He is raised again by the Father, though Himself the Resurrection and the Life. For all these things has He finished for us, who for our sakes was made as we are. For “Himself hath borne our infirmities, and carried our diseases; and for our sakes He was afflicted,” as Isaiah the prophet has said. This is He who was hymned by the angels . . . . He is crowned victor against the devil. This is Jesus of Nazareth, who . . . did many mighty works, and forgave sins, and conferred power on the disciples, and had blood and water flowing from His sacred side when pierced with the spear.
The terminology he uses is not terminology commonly used when speaking of Christ’s atonement for our sins. Instead, Hippolytus seems to be emphasizing the sickness aspect by using terms relating to illness of body not soul.
Tertullian wrote the following passage in the early third century, about A.D. 212, demonstrating that healing and deliverance gifts are still flourishing.
The clerk of one of them who was liable to be thrown upon the ground by an evil spirit, was set free from his affliction; as was also the relative of another, and the little boy of a third. How many men of rank (to say nothing of common people) have been delivered from devils, and healed of diseases! Even Severus himself, the father of Antonine, was graciously mindful of the Christians; for he sought out the Christian Proculus, surnamed Torpacion, the steward of Euhodias, and in gratitude for his having once cured him by anointing, he kept him in his palace till the day of his death.
This shows the spiritual gifts touched even the aristocracy and “men of rank”— “(to say nothing of the common people).” Another significant aspect here is the reference to the use of anointing as an application applied for spiritual healing.
About one year later, the same author, Tertullian, wrote this interpretation of Isaiah 53.
He did Himself touch others, upon whom He laid His hands, which were capable of being felt, and conferred the blessings of healing, which were not less true, not less unimaginary, than were the hands wherewith He bestowed them. He was therefore the very Christ of Isaiah, the healer of our sicknesses. “Surely,” says he, “He hath borne our griefs and carried our sorrows.” Now the Greeks are accustomed to use for carry a word which also signifies to take away. A general promise is enough for me in passing. Whatever were the cures which Jesus effected, He is mine. We will come, however, to the kinds of cures. To liberate men, then,from evil spirits, is a cure of sickness.
Now in clear terms, Tertullian interprets the Isaiah passage of the atonement to include physical healing as well, with a special emphasis on deliverance from evil spirits. And Tertullian demonstrates a willingness to accept whatever Jesus died on the cross for— including bodily healing and deliverance from evil spirits. These two aspects are apart of the quotation of Isaiah 53 in Matthew chapter eight.
Clement of Alexandria wrote sometime during this same time period, dying in A.D. 215. Here he explains “faith.”
And faith is a power of God, being the strength of the truth. For example, it is said, ‘If ye have faith as a grain of mustard, ye shall remove the mountain.’ And again, ‘According to thy faith let it be to thee.’ And one is cured, receiving healing by faith; and the dead is raised up in consequence of the power of one believing that he would be raised. The demonstration, however, which rests on opinion is human, and is the result of rhetorical arguments or dialectic syllogisms. For the highest demonstration, to which we have alluded, produces intelligent faith by the adducing and opening up of the Scriptures to the souls of those who desire to learn.
Clement discusses the role of faith in miracles, using Jesus’ words as support, saying miracles occur only according to the level of one’s faith— no more, no less. And this faith “is a power of God” (possibly meaning that faith originates with God), and then the miracle takes place. In illustrating this with the example of raising the dead man, Clement shows this “power of one believing” is the crucial ingredient for the “consequence” to occur— the dead man being raised. Clement also brings out an important caution about the possible tendency of getting out of balance by over emphasizing healing to the exclusion of preaching the Gospel. Jesus gave the balance including both together: “As you go, preach this message: ‘The kingdom of heaven is near.’ Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons.”
Further on in the same document, Clement gives quotes from two Bible lists: Ephesians 4:11 and 1 Corinthians 12:7-11— the first showing the different leadership positions, and the second showing the various spiritual gifts Paul had also laid out. Clement has two separate and distinct lists, as they also are also differentiated in the Bible— one being an office held, and the other being a “manifestation of the Spirit.”
[list #1] God Himself gave some apostles, and some prophets, and some evan-gelists, and some pastors and teachers, for the perfecting of the saints . . . .
[list #2] “The manifestation of the Spirit is given for our profit. For to one is given the word of wisdom by the Spirit; to another the word of knowledge according to the same Spirit; to another faith through the same Spirit; to another the gifts of healing through the same Spirit; to another the working of miracles; to another prophecy; to another discernment of spirits; to another diversities of tongues; to another the interpretation of tongues: and all these worketh the one and the same Spirit, distributing to each one according as He wills.” Such being the case the prophets are perfect in prophecy, the righteous in righteousness, and the martyrs in confession, and others in preaching, not that they are not shares in the common virtues, but are proficient in those to which they are appointed . . . . but each has his own proper gift of God,”— one in one way, another in another. But the apostles were perfected in all . . . .
Again, Clement shows these gifts still do exist and are still being used, but each one specializes in their particular spiritual gift, perfecting that particular gift. Clement seems to think that the apostles were were exceptions to this dividing of gifts.
