The body was of principal concern to Christians and non-Christians alike in late antiquity. Care for the body was a core aspect of care for the soul, and spiritual discipline demanded the training of perilous appetites, habits, and desires. Scholarship has in recent years devoted much attention to the practices and processes involved in this self-care, observing in particular that early Christian concern for the body echoed ancient medical dietetics. As such, experts on the care of the Christian body followed in the footsteps of medical experts—in particular those of the Hippocratic tradition.
The shared goal of medical and Christian dietetics was the health of body and soul. How Christian leaders chose to use medical language, strategies, and techniques in their pastoral care for the health of their congregants reflects their understanding of the body-soul relationship and the role of bodily health in securing spiritual well-being.
This panel is concerned with the care of the body as articulated by early Christian leaders: Basil of Caesarea; John Chrysostom; Dorotheus of Gaza; and Sophronius of Jerusalem. Juxtaposing naturalistic and religious healing practices, we will examine the strategies employed by different spiritual doctors in addressing the condition of the body within their communities. Exploring their discussions about the body, its sicknesses, and its healing, our papers will point toward the intersections of spiritual and bodily health, as our subjects set out the terms and the stakes of spiritual intervention in the care of the body.