A History of the Warfare of Science with Theology in Christendom
Chapter 13 - From Miracles to Medicine

New Beginnings of Medical Science

In spite of all these opposing forces, the evolution of medical science continued, though but slowly. In the second century of the Christian era Galen had made himself a great authority at Rome, and from Rome had swayed the medical science of the world: his genius triumphed over the defects of his method; but, though he gave a powerful impulse to medicine, his dogmatism stood in its way long afterward.

The places where medicine, such as it thus became, could be applied, were at first mainly the infirmaries of various monasteries, especially the larger ones of the Benedictine order: these were frequently developed into hospitals. Many monks devoted themselves to such medical studies as were permitted, and sundry churchmen and laymen did much to secure and preserve copies of ancient medical treatises. So, too, in the cathedral schools established by Charlemagne and others, provision was generally made for medical teaching; but all this instruction, whether in convents or schools, was wretchedly poor. It consisted not in developing by individual thought and experiment the gifts of Hippocrates, Aristotle, and Galen, but almost entirely in the parrot-like repetition of their writings.

But, while the inherited ideas of Church leaders were thus unfavourable to any proper development of medical science, there were two bodies of men outside the Church who, though largely fettered by superstition, were far less so than the monks and students of ecclesiastical schools: these were the Jews and Mohammedans. The first of these especially had inherited many useful sanitary and hygienic ideas, which had probably been first evolved by the Egyptians, and from them transmitted to the modern world mainly through the sacred books attributed to Moses.

The Jewish scholars became especially devoted to medical science. To them is largely due the building up of the School of Salerno, which we find flourishing in the tenth century. Judged by our present standards its work was poor indeed, but compared with other medical instruction of the time it was vastly superior: it developed hygienic principles especially, and brought medicine upon a higher plane.

Still more important is the rise of the School of Montpellier; this was due almost entirely to Jewish physicians, and it developed medical studies to a yet higher point, doing much to create a medical profession worthy of the name throughout southern Europe.

As to the Arabians, we find them from the tenth to the fourteenth century, especially in Spain, giving much thought to medicine, and to chemistry as subsidiary to it. About the beginning of the ninth century, when the greater Christian writers were supporting fetich by theology, Almamon, the Moslem, declared, "They are the elect of God, his best and most useful servants, whose lives are devoted to the improvement of their rational faculties." The influence of Avicenna, the translator of the works of Aristotle, extended throughout all Europe during the eleventh century. The Arabians were indeed much fettered by tradition in medical science, but their translations of Hippocrates and Galen preserved to the world the best thus far developed in medicine, and still better were their contributions to pharmacy: these remain of value to the present hour.

Various Christian laymen also rose above the prevailing theologic atmosphere far enough to see the importance of promoting scientific development. First among these we may name the Emperor Charlemagne; he and his great minister, Alcuin, not only promoted medical studies in the schools they founded, but also made provision for the establishment of botanic gardens in which those herbs were especially cultivated which were supposed to have healing virtues. So, too, in the thirteenth century, the Emperor Frederick II, though under the ban of the Pope, brought together in his various journeys, and especially in his crusading expeditions, many Greek and Arabic manuscripts, and took special pains to have those which concerned medicine preserved and studied; he also promoted better ideas of medicine and embodied them in laws.

Men of science also rose, in the stricter sense of the word, even in the centuries under the most complete sway of theological thought and ecclesiastical power; a science, indeed, alloyed with theology, but still infolding precious germs. Of these were men like Arnold of Villanova, Bertrand de Gordon, Albert of Bollstadt, Basil Valentine, Raymond Lully, and, above all, Roger Bacon; all of whom cultivated sciences subsidiary to medicine, and in spite of charges of sorcery, with possibilities of imprisonment and death, kept the torch of knowledge burning, and passed it on to future generations.

From the Church itself, even when the theological atmosphere was most dense, rose here and there men who persisted in something like scientific effort. As early as the ninth century, Bertharius, a monk of Monte Cassino, prepared two manuscript volumes of prescriptions selected from ancient writers; other monks studied them somewhat, and, during succeeding ages, scholars like Hugo, Abbot of St. Denis, - Notker, monk of St. Gall, - Hildegard, Abbess of Rupertsberg, - Milo, Archbishop of Beneventum, - and John of St. Amand, Canon of Tournay, did something for medicine as they understood it. Unfortunately, they generally understood its theory as a mixture of deductions from Scripture with dogmas from Galen, and its practice as a mixture of incantations with fetiches. Even Pope Honorius III did something for the establishment of medical schools; but he did so much more to place ecclesiastical and theological fetters upon teachers and taught, that the value of his gifts may well be doubted. All germs of a higher evolution of medicine were for ages well kept under by the theological spirit. As far back as the sixth century so great a man as Pope Gregory I showed himself hostile to the development of this science. In the beginning of the twelfth century the Council of Rheims interdicted the study of law and physic to monks, and a multitude of other councils enforced this decree. About the middle of the same century St. Bernard still complained that monks had too much to do with medicine; and a few years later we have decretals like those of Pope Alexander III forbidding monks to study or practise it. For many generations there appear evidences of a desire among the more broad-minded churchmen to allow the cultivation of medical science among ecclesiastics: Popes like Clement III and Sylvester II seem to have favoured this, and we even hear of an Archbishop of Canterbury skilled in medicine; but in the beginning of the thirteenth century the Fourth Council of the Lateran forbade surgical operations to be practised by priests, deacons, and subdeacons; and some years later Honorius III reiterated this decree and extended it. In 1243 the Dominican order forbade medical treatises to be brought into their monasteries, and finally all participation of ecclesiastics in the science and art of medicine was effectually prevented.

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