Tertullian, at about A.D. 220 wrote his treatise On Fasting. This portion demonstrates fasting’s importance for battling “the more direful demons,” thus indicating there are varying types of evil spirits, having varying degrees of dread.
Thereafter He prescribed to fasts a law— that they are to be performed “without sadness:” for why should what is salutary be sad? He taught likewise that fasts are to be the weapons for battling with the more direful demons: for what wonder if the same operation is the instrument of the iniquitous spirit’s egress as of the Holy Spirit’s ingress?
Tertullian states fasting is both “the instrument of the iniquitous spirit’s egress as of the Holy Spirit’s ingress.” This could be taken several different ways. One way is that fasting helps those Christians who drive out demons by causing the Holy Spirit to flow more strongly out of them and into the person having the demon (the “ingress”), thus driving the demon out of the person (the “egress”). This is the context in which Jesus stated to the disciples that these only come out by prayer and fasting— Christians casting demons out of others (likely the reference Tertullian is referring to). The disciples were told they needed to pray and fast more so they could drive the deaf and dumb spirit out of the boy. In this way of looking at it, the Holy Spirit would “ingress” into the boy and the demon would “egress”from him.
On the other hand, the bulk of Tertullian’s work, On Fasting, seems to indicate that the battle fasting helps us conquer is a personal one— within Christians themselves as they struggle against principalities and powers that try to attack them in order to render them powerless. For example, he quotes Eph. 6:12 as he is wrapping up the work, giving it emphasis by placing it just two sentences from the last.
We whose ‘wrestling is not against flesh and blood, but against the world’s power, against the spiritualities of malice.’ Against these it is not by robustness of flesh and blood, but of faith and spirit, that it behoves us to make our antagonistic stand.
“Faith and spirit” are what is needed by Christians to be able to stand their ground. In this way of looking at it, the Christians themselves receive the “ingress” of the Spirit as they fast while simultaneously experiencing an “egress” of Satanic influence. This explanation works at the metaphorical level only, however, but does work as such.
Hippolytus wrote the following in A.D. 236, in which he discusses whether one should look to earthly means to be healed or to God alone. As to how much we can trust his information about Hezekiah is unknown to myself, but his conclusion is interesting, and lines up with the opinion of Taitian, quoted above.
In the days moreover of Hezekiah, there were some of the books selected for use, and others set aside. Whence the Scripture says, “These are the mixed (or dark) Proverbs of Solomon, which the friends of Hezekiah the king copied out (Pr. 15:1).” And whence did they take them, but out of the books containing the 3,000 parables and the 5,000 songs? Out of these, then the wise friends of Hezekiah took those portions which bore upon the edification of the Church. And the books of Solomon on the “Parables” and “Songs,” in which he wrote of the physiology of plants, and all kinds of of animals belonging to the dry land, and the air, and the sea, and of the cures of diseases, Hezekiah did away with, because the people looked to these for the remedies for their diseases, and neglected to seek their healing from God.
Minucius Felix writes this about A.D. 240, regarding healing through deliverance.
These impure spirits, therefore— the demons . . . . they weigh men downwards from heaven, and call them away from the true God to material things: they disturb the life, render all men unquiet; creeping also secretly into human bodies, with subtlety, as being spirits, they feign diseases, alarm the minds, wrench about the limbs . . . . A great many, even some of your own people, know all those things that the demons themselves confess concerning themselves, as often as they are driven by us from bodies by the torments of our words and by the fires of our prayers . . . . for when abjured by the only and true God, unwillingly the wretched beings shudder in their bodies, and either at once leap forth, or vanish by degrees, as the faith of the sufferer assists or the grace of the healer inspires.
Felix illustrates how these evil spirits can affect human bodies both physically and mentally, and then how terribly frightened they become when Christians speak by the power of God. Felix’ terminology is beautiful and encouraging— “by the torments of our words and by the fires of our prayers.” Felix mentions how the demons speak things about themselves as they are expelled. But the last line is very significant. It allows for the possibility that Christians had difficulty at times in driving these demons out. In other words, the spirits didn’t always just automatically jump out as was always the case with Christ, who had perfect faith. This is similar to when Jesus’ disciples couldn’t cast a demon out of a man’s son, and Jesus likewise attributed their failure to their lack of faith. Felix states that another factor in addition to faith is that one may not have as much grace to perform this work as another. It’s probable that the battles with the demonic that Felix actually saw himself or heard about must have been nothing short of amazing at times.
Novation, writing in about A.D. 245-50, ties Isaiah chapters 11 and 53 directly with healing.
Him, too, Isaiah alludes to: “There shall go forth a rod from the root of Jesse…. Him he refers to when he enumerates the healings that were to proceed from Him, saying: “Then shall the eyes of the blind be opened, and the ears of the deaf shall hear: then shall the lame man leap as an hart, and the tongue of the dumb shall be eloquent.” . . . . Him, moreover, when he described the blows and stripes of His scourgings: “By His bruises we were healed.” “. . . a man in suffering, and who knoweth how to bear infirmity.”
