Popular Science Monthly/Volume 39/May 1891/New Chapters in the Warfare of Science: Miracles and Medicine I
|NEW CHAPTERS IN THE WARFARE OF SCIENCE.|
XII. MIRACLES AND MEDICINE.
EX-PRESIDENT OF CORNELL UNIVERSITY.
NOTHING in the evolution of human thought appears more inevitable than the idea of supernatural intervention in producing and curing disease. The causes of disease are so intricate that they are reached only after ages of scientific labor. In those periods when man sees everywhere miracle and nowhere law; when he attributes all things which he can not understand to a will like his own, he naturally ascribes his diseases either to the wrath of a good being or to the malice of an evil being.
This idea underlies that connection of the priestly class with the healing of diseases of which we have survivals among rude tribes in all parts of the world, and which is seen in nearly every ancient civilization—especially in the powers over disease claimed in Egypt by the priests of Osiris and Isis, in Greece by the priests of Æsculapius, and in Judea by the priests and prophets of Jahveh.
In Egypt there is evidence reaching back to a very early period that the sick were often regarded as afflicted or possessed by demons; the same belief comes constantly before us in both the great religions of India, in those of China, and it is especially elaborated in Persia. As to the Jews, the Old Testament, so precious in showing the evolution of religious and moral truth among men, attributes such diseases as the leprosy of Miriam and Uzziah, the boils of Job, the dysentery of Jehoram, the withered hand of Jeroboam, the fatal illness of Asa, and many other ills to the wrath of God or the malice of Satan; in the New Testament, such examples as the woman "bound by Satan," the rebuke of the fever, the casting out of the devil which was dumb, the healing of the person whom "the devil of ttimes casteth into the fire"—of which case one of the greatest modern physicians remarks that never was there a truer description of epilepsy and various other examples, show this same inevitable mode of thought as a refracting medium through which the teachings and doings of the Great Physician were revealed to future generations.
The civilization of Greece alone appears to have been wholly or nearly free from this idea of the agency of demons in producing bodily ills; hence, Greece was the first of the ancient nations, and indeed the only one, so far as we know, in which a scientific idea of medicine was evolved. Five hundred years before Christ, in the great bloom period of thought, the period of Æschylus, Phidias, Pericles, Socrates, and Plato, Hippocrates appeared, and his is one of the greatest names in all history. Quietly but thoroughly he broke away from the old tradition, developed scientific thought, and laid the foundations of medical science upon experience, observation, and reason so deeply and broadly that his teaching remains to this hour among the most precious possessions of our race.
His thought was passed on to the School of Alexandria, and there medical science was developed yet further, especially by such men as Herophilus and Erasistratus. Under their lead studies in human anatomy began by dissection; the old prejudice which had weighed so long upon the human race, preventing that method of anatomical investigation without which there can be no real results, was cast aside apparently forever.
But with the coming in of Christianity a great new chain of events was set in motion which modified most profoundly the further evolution of medical science. The influence of anity on the healing art was twofold; there was first a blessed impulse the thought, aspiration, example, ideals, and spirit of Jesus of Nazareth. This spirit, then poured into the world, flowed down through the ages, promoting self-sacrifice for the sick and wretched. Through all those succeeding centuries, even through the rudest, hospitals and infirmaries sprang up along this blessed stream. Of these were the Eastern establishments for the cure of the sick at the earliest Christian periods; the Infirmary of Monte Casino in the fifth century, the Hotel-Dieu at Lyons in the sixth, the Hotel-Dieu at Paris in the seventh, and the myriad refuges for the sick and suffering which sprang up in every part of Europe during the following centuries. Vitalized by this stream, all conceivable growths of mercy bloomed forth. To say nothing of those at an earlier period, we have in the time of the Crusades great charitable organizations like the Order of St. John of Jerusalem, and thenceforward every means of bringing the spirit of Jesus to help afflicted humanity. So, too, through all those ages we have a succession of men and women devoting themselves to works of mercy, culminating during modern times in saints like Vincent de Paul, Francke, Howard, Florence Nightingale, Elizabeth Fry, and Muhlenberg.
But while this vast influence, poured forth from the heart of the founder of Christianity, streamed through century after century, inspiring every development of mercy, there came from those who organized the Church which bears his name, and from those who afterward developed and directed it, another stream of influence a theology drawn partly from prehistoric conceptions of unseen powers, partly from ideas developed in the earliest historic nations, but especially from the letter of the Hebrew and Christian sacred books.
The theology developed out of our sacred literature in relation to the cure of disease was mainly twofold: first, there was a new and strong evolution of the old idea that physical disease is produced by the wrath of God or the malice of Satan, or by a combination of both, which theology was especially called in to explain; secondly, there were evolved theories of miraculous methods of cure, based upon modes of staying the divine anger, or of thwarting Satanic malice.
