The Theology of Illness.



There is no one, who in the course of a lifetime, has not had to face some form of illness. It's not 'if' we get sick, but rather 'when'. Illness is inevitably linked to the human condition. No organism is perfectly healthy. And health itself is never more than a temporary balance between the forces of life and other forces that oppose them, since the supremacy of the former is tentative and fragile.


Jean-Claude Larchet

Life, it has been said, “is by its very nature a temporary staying of death. Every one of our cells is preserved at the cost of an ongoing struggle with forces that tend to destroy it. From our youth, our tissues include large areas subject to deterioration and general wear and tear. From our birth, human cells contain the seeds of their own destruction…sickness marks the whole of our fleshly life. Even under the guise of health, biological phenomena constantly pass beyond the limits of what is ‘normal’.


Even when we believe we are in good health, illness is potentially there within us, and it merely requires the weakening of one of our systems of defense for it to appear in one form or another. And at times, before we are even aware of it, it has done considerable damage.

Every form of illness causes suffering.

Most cause us to suffer both physically and psychologically. All of them create spiritual suffering, since they reveal, sometimes with certain cruelty, the fragile nature of our condition. They remind that health and biological life are not ‘goods’ that we can hold on to forever, but that in this world our body is destined to diminish, to deteriorate, and finally to die. From this perspective, illness poses a number of inescapable questions:

Why? Why me? Why now? For how long? What is to become of me?

Illness always calls into question the basis, the framework, and the shape of our lives, including the life-patterns we have acquired, the free use of our bodily and psychological faculties, our system of values, our relations with other people, even life itself. This is because in times of illness the inevitability of death becomes a stark reality.

Far from being an event that touches only our body, and that for a limited time, illness often forces us to assume a spiritual struggle that involves our whole being and destiny.

One way or another, we must overcome this trial by assuming the illness and the various forms of suffering that accompany it, by finding solutions to it, solutions that are theoretical but especially practical. Each of us, in the course of our life, has not only to take into consideration sickness and suffering in a theoretical way, but when they occur, we need to find a means for continuing to live, while discovering in them or in spite of them our personal fulfillment.


That of course is never easy.


+ Glory to God for All Things +


Dr. Jean-Claude Larchet is one of the most notable living philosophers and authors on Orthodox Christian Patristics.

He holds a Ph.D in philosophy from the University of Nancy and a Ph.D. in theology from the University of Strasbourg. A teacher of philosophy for nearly thirty-five years, he is an author of over thirty books and countless articles whose work has been translated into seventeen languages. His magnum opus, Therapy of Spiritual Illness, and several other works have been translated into English to wide acclaim.


The Theology of Illness - SVS Press
Theology of the Body - SVS Press
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