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)

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That this same liberal patronage of distinguished physicians was continued in the next century may be realized from the fact that Malpighi, the great founder of comparative anatomy, became one of the Papal Physicians. His intimate friend, Borelli, to whom we owe the introduction of physics into medicine, had spent some years in Rome, where, having been robbed by his servants, with the consent of the Pope he took up his abode with the Society of the Pious Schools of San Pantaleone. Here he finished his important work De Motu Animalium, in which the principles of mechanics were first definitely introduced into anatomy and physiology. The preface to this book was written by an ecclesiastic, who praises the piety of Borelli during his stay in Rome and chronicles his encouragement by the Popes in his medical work. Malpighi was succeeded as Papal Physician by Tozzi, who is famous for his commentaries on the ancients rather than for original observation, but who was looked upon in his time as one of the most prominent physicians in Italy, and at this period that meant one of the most prominent physicians in the world. At the beginning of the next century, the eighteenth, Lancisi, by many considered the Father of Modern Clinical Medicine, became the Papal Physician.

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

At this time, during the first half of the sixteenth century, the Papal Medical School begins to assume an importance in the history of medicine which it was to continue to hold for the next two centuries. After the refoundation of the Sapienza by Pope Alexander VI., and its development under Pope Leo X., special care was taken and no expense spared by their successors, to secure the greatest teachers in anatomy in the world for the medical department of the Papal University. At this time all the great physicians were distinguished for their attainments in anatomy, somewhat as in the nineteenth century great physicians obtained their prestige by original work in pathology.

The situations in the two centuries had much more in common than the casual reader of history or even the ordinary student of medicine would appreciate. The list of Papal Physicians, then, becomes to a great extent the roll of the professors of anatomy at the Papal University Medical School. The Popes of this period were wise enough in their generation to realize that the men who devoted themselves to original research in increasing the knowledge of the human body, were also those likely to know most about the diseases of the body and their treatment. These scientific anatomists, with the chastening knowledge of the complexity of the human body before them, probably made less claims to power to cure diseases than many an enthusiastic therapeutist of the time, who thought, as have representatives of this specialty in every generation, that he has many infallible remedies for the cure of disease, though subsequent generations have not agreed with him.

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

Meanwhile, however, the return of the Popes to Rome (1374) and the displacement of the Albucasis and Avicenna by the Greek texts renewed the shriveling body of medicine, and with the help of anatomy, Italian medicine awoke again; though until the days of Vesalius and Harvey the renascence came rather from men of letters than of medicine. The Arabs and Paris said: “Why dissect if you trust Galen?” But the Italian physicians insisted on verification; and therefore back to Italy again the earnest and clear-sighted students flocked from all regions. Vesalius was a young man when he professed in Padua, yet, young or venerable, where but in Italy would he have won, I would not say renown, but even sufferance! If normal anatomy was not directly a reformer of medicine, by way of anatomy came morbid anatomy, as conceived by the genius of Benivieni, of Morgagni, and of Valsalva; the galenical or humoral doctrine of pathology was sapped, and soaring in excelsis for the essence of disease gave place to grubbing for its roots.

T. Clifford Allbutt, “An Address On The Historical Relations Between Surgery And Medicine” (1904)

Here then is the answer that a modern historian and educator makes to all the representations with regard to the development of anatomy and the practice of dissection during the Middle Ages. If the practice of dissection was permitted it was in spite of the Popes. The fact that there were a dozen of medical schools in Italy at which dissection was carried on is ignored. The great anatomists of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries simply did not exist–Dr. White knows nothing about them. There must be no admission that the Popes permitted dissection or any other form of science. Dr. White makes his last stand by a really marvelous tour d’esprit. It was Venice defying the Vatican that permitted dissection. This, he supposes, may help him, for anatomy did develop very wonderfully at Padua when it was Venetian territory. But, as pointed out by Roth, dissection was practiced very successfully, and the anatomical tradition established at Padua, before it came under the dominion of Venice. At all the other important cities of Italy dissection was carried on. We have given some of the evidence for Verona, for Pisa, for Naples, for Bologna, for Florence, and, be it remembered, even for Rome. Padua was the rival of Bologna in anatomy only for a comparatively short time. Bologna always maintained a primacy in the field of anatomy, and never more so than after she became a Papal city at the beginning of the sixteenth century. Vesalius taught and demonstrated not at Padua alone, but also at Bologna and at Pisa. For two centuries Rome was the most successful rival of Bologna, and hundreds of dissections were done in the Papal Medical School.