Along both these streams of influence, one arising in the life of Jesus, and the other in the reasonings of theologians, legends of miracles grew luxuriantly. It would be utterly unphilosophical to attribute these as a whole to conscious fraud; whatever part priestcraft may have taken afterward in sundry discreditable developments of them, the mass of miraculous legends, century after century, grew up mainly in good faith, and as naturally as elms along water-courses or flowers upon the prairie.
Legends of miracles have thus grown about the lives of all great benefactors of humanity in early ages, and about saints and devotees. Throughout human history the lives of such personages, almost without exception, have been accompanied or followed by a literature in which legends of miraculous powers form a very important part—a part constantly increasing until a different mode of looking at Nature and of weighing testimony causes miracles to disappear. While modern thought holds the testimony to the great mass of such legends in all ages as worthless, it is very widely acknowledged that great and gifted beings who endow the earth with higher religious ideas, gaining the deepest hold upon the hearts and minds of multitudes, may at times exercise such influence upon those about them that the sick in mind or body are helped or healed.
We have within the modern period very many examples which enable us to study the evolution of legendary miracles, and among the most instructive of them all is the life of St. Francis Xavier. One of the noblest characters in the sixteenth century, he sacrificed the brilliant career which he had begun at Paris, and gave himself entirely to missionary work in the far East. Among the various tribes of lower India and afterward in Japan he wrought untiringly, toiling through village after village, collecting the natives by the sound of a hand-bell, trying to teach them the simplest Christian formulas, and thus he brought myriads of them to a nominal confession of the Christian faith. After twelve years of such efforts, seeking new conquests for religion, he sacrificed his life on the desert island of San Chan.
During his career as a missionary he wrote great numbers of letters which were preserved and have since been published; these and the letters of his contemporaries exhibit clearly all the features of his life. His own writings are very minute, and enable us to follow him and his doings fully. No account of a miracle wrought by him appears either in his own letters or in any contemporary document. At the outside but two or three things occurred in his whole life, as exhibited so fully by himself and his contemporaries, for which the most earnest devotee could claim anything like divine interposition; and these are such as may be read in the letters of nearly all fervent missionaries, Protestant as well as Catholic. For example, in the beginning of his career, during a journey in Europe with an ambassador, one of the servants in fording a stream got into deep water and was in danger of drowning. Xavier tells us that the ambassador prayed very earnestly, and that the man finally struggled out of the stream. But within sixty years after his death, at his canonization, and by various biographers, this had been magnified into a miracle, and appears in the various histories dressed out in glowing colors. Xavier tells us that the ambassador prayed for the safety of the young man, but the biographers tell us that it was Xavier who prayed; and finally, by the later writers Xavier is represented as lifting horse and rider out of the stream by a clearly supernatural act.
Still another claim to miracle is based upon his arrival at Lisbon and finding his great colleague, Simon Rodriguez, ill of fever. Xavier informs us in a very simple way that Rodriguez was so overjoyed to see him that the fever did not return. This is entirely similar to the cure which Martin Luther wrought upon Melanchthon. Melanchthon had broken down and was supposed to be dying, when his joy at the long-delayed visit of Luther brought him to his feet again, after which he lived for many years. Finally, Xavier, finding a poor native woman very ill, baptized her, saying over her the prayers of the Church, and she recovered.
Two or three occurrences like these form the whole basis for the miraculous accounts, so far as Xavier's own writings are concerned.
But shortly after Xavier's death in 1552 miracles of a different sort began to appear. At first they were few and feeble; and two years later Melchior Nunhez, Provincial of the Jesuits in the Portuguese dominions, with all the means at his command, and a correspondence extending throughout all those regions, had been able to hear of but three. These were entirely from hearsay. First, John Deyro said he knew Xavier had the gift of prophecy; but, unfortunately, Xavier himself had reprimanded and cast off Deyro for untruthfulness and cheatery. Secondly, at Cape Comorin many persons affirmed that Xavier had raised a dead person. Thirdly, Father Pablo de Santa F6 said that in Japan Xavier had restored sight to a blind man. This seems a feeble beginning, but little by little the stories grew; and in 1555 De Quadros, Provincial of the Jesuits in Ethiopia, had heard of nine miracles, and laid stress upon the fact that Xavier had healed the sick and cast out devils. The next year, being four years after Xavier's death, King John III of Portugal, a very devout man, in a letter, taking these wonderful works in all parts of the East for granted, directed his viceroy, Barreto, to draw up and transmit to him an authentic account of Xavier's miracles; urging him especially to do the work "with zeal and speedily." We can well imagine what treasures of grace an obsequious viceroy, only too anxious to please a devout king, could bring together by means of the hearsay of ignorant, compliant natives through all the little towns of Portuguese India.
A vast mass of testimony was thus brought together and taken to Rome; but it appears to have been thought of but little value by those best able to judge, for when, in 1588, thirty-six years after Xavier's death, the Jesuit father Maffei, who had been especially conversant with Xavier's career in the East, published his History of India, though he gave a biography of Xavier which shows fervent admiration for his subject, he dwelt very lightly on the alleged miracles. But six years later, in 1594, Father Tursellinus published his Life of Xavier, and in this appears to have made the first large use of the information collected by the Portuguese viceroy. This work shows a vast increase in the number of miracles over those given by all sources together up to that time. Xavier is represented as not only curing the sick, but casting out devils, stilling the tempest, raising the dead, and performing miracles of every sort.
