This work, the third panel of a triptych dedicated by the author to the
notion of illness derived from the patristic and hagiographic texts of the
Christian East from the first to the fourteenth centuries, makes an
essential contribution to the history of mental illnesses and their
therapies in a domain very little studied until now.
Confronted by the numerous problems still posed today in understanding
these illnesses, their treatment, and their relationship to those who are
sick, he shows the importance offered for reflection and current practice
by early Christian thought and experience.
After indicating how the Fathers understood the psyche and its
relationship with body and spirit, the author gives a detailed analysis of
the different causes they attribute to mental illness and the various
At the same time he shows how, relying on fundamental Christian values,
they manifest a constant solicitude and respect for the sick, and how
they are at pains to integrate them into community life and have them
participate in their own healing, foreshadowing in this way the needs and
aspirations of our own time.
The last part discloses the deep significance of one of the strangest and
most fascinating forms of asceticism the Christian East has known: 'folly
for the sake of Christ', a madness feigned with the goal of attaining a
high degree of humility, but also a way well-suited, through a close
experience of their condition, to help those who are often among, today as
in the past, the most destitute.
Jean-Claude Larchet is docteur dès lettres et sciences humaines, docteur en
théologie, and docteur d'État en philosophie. The author of Thérapeutique
des maladies spirituelles (Paris: Editions de l'Ancre, 1991) and The
Theology of Illness (Crestwood, New York: St Vladimir's Seminary Press,
2002), he is a specialist in questions of health, sickness, and healing.
He is today one of the foremost St Maximus the Confessor specialists.