And Jesus went about all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagoguesMathew 9:35
and preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and healing every
disease and every infirmity.
A young nurse was working in the hospital when a man who was intoxicated came in and attacked her. He broke her spine and severely damaged her spinal column. As a result, she underwent a total of forty medical interventions, during which several metal plates and bolts were inserted into her spine, but none of the treatments helped. The damage to her spine was so severe that for six years, she could not even get out of bed. Standing was completely impossible. Although she was on very high doses of morphine, the doctors were unable to properly manage the pain. She could not even sit herself up in her bed. Her speech had been affected, and she did not have complete use of her arms. Because of the damage to the spinal column, she could not cope with light, so she had to always be in the dark or wear sunglasses. For six long years, she lay bedridden in pain in a dark room.
In desperation her mother brought her in her wheelchair to a healing service. I preached, and then we heard a joint testimony of healing from a woman and her physician husband. At one of our previous services in France a year before, this woman had been healed of an incurable degenerative condition that had kept her bound to a wheelchair.
As I led the time for healing, I asked the Christians in the auditorium to place their hands on the sick near them and pray. As God prompted me, I commanded conditions to be healed in Jesus’’ name. I concluded, “Be freed from your crutches, be freed from your sticks, be freed from your paralysis, be freed from your wheelchairs, in Jesus’ holy name.” Then I told the people, “Now in Jesus’ name, do what you couldn’t do before.” All over the room, hundreds demonstrated their healings.
Suddenly we heard a big cheer from the center of the crowd. I jumped off the stage and approached the area where the excitement was. There was the young woman standing next to the wheelchair, hugging her mother. I asked what had happened, and they explained that she had just stood up with no pain. All the strength had returned to her legs. I could see that she was completely stunned.
I walked her to the stage. With her empty wheelchair next to her, she gave a brief explanation of her incredible healing. She walked up and down the platform freely and then jogged back and forth, shaking her head in wonder and wiping tears from her eyes. The people were cheering and shouting the praises of God. A year later, she was still completely healed.
It was reported to me afterward that some male members of the security staff for the facility in which we were meeting were moved to tears. Through witnessing such a beautiful act of God, they were convicted of the lordship of Jesus and then and there asked for his mercy and invited him into their hearts as their Lord and Savior. Glory to God!
The Vatican document Instruction on Prayers for Healing states, “’People are called to joy. Nevertheless, each day they experience many forms of suffering and pain.’ Therefore, the Lord, in his promises of redemption, announces the joy of the heart that comes from liberation from sufferings (d. Isaiah 30:29; 35:10; Baruch 4:29). Indeed, he is the one ‘who delivers from every evil’ (Wisdom 16:8).”1
The prophet Isaiah announced a future time in which sickness and infirmity will be overthrown and there will be a great outpouring of healing grace:
Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened,Isaiah 35:5-6; (see also 65:19-20)
and the ears of the deaf unstopped;
then shall the lame man leap like a hart,
and the tongue of the dumb sing for joy.
This is a prophecy of the messianic era. Jesus’ ministry was the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy, and the Church is the continuance of the ministry of Jesus in the world through the power of the Holy Spirit. One aspect of that ministry is the ministry of healing, which is inseparably linked to the proclamation of the Christian gospel.
Jesus’ Ministry of Healing
The amount of time that Jesus gave to healing the sick was considerable. He clearly understood this ministry as having a central role in his mission. It was a demonstration of the in-breaking of the kingdom, not only the confirmation of his message. At times this ministry is described as an expression of his compassion; at other times, as an attack against the influence of the evil one; and at still others, as a sign of the glory of God. Looking at the Gospels, it is inconceivable to imagine Jesus without healing miracles, because they were so prevalent. This is from the Vatican’s Instruction on Prayers for Healing:
In the public activity of Jesus, his encounters with the sick are not isolated, but continual. He healed many through miracles, so that miraculous healings characterized his activity: “Jesus went around to all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the Gospel of the kingdom, and curing every disease and illness” (Matthew 9:35; d. 4:23). These healings are signs of his messianic mission (d. Luke 7:20-23). They manifest the victory of the kingdom of God over every kind of evil, and become the symbol of the restoration to health of the whole human person, body and soul.2
Jesus’ ministry is summed up by Peter: “God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power; … he went about doing good and healing all that were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him” (Acts 10:38).
When Jesus commissioned the Twelve, he “gave them authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to heal every disease and every infirmity” (Matthew 10:1). He said to them, “Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, cast out demons” (10:8; see Luke 9:1). This makes it clear that the Church potentially has within its power the grace to heal every disease and sickness, even to the raising of the dead (d. Matthew 10:8). This commission was not restricted to the apostles. The seventy-two were also commissioned, when they were sent out to “heal the sick” (Luke 10:9).