In 1622 came the canonization proceedings at Rome. Among the speeches made in the presence of Pope Gregory XV, supporting the claims of Xavier to saintship, the most important was by Cardinal Monte. In this the orator selects out ten great miracles from those performed by Xavier during his lifetime and describes them minutely. He insists that on a certain occasion Xavier, by the sign of the cross, made sea-water fresh so that his fellow-passengers and the crew could drink it; that he healed the sick and raised the dead in various places, brought back a lost boat to his ship, was on one occasion lifted from the earth bodily and transfigured before the bystanders; and that, to punish a blaspheming town, he caused an earthquake and buried the offenders in cinders from a volcano: this was afterward still more highly developed, and the saint was represented in engravings as calling down fire from heaven and thus destroying the town.
The most curious miracle of all is the eighth on the cardinal's list. Regarding this he states that Xavier having during one of his voyages lost overboard a crucifix, it was restored to him after he had reached the shore by a crab.
The cardinal also dwelt on miracles performed by Xavier's relics after his death, the most original being that sundry lamps placed before the image of the saint and filled with holy water burned as if filled with oil.
This latter account appears to have deeply impressed the Pope, for in the Bull of Canonization issued by virtue of his power of teaching the universal Church infallibly in faith and morals, his Holiness dwells especially upon the miracle of the lamp filled with holy water and burning before Xavier's image.
Xavier having been made a saint, many other Lives of him appeared, and, as a rule, each surpassed its predecessor in the multitude of miracles. In 1622 appeared that by Father Vitelleschi, and in it not only are the miracles increased, but some old ones are greatly improved. One example will suffice to show the process. In his edition of 1590, Tursellinus had told a story how Xavier, one day needing money, asked Vellio, one of his friends, to let him have some. Vellio gave him the key of a safe containing thirty thousand gold pieces. Xavier took three hundred and returned the key to Vellio, telling him what he had taken. At this Vellio reproached Xavier for not taking more, saying that he had expected to give him half of all that the strong-box contained. Xavier, touched by this generosity, told Vellio that the time of his death should be made known to him, that he might have time to repent of any sins and prepare for eternity. But twenty-six years later, Vitelleschi, in his Life of Xavier, telling the story, says that Vellio on opening the safe found that all his money remained as he had left it, and that none at all had disappeared; in fact, that there had been a miraculous restoration. On his blaming Xavier for not taking the money, Xavier declares to Vellio that not only should he be apprised of the moment of his death, but that he should always have all the money he needed. Still later biographers improved the account further, declaring that Xavier promised Vellio that the strong-box should always contain money sufficient for his needs.
In 1682, one hundred and thirty years after Xavier's death, appeared his biography by Father Bouhours; and this became a classic. In it miracles of all kinds were enormously multiplied, and many new ones given. Miracles few and small in Tursellinus are many and great in Bouhours, and among the new ones is a miraculous draught of fishes. It must be remembered that Bouhours, writing ninety years after Tursellinus, could hardly have had access to any really new sources; Xavier had been dead one hundred and thirty years, and of course all the natives upon whom he had wrought his miracles, and their children and grandchildren, were gone. It can not then be claimed that Bouhours had the advantage of any new witnesses, nor could he have had anything new in the way of contemporary writings; for, as we have seen, the missionaries of Xavier's time wrote nothing regarding his miracles, and certainly the ignorant natives of India and Japan did not commit any account of his miracles to writing. Nevertheless, the miracles of healing given in Bouhours were more numerous and brilliant than ever. But there was far more than this. Although during the lifetime of Xavier there is, neither in his own writings nor in any contemporary account the least indication of resurrections from the dead, we find that shortly after his death stories of resurrections wrought by him during his lifetime began to appear. A simple statement of the growth of these may throw some light on the evolution of miraculous accounts generally. At first it was affirmed that some people at Cape Comorin said that he resuscitated one person; then it was said that there were two persons; then in various authors, Acosta, De Quadros, and others, the story wavers between one and two cases; finally, in the time of Tursellinus, four cases had been developed. In 1622, at the canonization proceedings, three were mentioned; but, by the time of Father Bouhours, there were twenty-five.
It seems to have been felt as somewhat strange at first that Xavier had never alluded to any of these wonderful miracles; but ere long a subsidiary legend was developed, to the effect that one of the brethren asked him one day if he had raised the dead, whereat he blushed deeply and cried out against the idea, saying: "And so I am said to have raised the dead! What a misleading man I am! Some men brought a youth to me just as if he were dead, who, when I commanded him to arise in the name of Christ, straightway arose."
