The best proof, however, at once of the flourishing state of surgery during the fourteenth century and of the utter absurdity of saying that surgery did not develop because of the opposition of the Church or of ecclesiastics, and above all of the Popes, is to be found in the life of Guy de Chauliac, who has been deservedly called the Father of Modern Surgery and whose contributions to surgery occupy a prominent place in every history of medicine that one picks up. While the works of other great writers in surgery of the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries have as a rule only come to be commonly known during the latter part of the nineteenth century, Guy de Chauliac’s position and the significance of his work and his writings have been a commonplace in the history of medicine for as long as it has been written seriously. We have already stated in several places in this volume his relations to the Popes. He was a chamberlain of the Papal Court while it was at Avignon, and while he was teaching and developing surgery at the University of Montpelier he was also body physician to three of the Popes, and the intimate friend and influential adviser to whom they turned for consultation in matters relating to medical education and to science generally…He knew how to prescribe manipulations and set forth the principles on which they were founded.

Scarcely anything was added to his method of taxis for hernia for five centuries after his time. He describes the passage of a catheter with the accuracy and complete technic of a man who knew all the difficulties of it in complicated conditions. He recognizes the dangers that arise for the surgeon from the presence of anatomical anomalies of various kinds, and describes certain of the more important of them. He did not hesitate to suggest some very serious operations. For instance, for empyema he advises opening of the chest. He has very exact indications for trephining. He recognizes the absolute fatality of wounds of the abdomen, in which the intestines were opened, if they were left untreated, and describes a method of suturing wounds of the intestines in order to save the patient’s life. In a word, there is nothing that has been attempted in these modern times, with our aseptic precautions and the advantage of anaesthesia, which this father of surgery did not discuss very practically and with excellent common sense as well as surgical acumen.

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


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