In the conclusion to the Gospel of Mark, as well as in the Letter to the Galatians, the expectation that healings are to be normal in the ministry of ordinary believers and the local church is clear. It is highly significant that there is no commissioning of Jesus’ disciples to proclaim the gospel that is not accompanied by the command to heal the sick. In the four Gospels, more than one-third, or 38.5 percent, of the narrative text refers to the healing of the sick in one form or another.
The New Testament Church:
A Model of Proclamation with Healing Power
The conclusion of Mark’s Gospel, speaking of the disciples, declares, “And they went forth and preached everywhere, while the Lord worked with them and confirmed the message by the signs that attended it” (16:20).
The first preaching of the gospel described in the Acts of the Apostles was accompanied by numerous miraculous healings, which demonstrated and confirmed the power of the gospel proclamation. The Vatican’s Instruction on Prayers for Healing notes, “This had been the promise of the Risen Jesus, and the first Christian communities witnessed its realization in their midst: ‘These signs will accompany those who believe: … they will lay hands on the sick, and they will recover’ (Mark 16:17-18).”3
Such an emphasis on healing and miracles as natural accompaniments of the proclamation of the word of God is clearly expressed in the prayer of the early Church. In a moment of persecution, when caution might have seemed the prudent response, the community of disciples prayed, “And now, Lord, look upon their threats, and grant to your servants to speak your word with all boldness, while you stretch out your hand to heal, and signs and wonders are performed through the name of your holy servant Jesus” (Acts 4:29-30).
Following Pentecost, multitudes were healed through Peter and the apostles. But only after this second outpouring of the Holy Spirit, when power for healing was specifically requested, is Peter recorded as being used to heal them all (Acts 5:16).
The healing gifts are widely distributed among believers in the Acts of the Apostles and the letters of the New Testament. The Vatican document on prayers for healing states, “The wondrous healings are not limited to the activity of the Apostles and certain of the central figures in the first preaching of the Gospel. ‘4 The preaching of Philip in Samaria was also accompanied by miraculous healings: “multitudes with one accord gave heed to what was said by Philip, when they heard him and saw the signs which he did. For unclean spirits came out of many who were possessed, crying with a loud voice; and many who were paralyzed or lame were healed” (Acts 8:5-7).
St. Paul describes his own proclamation of the gospel as being characterized by signs and wonders worked by the power of the Holy Spirit. He writes, “For I will not venture to speak of anything except what Christ has wrought through me to win obedience from the Gentiles, by word and deed, by the power of signs and wonders, by the power of the Holy Spirit” (Romans 15:18-19; see also 1 Thessalonians 1:5 and 1 Corinthians 2:4- 5). It is clear from the accounts of Paul’s ministry that miraculous healings were among these signs and wonders to which he referred. Such wonders were also occurring among the faithful in the local church: “Does he who supplies the Spirit to you and works miracles among you do so by works of the law, or by hearing with faith?” (Galatians 3:5).
Healing in the History of the Church
Of course, the Church has been committed to healing through the medical profession and the establishment of hospitals through the ages. This developed alongside the activity of charisms of healing, as we see in the lives of St. Cosmas and St. Damian (c. AD 287), both medical doctors who also exercised gifts of healing.
As with prophecy, the expectation of healing miracles continued in a dramatic way in the early centuries of the Church. In the second century, St. Irenaeus (AD 130-202) wrote, “By praying to the Lord who made all things, only by calling upon the name of Our Lord Jesus Christ, [does the Church] even now cure thoroughly and effectively all who everywhere believe in Christ.”5 Likewise, Origen (c. 185-c. 254) testifies about healings in his age: “We too have seen many set free from severe complaints, and loss of mind, and madness and numberless other such evils, which neither men nor devils had cured.”6 And Hilary of Poitiers, a Chruch Father and Doctor of the Church (c. 315-c. 367), writes, ‘We become steadfast in hope and receive abundant gifts in healing.”7
Later, in the fifth century, St. Augustine of Hippo says “with regard to the goods of life, health, and physical integrity, … ‘We need to pray that these are retained, when we have them, and that they are increased, when we do not have them.’”8
Many of the testimonies of these Fathers are vigorously upheld by Blessed John Henry Newman in his great Essays on Miracles.9
Dr. Ramsay MacMullen, professor of history and classics at Yale University, in his book Christianizing the Roman Empire AD 100 – 400, asserts that healing and deliverance from demons – and not only social advancement, as some secular critics have claimed – were major factors in turning the pagans of the empire to Christianity. The reason was that these miracles clearly demonstrated that the Christian God was greater than all the gods of Rome.10
The number of reports of healing miracles in the ministries of saints down through the ages would be impossible to count. One example of a saint with healing gifts was St. Patrick (385-461): “For the blind and the lame, the deaf and the dumb, the palsied, the lunatic, the leprous, the epileptic, all who labored under any disease, did he in the Name of the Holy Trinity restore unto the power of their limbs and unto entire health; and in these good deeds was he daily practiced.”11
After the fourth century, there seems to have been a decline in expectant faith for healing as a ministry exercised by ordinary Christians. However, there continued to be amazing stories of miracles in the revivals led by many saints, including St. Augustine of Canterbury, St. Cuthbert of Lindisfarne, St. Bernard, St. Francis, St. Dominic, St. Collette, St. Vincent Ferrer, St. Francis of Paola, St. Anthony of Padua, St. Paul of the Cross, and others. From apostolic times, healings have been present in the Church in what French theologian René Laurentin calls “a constant tradition,”12 and it would be hard to find a period when they were entirely absent from the Church.