Noteworthy is the evolution of other miracles: Tursellinus, writing in 1594, tells us that on the voyage from Goa to Malacca, Xavier having left the ship and gone upon an island, was afterward found by the persons sent in search of him so deeply absorbed in prayer as to be unmindful of all things about him. But in the next century Father Bouhours develops the story as follows: "The servants found the man of God raised from the ground into the air, his eyes fixed upon heaven, and rays of light about his countenance."
Instructive, also, is a comparison between the accounts of his great miracle among the Badages at Travancore in 1544. In Xavier's letters he makes no reference to anything extraordinary; but Acosta, in 1573, declares that "Xavier threw himself into the midst of the Christians, that reverencing him they might spare the rest." The inevitable evolution of this matter goes on; and after twenty years Tursellinus tells us that at the onslaught of the Badages, "they could not endure the majesty of his countenance and the splendor and rays which issued from his eyes, and out of reverence for him they spared the others." The process of incubation still goes on during ninety years more, and then we have Bouhours's account: having given Xavier's prayer on the battle-field, Bouhours goes on to say that the saint, crucifix in hand, rushed at the head of the people toward the plain where the enemy was marching, and "said to them in a threatening voice, 'I forbid you in the name of the living God to advance further, and on his part command you to return in the way you came.' These few words cast a terror into the minds of those soldiers who were at the head of the army; they remained, confounded and without motion. They who marched afterward, seeing that the foremost did not advance, asked the reason of it; the answer was returned from the front ranks that they had before their eyes an unknown person habited in black, of more than human stature, of terrible aspect, and darting fire from his eyes. .. . They were seized with amazement at the sight, and all of them fled in precipitate confusion."
Curious, too, is the after-growth of the miracle of the crab restoring the crucifix. In its first form Xavier lost the crucifix in the sea, and the earlier biographers dwell on the sorrow which he showed in consequence; but the later historians declare that the saint threw the crucifix into the sea in order to still a tempest. In this form we find it among illustrations of books of devotion in the next century.
But perhaps the best illustration of this evolution of miracles in Xavier's case is to be found in the growth of another legend; and it is especially instructive because it grew luxuriantly despite the fact that it was utterly contradicted in all parts of Xavier's writings.
Throughout his letters, from first to last, Xavier constantly dwells upon his difficulties with the various languages of the different tribes among whom he went. He tells us how he surmounted these difficulties: sometimes by learning just enough of a language to translate into it some of the main Church formulas; sometimes by getting the help of others to patch together some pious teachings to be learned by rote; sometimes by employing interpreters; and sometimes by a mixture of various dialects and by signs. On one occasion he tells us that a very serious difficulty arose, and that his voyage to China was delayed because, among other things, the interpreter he had engaged had failed to meet him.
In various Lives which appeared between the time of his death and his canonization, this difficulty is much dwelt upon; but during the canonization proceedings at Rome, in the great speeches then made, and finally in the papal bull, great stress was laid upon the fact that Xavier possessed the gift of tongues. It was declared that he spoke to the various tribes with ease in their own languages. This legend of Xavier's miraculous gift of tongues was especially mentioned in the papal bull, and was solemnly given forth by the pontiff as an infallible statement to be believed by the universal Church. Gregory XV having been prevented by death from issuing the Bull of Canonization, it was finally issued by Urban VIII. To a thinking man there is much food for reflection in the fact that the same pope who punished Galileo, and was determined that the Inquisition should not allow the world to believe that the earth revolves about the sun, thus solemnly ordered the world, under pain of damnation, to believe in Xavier's miracles, including his "gift of tongues," and the return of the crucifix by the pious crab. But the legend was developed still further: Father Bouhours tells us, "The holy man spoke very well the language of those barbarians without having learned it, and had no need of an interpreter when he instructed." And, finally, in our own time, the Rev. Father Coleridge, speaking of the saint among the natives, says, "He could speak the language excellently, though he had never learned it."
In the early biography, Tursellinus writes: "Nothing was a greater impediment to him than his ignorance of the Japanese tongues; for, ever and anon, when some uncouth expression offended their fastidious and delicate ears, the awkward speech of Francis was a cause of laughter." But Father Bouhours, a century later, writing of Xavier at the same period, says, "He preached in the afternoon to the Japanese in their language, but so naturally and with so much ease that he could not be taken for a foreigner."
And finally, in 1872, Father Coleridge, of the Society of Jesus, speaking of Xavier at this time, says, "He spoke freely, flowingly, elegantly, as if he had lived in Japan all his life."
Nor was even this sufficient: to make the legend complete, it was declared that, when Xavier addressed the natives of various tribes, each heard the sermon in his own language in which he was born.
It is hardly necessary to attribute to the orators and biographers generally a conscious attempt to deceive. The simple fact is, that as a rule they thought, spoke, and wrote in obedience to the natural laws which govern the luxuriant growth of myth and legend in the warm atmosphere of love and devotion which constantly arises about great religious leaders in times when men have little or no knowledge of natural law, when there is little care for scientific evidence, and when he who believes most is thought most meritorious.
