The thirteenth century saw the rise of a number of great physical scientists, who made observations that anticipated much more of our modern views on scientific problems than is usually thought…While Thomas Aquinas and Albertus Magnus were working in France and Germany, Roger Bacon was doing work of similar nature at Oxford in England. Altogether, he has eighteen treatises on chemical problems. Some of these contain wonderful anticipations of modern chemistry. After Roger Bacon came Raymond Lully, who wrote, in all, sixteen treatises on chemical subjects. At about the same time, Arnold of Villanova was teaching medicine at Paris and paying special attention to chemistry. From him there are twenty-one treatises on chemical subjects still extant. Arnold of Villanova died on the way to visit Pope Clement V., the immediate predecessor of John, who lay sick unto death at Avignon.

It is evident, then, that there was no spirit of opposition to chemistry gradually forming itself in ecclesiastical circles, and about to be expressed in a decree by John [XXII]. The chemists of the thirteenth century had been among the most distinguished churchmen of the period. One of them at least, Thomas Aquinas, had been declared a saint. Another, Albertus Magnus, has been given the title of Blessed, signifying that his life and works are worthy of all veneration. Pope John XXII. had as a young man been a student of these men at the University of Paris, and would surely have imbibed the tradition of their interest in the physical sciences. That he should have unlearned all their lessons seems out of the question.

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

For a man of the modern time, perhaps the most interesting expression that ever fell from Roger Bacon’s lips is his famous proclamation of the reasons why men do not obtain genuine knowledge more rapidly than would seem ought to be the case, from the care and time and amount of work which they have devoted to its cultivation. This expression occurs in Bacon’s Opus Tertium, which, it may be recalled, the Franciscan friar wrote at the command of Pope Clement, because the Pope had heard many interesting accounts of all that the great thirteenth century teacher and experimenter was doing at the University of Oxford, and wished to learn for himself the details of his work. Friar Bacon starts out with the principle that there are four grounds of human ignorance.

“These are: first, trust in adequate authority; second, that force of custom which leads men to accept too unquestioningly what has been accepted before their time; third, the placing of confidence in the opinion of the inexperienced; and fourth, the hiding of one’s own ignorance with the parade of superficial knowledge.” These reasons contain the very essence of the experimental method, and continue to be as important in the twentieth century as they were in the thirteenth. They could only have emanated from an eminently practical mind, accustomed to test by observation and by careful searching of authorities every proposition that came to him.

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

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)

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)

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)

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)

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)

A curiously interesting episode that deserves a place in the history of Papal Physicians occurred during Alderotti’s life. One of the Popes elected to fill the Papal chair had been earlier in life a physician. This was the famous Peter of Spain, though he was really a Portuguese, who, under the name of John XXI., occupied the Papal throne during the years 1276-1277. Peter of Spain had been one of the most distinguished natural scientists of this interesting century. Dr. J. B. Petella, in an article published in Janus about ten years ago, entitled A Critical and Historical Study of the Knowledge of Ophthalmology of a Philosopher Physician who became Pope, gives an excellent account of the life of Pope John XXI. 

Petella does not hesitate to say of him that he was “one of the most renowned personages of Europe during the thirteenth century, from the point of view of the triple evolution of his extraordinary mind, which caused him to make his mark in the physical sciences, in the metaphysical sciences, and in the religious world. In him there was an incarnation of the savant of the time, and he must be considered the most perfect encyclopedist of the Middle Ages in their first renascence.”

Anyone who reads Dr. Petella’s account of this book by Pope John XXI. will be surprised at how much was known about diseases of the eye at the middle of the thirteenth century. For instance, hardening of the eye is spoken of as a very serious affection, so that there seems to be no doubt that the condition now known as glaucoma was recognized and its bad prognosis appreciated. His account of the external anatomy of the eye, eight coats of which he describes, beginning with the conjunctiva and ending with the retina, is quite complete. The eye is said to have eight muscles, the levator of the upper eyelid and the sphincter muscle of the eye being counted among them. The other muscles are picturesquely described as reins, that is, guiding ribbons for the eye. Cataract is described as water descending into the eye, and two forms of it are distinguished–one traumatic, due to external causes, and the other due to internal causes. Lachrimal fistula is described and its causes discussed. Various forms of blepharitis are touched upon. Many suggestions are made for the treatment of trichiasis. That a man who was as distinguished in medicine as Peter of Spain should have been elected Pope, is the best possible proof that there was no opposition between science and religion during the thirteenth century.

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

A hospital movement, quite distinct from that of Innocent III., which attracted so much attention shortly after the general hospital became common as to deserve particular consideration, was the erection of the leproseries or special institutions for the care of lepers. Leprosy had become quite common in Europe during the Middle Ages, and the continued contact of the West with the East during the crusades had brought about a notable increase of the disease. It is not definitely known how much of what was called leprosy at that time, really belonged to the specific disease now known as lepra. There is no doubt that many affections, which have since come to be considered as quite harmless and non-contagious, were included under the designation leprosy by the populace and even physicians incapable as yet of making a proper differential diagnosis. Probably severe cases of eczema and other chronic skin diseases, especially when complicated by the results of wrongly directed treatment or of lack of cleansing, were not infrequently pronounced to be true leprosy.

There is no doubt at all, however, of the occurrence of real leprosy in many of the towns of the West from the twelfth to the fifteenth centuries, and the erection of these hospitals proved the best possible prophylactic against the further spread of the disease. Leprosy is contagious, but only mildly so. Years of intimate association with a leper may, and usually do, bring about the communication of the disease to those around them, especially if they do not exercise rather carefully, certain precise precautions as to cleanliness after personal contact or after the handling of things which have previously been in the leper’s possession. As the result of the existence of these houses of segregation, leprosy disappeared during the course of the next three centuries, and thus a great hygienic triumph was obtained by sanitary regulation.

This successful sanitary and hygienic work, which brought about practically the complete obliteration of leprosy in the Middle Ages, furnished the first example of the possibility of eradicating a disease that has once become a serious scourge to mankind. That this should have been accomplished by a movement that had its greatest source in the thirteenth century is all the more surprising, since we are usually accustomed to think of the people of the times as sadly lacking in any interest in sanitary matters. The role of the Popes in the matter is another striking feature well worthy of note. The significance of the success of this segregation method was lost upon men down almost to our own time. This was unfortunately because it was considered that most of the epidemic diseases were conveyed by the air. They were thought infectious and due to a climatic condition rather than contagious, that is, conveyed by actual contact with the person having the disease or something that had touched him, which is the view now held. With the beginning of the crusade against tuberculosis in the later nineteenth century, however, the most encouraging factor for those engaged in it was the history of the success of segregation methods and careful prevention of the spread of the disease, which had been pursued against leprosy. In a word, the lessons in sanitation and prophylaxis of the thirteenth century are only now bearing fruit because the intervening centuries did not have sufficient knowledge to realize their import and take advantage of them.

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