Yet the records we have tend to be, for the most part, demonstrations of healing in the ministries of the saints, holy men and women, and at shrines, or through relics. The point I want to make here is not that healing miracles were not a part of Catholic culture and belief; they certainly were. However, the expectation of them as regular components in the life of Christian communities, through the prayers and actions of ordinary good Christians, in the first four centuries had faded.
“During the first eight centuries of the Church’s history, the anointing of the sick was regarded as a rite of healing for all kinds of illness,” writes Fr. Laurentin. After the ninth century, spiritual healing became more emphasized, although physical healing was accepted as a real possibility. “Only by a distortion that began in the nineteenth century did it become the ‘sacrament of the dying.’” 13
Healing in the Orthodox and Coptic traditions
Healings continued in the Orthodox Church in a similar way. Some Orthodox saints were remarkable in their healing gifts. Especially well known are St. Seraphim of Sarov, who was a contemporary of the Curé of Ars, and St. John of Kronstadt, who died in the early twentieth century. St. John’s life is sometimes referred to as “a sea of miracles.”
Here is just one story from St. Seraphim:
The sick nephew of Princess Shahaeva was carried into St. Seraphim’s cell. The saint told him to lie facing away from him, but the man in time turned to look at the saint and saw him levitating in the air in prayer. The young man was healed but admonished to never tell what he had seen until after the saint’s death.14
In 1903 St. John of Kronstadt appeared in his gold vestments to a man who was dying of typhoid, and as he blessed him, he held the man’s hand. This was no ordinary vision. St. John was mysteriously physically present in that room, although he was known to be present simultaneously in another place many miles away. He assured the man that he would recover and then stepped away and disappeared into a white haze. The man quickly recovered. When he told his father about the priest who visited him, his father explained that he had sent a telegram to Fr. John in Kronstadt asking him for his prayers.15
The Coptic saint Pope Kyrillos VI (1902-1971) was the instrument of thousands of healings, recorded in eighteen volumes. In one healing, he gave a cup of water that he blessed to a woman who had been diagnosed with an undeveloped uterus, which made having children quite impossible. Eight months later, she was experiencing pain and enlargement of her abdomen, and she consulted a new doctor who did not know of her medical history. To her astonishment, he told her she was eight months pregnant. The woman’s husband showed the doctor her previous medical reports, and the doctor was amazed that the woman had been able to get pregnant and carry the baby to nearly full term. “Can it be that we are still in an era where clergy pray on water and miracles are performed? God created a new womb for her,” he said. This same physician attended the delivery.16
Healing in the Pentecostal and charismatic tradition
Maria Woodworth-Etter’s healing services and revivals attracted people from all over the United States in the early twentieth century. Dying people would be brought in cots and find themselves instantly raised up. The blind, deaf, and lame were regularly healed, and often in large numbers. Even the dead were raised. One of the miracles that took place in her ministry that was witnessed by a medical surgeon, John H. Bowen, was the total healing of a child with several chronic conditions.
There was a boy seven years old, who had never walked; he was born insane, blind, deaf and dumb; he was always pounding his head and beating himself like the maniac among the tombs. They tried everything, including the best medical help, but the doctors could not locate the cause, and they said he would never have any sense….
