Introduction: Health

The Fall, 2014 issue of Communio is dedicated to the theme of “Health.” Health is in some ways a hidden phenomenon—something we only think about when we feel its lack, and perhaps something we only think about in terms of ourselves, and maybe our families. But if we delve deeper, we encounter the fact that the world “health” comes from the same root as the words “whole” and “holy,” which seems then to carry greater implications about what health is. What are the implications? We might look first to our understanding of the body—that it is never simply matter, that a person’s health is never a separate thing from the state of his soul. We also might see that one person’s health always implicates and is implicated in another’s, and thus that no individual’s health exists in a vacuum, apart from the health of his community or even his world. Therefore, we see very quickly that the boundaries of every man’s health open up well past his individual body: the wholeness of creation and of fellow men are implicated in the health of each man, and vice versa. These insights give us many fruitful avenues on which to explore the dimensions of health, which the articles included herein pursue.

In “From Nature to Glory: The Grace of Illness,” Jean-Pierre Batut uses Blaise Pascal’s Prayer to Ask God the Proper Use of Sickness to press into what health and its relative, illness, mean for man and his soul. In this work by Pascal, “sickness appears at first as a place of revelation, inasmuch as it anticipates death and judgment, in other words, the moment in which the definitive truth about souls will come fully to light.” Batut explores how we can see that man is more than his body simply, through the fact that illness could open up a space in someone in order to bring him a greater understanding of his life in relation to God. “Sickness,” he writes, “a state contrary to nature, in a way restores nature to itself.”

José Granados’s “On the Sacramental Nature of Health” looks at health through the lens of Christus medicus, specifically addressing our sacramental reality. The sacraments, which Christ has gifted to us, can be understood as medicine for body and spirit. We are in a way diseased from the beginning by original sin, but it is precisely in and through the sacraments that we are given our proper ordering again. But this order in our body points us not only to what is true and beautiful in creation, but also supernatural truth and beauty: “We may say, then, that the healthy body possesses sacramental features, because it makes really present, in the here and now, something that is beyond.” Our health thus contributes not only to meaning in the present context, but also that which Christ has in store for us after our death.

In “The Healthy and the Holy,” D.C. Schindler asks whether our current understanding of health is actually all that healthy. If modern medicine pursues health in a fragmented way—dividing man up, as a rule, in order to address his different systems—does that not lead to a fragmentation of man? This seems dissonant with health’s roots—that is, wholeness and holiness. Health, Schindler proposes, might be better understood seen in “its essential ‘catholicity’ (kata-holon, concerning the whole),” that is, that “each thing is whole, and therefore healthy, in relation to a whole greater than itself.”

Allan C. Carlson looks at the family as a larger context for an individual’s health. In his article, “Human Wellbeing, the Natural Family, and Natural Law,” Carlson highlights a great deal of research that points out that a stable family structure—or lack thereof—is one of the largest factors affecting any one person’s health. We see, then, in a concrete way that someone’s health depends on far more than the quality of medical care he receives, and that human wellbeing is not indifferent to a Christian way of life.

Dirk Lanzerath also attempts to situate health in a broader societal context in his article, “Health and Disease: Aspects of Wellbeing and Human Flourishing.” In it, he points out that being healthy is not identical to being human, nor is having a disease a loss of one’s humanity. Rather, disease reminds us of our inherent limitations, which are always already in us, in a more pronounced way. Lanzerath suggests that these limitations or boundaries indicate the meaning of human nature to us, and their attempted dissolution through technological means may lead us to something like the abolition of man.

Michael Hanby more closely inspects the philosophical foundations of those technological means in his article, “Reconceiving the Organism: Why American Catholic Bioethics Needs a Better Theory of Human Life.” Hanby takes up a prevalent approach to understanding the organism by bioethicists that allows us to define life and death based on what data can be gleaned from experimentation. This, however, Hanby writes, is precisely the problem, as experimentation already carries within it certain assumptions about health, life, and the organism. The author notes “the dangers that arise, beyond . . . particular technical and bioethical issues, from a metaphysically inadequate conception of the human organism” and attempts to indicate ways to better philosophically think about these issues in the future.

In Retrieving the Tradition, we present Hans Urs von Balthasar’s “Health Between Science and Wisdom.” In it, the Swiss theologian asks: “Where is the decisive center of man’s health to be found?” He looks first to the Greco-Roman understanding of the always healthy cosmos, which encompasses man and “is the intact whole par excellence,” and which indicates health’s having to do with man, soul, and body. This is a kind of wisdom, Balthasar avers, that is taken up into the Christian worldview, “in which health, illness, and death can be converted into an active, positive expression of discipleship,” for as we know, health’s greatest meaning is man’s “perfect salvation in wholeness.”

In Notes and Comments, Ruth Ashfield provides us with a sort of view “from the front lines” of medicine and health. In “Healing the ‘Healthy,’” Ashfield, a nurse, recounts an experience in which a suffering and incapacitated patient transformed all the healthcare workers who were helping to serve her. That patient, Ashfield writes, “reminded us of our fundamental connectedness with each other, and allowed us to rediscover the truth we all long for: that what is essential in life is the relationship of love given and received.”

Last, also in Notes and Comments, we include Jeremy Beer’s “Satan Was the First Philanthropist.” Philanthropy, claims Beer, is the false secularization, professionalization, and systematization of a reality upon which the health of local communities and the Church herself has always rested: charity. As the systematization of charity, philanthropy refuses to deal with those organic things necessary for the health of the human being: family, community, religion. In Big Philanthropy’s stead, there is a need for “a philanthropy of accountability and human relationships. A philanthropy of place.”

—The Editors