To Novation, there was a direct link between Jesus’ scourgings and bodily healing, and the text below shows he believed these healings were in action in the church of his day.
the Scriptures of the Lord, admonish us after these things to believe also on the Holy Spirit, once promised to the Church, and in the appointed occasions of times given. For He was promised by Joel the prophet, but given by Christ . . . . distributing His offices according to the times, and the occasions and impulses of things . . . . He is therefore one and the same Spirit who was in the prophets and apostles, except that in the former He was occasional, in the later always. But in the former not as being always in them, in the latter as abiding always in them; and in the former distributed with reserve, in the latter all poured out; in the former given sparingly, in the latter liberally bestowed . . . . For, said He, “I will pray the Father, and He will give you another Advocate, that He may be with you for ever, even the Spirit of truth.” . . . . For this is He who strengthened their hearts and minds . . . and they being strengthened, feared, for the sake of the Lord’s name, neither dungeons nor chains, nay, even trod under foot the very powers of the world and its tortures, since they were henceforth armed and strengthened by the same Spirit, having in themselves the fits which this same Spirit distributes, and appropriates to the Church, the spouse of Christ, as her ornaments. This is He who places prophets in the Church, instructs teachers, directs tongues, gives powers and healings, does wonderful works, offers discrimination of spirits, affords powers of government, suggests counsels, and orders and arranges whatever other gifts there are of charismata; and thus make the Lord’s Church everywhere, and in all, perfected and completed.
Again, written in A.D. 245-50, Novation demonstrates that the Spirit they had presently is the same Spirit Jesus had and the apostles had, for Novation’s verbs in the latter portion are in the present tense, making this current to their day. Novation is in effect saying, they not only have the same Holy Spirit Jesus and the apostles had, they have it in the same degree: “all poured out.” The diminished role of the Holy Spirit was for times past only— the Old Covenant— the time prior to Jesus sending of the Spirit at Pentecost. So in their current situation and time, the Holy Spirit, by ordering and arranging the “gifts there are of charismata,” makes “the Lord’s Church everywhere, and in all, perfected and completed.” In other words, Novation saw that Joel had promised the Spirit was to be poured out, and once poured out it was to be “all poured out,”— “liberally bestowed”— in order for the church to be perfect and complete. Novation indicates no dispensational ebbing of the Holy Spirit’s role. The Holy Spirit was given without measure after Jesus completed His earthly mission in order for the church to carry on where Jesus left off— to be “perfected and completed” by the Holy Spirit.
Origen wrote the large apologetic work Against Celsus in about A.D. 246-48. He gives his own perspective as to how prevalent the gifts were functioning during this time.
the apostles of Jesus. For they could not without the help of miracles and wonders have prevailed on those who heard their new doctrines and new teachings to abandon their national usages, and to accept their instructions at the danger to themselves even of death. And there are still preserved among Christians traces of that Holy Spirit which appeared in the form of a dove. They expel evil spirits, and perform many cures, and foresee certain events, according to the will of the Logos. And although Celsus, or the Jew whom he has introduced, may treat with mockery what I am going to say, I shall say it nevertheless,— that many have been converted to Christianity as if against their will, some sort of spirit having suddenly transformed their minds from a hatred of the doctrine to a readiness to die in its defence, and having appeared to them either in a waking vision or a dream of the night. Many such instances have we known, which, if we were to commit to writing, although they were seen and witnessed by ourselves, we should afford great occasion for ridicule to unbelievers, who would imagine that we, like those whom they suppose to have invented such things, had ourselves also done the same.
Origen says that only “traces” of miracles still occurred, although he uses the word “many,” which particularly in its first occurrence may lead modern-day readers who have never been exposed to anything near the frequency of miracles he lists to wonder really how infrequently these miracles did occur. The answer is found in the line: “and there are still preserved . . . traces” and later in book VII in which he shows that to his understanding the apostles had performed a significantly higher percentage of miracles than Christians were seeing during his day. So, to Origen’s understanding, the apostles performed far more miracles than what he was seeing Christians perform in the mid. second century.
Also, in book III, Origen shows that “many” miracles occurred by the church. This healer Origen refers to, Aesculapius, appears to be demonically empowered in his ability to heal and to foretell the future, since he tells the future by the “knowledge of Apollo.”
And again, when it is said of Aesculapius that a great multitude both of Greeks and Barbarians acknowledge that they have frequently seen, and still see, no mere phantom, but Aesculapius himself, healing and doing good, and foretelling the future . . . . we . . . can clearly show a countless multitude of Greeks and Barbarians who acknowledge the existence of Jesus. And some give evidence of their having received through this faith a marvellous power by the cures which they perform, invoking no other name over those who need their help than that of the God of all things, and of Jesus, along with a mention of His history. For by these men we too have seen many persons freed from grievous calamities, and from distractions of mind, and madness, and countless other ills, which could be cured neither by men nor devils. Now in order to grant that there did exist a healing spirit named Aesculapius, who used to cure the bodies of men, I would say to those who are astonished at such an occurrence, or at the prophetic knowledge of Apollo, that since the cure of bodies is a thing indifferent, and a matter within the reach not merely of the good, but also of the bad; and as the foreknowledge of the future is also a thing indifferent— for the possessor of foreknowledge does not necessarily manifest the possession of virtue— you must show that they who practise healing or who foretell the future are in no respect wicked, but exhibit a perfect pattern of virtue, and are not far from being regarded as gods. But they will not be able to show that they are virtuous who practise the art of healing, or who are gifted with foreknowledge, seeing many who are not fit to live are related to have been healed; and these, too, persons whom, as leading improper lives, no wise physician would wish to heal.
