Christ as Physician

The ancient Christus medicus trope and Christian medical missions as imitation of Christ

  • Christoffer H Grundmann Valparaiso University, Valparaiso, IN.
Keywords: Christus medicus, imitatio Christi, medical missions, Asclepius, Hippocrates, disinterested benevolence, healing, physician, Church


Few people only will know that as early as the second century AD, Christ was called a physician.  Not being scriptural, this nomenclature originally reflected the looming rivalry with the pagan Asclepius cult very popular in Hellenistic times.  Yet despite its polemic background, that designation grew into an accepted rhetorical trope for Christians since it was regarded as well-suited to illustrate the corporeality of salvation.  It implied that redemption is as corporeal as is the work of medical practitioners, an aspect crucial for Christian medical missions.  This article first provides a sketch of the early occurrences of the Christus medicus trope documenting only some of the crucial texts (I).  In a second part, the article addresses the imitatio Christi motif, that is, the call to imitate Christ, because imitatio Christi became somewhat typical for arguing the cause of medical missions in their nascent stage.  This had to do with breath-taking developments in medicine beginning in the latter part of the nineteenth century, which suddenly empowered physicians effectively to heal diseases plaguing people from time immemorial.  Pious doctors, thus, felt urged to imitate Christ by going out on missions to share the Good News and to heal (II).  Concluding remarks plead for reckoning the unique vocation and ministry of medical missions within and for the Church, namely to hold fast to the corporeality of salvation.

Author Biography

Christoffer H Grundmann, Valparaiso University, Valparaiso, IN.

John R. Eckrich University Professor in Religion and the Healing Arts

Before joining Valparaiso University in 2001, Prof Grundmann, an ordained Lutheran minister, worked in Caracas, Venezuela, served as a missionary and theological teacher in South India (TTS Arasaradi, Madurai) and has been the theological consultant to the German Institute of Medical Missions at Tübingen, Germany. From 1992–1999 he taught at the University of Hamburg, Germany, where he earned a couple of doctorates in the history of missions and missiology with a special focus on medical missions and healing.