These examples will serve to illustrate the process which in thousands of cases has gone on from the earliest days of the Church until a very recent period. Everywhere miraculous cures became the rule rather than the exception throughout Christendom.
So it was that, throughout antiquity, during the early history of the Church, throughout the middle ages, and indeed down to a comparatively recent period, testimony to miraculous interpositions which would now be laughed at by a school-boy was accepted by the leaders of thought. St. Augustine was certainly one of the strongest minds in the early Church, and yet we find him mentioning, with much seriousness, a story that sundry innkeepers of his time put a drug into cheese which metamorphosed travelers into domestic animals. With such a disposition regarding the wildest stories, it is not surprising that the assertion of St. Gregory of Nazianzen, during the second century, as to the cures wrought by the martyrs Cosmo and Damian, was echoed from all parts of Europe until every hamlet had its miracle-working saint or relic.
The literature regarding these miracles is simply endless. To take our own ancestors alone, no one can read the Ecclesiastical History of Bede, or Abbot Samson's Miracles of St. Edmund, or the accounts given by Eadmer and Osberne of the miracles of St. Dunstan, or the long lists of those wrought by Thomas a Becket, or by any other in the army of English saints, without seeing the perfect naturalness of this growth. This evolution of miracle in all parts of Europe came out of a vast preceding series of beliefs, extending not merely through the early Church, but far back into paganism. Just as formerly people were cured in the temples of Æsculapius, so now they were cured at the shrines of saints. Moreover, the miracles of the sacred books were taken as models, and each of those given by the sacred chroniclers was repeated during the early ages of the Church and through the medieval period with endless variations of circumstance, but still with curious fidelity to the original type.
It should be especially kept in mind that, while the vast majority of these were doubtless due to the myth-making faculty and to that development of legends which always goes on in ages ignorant of the relation between physical causes and effects, some of the miracles of healing may have had some basis in fact. We, in modern times, have seen too many cures performed through influences exercised upon the imagination, such as those of the Jansenists at the Cemetery of St. Médard, of the Ultramontanes at La Salette and Lourdes, and of various Protestant sects at Old Orchard and elsewhere, as well as at sundry camp-meetings, to doubt that some cures, more or less permanent, were wrought by sainted personages in the early Church and throughout the middle ages.
But miraculous cures were not ascribed to persons merely. Another growth, mainly from germs in our sacred books developed by the early Church, took shape in miracles wrought by streams, by pools of water, and especially by relics. Here, too, the old types persisted, and just as we find holy and healing wells, pools, and streams in all other ancient religions, so we find in the evolution of our own such examples as Naaman the Syrian cured of leprosy by bathing in the river Jordan, the blind man restored to sight by washing in the pool of Siloam, and the healing of those who touched the bones of Elisha, the shadow of St. Peter, or the handkerchief of St. Paul.
St. Cyril, St. Ambrose, St. Augustine, and other great fathers of the early Church sanctioned the belief that similar efficacy was to be found in the relics of the saints of their time; hence, St. Ambrose declared that "the precepts of medicine are contrary to celestial science, watching, and prayer"; and we find this statement reiterated from time to time throughout the middle ages. From this idea was evolved that fetichism which we shall see for ages standing in the way of medical science.
Theology, developed in accordance with this idea, wrapped all scientific effort more and more in an atmosphere of supernaturalism. The vividness with which the accounts of miracles in the sacred books were realized in the early Church continued the idea of miraculous intervention throughout the middle ages. The testimony of the great fathers of the Church to the continuance of miracles is overwhelming; but everything shows that they so fully expected miracles on the slightest occasion as to require nothing which in these days would be regarded as adequate evidence.
In this atmosphere of theologic thought, medical science was at once checked. The School of Alexandria, under the influence first of Jews and later on of Christians, both permeated with Oriental ideas, and taking into their theory of medicine demons and miracles, soon enveloped everything in mysticism. In the Byzantine Empire of the East the same cause produced the same effect: the evolution of ascertained truth in medicine begun by Hippocrates and continued by Herophilus, seemed lost forever. Medical science, trying to move forward, was like a ship becalmed in the Sargasso Sea: both the atmosphere about it and the medium through which its progress must be made resisted all movement. Instead of reliance upon observation, experience, experiment, and thought, attention was turned toward supernatural agencies.