Origen then gives a test by which people can determine who is from God and who is not— the test of their character. Those who are of God must live their lives according to an exceedingly high standard, being clearly not wicked but rather almost completely righteous and virtuous.
This standard of holiness is again illustrated in book VII.
Moreover, the Holy Spirit gave signs of His presence at the beginning of Christ’s ministry, and after His ascension He gave still more; but since that time these signs have diminished, although there are still traces of His presence in a few who have had their souls purified by the Gospel, and their actions regulated by its influence. “For the Holy Spirit of discipline will flee deceit, and remove from thoughts that are without understanding.”
Origen here indicates “deceit” has entered the church, and the majority of believers have ceased having “their actions regulated by [the Gospel’s] influence.” Apparently, selfishness had seized the church, and obedience to the Gospel was waning. As a result, the church had lost its power to a large extent— even though pockets of these holy and single minded Christians still did greatly exist. When Origen says only “a few who have had their souls purified by the Gospel, and their actions regulated by its influence,” it is interesting to consider what he means by this. Very possibly, he is refering to his perspective of how spiritual maturity comes to believers. He believed that Christians should meditate on the Scriptures, giving readers the eternal perspective from which they then know how to conduct their lives. And then, having obeyed, they get further revelation of who God is and what Christianity is all about. Through this process, they become more holy and more obedient.
Recognition of Clement is a fascinating passage which speaks about sin‘s role as a blockage to healing and deliverance power, and also the role of faith in healing the sick and casting out demons.
This therefore is written, that men may know that, as by impiety they have been made liable to suffer, so by piety they may be made free from suffering; and not only free from suffering, but by even a little faith in God be able to cure the sufferings of others. For thus the true Prophet promised us, saying, ‘Verily I say to you, that if ye have faith as a grain of mustard seed, ye shall say to this mountain, Remove hence, and it shall remove.’ Of this saying you have yourselves also had proofs; for you saw yesterday how at our presence the demons removed and were put to flight, with those sufferings which they had brought upon men. Whereas therefore some men suffer, and others cure those who suffer, it is necessary to know the cause at once of the suffering and the cure; and this is proved to be nought else than unbelief on the part of the sufferers, and faith on the part of those who cure them. For unbelief, while it does not believe that there is to be a judgment by God, affords licence to sin, and sin makes men liable to sufferings; but faith, believing that there is to be a judgment of God, restrains men from sin; and those who do not sin are not only free from demons and sufferings, but can also put to flight the demons and sufferings of others.
The author says this reader or these readers saw demons removed and the subsequent healing(s) “yesterday” — A.D. 313 and 325 (the years this text could have been written during)— which gives strong evidence that miracles were continuing into the fourth century as well. Additional points are brought out in this passage. For example, the author believes that sin and a lack of faith are the crucial blockers of miracles and operate in this way. “Unbelief, while it does not believe that there is to be a judgment by God, affords licence to sin, and sin makes men liable to sufferings.” Sinners, therefore, are dependent on those who live holy lives to drive out evil spirits which are making them sick. So, if one were to not sin, according to his way of thinking, one would not become sick or be able to be internally affected by demons. “But faith, believing that there is to be a judgment of God, restrains men from sin; and those who do not sin are not only free from demons and sufferings, but can also put to flight the demons and sufferings of others.” Perhaps this explains what Paul meant and its subsequent importance when he said to Christians, “do not give the devil a foothold.”
On a different note, the question of using matter, man’s medicine, or the power of God only to heal is discussed by Arnobius, A.D. 327:
And yet it is agreed on that Christ performed all those miracles which He wrought without any aid from external things, without the observance of any ceremonial, without any definite mode of procedure, but solely by the inherent might of His authority.
