Origins of Hospitals and Schools of Higher Learning

Many hospitals and universities too were indeed founded by churches, religious orders and individual Christians.
If youʼre making a distinction between founded on and founded by Iʼd be curious to see it. You can find hospitals founded by non-Christian institutions or individuals but a large number owe their existence to the aforementioned Christian associations and individuals. Itʼs a historic fact.
I read Edʼs article and donʼt see a contradiction between it and what I wrote. There are hospitals in other parts of the world and other cultures had their own means of healthcare. He contends that “hospitals as we know them were an innovation of Christianity.” The operative phrase being “as we know them.” Stephen is probably right but I expect heʼll weigh in himself on this. — Paul
Article in Dispute, History of Hospitals

Origins of Hospitals and Schools of Higher Learning

Ed: Paul, I would like to add something to what you wrote above concerning “the origin of universities,” since you have added that to the topic of the origin of hospitals. Please read the quotations below, from recognized scholars. The early Christian church under the Christianized Emperors let languish and helped destroy the greatest library known to the ancient world. It associated “Satanʼs influence” with great works of pagan genius. It threatened people with hell for reading “pagan” books, it closed the schools of the ancient pagan scientists and doctors and mathematicians (Ramsay McMullen, cited often below, is a well known and well respected professor of history concerning this particular time period and has written copiously about it):

[During the reign of Christian Emperor Theodosius] bands of wandering monks attacked synagogues, pagan temples, hereticsʼ meeting places, and the homes of wealthy non-believers in Mesopotamia, Syria, Egypt, Palestine, and North Africa. [Also during his reign] the bishop of Alexandria incited local vigilantes to destroy the Temple of Serapis [also known as the Serapeum], one of the largest and most beautiful builds in the ancient world that also housed a library donated by Cleopatra. Alexandrian Christians whipped up by Bishop Cyril rioted against the Jews in 415, and then murdered Hypatia, a wise and beloved Platonic philosopher.
- Richard E. Rubenstein, When Jesus Became God: The Epic Fight Over Christʼs Divinity in the Last Days of Rome, p.226-227

Art, philosophy, literature, the very psychology of Western man, all suffered by the victory of the [Christian] bishops.
- John Holland Smith, The Death of Classical Paganism

The Christian zealots for conversion took to the streets or criss-crossed the countryside, destroying no doubt more of the architectural and artistic treasure of their world than any passing barbarians thereafter.
- Ramsay MacMullen, Christianizing the Roman Empire

Examples of destroyed Temples: the Sanctuary of Aesculap in Aegaea, the Temple of Aphrodite in Golgatha, Aphaka in Lebanon, the Heliopolis. Christian priests such as Mark of Arethusa or Cyrill of Heliopolis were famous as “temple destroyers.”

In the early fourth century the philosopher Sopatros was executed on demand of Christian authorities.

In the sixth century pagans were declared void of all rights.

- K. Deschner, Abermals krähte der Hahn, (Stuttgart 1962), p. 466, 468

Pagans had not been clear or unanimous in their belief in an afterlife, but those who credited it looked to mystery cults for insurance in their future. Christians were much more positive. The Christians united ritual and philosophy and brought the certainty of God and history to questions whose answers eluded the pagan schools. Whereas pagan cults won adherents, Christianity aimed, and contrived, to win converts.

Paganism was reclassified as a demonic system. If Satan was the source of error and evil, false teaching and wrongdoing were not merely mistaken: they were diabolic. The division between a Christian “community of goodness” and an “outer world of evil” could easily become too pronounced. The idea of Satan magnified the difference between “true” and “false” Christians and between Christian sinners and saints.

Like Satan, the Last Judgment was a force that Christians exaggerated and then claimed to be able to defeat. This teaching was reinforced by an equally powerful ally, the Christian idea of sin. Sin was not just the sin of an action, or even an intention, but also the sin of a thought, even a passing interest in an appealing man or woman. This combination of rarefied sin and eternal punishment was supported, as we shall see, by books of vision and revelation that were probably more widely read than modern contempt for “pseudepigraphic” forgeries allows: acquaintance with the Apocalypse of “Peter” would make anyone think twice before leaving the Church (we happen to know that “Peterʼs vision of hell” was still read as a holy text in the churches in Palestine on Good Friday during the fifth century). If fears for Eternity brought converts to the faith, one suspects that they did even more to keep existing converts in it.
- Robin Lane Fox, Pagans and Christians (Alfred A. Knopf, Inc., New York, 1987), p. 326-327, 330-331, 412

Institutions of higher learning had been largely destroyed. The [Christian] emperorsʼ attacks had centered on the chief of them, Athens and Alexandria, in the late fourth century and were turned against them again toward the end of the fifth and in 529 [the year that the School of Athens was closed by the decree of the Christian Roman Emperor Justinian.
— E.T.B.].

As to the initiators of the persecution, the [Christian] emperors themselves, a steady decline in their level of cultivation has been noticed. Thus books and philosophy were bound to fade from sight.

After Constantine there existed an empire-wide instrument of education: the church. What bishops, even emperors, made plain, and what could be heard in broader terms from every pulpit, was an agreed upon teaching. Every witness, every listener should know the great danger to his soul in Platoʼs books, in Aristotleʼs, in any of the philosophical corpus handed down from the past. The same danger threatened anyone using his mind according to their manner, with analytical intent, ranging widely for the materials of understanding, and independent of divine imparted teachings.

Another factor that arose specifically out of the ongoing conversion of the empire was the doctrine of demonic causation. The belief in the operation of maleficent forces on a large scale had to await Christianity; and it was of course Christianity that was to form the medieval and Byzantine world.