Of course, the appeal to Venetian opposition to the Papacy as an explanation for dissection being carried on in Italy in spite of ecclesiastical regulations to the contrary is only a subterfuge. It can only be found in histories written by those who refuse to see facts as they were, because those facts do not accord with pet theories as to Papal Opposition to Science, and the Warfare Between Theology and Science, which must be maintained at all costs, though with an air of apology always for having to tell such unpleasant truths of these old-time religious authorities.

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

I would not wish to produce the impression, however, that Italy was the only place in Europe in which dissections were freely done during the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. There is no doubt that anatomy and surgery and every branch of medicine was cultivated much more assiduously and with much better opportunities provided for students down in Italy, than anywhere else in the world. This of itself alone shows the utter absurdity of the declarations that the Church was opposed to medical progress in any way, since the nearer the center of Christendom, the more ardor there was for investigation and the more liberty to pursue original researches. Other countries also began to wake up to the spirit of progress in medical education that was abroad. In France there were two centers of interest in anatomy. One of these was at Montpelier, the other at Paris. It is interesting to note, however, that the men to whom anatomical progress is due at these universities obtained their training, or at least had taken advantage of the special opportunities provided for anatomical investigation to be had, in the Italian cities. Guy de Chauliac I have already mentioned. He is spoken of as the Father of Modern Surgery, and there is no doubt that he did much to set surgery on a very practical basis and to make anatomy a fundamental feature of the training for it. He declared that it was absurd to think that surgeons could do good work unless they knew their anatomy.

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

Denifle calls attention to the fact that there are letters of Pope John XXII. which show that he paid out of the Papal revenues the salary of a teacher of physic at the University of the City of Rome while the Papal Court was at Avignon. It is rather interesting to find the names of the two Popes, Boniface VIII. and John XXII., whose Papal decrees are supposed to have prevented the study of anatomy and chemistry, thus cropping up on unquestionable authority as the founder and the patron of medical teaching in the City of Rome. Pope Boniface VIII. is now generally credited with having been the founder of the Sapienza, the medical school of which, at the beginning of the sixteenth century, was to develop into one of the most important schools of its kind in Europe, and to have on its faculty list the greatest teachers of their time, who had been tempted to come to Rome because the Popes wished to enhance the prestige of the medical school of their capital.

While it may be a surprise for those who have been accustomed to think of the Popes as inalterably opposed to all science, and especially to medical science, thus to find them encouraging and fostering medical teaching, it will only be what would naturally be expected by those who know anything of the real history of medicine in the earlier Middle Ages. There is no doubt at all, that during the so-called “dark ages,” that is, when the invasion of the barbarians had put out the lights of the older civilizations, it was mainly ecclesiastics who preserved whatever traditions there were of the old medical learning and carried on whatever serious teaching of medicine, in the sense of medical science, that existed during this time. The monks were the most prominent in this; and the Benedictines, after their foundation in the sixth century, added to their duties of caring for the other temporal needs of the poor, who so often appealed to them, that of helping them as far as they could in any bodily ailments with which they might be afflicted. There are even definite traditions that a certain amount of training in medicine, or at least in the care of the sick, was one of the features of the Benedictine monasteries.

