How God Heals Us

Augustine of Hippo compares God’s salvation to a doctor’s medical care, and concludes that they follow the principles of contrariety and similarity.

The way to health is through medical care; God’s care has taken it upon itself to heal and restore sinners by the same methods. When doctors bind wounds, they do this not just anyhow, but in an appropriate manner, so that the effectiveness of the ligature is matched by a kind of beauty; similarly the treatment given by wisdom was adapted to our wounds by its acceptance of human nature, healing sometimes by the principle of contrariety, sometimes by that of similarity.

A doctor treating a physical wound applies some medications that are contrary—a cold one to a hot wound, a dry one to a wet wound, and so on—and also some that are similar, such as a round bandage to a round wound and a rectangular bandage to a rectangular wound, and he does not apply the same ligature to all wounds, but matches like with like. So for the treatment of human beings God’s wisdom—in itself both doctor and medicine—offered itself in a similar way. Because human beings fell through pride it used humility in healing them. We were deceived by the wisdom of the serpent; we are freed by the foolishness of God.

But just as that was called wisdom yet was foolishness to those who despise God, so this so-called foolishness is wisdom to those who overcome the devil. We made bad use of immortality, and so we died; Christ made good use of mortality, and so we live. The disease entered through a corrupted female mind; healing emerged from an intact female body. Also relevant to the principle of contrariety is the fact that our vices too are treated by the example of his virtues.

Examples of similarity in the kinds of bandages (as it were) applied to our limbs and wounds are these: it was one born of a woman that freed those deceived by a woman; it was  a mortal man that freed mortals; and it was by death that he freed the dead. Careful consideration of many other such things—as may be done by those who are not hard pressed by the need to finish a book—reveals that the basic principle of Christian healing is one of contrariety and similarity.

De doctrina Christiana 1.27-30. Translation by R. P. H. Green.

Published in: on January 10, 2011 at 4:58 pm  Leave a Comment  
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