After the story of the Papal Physicians, the most important phase of the relations of the Popes to the medical sciences is to be found in the story of the Papal Medical School. While it seems to be generally ignored by those who are not especially familiar with the history of medical education, a medical school existed in connection with the Papal University at Rome during many centuries–according to excellent authorities, from the beginning of the fourteenth century–and this medical school had, as we have said elsewhere, during nearly two centuries some of the most distinguished professors of medicine in its ranks, and boasts among its faculty some of the greatest discoverers in the medical sciences, and especially in anatomy. For these two centuries it had but two important rivals, Padua and Bologna. Both of these were in Italy, and one, that of the University of Bologna, was in a Papal city, that is, was under the political dominion of the Popes. The best medical teaching, then, was to be found in the Papal States and under conditions such, that if there had been the slightest opposition, or indeed anything but the most cordial encouragement for medical study, the medical schools of Rome and Bologna would surely have languished instead of flourishing beyond all others.

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)

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)

Both Confederate and Union officers spoke freely in front of African American servants and left documents and maps where the servants could see them, assuming the slaves and servants would not understand what they were seeing and hearing. This was not always the case…In 1863, a runaway slave named Dabney and his wife joined Union forces led by General Joseph Hooker. Dabney worked in Hooker’s camp as a cook and servant. His wife left the camp after a short stay and returned to the Confederate side of the river. She quickly found employment as a laundress and personal servant for a woman where her duties included washing clothes for Confederate officers in Fredericksburg.

Shortly thereafter, Dabney began supplying Hooker with information about the Confederate troop movements. His reports were a wealth of information. He seemed to know what units were moving, where they had been and where they were going, the size of the units, and more. The information was extremely accurate.

No one could figure out how Dabney was getting this information. Despite the fact that he had a good knowledge of the surrounding countryside, he was always busy with his duties and was never seen leaving the camp. Finally, after much questioning, he told the officers his secret. He led them to a vantage point overlooking Fredericksburg and the Confederate side of the river. He pointed across the river to a small house on the outskirts of the city. He explained that the clothesline in the yard of the house was a type of telegraph. His wife, who washed and cooked for the Confederate officers there, had a system for hanging the laundry that told Dabney what the troops were doing.

“Well,” Dabney said to the Union officers,” that clothesline tells me in half an hour what goes on at Lee’s headquarters. You see my wife over there? She washes for the officers, cooks, and waits around, and as soon as she hears about any movement or anything going on she comes down and moves the clothes on that line so I can understand it in a minute. That there gray shirt is Longstreet; and when she takes it off [the line], it means he’s gone down about Richmond. That white shirt means Hill; and when she moves it up to the west end of the line, Hill’s corps has moved up stream. That red one is Stonewall Jackson. He’s down on the right now, and if he moves, she’ll move that red shirt.”

Jennifer J. Lawrence, Soap Suds Row: The Bold Lives of Army Laundresses, 1802-1876 (2016)

There is something pathetic in seeing Americans almost daily besmirching unconsciously their ideals and their traditions — all thanks to a faulty education. The Founding Fathers would turn in their graves if they could hear themselves called “Democrats”; America indeed was never a democracy, and never will be .. . unless we make “democracy work,” and replace, within the framework of a “pure democracy,” our legislation by the Gallup Poll. Those who have been taught the wrong interpretation may ask their money back from the schools where they have wasted their adolescence. And the textbooks which preach a spurious democracy may still provide us with fuel in cold days to come.

Erik von Kuehnelt-Leddihn, The Menace of the Herd, or Procrustes at Large (1943)

Another point is the modern type of education which gives precedence to the sciences that deal only with means, over philosophy and religion that deal with ends. Today the differentiation between these two categories is more and more acknowledged and this not only in purely Catholic circles. The cognition that most great issues of our time are moral and not material is gaining ground and the dawn of the worship of exact sciences in the upper intellectual stratas seems to be nearer than ever before. […]

The superstitious belief that rudimentary knowledge of a few truths enables the average individual to understand intuitively the major problems around us seduced the ochlocrats the world over to spend huge sums for mass education. This intellectual optimism of the ochlocrats has ended in a spending orgy in educational matters without parallel; nobody after all would be worse off if the whole lot of detective novels, sex stories, tepid magazines, spicy reviews, and sport pages remained unread. A reading-writing education as such has benefited nobody, has elated nobody spiritually or culturally.

There is no need to go to the other extreme and to believe that the knowledge of the three R’s is basically destructive, but nothing is more stupid or irrealistic than to judge the level of other countries by the number of illiterates. Accepting such standards one has to put Latvia higher than France, or the Germanies of 1890 higher than the German World of 1810. Imperial Russia had a far larger percentage of illiterates than the American Middle West yet she produced such men as Dostoyevski, Myerezhkovski, Vyereshtshagin, Tolstoy, Tshaykovski, Solovyov, Pushkin, Rimsky-Korsakov, Turgenyev, Skryabin, Mendeleyev, and Mussorgsky.

Erik von Kuehnelt-Leddihn, The Menace of the Herd, or Procrustes at Large (1943)

The original thinkers of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, whether fallacious or not in their doctrines, rarely were university professors; neither Nietzsche nor de Tocqueville, Schopenhauer, Bernhart, Spengler or Hello, Kierkegaard, von Hügel or de Maistre were ever honored with a chair, and Kant had to be content with a teaching position in a girls’ high school.