[But after the prayer he] can hear and see perfectly. God has given him a bright, intelligent mind; he laughs and plays and walks around in front of the pulpit every day in view of all the congregation; before he was healed, he had spasms, as many as twenty a day, but now he is well and happy.17
Hundreds of thousands, perhaps even millions, of healings were experienced through ministries such as these in the first part of the twentieth century. These were followed by the healing revival of the 1940s and 50s, which swept across North America. Meetings took place in tents that could hold up to eighteen thousand people. In the sixties and seventies, Kathryn Kuhlman became renowned for her extraordinary healing ministry. Such large numbers of healing miracles took place in her ministry that she was sometimes referred to by Catholics as a “Walking Lourdes.” Kuhlman was very happy to have met with Blessed Pope Paul VI, who gave her his blessing and assured her of his prayers.
As we have stated, the “canonizing” of the enduring place of charismatic gifts among the people of God in the texts of the Second Vatican Council opened the way for a renewal of charisms of healing being exercised among “ordinary” Catholics. The Sacrament of the Sick was restored to its original intention as a sacrament of healing, and the language of healing can now be found in many of the liturgical texts of the Church. In 2000 the Vatican also published a document encouraging the charism of healing in the Catholic Church.
Healing Ministry Today
In today’s culture, it is common to hear the term healers used of both Christian and non-Christian practitioners of healing. However, such a title is inappropriate when referring to Christians exercising healing gifts. Like other spiritual gifts, healing is not something we receive one day and possess for the rest of our lives, as though we carry it in our pockets and bring it out whenever a need presents itself. Every time we seek God’s intervention for healing, we depend on his free gift.
While this total dependence on the Lord’s action never changes, there are those who, if faithful, can be used in this way very regularly and often with increasing power as their faith grows. In such cases, we refer to “a ministry of healing.” Professor Francis Sullivan explains:
Paul never speaks of a “gift of healing,” nor does he speak of any individuals as “healers.” Paul mentions healing three times in 1 Corinthians 12 (vv. 9, 28, 30), and each time he uses the phrase charismata iamaton, which means “charisms of healings.” The consistent use of this phrase suggests that Paul saw each healing as a charism, or gift of grace. But his statement, “To another [are given] charisms of healings,”… suggest[s] that when Paul talks about those who “have charisms of healings,” he has in mind not the people who are healed, but people who are in some way involved in the healing of others. Paul’s way of speaking of this implies that he does not see this as a habitual “gift of healing”; on the other hand, it does suggest that certain individuals are used with some frequency as channels or instruments of the healings that take place. If this is the case, then it would seem legitimate to speak of such people as having a ministry of gifts of healing for other people.18
An exercise of the kingly anointing
When we were baptized, we were made sharers in Christ’s priestly, prophetic, and kingly anointing. Often the emphasis on the kingly anointing has been one of conforming the world to the values and purposes of Christ through social action – by influencing work, politics, education, commerce, and the environment, so that God’s values reign there. This is quite true, and its importance can hardly be overestimated. It is something in which all of us are called to play a part in one way or another. But this is not the whole story.
In Genesis, Adam had dominion over creation. Before the fall, all creation could be mastered by man: “Fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion” (1:28). The New Jerome Biblical Commentary tells us of the word subdue, “The nuance of the verb is ‘to master,’ ‘to bring forcefully under control.’”19 Dominion in Greek is kratos, and according to one definition, it means “force,” “strength,” or “might,” and “more especially manifested power.” It is derived from the root word kra, which means “to perfect, to complete.”20
Thus, to exercise dominion is to have mastery over and bring to full order and completion God’s creation. This exercise of dominion is a kingly authority that Adam and Eve exercised over creation before the fall. According to The New Jerome Biblical Commentary, “In the ancient Near East, the king was often called the image of the deity and was vested with God’s authority; royal language is here [Genesis 1:28] used for the human.”21 Adam named creatures as Jesus named people. In other words, he creatively defined them. This is not naming as one might name a pet; rather, Adam’s words carry the very power of God as God’s son in a sinless state. “The giving of names [by Adam] is in itself a creative act.” 22
In the Liturgy of the Hours, we read in one of the intercessions in Lent: “May we gain through the second Adam what was lost by the first.“23 Supernatural ministry such as physical healing demonstrates the kingship of Christ in a particular way. Jesus says to his disciples, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore …” (Matthew 28:18-19) There is nothing that is not under his authority. The kingly authority of the risen Jesus is not only over the spiritual realm but also over the physical realm, and it is possible to exercise this kingly authority even now, imperfect as we are.
When I am standing before a crowd, many of whom are physically sick, I stand with the authority of Christ exercising my kingly anointing in him. As I speak to the various conditions – “Ears, hear; eyes, see; legs, be strong; cancers, be gone,” and so forth do not simply speak with hope. I speak with faith and authority, knowing that if I am acting in the Holy Spirit, people’s bodies will resonate to the creative word of Christ on my lips – not to my voice but to the words of Jesus from me.