For it is known that Christ, either by applying His hand to the parts affected, or by the command of His voice blindness from the eyes. . . . What act like these have all the gods done. . . ? for if they have at any time ordered, as is reported, either that medication or a special diet be given to some, or that plants and of blades be placed on that which should walk, remain at rest, or abstain from something hurtful, — and that this is no great dent, if you will attentively examine it— a similar mode of treatment is followed by physicians also, a creature earth-born and not relying on true science, but founding on a system of conjecture, and wavering in estimating probabilities. Now there is no special merit in removing by remedies those ailments which affect men: the healing qualities belong to the drugs— not virtues inherent in him who applies them; and though it is praiseworthy to know by what medicine or by what method it may be suitable for persons to be treated, there is room for this credit being assigned to man, but not to the deity. For it is, at least, no discredit that he should have improved the health of man by things taken from without: it is a disgrace to a god that he is not able to effect it of himself, but that he gives soundness and safety only by the aid of external objects . . . . And yet Christ assisted the good and the bad alike; nor was there any one rejected by Him. For this is the mark of a true god and of kingly power, to deny his bounty to none, and not to consider who merits it or who does not; since natural infirmity and not the choice of his desire, or of his sober judgement, makes a sinner. . . . but, what was more sublime, He has permitted many others to attempt them, and to perform them by the use of His name. For when He foresaw that you were to be the detractors of His deeds and of His divine work, in order that no lurking suspicion might remain of His having lavished these gifts and bounties by magic arts, from the immense multitude of people, which with admiring wonder strove to gain His favour, He chose fishermen, artisans, rustics, and unskilled persons of a similar kind, that they being sent through various nations should perform all those miracles without any deceit and without any material aids. By a word He assuaged the racking pains of the members; and by a word they checked the writhings of maddening sufferings. By one command He drove demons from the body, and restored . . . By the application of His hand He removed the marks of leprosy . . . . Nor was anything calling forth the bewildered admiration of all done by Him, which He did not freely allow to be performed by those humble and rustic men, and which He did not put in their power.
In other words, Arnobius is saying, Christ used only His authority to heal by laying on his hands or by a single command, but physicians and spiritists use other means to heal: medications, special diets, and/or plants. Though it is praiseworthy, he says, to know which medicines do what function, man can get the credit and not God. The praises go to the physicians and not to God. Furthermore, he says, “it is a disgrace to a god that he is not able to effect it of himself, but that he gives soundness and safety only by the aid of external objects.” A god who is not able to heal is not a very strong god, but Christ Himself healed all without partiality— “nor was there any one rejected by Him.” “This is the mark of a true god and of kingly power,… since sickness is naturally caused, not caused by anything the sinner has done. Then Arnobius adds that Jesus foresaw that those Arnobius was writing to were to be recipients also of these miracles; therefore, Jesus chose unskilled, humble, ordinary men to perform these miracles so readers of scripture in the future would know these gifts were not performed through magic arts. These disciples of Christ demonstrated this by their pure hearts, their lack of deceit, and by using the power of God alone, without material aids. In addition, this equipping God did nothing Himself that he didn’t freely allow those in the church to do as well. This gives much glory to Him. It is clear that Arnobius saw the Christians he is writing to as those who are to be recipients of these Bible miracles; however, we do not know by what is said the extent the church was actually receiving them, or how they responded to Arnobius’ doctrinal prescription.
Saint Gregory of Nyssa was born in about A.D. 330 and died in A.D.395, which would place the dates for his writings to be somewhere during the latter forth century. He writes:
Why do not these long and ornate speeches bring the same results as that of Peter on the day of Pentecost? Perhaps, one may say that then the miracles done by the apostles were confirming their preaching and therefore their message was trustworthy because of the operation of the charismata. I say myself, too, that the power and the results of the works done do tend to persuade. But what should be supposed of those things which are happening now? Or do not you see the same miracles of faith now? I know the deeds of our fellowmen who walk in the same Spirit and give witness of the power of healing . . . and have great power against the demons . . . . And all these worketh the one and the self-same Spirit, dividing to every man severally as He will.
First, Gregory indicates that Christians were at this time giving “long and ornate speeches” but they weren’t accompanied by miracles as had often occurred in Acts. Gregory asks why this is so? For he feels the power and the results of the works done do tend to persuade. Yet, he says these same miracles are happening now, and that every man has been issued gifts.
The final work I will deal with, The Life of Saint Antony, is a book written by the bishop of Alexandria, Athanasius, in the mid to late fourth century. Antony himself lived to be age 105— A.D. 251-356. Athanasius’ style is less didactic and more illustrative and lifelike than the other religious works cited here. Athanasius uses more of a narrative form, making the facts more interesting to read for many who would not read a more technical work. Because of this narrative style, because many of Antony’s experiences and miracles were spectacular, and because it was common for hagiographers to exaggerate to make the saints appear more saintlike than they really were, the details of this work are somewhat disputed. However, most of the miraculous events told about Antony fit easily within the framework layed down by the Bible. They also seem to meld with the other works cited in this paper, so what Athanasius says may indeed be significant.
Here, Athanasius presents some interesting material about the discerning of spirits and 2 Cor. 2:11— “for we are not unaware of his (Satan’s) schemes.”
the demons . . . . they leave nothing undone to hinder us from entering Heaven . . . . Hence, too, the necessity of much prayer and ascetic discipline that one may receive through the Holy Spirit the gift of discerning spirits and may be able to know about them— which of them are less wicked, which of them are more so; and what special interest each one of them pursues and how each is rebuffed and cast out. For their ruses and machinations are numerous. Of this the blessed Apostle and his followers were aware when they said: “For we are not ignorant of his devices.” And we, drawing on our experiences with them, ought to guide each other aright, away from them.