Yet the true pillars of democratism and socialism we find in the elementary school and in its semieducated teachers inclining frequently toward Marxian socialism.49 Even in France, where the Académie Française had become a stronghold of Catholic thought, the mass of teachers remains in the clutches of the fin-de-siècle. It is, of course, equally true that the function of the teacher in an elementary or secondary school is extremely important in an ochlocratic society. We must not forget that the extinction of illiteracy remains one of the capital tasks of the democratists, because they feel the need of a public which masters the three “R’s” and is therefore able to mark the right name on the election papers; to read cheap novels and pulp magazines, leaflets, pamphlets, and advertisements; the need of a public which solves crossword puzzles, understands warning signs on the road and in the factories, and swallows “enlightening” writings without possessing the faculties to analyze them critically.

It is the specific tragedy of the average urbanite to have lost his ancestral, rural gift of wisdom without having even the prospect of acquiring a thorough knowledge which is able to replace wisdom to a certain extent.

Erik von Kuehnelt-Leddihn, The Menace of the Herd, or Procrustes at Large (1943)

The greatest surprise is to be found in Professor Draper’s ignorance of the history of his own profession. He says, “It had always been the policy of the Church to discourage the physician and his art; he interfered too much with the gifts and profits of the shrines.” Professor Draper apparently knew nothing of the magnificent medical schools attached to the universities in the medieval period, whose professors wrote great medical and surgical text-books, which have come down to us, and whose faculties required a far higher standard of medical education than was demanded in America in Professor Draper’s own day. For about 1871 anyone who wished might enter an American medical school practically anywhere in the country, without any preliminary education, and having taken two terms of ungraded lectures, that is, having listened to the same set of lectures two years in succession, might receive his degree of doctor of medicine. In the Middle Ages he could enter the medical school only after having completed three years of preliminary work in the undergraduate department, and then he was required to give four years to the study of medicine, and spend a year as assistant with another physician before he was allowed to practise for himself. This is the standard to which our university medical schools gradually climbed back at the beginning of the twentieth century–a full generation after Draper’s time.

We know now that in those earlier centuries they had thorough clinical teaching in the hospitals, that is, physicians learned to practise medicine at the bedside of the patient, and not merely out of books and by theoretic lectures. Clinical teaching had not developed in Professor Draper’s day to any extent. The medieval hospitals had trained nurses and magnificent quarters, while the trained nurse was only introduced into America in 1871, and our hospitals at that time were almost without exception a disgrace to civilization, according to our present standards of hospital construction. Our surgery was most discouraging, because there were so many deaths in the unclean hospital conditions. The medieval hospital surgeons operating under anesthesia, boasted of getting union by first intention, and were in many ways doing better work than their colleagues of 1870, Professor Draper’s own time, before Lister’s great discovery.

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

Brother Azarias in his Essays Educational, [Footnote 43] said:

“In the thirteenth century, out of a population of 90,000 in Florence, we find 12,000 children attending the schools, a ratio of school attendance as large as existed in New York City, in the year of Grace 1893.”

This ratio, it may be said, is as great as is ordinarily to be found anywhere, and this fact alone may serve to show how earnest were these medieval burghers for the education of their children. […]

Kropotkin says:

“In 1336 it (Florence) had 8,000 to 10,000 boys and girls in its primary schools, 1,000 to 1,200 boys in its seven middle schools, and from 550 to 600 students in its four universities. The thirty communal hospitals contained over 1,000 beds for a population of 90,000 inhabitants. (Capponi, ii. 249 seq.) It has more than once been suggested by authoritative writers, that education stood, as a rule, at a much higher level than is generally supposed. Certainly so in democratic Nüremberg…Seven hundred young men received the higher education…The very spirit of the arts was scholastic in Dante’s day. You read the story in the oratory of Orsanmichele, in which each art with its masterpiece receives a crown; you read it in the chapters of Santa Maria Novella, in Gaddi’s painting of the Trivium and Quadrivium; you read it in Giotto’s sculpture of the same subject upon this marvelous campanile. Here was the atmosphere in which Dante’s boyhood and early manhood were passed.”

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

[Footnote 43: Essays Educational, by Brother Azarias, with Preface by His Eminence Cardinal Gibbons. Chicago, D. H. McBride & Co., 1906.]


If you complain of neglect of Education in sons, What shall I say with regard to daughters, who every day experience the want of it. With regard to the Education of my own children, I find myself soon out of my debth, and destitute and deficient in every part of Education.

I most sincerely wish that some more liberal plan might be laid and executed for the Benefit of the rising Generation, and that our new constitution may be distinguished for Learning and Virtue. If we mean to have Heroes, Statesmen and Philosophers, we should have learned women. The world perhaps would laugh at me, and accuse me of vanity, But you I know have a mind too enlarged and liberal to disregard the Sentiment. If much depends as is allowed upon the early Education of youth and the first principals which are instilld take the deepest root, great benifit must arise from litirary accomplishments in women.

Letter from Abigail Adams to John Adams, 14 August 1776