The bull of Pope Boniface VIII. forbidding the boiling of bodies and their dismemberment for burial in distant lands, did nothing to hinder the progress of anatomy, had no reference to any preparations required for dissection, and was not misinterpreted in any such sense until the nineteenth century, and then only for the purpose of discrediting the Popes and their relations to science. Pope Boniface’s bull, far from being harmful in any way to education or to the people, was really beneficial, and constituted an excellent sanitary regulation which doubtless prevented, on a number of occasions, the carriage of disease from place to place.

The decree of Pope John XXII., which has been falsely claimed to forbid chemistry, was another example of Papal care for Christendom, and not at all the obscurantist document it has been so loudly proclaimed. Pope John learned how much imposition was being practiced on the people by certain so-called alchemists who claimed to be able to make silver and gold out of baser metals. In order to prevent this, within a year after his elevation to the pontificate he issued not a bull, but a very different form of document–a decretal–forbidding any “alchemies” of this kind. The punishment to be inflicted, however, instead of being the penalty of death, as Dr. Cruikshank, Dr. White and many others have declared, or at least let it be understood from their mode of expression, was that the person convicted of pretending to make gold and silver and selling it to other people, should pay into the public treasury an amount equal to the supposed amount of gold and silver that he had made. The money thus paid into the public treasury was to be given to the poor.

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


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