Anthony would have been considered extreme in his asceticism, according to the Bible, but the prayer and fasting aspects of his lifestyle, spending much time alone with God, were not foreign to Jesus’ experience, nor to Paul’s. In fact, Paul obtained much revelation during his three year “ascetic” experience at the start of his ministry. So this ascetic practise may be of some significant benefit if for a limited duration. Much can be learned from the Father in this posture. Athenasius (or Antony— it’s difficult to know who is the speaker) suggests that Christians share with others then what they’ve learned during this time of prayer and personal experience— specifically what they’ve learned about these evil spirits as to how to fight them, thus equipping each other. Regarding the varying qualities of demons he mentions, the Bible does address this in that it speaks of lying spirits that have that one specific role only. And Daniel talks about a particularly strong demon, “a prince,” which was strong enough to resist an angel for twenty-one days.
Later in the work, Athanasius shows Antony’s struggle with pride “because of what the Lord was doing through him,” and Antony’s response — seclusion. He felt escape and not doing the miracles was the answer, but upon escaping, the needy still came, so Antony set out to seek a place even more solitary.
Now, then, as he returned to solitude and having determined to set himself a period of time during which he would neither go out himself nor receive anyone . . . . For many sufferers simply slept outside his cell, since he would not open his door to them; and they were healed by their faith and sincere prayer. When he saw himself beset by many and that he was not permitted to withdraw as he had proposed to himself and wished, and concerned that because of what the Lord was doing through him he might become conceited or another might account him more than was proper, he looked about and set out on a journey to the Upper Thebaid to people among whom he was unknown.
One possible explanation for Antony’s great problem with pride is that so few in the church were doing these miracles, which put Antony even more greatly in the spotlight. Had miracles ceased being a part of normal Christianity during Antony’s day? Certainly, the church had become weakened by greater acceptance and less persecution of Christianity. For example, the year A.D. 313 granted freedom of worship to all by Constantine’s ‘Edict’ of Milan. Of the texts of this fourth century: from Arnobius, A.D. 327, we have more prescription than description, certainly nothing conclusive as to how many miracles were occurring during this time. But the Recognition of Clement— A.D. 313-325— gives direct evidence of the supernatural: “you saw yesterday how at our presence the demons removed and were put to flight, with those sufferings which they had brought upon men.” And in the latter fourth century, Saint Gregory began his statement by questioning why miracles have declined so but then spoke of how he still saw miracles occurring. This fact alone that we have just three references (not including Athanasius) from an entire century demonstrates that miracles were indeed dying out.
So, it is likely Antony was the greatest miracle worker in the regions in which he lived (if the text can be trusted), and therefore received much attention and praise. And given the weakened church, which had become more worldly and less heavenly minded, Antony didn’t have the spiritual support of the Christian community. Those who operated in the gift of healing in the early church had the great benefit of the fellowship and breaking of bread together with Christian brothers and sisters who were obediently doing miracles and were willing to die and be tortured for their Lord if necessary. Antony’s solution to his dilemma was to escape, and therefore began what became a trend— “asceticism.”
The above passage from the work indicates an interesting aspect of the healing process. The visitors mentioned would visit Antony, but Antony wouldn’t let them in. They would stay because their need was so great, and therefore likely prayed harder and fasted more than they had ever done. And they would get healed— “by their faith and sincere prayer,”— a level of faith and a sincerity of prayer which had not occurred earlier in their illness or they would have been previously healed. This is a further demonstration of the fruit and necessity of prayer.
The following event which occurred later in his life is somewhat related. Athenasius doesn’t give the context, but he does immediately precede this section by appealing to Mt. 17:20, Jn. 16:23-24, and Mt. 10:8 in an attempt to appease readers skeptic to Antony’s miracles that it was the Lord’s command that Antony was obeying. This is further evidence that these type of miracles were rare for that day.
For it is the promise of the Savior who says: “If you have faith as a grain of mustard seed, you shall say to this mountain: ‘Remove hence!’ and it shall remove; and nothing shall be impossible to you.” And again: “Amen, amen, I say to you, if you ask the Father anything in my name, He will give it to you. . . . Ask and you shall receive.” And it is He who said to His disciples and to all who believe in Him: “Heal the sick; . . . cast out the demons; freely have you received, freely give.”
Antony, then, healed not by giving commands, but by praying and by calling upon Christ’s name, so that it was clear to all that it was not he who did this, but the Lord showing His loving-kindness to men and curing the sufferers through Antony.
Later in life, Antony found help for his problem of pride and for those who saw him as greater than he really was. His solution was to change his method from the laying on of hands to simply praying to God for their healing, likely in their presence— and still people were healed, which indicates the method may not be as necessary as the vessel itself.
