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)

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)

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)

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)

The custom of having for medical attendant one of the leading physicians of the day, if not actually the most prominent medical scientist of the time, which had obtained at Rome during the thirteenth century, was maintained at Avignon during the three-quarters of a century in which the Papal See had its seat there…The distinct tendency of the Popes to keep in touch with the best men in medicine and surgery in their time is well illustrated by the case of Guy de Chauliac. This great French surgeon and professor at the University of Montpelier is hailed by the modern medical world as the Father of Modern Surgery. There is no doubt at all of his intensely modern character as a teacher, nor of his enterprise as a progressive surgeon. Few men have done more for advance in medicine, and his name is stamped on a number of original ideas that have never been eclipsed in surgery. After studying anatomy very faithfully, especially by means of dissections, in Italy, where he tells us that his master at Bologna, Bertrucci, made a larger number of dissections scarcely more than thirty years after the supposed Papal decree of prohibition, he returned to Montpelier to become the professor of surgery there, and introduced the Italian methods of investigation into the famous old university.

At this time the Popes were at Avignon, not far distant from Montpelier. From them Guy received every encouragement in his scientific work. He insisted that no one could practice surgery with any hope of success unless he devoted himself to careful dissection of the human body. If we were to believe some of the things that have been said with regard to the Popes forbidding dissection, this should have been enough to keep the French surgeon from the favor of the Popes, but it did not. On the contrary, he was the intimate friend and consultant medical attendant of two of the Avignon Popes, and was the chamberlain to one of them. The good influence of Chauliac on the minds of the Popes is reflected in their interest in the medical department of the University of Montpelier. About this time Pope Urban VI. founded the College of Twelve Physicians at Montpelier. He was an alumnus of the university, and had been appealed to to enlarge the opportunities of his Alma Mater.

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

Most of what historical writers generally, who follow the old traditions of the medieval eclipse of medicine, have to say with regard to the supposed Papal opposition to the development of medical science, is founded on the assumption that men who believed in miracles and in the efficacy of prayer for the relief of disease could not possibly be interested to any serious degree in scientific medicine…Once more, as in the case of the supposed failure of surgery to develop during the Middle Ages, it is a deduction that has been made from certain supposed principles, and not an induction from the actual facts as we know them. Such historians would be the first to emphasize the narrowness of the schoolmen for their supposed dependence on deduction, but what they have to say on medical history is entirely deductive, and unfortunately from premises that will not stand in the presence of the story of the wonderful rise and development of medical science and medical education, mainly under the patronage of ecclesiastics, in the Middle Ages.

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