The modern American historian of Theology and Science says, “for over a thousand years surgery was considered dishonorable.” For the sake of contrast with this opinion of President White’s, read for a moment the following remarks which constitute the opening sentences of Pagel’s paragraphs on Surgery from 1200 to 1500, in Puschmann’s Handbuch of the History of Medicine, already referred to. Before making the quotation, let me recall attention to the fact that Professor Pagel is the best informed living writer on the history of medicine. This book was issued in 1902. It is universally conceded to contain the last words on the history of medical development. There is no doubt at all about its absolute authoritativeness. President White has been calling on his imagination; Professor Pagel has consulted original documents in the history of surgery. He says:

“A more favorable star shone during the whole Middle Ages over surgery than over practical medicine. The representatives of this specialty succeeded earlier than did the practical physicians in freeing themselves from the ban of scholasticism. In its development a more constant and more even progress cannot fail to be seen. The stream of literary works on surgery flows richer during this period. While the surgeons are far from being able to emancipate themselves from the ruling pathological theories, there is no doubt that in one department, that of manual technics, free observation came to occupy the first place in the effort for scientific progress. Investigation is less hampered and concerns itself with practical things and not with artificial theories. Experimental observation was in this not repressed by an unfortunate and iron-bound appeal to reasoning.[…] Indeed, the lack of so-called scholarship, the freshness of view free from all prejudice with which surgery, uninfluenced by scholastic presumption, was forced to enter upon the objective consideration of things, while most of the surgeons brought with them to their calling an earnest vocation in union with great technical facility, caused surgery to enter upon ways in which it secured, as I have said, greater relative success than did practical medicine.”

President White has evidently never bothered to look into a history of surgery at all, or he would not have fallen into the egregious error of saying that the period from 1200 to 1400 was barren of surgery, for it is really one of the most important periods in the development of modern surgery.

James J. Walsh, The Popes and Science (1908)

It is with regard to surgery that the opposition of the Church is sometimes supposed to have been most serious in its effects upon the progress of medical science and its applications for the relief of human suffering…

President White insists over and over again that whatever surgery there was, and especially whatever progress was made in surgery, was due to the Arabs, or at least to Arabian initiative. Gurlt, in his History of Surgery, which we have referred to elsewhere, is very far from sharing this view. I need scarcely say that Gurlt is one of our best authorities in the history of surgery. In his sketch of Roger, the first of the great Italian surgeons of the thirteenth century who came after the foundation of the universities, Gurlt says that, “though Arabian writings on surgery had been brought over to Italy by Constantine Africanus a hundred years before Roger’s time, those exercised no influence over Italian surgery in the next century, and there is not a trace of the surgical knowledge of the Arabs to be found in Roger’s work.” His writing depends almost entirely upon the surgical traditions of his time, the experience of his teachers and colleagues, to whom in two places he has given due credit, and on the Greek writers. There are no traces of Arabisms to be found in Roger’s writing, while they are full of Grecisms. Roger represents the first important writer on surgery in modern times, and his works have been printed several times because of their value as original documents.

James J. Walsh, The Popes and Science (1908)

Von Töply begins with Paul III., who is known in history more especially for his issuance of the Bull founding the Jesuits. It might ordinarily be presumed by those who knew nothing of this Pope, that the Head of the Church, to whom is due an institution such as the Jesuits are supposed to be, would not be interested to the slightest degree in modern sciences, and would be one of the last ecclesiastical authorities from whom patronage of science could possibly be expected. It was he, however, who founded special departments for anatomy and botany and provided the funds for a salary for a prosector of anatomy at Rome.

After this practically every Pope in this century has some special benefaction for anatomy to his credit. Pope Paul IV. (1555-59) called Columbus to Rome and gave him every opportunity for the development of his original genius in anatomical research. Columbus had succeeded Vesalius at Padua and had been tempted from there to Pisa by the duke who wished to create in that city a university with the most prominent teachers in every department that there was in Italy, yet it was from this lucrative post that Pope Paul IV. succeeded in winning Columbus. Quite apart from what we know of Columbus’s career at Rome and his successful investigation on the cadaver of many anatomical problems, perhaps the best evidence of the friendly relations of the Popes to him and to his work is to be found in the fact that, first Columbus himself, and then after his death his sons, in issuing their father’s magnificent work De Re Anatomica, dedicated it to the successor of Pope Paul IV., the reigning Pope Pius IV. In the meantime Cardinal Della Rovere had brought Eustachius to Rome to succeed Columbus.