Now of course, unbelief can present an obstacle, as we see even in Jesus’ own ministry in his hometown: “And he did not do many mighty works there, because of their unbelief” (Matthew 13:58). But I believe that God has woven into his created material world a programming that recognizes the voice of its Creator. The Sea of Galilee had no ears, but it “heard” the voice of its Lord in Jesus’ command to be still (see Mark 4:39). The fig tree had no ears but “heard” the voice of its creator in Christ and withered (Matthew 21:19).
When we speak in authority, in faith, in a faith environment, our words have tremendous creative power through the power of the Holy Spirit. Now, unless I have specific revelation about a particular sickness to be healed, I cannot be absolutely certain I will see healing in all the areas I’ve mentioned, but I have a general faith expectation that is not wishful thinking. At every service we run, we normally see deafness, levels of blindness, and lameness healed, and sometimes in large numbers. It’s common to see incurable and terminal conditions, as well as many smaller conditions, instantly healed.
When we command healing, we do so as people exercising the King’s authority over what he has made. This is why cancerous tumors, even large ones, often shrink and even vanish. When the Scripture says, “For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God” (Romans 8:19), this is because the children of God hold the material world’s healing in their hands. As coheirs with Christ, we are the kings and queens over God’s creation; we are called to exercise his dominion in love, turning back the effects of the fall and establishing the kingdom.
This article is excerpted from Lord, Renew Your Wonders: Spiritual Gifts for Today, Chapter 4, pages 94-105, by (c) Damian Stayne, 2017, published by The Word Among Us, Frederick, Maryland USA. All rights reserved. Used with permission.
- Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Instruction on Prayers for Healing, 1, September 14,2000, quoting Pope St. John Paul 11, Apostolic Exhortation Christifideles Laici 53.
- Instruction on Prayers for Healing, 1.
- Instruction on Prayers for Healing, 3.
- Irenaeus, Against Heresies, bk. 2, chap. 32, 5.
- Origen, Contra Celsus, bk. 3, chap. 24.
- Hilary of Poitier, Tract on the Psalms, 64:15.
- St. Augustine, Epistle 130, VI, 13, as quoted in Instruction on Prayers for Healing, 4.
- John Henry Newman, Essays on Miracles, newmanreader.org/works/miracles/.
- See Ramsay MacMullen, Christianizing the Roman Empire AD 100–400 (New Haven, CT: Yale University, 1984), chap. 4.
- Edmund L. Swift, The Life and Acts of St. Patrick, quoted in Hebert, 193.
- René Laurentin, Catholic Pentecostalism (New York: Doubleday, 1977), 112.
- “The St. Seraphim of Sarov,” orthodoxinsight.com/icons/deticon4.html.
- “A Sea of Miracles” (Orthodox Photos.com, 2003), orthodoxphotos.com/ readings/portrait/miracles.shtml
- Fr. Rafael Avva Mena, quoted in Ata and Mena, 27-28.
- Maria Woodworth-Etter, Signs and Wonders (New Kensington, PA: Whitaker House, 1997), 130-131.
- Sullivan, 151.
- Raymond E. Brown, Joseph A. Fitzmyer, Roland E. Murphy, eds., The New Jerome Biblical Commentary, 11.
- Vine’s Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson), 334. The word kratos “also signifies dominion, and is so rendered frequently in doxologies, 1 Peter 4:11; 5:11; Jude 25; Revelation 1:6; 5:13 (RV); in 1 Timothy 6:16, and Hebrews 2:14 it is translated ‘power.”
- New Jerome Biblical Commentary, 11.
- Bishop Kallistos Ware, The Orthodox Way (Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press), 54,
- Divine Office, Lent weeks 1 and 3, Thursday morning intercession.
Top image: Jesus Heals the Blind and the Lame, illustration painted by James Tissot, painted between 1886-1894, located in the Brooklyn Museum, New York City. Image is in the Public Domain, source at Wikimedia Commons.
Damian Stayne is the founder of Cor et Lumen Christi (The Heart and Light of Christ), a Catholic community located in Wigton, United Kingdom, which seeks to integrate a deep life of prayer and worship and a ministry of the word with healing, signs and wonders. The community is formally recognized by the Vatican. Damian has ministered in 25 countries, equipping believers of every background for supernatural ministry and seeing thousands healed at his services. God has graciously used Damian to bring many into the ongoing experience of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, prophetic revelation and deliverance. He believes that the Lord desires the new season in the miraculous that the church is now entering to be characterized by humility, purity, intimacy, unity and the manifestation of God’s glory. Damian is married to Cathy and they have two adult children John and Miryam.