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

Fetich Cures under Protestantism - The Royal Touch

The Reformation made no sudden change in the sacred theory of medicine. Luther, as is well known, again and again ascribed his own diseases to "devils' spells," declaring that "Satan produces all the maladies which afflict mankind, for he is the prince of death," and that "he poisons the air"; but that "no malady comes from God." From that day down to the faith cures of Boston, Old Orchard, and among the sect of "Peculiar People" in our own time, we see the results among Protestants of seeking the cause of disease in Satanic influence and its cure in fetichism.

Yet Luther, with his sturdy common sense, broke away from one belief which has interfered with the evolution of medicine from the dawn of Christianity until now. When that troublesome declaimer, Carlstadt, declared that "whoso falls sick shall use no physic, but commit his case to God, praying that His will be done," Luther asked, "Do you eat when you are hungry?" and the answer being in the affirmative, he continued, "Even so you may use physic, which is God's gift just as meat and drink is, or whatever else we use for the preservation of life." Hence it was, doubtless, that the Protestant cities of Germany were more ready than others to admit anatomical investigation by proper dissections.

Perhaps the best-known development of a theological view in the Protestant Church was that mainly evolved in England out of a French germ of theological thought - a belief in the efficacy of the royal touch in sundry diseases, especially epilepsy and scrofula, the latter being consequently known as the king's evil. This mode of cure began, so far as history throws light upon it, with Edward the Confessor in the eleventh century, and came down from reign to reign, passing from the Catholic saint to Protestant debauchees upon the English throne, with ever-increasing miraculous efficacy.

Testimony to the reality of these cures is overwhelming. As a simple matter of fact, there are no miracles of healing in the history of the human race more thoroughly attested than those wrought by the touch of Henry VIII, Elizabeth, the Stuarts, and especially of that chosen vessel, Charles II. Though Elizabeth could not bring herself fully to believe in the reality of these cures, Dr. Tooker, the Queen's chaplain, afterward Dean of Lichfield, testifies fully of his own knowledge to the cures wrought by her, as also does William Clowes, the Queen's surgeon. Fuller, in his Church History, gives an account of a Roman Catholic who was thus cured by the Queen's touch and converted to Protestantism. Similar testimony exists as to cures wrought by James I. Charles I also enjoyed the same power, in spite of the public declaration against its reality by Parliament. In one case the King saw a patient in the crowd, too far off to be touched, and simply said, "God bless thee and grant thee thy desire"; whereupon, it is asserted, the blotches and humours disappeared from the patient's body and appeared in the bottle of medicine which he held in his hand; at least so says Dr. John Nicholas, Warden of Winchester College, who declares this of his own knowledge to be every word of it true.

But the most incontrovertible evidence of this miraculous gift is found in the case of Charles II, the most thoroughly cynical debauchee who ever sat on the English throne before the advent of George IV. He touched nearly one hundred thousand persons, and the outlay for gold medals issued to the afflicted on these occasions rose in some years as high as ten thousand pounds. John Brown, surgeon in ordinary to his Majesty and to St. Thomas's Hospital, and author of many learned works on surgery and anatomy, published accounts of sixty cures due to the touch of this monarch; and Sergeant-Surgeon Wiseman devotes an entire book to proving the reality of these cures, saying, "I myself have been frequent witness to many hundreds of cures performed by his Majesty's touch alone without any assistance of chirurgery, and these many of them had tyred out the endeavours of able chirurgeons before they came thither." Yet it is especially instructive to note that, while in no other reign were so many people touched for scrofula, and in none were so many cures vouched for, in no other reign did so many people die of that disease: the bills of mortality show this clearly, and the reason doubtless is the general substitution of supernatural for scientific means of cure. This is but one out of many examples showing the havoc which a scientific test always makes among miracles if men allow it to be applied.

To James II the same power continued; and if it be said, in the words of Lord Bacon, that "imagination is next of kin to miracle - a working faith," something else seems required to account for the testimony of Dr. Heylin to cures wrought by the royal touch upon babes in their mothers' arms. Myth-making and marvel-mongering were evidently at work here as in so many other places, and so great was the fame of these cures that we find, in the year before James was dethroned, a pauper at Portsmouth, New Hampshire, petitioning the General Assembly to enable him to make the voyage to England in order that he may be healed by the royal touch.

The change in the royal succession does not seem to have interfered with the miracle; for, though William III evidently regarded the whole thing as a superstition, and on one occasion is said to have touched a patient, saying to him, "God give you better health and more sense," Whiston assures us that this person was healed, notwithstanding William's incredulity.

As to Queen Anne, Dr. Daniel Turner, in his Art of Surgery, relates that several cases of scrofula which had been unsuccessfully treated by himself and Dr. Charles Bernard, sergeant-surgeon to her Majesty, yielded afterward to the efficacy of the Queen's touch. Naturally does Collier, in his Ecclesiastical History, say regarding these cases that to dispute them "is to come to the extreme of scepticism, to deny our senses and be incredulous even to ridiculousness." Testimony to the reality of these cures is indeed overwhelming, and a multitude of most sober scholars, divines, and doctors of medicine declared the evidence absolutely convincing. That the Church of England accepted the doctrine of the royal touch is witnessed by the special service provided in the Prayer-Book of that period for occasions when the King exercised this gift. The ceremony was conducted with great solemnity and pomp: during the reading of the service and the laying on of the King's hands, the attendant bishop or priest recited the words, "They shall lay their hands on the sick, and they shall recover"; afterward came special prayers, the Epistle and Gospel, with the blessing, and finally his Majesty washed his royal hands in golden vessels which high noblemen held for him.

In France, too, the royal touch continued, with similar testimony to its efficacy. On a certain Easter Sunday, that pious king, Louis XIV, touched about sixteen hundred persons at Versailles.

This curative power was, then, acknowledged far and wide, by Catholics and Protestants alike, upon the Continent, in Great Britain, and in America; and it descended not only in spite of the transition of the English kings from Catholicism to Protestantism, but in spite of the transition from the legitimate sovereignty of the Stuarts to the illegitimate succession of the House of Orange. And yet, within a few years after the whole world held this belief, it was dead; it had shrivelled away in the growing scientific light at the dawn of the eighteenth century.

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