Satanic agents were to be seen as the cause not only of wars and rebellions, persecution and heresy, storms at sea and earthquakes on land, but of a host of minor or major personal afflictions. So, in consequence, Christians were forever crossing themselves, whatever new action they set about, and painted crosses on their foreheads too, responding to their leadersʼ urging them to do so. It would protect them against all evil.
- Ramsay MacMullen, Christianity and Paganism in the Fourth to Eighth Centuries

[Lucky thing that the Moslems preserved such a huge library of classical books stored in Seville, Spain, that helped reignite the European Christian world of learning. It was that Moslem library at Seville that helped revive learning more than all the books the Irish monks were busy “illuminating.” (I learned that from the famed CONNECTIONS television series). - E.T.B.]

The Origin Of Universities

As for Christian universities they were inspired by revived Greek and Roman learning during the Renaissance. Calvin attended such a “humanistic” institution of learning before becoming a Reformer. Luther was certainly in close contact with such “humanist” scholars like Erasmus and others. Such institutions were inspired by the Renaissanceʼs revival of ancient pagan knowledge and ideals of scholarship. So the Christians took their studies from the Greeks and Romans. Aquinas built his system on that of Aristotleʼs philosophy (and added eternal hell and the joy of seeing the damned rot there). See the following quotations:

Because of the emphasis on authority and the all-pervasive influence of the church, the medieval atmosphere was not conductive to free scientific investigation. Those who studied science were churchmen, and their findings were supposed to illuminate rather than contradict the dogmas of the theologians. When Greek and Arabic works were translated in the twelfth century, the West inherited a magnificent legacy of mathematical and scientific knowledge. Algebra, trigonometry, and Euclidʼs Geometry became available, and Arabic numerals and the symbol for zero made possible the decimal system of computation…

Scholasticism reached its zenith with Thomas Aquinas (1225?-1274). In his Summa Theologica, this brilliant Italian Dominican dealt exhaustively with the great problems of theology, philosophy, politics, and economics. Thomasʼ major concern was to reconcile Aristotle and church dogmain other words, the truths of natural reason and the truths of faith. There can be no real contradiction, he argued, since all truth comes from God. In case of an unresolved contradiction, however, faith won out.

Origin Of Universities

The rebirth of learning in the twelfth century, with especially its revival of classical learning, its unprecedented number of students flocking to the schools, and its development of professional studies in law, medicine, and theology, led to the rise of organized centers of learning - the universities, which soon eclipsed monastic and cathedral schools. Originally the word university meant a group of persons possessing a common purpose. In this case it referred to a guild of learners, both teachers and students, similar to the craft guilds with their masters and apprentices. In the thirteenth century the universities had no campuses and little property or money, and the masters taught in hired rooms or religious houses. If the university was dissatisfied with its treatment by the townspeople, it could migrate elsewhere. The earliest universities - Bologna, Paris, and Oxford - were not officially founded or created, but in time the popes and kings granted them and other universities charters of self-government. The charters gave legal status to the universities and rights to the students, such as freedom from the jurisdiction of town officials.

Since we [the nation of India] inherited the present system of university education from the British, one may be tempted to believe that university education had its origins in the West. The truth of the matter is very different. India and Sri Lanka had their own systems of university education, their origins going back to the pre-Christian era. Jawaharlal Nehru, the first Prime Minister of India, describing the structure of the village republics of ancient India, in his ‘Glimpses of World History’ describes the origin of universities in very simple terms: “Many learned men used to retire into the forests, near the towns and villages, in order to lead simple lives, or to study and work in quiet. Pupils gathered round them, and gradually fresh settlements grew up for these teachers and their students. We can consider these settlements as universities. There were not many fine buildings there, but those who sought knowledge came from long distances to these places of leaning” (P.25).

When large towns and cities grew up, the universities also grew up into large complexes. “And in these centers of learning” continues Nehru, “every kind of subject that was then known was taught. The Brahmans even taught the science of war” (P.26). Prof. A. L. Basham, the author of the famous book, ‘The Wonder That was India’ tells us more about these Indian universities.

“Certain cities became renowned for their learned teachers, and achieved a reputation comparable to that of the university cities of medieval Europe. Chief among these were Varanasi and Taksasila, which were already famous in the time of the Buddha; later, around the beginning of the Christian era; Kanci acquired a similar reputation in the South. Varanasi, then usually called Kasi, was particularly renowned for its religious teachers, but Taksasila, in the far North-West, laid more emphasis on secular studies.”

Taksasila, which is now in Pakistan, had become so famous as a university that even the Buddhist Jataka tales make reference to it. Says Prof. Basham: “The Buddhist Jataka tales show that young men from all over the civilized part of India sought education in this city, through which a trickle of Iranian and Mesopotamian influence found its way to India.

Among the famous learned men connected with Taksasila were Panini, the grammarian of the 4th century BC, Kautilya, the Brahman Minister of Chandragupta Maurya, and traditionally the chief master of science of statecraft and Caraka, one of the two great masters of Indian medical science.” (P.165) Indian Buddhists get the credit of establishing monasteries that developed into universities. The Buddhist monastery of Nalanda, in Bihar, founded during the Gupta Age was one such university. According to Hsuan Tsang, the Chinese pilgrim who visited Nalanda in the 7th century, Nalanda was a hive of intellectual activity. As Prof. Basham notes “Under its aged and saintly abbot Silabhadra, Nalanda did not confine itself to training Buddhist novices, but also taught the Vedas, Hindu philosophy, logic, grammar and medicine. It would seem that the student population was not confined to the Buddhist order, but that candidates of other faiths who succeeded in passing a strict oral examination were admitted” (P. 166). [Here this website adds, “To be continued”]


  1. I believe in every aspect of our modern life we see a sign of older life style but is part of life.