Especially prejudicial to a true development of medical science among the first Christians was their attribution of disease to diabolic possession. St. Paul had distinctly declared that the gods of the heathen were devils; and everywhere the early Christians saw in disease the malignant work of these dethroned powers of evil. The Gnostic and Manichsean struggles had ripened the theologic idea that at times diseases are punishments by the Almighty, but that the main agency in them is Satanic. The great fathers and renowned leaders of the early Church accepted and strengthened this idea. Origen says: "It is demons which produce famine, unfruitfulness, corruptions of the air, pestilences; they hover concealed in clouds in the lower atmosphere and are attracted by the blood and incense which the heathen offer to them as gods." St. Augustine says: "All diseases of Christians are to be ascribed to these demons; chiefly do they torment fresh-baptized Christians, yea, even the guiltless, new-born infants." Tertullian insists that a malevolent angel is in constant attendance upon every person. Gregory of Nazianzen declares that bodily pains are provoked by demons, and that medicines are useless, but that they are often cured by the laying on of consecrated hands. St. Nilus and St. Gregory of Tours, echoing St. Ambrose, give examples to show the sinfulness of resorting to medicine instead of trusting to the intercession of saints. Leaders of the Church very generally scouted the theory that diseases are due to natural causes, and most of them deprecated a resort to surgeons and physicians rather than to supernatural means.
Other considerations were developed as the middle ages went on which strengthened this idea. Again we must bear in mind that while there is no need to attribute the mass of these stories regarding miraculous cures to conscious fraud, there was, without doubt, at a later period, no small admixture of belief biased by self-interest, with much pious invention and suppression of facts. Enormous revenues flowed into various monasteries and churches in all parts of Europe from relics noted for their healing powers. Every cathedral, every great abbey, and nearly every parish church claimed possession of healing relics. While, undoubtedly, a childlike faith was at the bottom of this belief, there came out of it unquestionably a great development of the mercantile spirit. The commercial value of sundry relics was often very high. In the year 1056 a French ruler pledged securities to the amount of ten thousand solidi for the production of the relics of St. Just and St. Pastor, pending a legal decision regarding the ownership between him and the Archbishop of Narbonne. The Emperor of Germany on one occasion demanded, as a sufficient pledge for the establishment of a city market, the arm of St. George. The body of St. Sebastian brought enormous wealth to the Abbey of Soissons; Rome, Canterbury, Treves, Marburg, every great city drew large revenues from similar sources, and the Venetian Republic ventured very considerable sums in the purchase of relics.
Naturally, then, the corporations, whether lay or ecclesiastical, which drew large revenue from relics looked with little favor on a science which tended to discredit their investments.
Nowhere perhaps in Europe can the philosophy of this development of fetichism be better studied than at Cologne. At the cathedral, preserved in a magnificent shrine since about the twelfth century, are the skulls of the Three Kings or Wise Men of the East, who, guided by the star of Bethlehem, brought incense to the Saviour. These relics were an enormous source of wealth to the cathedral chapter during many centuries. But other ecclesiastical bodies in that city were both pious and shrewd, and so we find that not far off, at the church of St. Gereon, a cemetery has been dug up, and the bones distributed over the walls as the relics of St. Gereon and his Theban band of martyrs! Again, at the neighboring church of St. Ursula, we have the later spoils of another cemetery, covering the interior walls of the church as the bones of St. Ursula and her eleven thousand virgin martyrs: the fact that anatomists now declare many of them to be the bones of men does not appear in the middle ages to have diminished their power of competing with the relics at the other shrines in healing efficiency.
Other developments of fetich cure were no less discouraging to the evolution of medical science. Very important among these was the Agnus Dei, or piece of wax from the Paschal candles stamped with the figure of a lamb, and consecrated by the pope. As late as 1471 Pope Paul II expatiated to the Church on the efficacy of this fetich in preserving men from fire, shipwreck, tempest, lightning, and hail, and in assisting women in childbirth; and he reserved to himself and his successors the manufacture of it.
Naturally the frame of mind thus stimulated created a necessity for amulets and charms of other kinds; and under this influence we find a reversion to old pagan fetiches: nothing on the whole stood more constantly in the way of any proper development of medical science than these fetich cures, whose efficacy was based on theological modes of reasoning.
It would be expecting too much from human nature to imagine that pontiffs who derived large revenues from the sale of the Agnus Dei, or that priests who derived both wealth and honors from cures wrought at shrines under their care, or that lay dignitaries who had invested heavily in relics should favor the development of any science which undermined their interests. Moreover, other developments of thought in the Church were hardly less fatal to the evolution of medical science.
First of these was a wide-spread Egyptian and Oriental theory, mainly transmitted through the Jewish sacred books, of the unlawfulness of meddling with the bodies of the dead. And when to this was added the mysterious idea of the human body as the temple of the Holy Ghost, and a dread of interfering with it lest some injury might result in its final resurrection at the day of judgment, there came an addition to the mysterious reasons which forbade men to pursue the study of anatomy by means of dissection. Tertullian denounced the anatomist Herophilus as a butcher; Augustine spoke of anatomists generally in similar terms. The threat of excommunication launched by Pope Boniface VIII against those guilty of dissections was simply a development of this feeling.