I’ve mentioned the decrease of miracles that almost certainly was experienced during the fourth century, especially if compared to the many miracles which occurred during the first century. It appears the third century experienced more miracles than the fourth, and also less than those in the first century. And all of the works we have were written in the first half of the century. However, this is not an indication that gifts were not occurring during the second half as well, for this was almost a completely silent period for the church in general. Clement of Alexandria instructed about priorities regarding the gifts. In his opinion, preaching was a higher expression of faith than healing or raising the dead, possibly indicating that Christians were emphasizing the gifts to the exclusion of preaching the Gospel. Tertullian spoke of how healings and deliverances had been experienced even as high up as the Roman aristocracy. Hippolytus demonstrated his own faith for healing by speaking of how Christians should look to God alone for healing— medicine may work, but it can give man the glory and not God. Minucius Felix showed clearly that Christians were healing the sick by driving out evil spirits. And Origen, A.D 246-248, spoke of “traces” of miracles still occurring in those “few who have had their souls purified by the Gospel,” even though we’ve seen how these “traces” were actually quite monumental when compared to what is seen today in western Christianity. Origen uses the word “traces” in comparing the number of miracles he saw to the number he understood were performed in the days of the first apostles, which shows, along with Acts, the Epistles, and the other writings, they must have been a voluminous amount. Also, Origen’s emphasis on the necessity of holiness in those who do miracles is significant.
The decade directly on the heels of the apostles offers us five significant authors. The first, Clement of Rome wrote early in A.D. 95, exhorting powerfully the church to visit those who are widows and who are poor, casting out demons and healing those who are sick. Clement stated they do this, “not with a multitude of fine words,” but “without guile, and without covetousness, and without noise, . . . without haughtiness, . . . with fasting and prayer.” Again and again, fasting and prayer, and holiness are shown to be instrumental in effective ministering. Clement quotes Jesus’ own words: “this kind goeth not out but by fasting and prayer.”
Justin Martyr defended the faith in the middle of the second century against Trypho the Jew, writing a list of the gifts which included the gift of healing. He then said to Trypho, Jesus Christ “would deliver us from error and give us gifts . . . you . . . are foolish, and honour God and His Christ by lip only. But we, who are instructed in the whole truth, honour Them both in acts, and in knowledge, and in heart, even unto death.” Justin leaves little doubt as to whether the gifts were in great operation or not.
And then there’s Taitian— A.D. 167— who poses this interesting question regarding whether Christians should seek means other than God for their own healings. “Why is he who trusts in the system of matter not willing to trust in God?” His response was: “Yield to the power of the Logos!”
And then Irenaeus’ amazing statement from A.D. 185:
Others still, heal the sick by laying their hands upon them, and they are made whole, Yea, moreover, as I have said, the dead even have been raised up, and remained among us for many years. And what shall I more say? It is not possible to name the number of the gifts which the Church, [scattered] throughout the whole world, has received from God, in the name of Jesus Christ, who was crucified under Pontius Pilate, and which she exerts day by day for the benefit of the Gentiles, neither practising deception upon any, nor taking any reward from them [on account of such miraculous interpositions]. For as she has received freely from God, freely also does she minister [to others].
1 “Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit (Lk. 4:14).”
Robert M. Grant states about the Didache, “Athanasius in his Festal Letter of A.D. 367 omits it from the New Testament but says that it and the Shepherd of Hermas may be read by new converts and persons preparing for baptism.” Edgar J. Goodspeed, A History of Early Christian Literature, rev. and enlarged by Robert M. Grant (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1966) 13.
Constitutions of the Holy Apostles, II, xv, sec. II, ANF 7:431 (emphasis added).
ibid., VIII, i, 479 (emphasis added).
Clement of Rome, Two Epistles Concerning Virginity, xii, ANF (Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson, eds. The Ante-Nicene Fathers. Buffalo: The Christian Literature Pub. Co., 1890) 8: 59 (emphasis added).
Justin Martyr, Second Apology, vi, ANF 1:190 (emphasis added).
ibid, xxxix, 214 (emphasis added).
Address of Taitian to the Greeks, xvi, ANF 2:72 (emphasis added).
ibid, xviii, 73 (emphasis added).
2 Cor. 1:5 NIV
Marcus Aurelius to Severus, in Eusebius, The History of the Church, translated by G. A. Williamson (Minneapolis: Augsburg, 1975) 197 (emphasis added).
Irenaeus, Against Heresies, XXXI, ii, ANF 1:407 (emphasis added).
ibid., XXXII, iv, 409 (emphasis added).
1 Cor. 15:26, however, shows that “the last enemy to be destroyed is death.”
Is. 53:4 reads: “Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows.” NIV
Matthew quotes Is. 53: 4 in this way: “He took up our infirmities and carried our diseases.” Mt. 8:17. NIV
Hippolytus, Against the Heresy of One Noetus, xviii, ANF 5:230 (emphasis added).
Terminology and views vary within the apostolic fathers. The Epistle of Barnabas (v, ANF 1:139) ties the atonement to spiritual salvation (ie., 1 Pt. 2:24). Tertullian addresses it in three places. His first account is unclear as to his emphasis (Tertullian, Against Marcion, III, xvii, ANF 3:336). His second shows Is. 53’s link to deliverance from evil spirits in Jesus’ ministry as in Mt. 8:17 (ibid., IV, viii, ANF 3:354). And in the third, he ties it to “salvation,” indicating nothing about physical healing ( ibid., IV, xxi, ANF 3:382). I cite Novation later, showing his strong tie with healing.
