Saints Cosmas & Damian: Unmercenary Physicians

Above: Painting by Francesco di Stefano Pesellino of Cosmas and Damian attending a patient.

Saints called unmercenary (or moneyless) physicians are those men and women who offered their healing services while refusing any payment and who, since their repose, continue to heal by their prayers those who call on them in faith.

On the Church calendar there are three pairs of unmercenary physicians named Cosmas and Damian. The martyrs associated with Rome were twin brothers who gave their money to the poor, setting aside only enough to devote their lives to the service of Christ in their neighbor.

According to one account, they were born in Arabia and lived as adults in Syria before coming to Rome. Raised by devout Christian parents, they led chaste lives and were granted by God the gift of healing the sick. By their generosity and kindness to all, the brothers converted many to Christ. The brothers told the sick, “It is not by our own power that we treat you, but by the power of Christ, the true God. Believe in Him and be healed.”

So strict were they in their determination not to take rewards that, according to legend, for a time one brother refused to speak to the other because he had accepted an apple.

Their life of service and their influence on the people around them led many into the Church, but also attracted the attention of the Roman authorities. When soldiers were sent to arrest the brothers, local Christians convinced the brothers to hide for a while until they could arrange their escape, but when others were apprehended in their place, Cosmas and Damian surrendered to the soldiers.

“We have done evil to no one,” they testified before Emperor Carinus. “We are not involved with the magic or sorcery of which we are accused. We treat the sick by the power of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and we take no payment for rendering aid to the sick, because our Lord commanded His disciples, ‘Freely have you received, freely give.’”

The emperor chose not to condemn them, but soon after the brothers were murdered by an envious physician whom they had regarded as a friend.

Their deaths occurred in 284.

The relics of Cosmas and Damian are in a church in Rome that bears their names. Consecrated in 527, it was the first church located on the territory of the Roman Forum. In pre-Christian times, it had been the Temple of Romulus.

The brothers’ feast day is July

❖ IN COMMUNION / issue 61 / July 2011