Still further, in spite of the fearful cruelties which the Church, when firmly established, promoted so freely against those suspected of witchcraft or heresy, there grew up a theory which took shape in the maxim that "the Church abhors the shedding of blood," and this maxim was used with deadly effect against the progress of surgery. It led to ecclesiastical mandates which withdrew from this branch of the healing art the most thoughtful and cultivated men of the middle ages, and which placed surgery in the hands of the lowest class of nomadic charlatans. So deeply was this idea thus rooted in the universal Church that for over a thousand years surgical practice was considered dishonorable; the greatest monarchs were often unable to secure an ordinary surgical operation; and it was only in 1406 that a better beginning was made, when the Emperor Wenzel of Germany ordered that dishonor should no longer attach to the surgical profession.
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 the way of it 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 the development by individual thought and experiment of 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 unfavorable 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 the 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 world mainly through the sacred books attributed to Moses; and both Jews and Mohammedans, while fettered by various superstitions of their own, were far less influenced by the mediæval development of miracles than were their Christian contemporaries.
The Jewish scholars became especially devoted to medical science. To them is largely due the creation 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, from the beginning of the eleventh century extended throughout all Europe. 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 law.
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 Lull, and, above all, Roger Bacon, all of whom cultivated sciences subsidiary to medicine, and in spite of charges of sorcery, and consequent imprisonment and danger of death, kept the torch of knowledge burning, and passed it on to future generations.
From the Church itself, also, 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, Bertrarius, a monk of Monte Casino, 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; Sigoal, Abbot of Epinay; Hildegarde, Abbess of Rupertsberg; Milon, Archbishop of Beneventum; 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 every development of 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 practice it. In the beginning of the next century Innocent III, in the Council of the Lateran, forbade surgical operations to be practiced by priests, deacons, and sub-deacons; 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. Five years later the Council of Le Mans forbade surgery to monks, on the ground that "the Church abhors the shedding of blood," and many other councils did the same. At the end of that century Boniface VIII interdicted dissections as sacrilege.
- For extended statements regarding medicine in Egypt, Judea, and Eastern nations generally, see Sprengel, Histoire de la Médecine, earlier volumes; and for more succinct accounts, Baas, Geschichte der Medicin, pp. 15–29; also Isensee; also Frédault, Histoire de la Médecine, chap. i. For the effort in Egyptian medicine to deal with demons and witches, see Heinrich Brugsch, Die Aegyptologie, Leipsie, 1891, p. 77; and for references to the Papyrus Ebers, etc., pp. 155, 407, and following. For the derivation of priestly medicine in Egypt, see Baas, p. 22. For the fame of Egyptian medicine at Rome, see Sharpe, History of Egypt, vol. ii, pp. 151 and 184. On the cheapness and commonness of miracles of healing in antiquity, see Sharpe, quoting St. Jerome, vol. ii, pp. 137, 191. As to the freedom of ancient Greece from the idea of demoniacal intervention in disease, see Lecky, History of European Morals, vol. i, p. 404 and note. For the evolution of medicine before and after Hippocrates, see Sprengel, p. 1283 and following. For a good summing up of the work of Hippocrates, see Baas, p. 201. For the necessary passage of medicine in its early stages under priestly control, see Cabanis, The Revolutions of Medical Science, London, 1806, chap. ii. On Jewish ideas regarding demons, and their relation to sickness, see Toy, Judaism and Christianity, Boston, 1891, pp. 108 et seq. For Herophilus, Erasistratus, and the School of Alexandria, see Sprengel, vol. i, pp. 433, 434 et seq.
- For the evolution of the miracles of Xavier, see his Letters with Life, published by Léon Pagès, Paris, 1855. Also, Maffei, Historiarum Indicarum, Libri xvi, Venice, 1589. Also the Lives by Tursellinus, various editions, beginning with that of 1596; Vitelleschi, 1622; Bouhours, 1682; Massei, second edition, 1682 (Rome), and others; Fabers Bartoli, Baltimore, 1868; Coleridge, 1872. In addition to these, I have compared, for a more extended discussion of this subject hereafter, a very great number of editions of these and other biographies of the saint with speeches at the canonization, the Bull of Gregory XIII, various books of devotion, and a multitude of special writings, some of them in manuscript, upon the glories of the saint. The illustration of the miracle of the crucifix and crab in its final form is given in La Dévotion de Dix Vendredis à l'Honneur de St. Francois Xavier, Bruxelles, 1699, Fig. 24. For the letter of King John to Barreto see Léon Pagès's Lettres de St. Francois Xavier, Paris, 1855, vol. ii, p. 465. For the miracle among the Badages, compare Tursellin. lib. ii, c. x, p. 16, with Bouhours, Dryden's translation, pp. 146, 147. For miracle of the gift of tongues, in its higher development, see Bouhours, p. 143, and Coleridge, vol. i, pp 172 and 208; and as to Xavier's own account see Coleridge, vol. i, pp. 151, 154, and vol. ii, 551.
