1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Faith healing

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5604691911 Encyclopædia Britannica, Volume 10 — Faith healingNorthcote Whitbridge Thomas

FAITH HEALING, a form of “mind cure,” characterized by the doctrine that while pain and disease really exist, they may be neutralized and dispelled by faith in Divine power; the doctrine known as Christian Science (q.v.) holds, however, that pain is only an illusion and seeks to cure the patient by instilling into him this belief. In the Christian Church the tradition of faith healing dates from the earliest days of Christianity; upon the miracles of the New Testament follow cases of healing, first by the Apostles, then by their successors; but faith healing proper is gradually, from the 3rd century onwards, transformed into trust in relics, though faith cures still occur sporadically in later times. Catherine of Siena is said to have saved Father Matthew from dying of the plague, but in this case it is rather the healer than the healed who was strong in faith. With the Reformation faith healing proper reappears among the Moravians and Waldenses, who, like the Peculiar People of our own day, put their trust in prayer and anointing with oil. In the 16th century we find faith cures recorded of Luther and other reformers, in the next century of the Baptists, Quakers and other Puritan sects, and in the 18th century the faith healing of the Methodists in this country was paralleled by Pietism in Germany, which drew into its ranks so distinguished a man of science as Stahl (1660–1734). In the 19th century Prince Hohenlohe-Waldenburg-Schillingsfürst, canon of Grosswardein, was a famous healer on the continent; the Mormons and Irvingites were prominent among English-speaking peoples; in the last quarter of the 19th century faith healing became popular in London, and Bethshan homes were opened in 1881, and since then it has found many adherents in England.

Under faith healing in a wider sense may be included (1) the cures in the temples of Aesculapius and other deities in the ancient world; (2) the practice of touching for the king’s evil, in vogue from the 11th to the 18th century; (3) the cures of Valentine Greatrakes, the “Stroker” (1629–1683); and (4) the miracles of Lourdes, and other resorts of pilgrims, among which may be mentioned St Winifred’s Well in Flintshire, Treves with its Holy Coat, the grave of the Jansenist F. de Paris in the 18th century, the little town of Kevelaer from 1641 onwards, the tombs of St Louis, Francis of Assisi, Catherine of Siena and others.

An animistic theory of disease was held by Pastor J. Ch. Blumhardt, Dorothea Trudel, Boltzius and other European faith healers. Used in this sense faith healing is indistinguishable from much of savage leech-craft, which seeks to cure disease by expelling the evil spirit in some portion of the body. Although it is usually present, faith in the medicine man is not essential for the efficacy of the method. The same may be said of the lineal descendant of savage medicine—the magical leech-craft of European folk-lore; cures for toothache, warts, &c., act in spite of the disbelief of the sufferer; how far incredulity on the part of the healer would result in failure is an open question.

From the psychological point of view all these different kinds of faith healing, as indeed all kinds of mind cure, including those of Christian Science and hypnotism, depend on suggestion (q.v.). In faith healing proper not only are powerful direct suggestions used, but the religious atmosphere and the auto-suggestions of the patient co-operate, especially where the cures take place during a period of religious revival or at other times when large assemblies and strong emotions are found. The suggestibility of large crowds is markedly greater than that of individuals, and to this and the greater faith must be attributed the greater success of the fashionable places of pilgrimage.

See A. T. Myers and F. W. H. Myers in Proc. Soc. Psychical Research, ix. 160–209, on the miracles of Lourdes, with bibliography; A. Feilding, Faith Healing and Christian Science; O. Stoll, Suggestion und Hypnotismus in der Völkerpsychologie; article “Greatrakes” in Dict. Nat. Biog.  (N. W. T.)