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Deaconesses in Europe and their Lessons for Americ

Hospital chaplains yet more seldom


service in hospitals seems especially incumbent upon Christian women, and in the early history of these institutions we find deaconesses mentioned in connection with them.

Before the birth of Christ hospitals were unknown. It is true that in Rome and Athens a certain provision was made for the poor, and largesses were given them from time to time. But this was done from motives of political expediency, and not from sympathy or commiseration with their ills. But as soon as the early Christians were free to practice their religion openly, hospitals arose in all the great cities. In the latter half of the fourth century the distinguished Christian teacher, Ephrem the Syrian, in Edessa, placed rows of beds for the sick and starving. His contemporary, Basil, the great bishop of Caesarea, founded a number of institutions for strangers, the poor, and the sick, caring especially for the lepers.[90] Little houses were built closely together, but so that the patients could be separated one from another, and cared for separately. Even at that early date the hospitals were arranged into divisions for either sex, as they are at the present time. To use a modern phrase, the wards of the men patients were placed under the charge of a deacon while the deaconesses ministered to the sick of their own sex, according as their services were required. "It was a rule for the deacons and deaconesses to seek for the unfortunate day by day, and to inform the bishops,

who in turn, accompanied by a priest, visited the sick and needy of all classes."[91]

In the Middle Ages there were orders of Hospitallers, consisting of laymen, monks, and knights, who devoted themselves entirely to the care of the sick. Under their influence great and splendid hospitals were built, of which the old Hotel Dieu in Paris was a conspicuous example. The Hospital of the Holy Ghost in Rome, and the service of the same order, originated like hospitals all over Europe. In late years, with the development of medical and surgical art, hospital arrangements have arrived at a degree of perfection never before known; and the care of the sick, as it has been studied and practiced by Protestant deaconesses and Catholic Sisters of Mercy, has also greatly improved.

The state to which the hospitals had degenerated in Fliedner's time, and the need of experienced nurses who should be actuated by the highest Christian motives, were among the strong reasons he advanced for providing the Church with deaconesses as helpers. Here are his words:[92] "The poor sick people lay heavily on my mind. How often had I seen them neglected, their bodily wants miserably provided for, their spiritual needs quite forgotten, withering away in their often unhealthy rooms like leaves in autumn; for how many cities, even those having large populations, were without hospitals! And I have seen many on my travels in Holland, Brabant, England, and Scotland, as in our own Germany; I often found the portals of glittering marble, but the nursing and care were wretched. Physicians complained bitterly of the drunkenness and immorality of the attendants, and what shall I say of the spiritual care? In many hospitals preachers we're no longer found; hospital chaplains yet more seldom. In the pious olden time these men were always in such institutions, especially in the Netherlands, where evangelical hospitals bore the beautiful name of "God's house," because it was recognized that God especially visits the inmates of such houses, to draw them to himself. Do not such wrongs cry to heaven? Is not our Lord's reproachful word addressed to us, 'I was sick and in prison and ye visited me not?' And shall not our Christian women be capable and willing to undertake the care of the sick for Christ's sake?" It was by such words, and similar ones, as in his famous appeal "Freiwillige vor" (Volunteers to the front!) which he sent out from Wurtemberg to Basel in 1842, that he aroused the Christian women of Germany to give themselves to this service. By their aid he instituted a system of nursing that has changed the aspect of every hospital ward in Germany; and, through the training that Florence Nightingale enjoyed at Kaiserswerth, the reform that was there instituted passed to England, and has effected a transformation in the entire hospital system of England.

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