- For the story of travelers converted into domestic animals, see St. Augustine, De Civ. Dei, liber xviii, chaps, xvii, xviii, in Mique, torn, xli, p. 674. For Gregory of Nazianzen and the similarity of these Christian cures in general character to those wrought in the temples of.Esculapius, see Sprengel, vol. ii, pp. 145, 146. For the miracles wrought at the shrine of St. Edmund, see Samsonis Abbatis Opus de Miraculis Sancti Ædmundi, in the Master of the Rolls series, passim, but especially chaps, xiv and xix, for miracles of healing wrought on those who drank out of the saint's cup. For the mighty works of St. Dunstan, see the Mirac. Sanct Dunstan, Auctore Eadmero and Auctore Osberno, in the Master of the Rolls series. As to Becket, see the materials for the Life of Thomas a Becket in the same scries, and especially the lists of miracles—the mere index of them in the first volume requires thirteen octavo pages. For St. Martin of Tours, see the Guizot edition of French Chronicles. For miracle and shrine cures chronicled by Bede, see his Ecclesiastical History, passim, but especially from page 1 10 to page 267. For similarity between the ancient custom of allowing invalids to sleep in the temples of Serapis and the mediæval custom of having them sleep in the church of St. Antony of Padua and other churches, see Meyer, Aberglaube des Mittelalters, Basel, 1884, chap. iv. For the effect of "the vivid belief in supernatural action which attaches itself to the tombs of the saints," etc., as "a psychic agent of great value," see Littré, Médecine et p. 181. For the Jansenist miracles at Paris, see La Vérite des Miracles opérés par l'lntercession de M. de Paris, par Montgéron, Utrecht, 1737, and especially the cases of Mary Anne Couronneau, Philippe Sergent, and Gautier de Pezenas. For some very thoughtful remarks as to the worthlessness of the testimony to miracles presented during the canonization proceedings at Rome, see Maury, Légendes Pieuses.
- For the mysticism which gradually enveloped the School of Alexandria, see Barthélemy Saint-Hilaire, De l'Éole d'Alexandrie, Paris, 1845, vol. vi, p. 161. For the effect of the new doctrines on the Empire of the East, see Sprengel, vol. ii, p. 240. As to the more common miracles of healing and the acknowledgment of non-Christian miracles of healing by Christian fathers, see Fort, p. 84.
- For Origen, see the Contra Celsum, lib. vii, chap. 31. For Augustine, De Divinit. et Demon., chap, hi, p. 371. For Tertullian and Gregory of Nazianzen, see citations in Sprengel and in Fort, p. 6. For Gregory of Tours and St. Nilus, see History of France, vol. v, p. 6; De Mirac. S. Martini, vol. ii, p. 60; cited in the History of the Iniquisition of the Middle Ages, by Henry Charles Lea, New York, 1888, p. 410, note. For the turning of the Greek mythology into a demonology as largely due to St. Paul, see I , chap. x, v. 20: "The things which the Gentiles sacrifice, they sacrifice to devils and not to God."
- See Fort's Medical Economy during the Middle Ages, pages 211-213; also the Handbooks of Murray and Baedeker for North Germany, and various histories of medicine passim; also Collin de Plancy and scores of others. For an account of the Agnus Dei, see Rydberg, pp. 62, 63.
- As to denunciations of surgery by the Church authorities, see Sprengel, II, 1, 8; also, Fort, pp. 452 et seq.; and for the reasoning which led the Church to forbid surgery to priests, see especially Frédault, Histoire de la Médecine, p. 200.
- For the great services rendered to the development of medicine by the Jews, see Monteil, Médecine en France, p. 58; also the historians of medicine generally. For the quotation from Almamon, see Gibbon, vol. x, p. 42. For the services of both Jews and Arabians, see Bédarride, Histoire des Juifs, p. 115. Also Sismondi, Histoire des Français, cited by Fort, pp. 449, 450. For Arabians, especially, see Rosseuw SaintHilaire, Histoire d'Espagne, Paris, 1844, vol. iii, pp. 191 et seq. For the tendency of the Mosaic books to insist on hygienic rather than therapeutical treatment, and its consequences among Jewish physicians, see Sprengel, but especially Frédault, p. 14.
- For the progress of sciences subsidiary to medicine even in the darkest ages, see Fort, pp. 374, 375. Also, Isensee, Geschichte der Medicin, pp. 225 et seq. Also, Monteil, p. 89, Heller, Geschichte der Physik, vol. i Buch II. Also Kopp, Geschichte der Chemie. For Frederick II and his Medicinal Gesetz, see Baas, p. 221, but especially Von Raumer, Geschichte der Hohenstaufen, Leipsic, 1872, vol. iii, p. 259.
- For exact statements as to these decrees of the highest Church and monastic authorities against medicine and surgery, see Sprengel, Baas, Geschichte der Medicin, p. 204, and elsewhere; also, Buckle, Posthumous Works, vol. ii, p. 567. For a long list of Church dignitaries who practiced a semi-theological medicine in the middle ages, see Baas, pp. 204, 205. For Bertrarius, Hildegarde, and others mentioned, see also Sprengel and other historians of medicine. For clandestine study and practice of medicine by sundry ecclesiastics in spite of the prohibitions by the Church, see Von Raumer, Hohenstaufen, vol. vi, p. 438.