Under Sixtus V., who was Pope from 1585 to 1590, the distinguished writer on medicine, and especially on anatomy, Piccolomini, published his lectures on anatomy with a dedication to that Pope. It is well known that the relations between the professor of anatomy at the Papal Medical School and the Pope were very friendly. As was the case with regard to Colombo or Columbus, so also with Caesalpinus. Columbus was the first to describe the pulmonary circulation. Caesalpinus is generally claimed by the Italians to have made the discovery of the circulation of the blood throughout the body before Harvey. Columbus had been at Pisa and was tempted to come to Rome. Caesalpinus had also been at Pisa until Clement VIII. held out inducements that brought him to Rome. Clement is the last Pope of the century, but Von Töply mentions five Popes in the next century who were in intimate relations with distinguished investigators into medical subjects and whose names are in some way connected with some of the most noteworthy teaching and writing in medical matters during the seventeenth century.

James J. Walsh, The Popes and Science (1908)

There is another phase of his regulations with regard to medical schools which cannot but prove of the greatest interest to members of our present-day medical faculties. It has been realized for some time, that what is needed more than anything else to make good physicians for the present generation is that medical students should have a better preliminary education than has been the case in the past. In order to secure this, various states have required evidence of a certain number of years spent at high school or college before a medical student’s certificate allowing entrance into a medical school will be granted. Some of the most prominent medical schools have gone even farther than this, and have required that a degree in arts should be obtained in the undergraduate department before medical studies may be taken up. Something of this same kind was manifestly in Pope John’s mind when he required that seven years should have been spent at a university, at least three years of which should have been entirely devoted to medical studies, before the candidate might be allowed to go up for his examination for the doctor’s degree.

As we begin the twentieth century, we note that the presidents of our American universities are trying to secure just exactly the same number of years of study for candidates for the degree of Doctor of Medicine, as this medieval Pope insisted on as a prerequisite for the same degree in a university founded in the Papal States at the beginning of the fourteenth century. After the year 1910 most of the large universities in this country will not admit further students to their medical departments unless they have a college degree or its equivalent, that is, unless they have devoted four years to college undergraduate work. It is generally understood, that in the last year of his undergraduate course the student who intends to take up medicine may elect such scientific studies in the college department as will obtain for him an allowance of a year’s work in the medical school. He will then be able to complete his medical course in three years, so that our modern institutions will, if our plans succeed, require just exactly the same amount of time for the doctorate in Medicine as Pope John demanded, and not only demanded, but required by legal regulation, for this bull was a law in the Papal States, just six centuries ago. The coincidence is so striking that, only that it is supported by documentary evidence of the best kind, we could scarcely believe it.

James J. Walsh, The Popes and Science (1908)

The documents that I shall quote in translations (the originals may be found in the appendix) will show that the Pope wanted the doctorates in philosophy and in medicine to be given only after seven years of study, at least four of which were to be devoted to the post-graduate work in the special branch selected. He wished, moreover, to insist on the necessity for preliminary education. He wanted the permission to teach these branches, which in that day was equivalent to our term of doctorate, to be given in all institutions for the same amount of work and after similar tests. These are just the matters that have occupied the thoughts of university presidents for the last quarter of a century, and have been the subjects of discussion in the meetings of various college and university associations. Pope John [XXII]’s bulls would be interesting documents to have read before such associations even at the present time, and would form excellent suggestive material on which the discussion of the necessity for maintaining college standards might well be founded…

