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)

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)

Another of the Popes of the Avignon period, Pope John XXII., who is said by President White to have been most bitter in opposition to every form of science, actually helped in the foundation of two medical schools. One of these was at Cahors, his birthplace, and the other was at Perugia, at that time in the Papal States. In founding the medical school at Perugia, Pope John insisted that its standards must be as high as those of Paris and Bologna, and required that the first teachers there should be graduates from Paris or Bologna, where were the two greatest medical schools of the time. Seven years of study, three in the undergraduate department and four in the graduate schools, were to be required, according to this bull of foundation (given in full in the appendix), before the degree of Doctor of Medicine could be conferred. If it is recalled that this standard of three years of undergraduate work and four in the graduate school, or at least of seven years of University work, is the ideal toward which our universities are struggling, and, it must be said, not with the entire success we would like, at the beginning of the twentieth century, then, it is surprising to think that the president of a modern university, deeply interested in education in all its features and himself a professor of history, should know so little of, and be so lacking in sympathy with these men who laid the deep foundations of our modern education.

Perhaps the most striking feature of the relation of the Popes to medicine remains to be mentioned. If they really were the bitter opponents of things medical that Dr. White would have us believe, then we should expect that either there were no such officials as Papal physicians, or else that the men who occupied these posts were the veriest charlatans, who knew very little of medicine, and certainly did nothing to develop the science. As a matter of fact, there is no list of physicians connected by any common bond in history who are so gloriously representative of scientific progress in medicine as the Papal physicians. The faculty of no medical school presents such a list of great names as those of the men who were chosen to be the official medical attendants of the Popes, and who were thus given a position of prominence where their discoveries in medicine had a vogue they otherwise could not have attained. The list of the Royal physicians of any reigning house of Europe for the last seven centuries looks trivial beside the roll of Papal physicians. Could the Popes possibly have done anything more than this for medicine, or shown their interest in its progress, or made people realize better, that while prayer might be of service, every possible human means must be taken to secure, maintain and recover health.

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

The best possible proof that Pope John XXII. was not opposed in any way to the development of science nor to the study of sciences at the universities is to be found in his establishment of this medical school at Perugia. We may say at once that this is not the only medical school with whose encouragement he was concerned since the erection of the University of Cahors, his birthplace, and the establishment of a medical school there, as well as the provision of funds for certain medical chairs in the University at Rome, shows the reality and the breadth of his interest in medicine. It must be remembered that under the term medicine at this time most of the physical sciences as we know them now were included. It is the custom sometimes to think that the students of medicine in the Middle Ages knew very little about medicine itself or the sciences related to medicine. This thought was excusable some years ago when the old medical text-books of the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries had not as yet been printed.

At the present time, such a mistake would be unpardonable for any scholar who pretends to first-hand knowledge of this period. In the chapter on Science at the Medieval Universities I call special attention to the fact that medicine and surgery developed in such a wonderful way at the medical schools of the universities of the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, that many presumed discoveries of much later times were marvelously anticipated. A short catalogue of them here may not be out of place, though the reader is referred to other chapters for further details. In the medical schools which Pope John XXII. was then fostering, they taught the ligature of arteries, the prevention of bleeding by pressure, the danger of wounds of the neck, the relation of dropsy to hardening of the kidneys, the true origins of the venereal diseases, the methods of treating joint diseases, the suture of divided nerves, the use of the knife rather than the cautery because it made a cleaner wound which healed more readily, and even, wonder of wonders, healing by first intention. Anyone who was fostering this kind of education in medicine was advancing the cause of one of the applied sciences in a very wonderful way.

If we add that, at this same time the proper use of opium in medicine was a feature of medical teaching which had just been introduced by a Papal physician, while a form of anaesthesia was being practically developed and very generally employed, the question will be why we, in the twentieth century, do not know ever so much more than we actually do, rather than why these earnest students of the thirteenth century knew so little, which is the absurd thought that most authorities in education seem to entertain at the present time with regard to our forbears of early university history. The student of medicine during the thirteenth century had to devote himself very nearly to the same department of science as those which occupy his colleagues of the present century.

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

It is all the more surprising under the circumstances, and very greatly to their credit, that the Popes should have had as their physicians a list of men whose names are the brightest on the roll of great contributors to medical literature and some of the most distinguished among the great discoverers in medical science.

This fact alone constitutes the most absolute contradiction of the declarations as to supposed Church opposition to medicine that could possibly be given. No better means of encouraging, fostering, and patronizing medical science could be thought of than to give the prestige and the emoluments of physician to the head of the Church to important makers of medicine in every generation. The physicians to the rulers of Europe have not always been selected with as good judgment, and, as I have already said, there is no list of physicians to any European Court, nor indeed any list of names of medical men connected together by any bond in history–no list, for instance, of any medical faculty of a university–which can be compared for prestige in scientific medicine with the Papal Physicians.

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

The great French Father of Surgery [Guy de Chauliac]…has nothing whatever to say of the evil influence upon surgery of any Church regulations, though he must have been in a position to realize their significance very well in this respect if they actually had any. He was himself, as we have said, a member of the Papal household; he was even a cleric, and seems to have encountered no difficulty at all not only in devoting himself to surgery, but even in lifting up that department of medicine from the slough of neglect into which it had fallen because of the lack of initiative of preceding generations in his native land.

It may be wondered, then, how the tradition of opposition to surgery, which is so common in history, had its origin…It is the opposition of scientists, or pseudo-scientists, to scientific progress that constitutes the real bar to advance, and has over and over again been attributed to religious motives, when it is really due to that very human overconservatism, which so constantly places men in the position of opponents to novelties of any kind, no matter how much of value they may eventually prove to have. There has always existed a certain prejudice against surgery on the part of physicians–meaning by that term, for the moment, those who devote themselves to internal medicine. This feeling has never quite died out. There were times in the Middle Ages when it was very marked. Not a little of the feeling is due to professional jealousy, and that, it is to be feared, like the poor, we shall have always with us.

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

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)

The best, most easily obtainable, and most impressive data for the inductive method of reaching the truth as regards the relation of the Popes to medical science and (because of the fact that physicians were the scientists par excellence of the Middle Ages) to all science, will be found in a brief consideration of the lives of the men who occupied the position of Papal Physician during the last seven centuries…If the Popes had been interested only in the miraculous healing of disease, and had wished to teach the lesson that men should depend solely for their recovery from serious symptoms and ailments of all kinds on prayers and relics and pilgrimages, then they would either have had no physicians at all in regular attendance on them, or at least their physicians would not have been selected from among the men who were doing most to advance the cause of practical and scientific medicine and of medical education. The very opposite of this is the case. The Papal physicians were as a rule the most scientific medical men of their time. This is not a pious exaggeration, but is literally true for seven centuries of history.

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