Contemporary scholarship has advanced considerably in recent years in understanding the role of illness in early Christian thought. The work of Andrew Crislip has been especially valuable in developing the concept of the use of illness. The Apophthegmata Patrum provides a wealth of material for further study of this phenomenon, exhibiting three ways in which illness turns out to be a useful tool for advancing the ascetic program. First, medical thought structures much of what the Apophthegmata has to say about spiritual guidance and progress. Second, the presence of the sick within ascetic communities affords the healthy members of the community an opportunity to develop the virtue of charity by providing medical care. Finally, and most centrally, the ascetic suffering from illness can capitalize upon the trials involved to foster self-mastery. In the Apophthegmata, the voluntary sufferings of fasting, vigils, and poverty typically play this role, but disease can also provide a kind of involuntary asceticism of comparable value. As a text that is first and foremost focused on practical concerns, it is only natural for the Apophthegmata to find ways in which even illness can be put to use.


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pp. 571-600
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