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

Most of what is said as to the opposition of the Church to medicine during the Middle Ages in A History of the Warfare of Science with Theology in Christendom, by Andrew D. White (Appleton’s, New York), is founded on a supposed Papal prohibition of anatomy and on a subsequent equally supposed Papal prohibition of chemistry. These two documents are emphasized so much, that most readers cannot but conclude that, even without further evidence, these are quite enough to prove the contention with regard to the unfortunate opposition of the Church to medical science.

Without these two presumably solid pillars of actual Papal documents, what is said with regard to the Church and its relations to medical science in the Middle Ages amounts to very little…Indeed, this supposed Papal prohibition of dissection is definitely stated to have precluded all opportunity for the proper acquisition of anatomical knowledge until the first half of the sixteenth century, when the Golden Age of modern anatomy set in. This date being coincident with the spread of the movement known as the Protestant Reformation, many people at once conclude that somehow the liberality of spirit that then came into the world, and is supposed at least to have put an end to all intolerance, must have been the active factor in this development of anatomy, and that, as Dr. White has indeed declared, it was only because the Church was forced from her position of opposition that anatomical investigation was allowed.

Since so serious an accusation is founded on a definite Papal document, it cannot but be a matter of surprise that those who have cited it so confidently as forbidding anatomy, and especially dissection, have never given the full text of the document…Many references have been made to this prohibition by Pope Boniface VIII., but no one has thought it worth while to give, even in a footnote, the text of it. The reason for this is easy to understand as soon as one reads the actual text. It has nothing to say at all with regard to dissection. It has absolutely no reference to the cutting up of the human body for teaching purposes. Its purpose is very plain, and is stated so that there can be no possible misapprehension of its meaning.

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

While the Papal Medical School at Rome, attached to the university of the city and directly under the control of the Papal Curia, more especially deserves the name thus given it, it must not be forgotten that there was in the Papal States a series of medical schools in various cities. One of these, at Perugia, founded by a bull of Pope John XXII., has come under consideration in the chapter on A Papal Patron of Medical Education. Another medical school, that of Ferrara, which also was in the Papal States, had considerable prestige. Some distinguished professors taught there before going to Padua or Bologna. At the beginning of the sixteenth century, Bologna, after having been during the preceding three centuries under the domination of one powerful family or another, from the Pepoli to the Bentivogli, and then to the Visconti and back again to the Bentivogli, was incorporated in the Papal States under Pope Julius II. At this time the Medical School of Bologna was at the height of its reputation and was one of the two greatest medical schools in Italy. Padua was its only rival. Shortly after this Rome became a serious competitor in medical education. Practically, then, this was a second Papal medical school, almost as directly under the control of the Popes as the Roman Medical School. Far from there being any diminution in the glory or the efficiency of the Bolognese Medical School, its reputation even became enhanced after the city came under the control of the Popes.

This is all the more surprising because, as we have shown, just about this time the Popes began the work of making their Medical School at Rome the most important center for medical education, especially in the scientific phases of medicine–anatomy, physiology, and comparative anatomy–that there was at that time in the world. In spite of this rivalry, however, nothing was done directly to hurt the prestige of the school of Bologna, and indeed the rivalry seems to have been more of an encouraging competition than in any sense a destructive struggle for existence.

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

There is no doubt at all that there was much popular opposition to the practice of dissection in the Middle Ages; that has existed at all times in the world’s history. It was very pronounced among the old Pagans in Rome as well as in Greece, and it prevented anatomical study to a very great degree. It continued to exist in modern times until almost the present generation. Indeed, it has not yet entirely disappeared, as any physician who has tried to secure autopsies on interesting cases knows very well. The New York Academy of Medicine is only a little over a half century old, and yet nearly every one of its early presidents had thrilling experiences in body-snatching as a young man, because no proper provision for the supplying of anatomical material had as yet been made by law, and bodies had to be obtained. The feeling of objection to having the bodies of friends anatomized is natural and not due to religion. It exists quite as strongly among the ignorant who have no religion as among the religiously inclined. It has not disappeared among the educated classes of our own time, religious or irreligious. If this is borne in mind, the history of the development of anatomy will be easier to understand.

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