Fall 2014

On the Sacramental Nature of Health

José Granados

"The healthy body is the body in relation, situated in its environment and open to encounters and personal connections that sustain and animate it and point, finally, to the original mystery of life."

One of theology’s primitive schemes for organizing the sacraments was to look at them as medicine for the various wounds of fallen man. No sooner did woundedness appear than God invented the remedy, so the sick would never find themselves without the means of care. Even as Adam was expelled from Paradise, the Lord had already prepared the bandage that would ease his pains. As St. Bonaventure puts it: “[the sacraments] are seven, and no more, because they are medicines, and medicine corresponds to the wounds it heals; healing wounds, it promotes the virtues; and promoting the virtues, it strengthens and arms against infirmities.”1

In turn, these infirmities (again according to the Seraphic Doctor) are divided into faults and penalties, and they affect the body as much as the soul. With respect to faults, there is original sin, countered with Baptism; Reconciliation wipes out mortal sin; and the Anointing of the Sick remedies venial sin, when the transition into a new life is drawing near. As for the penalties, Confirmation is directed against weakness, the Eucharist against malice, and Matrimony against concupiscence. There remains the sacrament of Holy Orders, which is a remedy for ignorance—not the ignorance of the one ordained, at least not directly, but of those who will receive luminous doctrine through his preaching.

This way of ordering the sacraments, taken as medicine of body and spirit, offers us a theological key to understanding what health is: the sacramental point of view. If a sacrament can be medicine, not only for the soul but for the whole person, including his body, his time, and his relationships, it is because the form of health is inscribed on the sacrament. Only someone who knows what a sacrament is can understand what health is, while the essence of a sacrament will only be accessible to a person who understands health. The meeting point will be the precise way in which both health and sacrament are rooted in the incarnate existence of man. As we trace the path from the sacraments to the idea of health (1), another way will open to us, a return path that approaches the sacraments by way of health (2). Then we will have to consider the most profound infirmity of man (3) in order to find out whether a complete form of healing exists (4).


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1. St. Bonaventure, In IV Sent., d. 2, a. 1, q. 3, resp. 1 (ed. Quaracchi, p. 53).