The following fictional tale is part of a thought experiment that will take a few weeks to develop properly. Stick with me; I promise it will be worth it.
Marcus was a doctor in Alexandria during the second century A. D. His internal medicine practice was largely concerned with balancing the four bodily humors (fluids) — blood, phlegm, black bile, and yellow bile — in order to prevent or cure disease. He had diligently studied the writings of Hippocrates, Galen and others, and understood that disease was a natural process which a doctor could only assist. In order to ameliorate the disease and assist in hurrying it along toward healing, Marcus used massage, herbs, and other methods.
A cold, for example, was the result of an overabundance of phlegm, perhaps brought about through overexposure to the cold night air. The cold air cooled the lungs, and thereby the heart, which is the very center of a person. Attempting to protect the lungs, the body produced a great abundance of phlegm, which now needed to be brought back into balance with the other three humors. Marcus knew which herbs to use internally, which to apply as poultices, and so on. Marcus also understood which gods the patient ought to make offerings to, but he had noticed over his years of practice that the gods tended to ignore minor cases and preferred large offerings in any case. If the cold progressed to pneumonia, he would tell his patients, that was the time to invoke the gods — and in that event, it was best not to be cheap about it.
In addition to his skills with herbs and practical theology, Marcus was also a capable surgeon. He could remove tumors, treat hernias, and on occasion would even drill a small hole in a patient’s skull to relieve pressure and headaches. Some time in the army had also given him ample practice closing wounds and removing arrowheads.
Marcus was not always successful — no doctor is — but in general he enjoyed a good rate of success and there were a number of people in the city who attributed their continued life and good health to his ministrations.
And then, at the age of 45, in the middle of his career, Marcus himself became sick with the plague, and try as he might, nothing he did would cure him. One of his servants, who happened to be a Christian, begged him to allow Christian holy men to come and pray for his healing. At first Marcus refused. He was a doctor, learned in all the medicine of the Greeks, the Romans, and the Persians! What might some fleabitten hermit following that Nazarene criminal have to offer him? But the servant continued, plying him with story after story of how people were healed through prayer, begging him not to be so stubborn, and by this means eventually prevailed. The servant ran out of the house and shortly returned with a group of men that he described as the elders of his ecclesia. They surrounded the bed, anointed Marcus with oil, sang some hymns and prayed for healing in the name of Jesus of Nazareth. Despite his doubts, Marcus was instantly healed.
Marcus didn’t know what to do. Of course, he had to become a Christian — and wouldn’t his friends think that was entertaining — but beyond that, he didn’t know what he would do for a living. How could he go on being a doctor when he couldn’t heal himself? How could he prescribe herbs when it had been the prayers of a servant, a rug merchant, a field laborer and a potter that had healed him? Not knowing what to do, he went back to the men who healed him and asked them.
“Let each man remain in the same calling in which he was called,” they told him. Someone named St. Paul had written this in their scriptures many years before. He should remain a doctor. After all, one of Paul’s companions, St. Luke the evangelist, had been a doctor, and had not St. Paul himself referred to him as “Luke, the beloved physician” in his letter to Colosse? If St. Luke had remained in the profession, then surely Marcus could also. Of course, the men cautioned him, he must have nothing more to do with other gods. The idols of the Greeks and Romans were demons, and although they could work miracles of their own, it was for the purpose of damning souls to hell. From now on, Marcus must serve only Yahweh — Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
Marcus left the conversation a little fuzzy on whether he was serving one God or three, but he got the general idea. He continued practicing medicine, prescribing herbs for the balancing of the four bodily humors, performing surgery when it was called for, and commending prayer to Jesus Christ as the Great Physician who can heal any disease, no matter how small or how desperate. Marcus was subject to considerable mockery for this, and was eventually kicked out of the trade guild over it, because he was unwilling to participate in the guild sacrifices to pagan gods. Many of his patients refused to see him any longer, and a number of the merchants he depended upon for supplies refused to do business with him, for fear of the guild. But Christ had taught him, “Freely you have received; freely give” — and so although he sometimes lacked for patients who could pay, he never lacked for patients, and the Lord always seemed to supply him with just enough of the necessary herbs and implements to get the job done.
Over time, several young Christian men came to him to learn. They were unable to apprentice themselves to anyone in the guild, because like him they were unwilling to participate in the guild’s pagan sacrifices. However, Marcus was happy to teach them all he knew. Each of them spent at least ten years with him, learning all the healing properties of each herb, how to balance the bodily humors, how and when to use each surgical implement, and much more — everything he knew about the practice of medicine, and as he grew in his Christian faith, everything he knew about serving the Great Physician as well. By the time he died at a ripe old age, there were five capable doctors, unrecognized by the guild, who took his place and continued his work, each man expert in his craft and a diligent servant of God.