I will use “deliverance” to mean deliverance from demonic spirits.
Tertullian, To Scapula, iv, ANF 3:107 (emphasis added).
Tertullian, Against Marcion, IV, viii, ANF 3:354 (emphasis added).
Clement of Alexandria, Stromata or Miscellanies, II, xi, ANF 2:358-59 (emphasis added).
ibid,. Stromata or Miscellanies IV,xxi, 433-34 (brackets and emphasis added).
Tertullian, On Fasting, viii, ANF 4:107 (emphasis added).
Mt. 17:21; Mk. 9:29.
ibid,. On Fasting, xvii, 114 (emphasis added).
For the Spirit cannot go in and out of the Christian actually.
Hippolytus, On the Song of Songs, ANF 5:176 (emphasis added).
Minucius Felix, The Octavius, xxvii, ANF 4:189-90. Parallel passage in Cyprian, On the Vanity of Idols, vii, ANF 5:467 (emphasis added).
Novation, Treatise Concerning the Trinity, ix, ANF 5:618,19 (emphasis added).
ibid., xxix, 640 (emphasis added).
Jesus of course was the exception, and possibly the disciple, as the Spirit was given during His ministry as an equipper, among other reasons.
Origen, Against Celsus, I: xlvi, ANF 4:415-16 (emphasis added).
ibid, III: xxiv-xxv, 473 (emphasis added).
ibid,. Against Celsus, VII, viii, 614 (emphasis added).
John D. Woodbridge, Great Leaders of the Christian Church. (Chicago: Moody Press) 57.
Recognition of Clement. V, ii-iii, ANF 8:143-44 (emphasis added).
Eph. 4:27 NIV
Arnobius, Against the Heathen, I, xliv, ANF 6:425 (emphasis added).
Ibid. xlviii-l, 426-27 (emphasis added).
St. Gregory of Nyssa, Commentary on Song of Songs, vi, quoted by Stephanou, Eusebius A., 1976. “The Charismata in the Early Church Fathers,” The Greek Orthodox Theological Review, 21 (Summer) 138 (emphasis added).
St. Athanasius, The Life of Saint Antony, xxii, translated and annotated by Robert T. Meyer, in Ancient Christian Writers series no. 10, edited by J. Quasten and J. Plumpe (Westminster, Maryland: The Newman Press) 38,39 (emphasis added).
1 Kings 22:22
ibid., idem, The Life of Saint Antony, xlviii, 60-61 (emphasis added).
il, 61 (emphasis added).
ibid., idem, The Life of Saint Antony, lxxxiii, 89.
ibid. lxxxiv, 89 (emphasis added).
ibid,. Against Celsus.
ibid,. Two Epistles Concerning Virginity.
ibid,. Second Apology.
ibid,. To the Greeks. (emphasis added).
ibid,. Against Heresies. (emphasis added).
Athanasius, St. The Life of Saint Antony, translated and annotated by Robert T. Meyer, in Ancient Christian Writers series no. 10, ed. J. Quasten and J. Plumpe. Westminster, Maryland: The Newman Press.
Eusebius. The History of the Church, translated by G. A. Williamson. Minneapolis: Augsburg, 1975.
Eusebius, Stephanou A. 1976. “The Charismata in the Early Church Fathers,” The Greek Orthodox Theological Review, 21 (Summer).
Goodspeed, Edgar J. A History of Early Christian Literature, rev. and enlarged by Robert M. Grant. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1966.
Roberts, Alexander, and James Donaldson, eds. The Ante-Nicene Fathers. Buffalo: The Christian Literature Pub. Co., 1890.
Woodbridge, John D. Great Leaders of the Christian Church. Chicago: Moody Press, 1988.
Burgess, Stanley M. The Spirit and the Church: Antiquity. Peabody, Mass.: Hendrickson Pub. Co., 1984.
Frost, Evelyn. Christian Healing: A Consideration of the Place of Spiritual Healing in the Church of To-day in the Light of the Doctrine and Practice of the Ante-Nicene Church. 2d ed. London: A. R. Mowbray and Co. Limited, 1949.
Goodspeed, Edgar J. A History of Early Christian Literature. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1942.
Graeca, Vita Prima. The Life of Pachomius. trans. Apostolos N. Athanassakis. Missoula, Montana: Scholars Press, 1975.
Kydd, Ronald A.N. Charismatic Gifts in the Early Church. Peabody, Mass.: Hendrickson Pub. Co., 1984.
Hanck, Robert J. “Issue of Ecstacy in the Montanist Debate.” thesis, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, 1980.
Hurtado, Larry W. “The Function and Pattern of Signs and Wonders in the Apostolic Age and Sub-Apostolic Period.” thesis, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, 1967.
Scherzer, Carl J. The Church and Healing. Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1950.
Taylor, Kent. “The Practice and Doctrine of the Spiritual Gifts During the Ante-Nicene Period.” paper, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, 1989.