All this will show John as really one of the greatest Popes not only in the century in which he lived, but as distinguished as only a comparatively small number have been among the successors of Peter. Though he ascended the Papal throne at the age of seventy, the next twenty years were full of work of all kinds, and John’s wonderful capacity for work stamps him as one of the great men of all time. It is a well-known rule, constantly kept in mind by Catholic students of history, that the Popes against whom the most objections are urged by non-Catholic historians are practically always found, on close and sympathetic study, to be striking examples of men who at least labored to accomplish much. As a rule, they strove to correct abuses, and as a consequence made bitter enemies, who left behind them many contemporary expressions of disapproval. Any contemporary authority is somehow supposed to be infallible. We forget, when a man tries to do good he is likely to meet with bitter opposition from many. If their expressions are taken seriously by historians who write with the purpose of finding just as little good and just as much evil as possible in a particular character, the resulting appreciation is likely to be rather far from the truth.  

James J. Walsh, The Popes and Science (1908)

What is of special interest to us here, however, in this volume, is the fact that Pope John [XXII] gave all the weight of the Papal authority, the most important influence of the time in Europe, to the encouragement of medical schools, the maintenance of a high standard in them, and the development of scientific medicine. At this time medicine included many of the physical sciences as we know them at the present time. Botany, mineralogy, climatology, even astrology, as astronomy was then called, were the subjects of study by physicians, the last named because of the supposed influence of the stars on the human constitution. Because of his encouragement of medical schools and his emphatic insistence on their maintaining high standards, Pope John must be commended as a patron of science and as probably having exerted the most beneficial influence in his time on education.

James J. Walsh, The Popes and Science (1908)

At this time Morgagni was looked upon by all the medical world as probably the greatest of living medical scientists. Visitors who came to Italy who were at all interested in science, always considered that their journey had not been quite complete unless they had had an opportunity of meeting Morgagni. He had more personal friends among the scientists of all the countries of Europe than any other man of his time. The fact that this leader in science should be at the same time a great personal friend of the Popes of his time is the best possible evidence of the more than amicable relations which existed between the Church and medicine during this century. Morgagni’s life of nearly ninety years indeed, covers most of the eighteenth century, and is of itself, without more ado, an absolute proof that there was not only no friction between religion and medicine, but shows on the contrary that medical science encountered patronage and encouragement as far as ecclesiastics were concerned, while success in it brought honor and emolument. Morgagni’s personal relations to the Church are best brought out by the fact that, of his fifteen children, ten of whom lived to adult life, eight daughters became members of religious orders and one of his two surviving sons became a Jesuit. The great physician was very proud and very glad that his children should have chosen what he did not hesitate to call the better part.

After Morgagni’s time, the days of the French Revolution bring a cloud over the Papacy. There were political disturbances in Italy and the Popes were shorn of their temporal power. As a consequence their medical school loses in prestige and finally disappears. The Papal Physicians after this, while distinguished among their fellow members of the Roman medical profession, were no longer the world-known discoverers in medicine that had so often been the case before. So long as the Popes had the power and possessed the means, they used both to encourage medicine in every way, as the list of Papal Physicians shows better than anything else, and a study of this chapter of their history will undo all the false assertions with regard to the supposed opposition between the Church and science.

We have already said, and it seems to deserve repetition here, that during most of these centuries in which the Papal Physicians were among the most distinguished discoverers in medicine, the term medicine included within itself most of what we now know as physical science. Botany was studied as a branch of medicine, and as we have seen, one of the Papal Physicians, Simon Januensis, compiled a dictionary that a modern German Historian of Botany finds excellent. Astrology, under which term astronomy was included, was studied for the sake of the supposed influence of the stars on men’s constitutions.–Chemistry was a branch of medical study. Mineralogy was considered a science allied to medicine, and the use of antimony and other metals in medicine originated with physicians trying to extend the domain of knowledge to minerals. Comparative anatomy was founded by a Papal Physician. These were the principal physical sciences.

To talk of opposition between science and religion, then, with the most distinguished scientists of these centuries in friendly personal and official relations with the Popes, is to indulge in one of those absurdities common enough among those who must find matter for their condemnation of the Popes and the Church, but that every advance in modern history has pushed farther back into the rubbish chamber of outlived traditions.

James J. Walsh, The Popes and Science (1908)