It is with regard to surgery that the opposition of the Church is sometimes supposed to have been most serious in its effects upon the progress of medical science and its applications for the relief of human suffering…

President White insists over and over again that whatever surgery there was, and especially whatever progress was made in surgery, was due to the Arabs, or at least to Arabian initiative. Gurlt, in his History of Surgery, which we have referred to elsewhere, is very far from sharing this view. I need scarcely say that Gurlt is one of our best authorities in the history of surgery. In his sketch of Roger, the first of the great Italian surgeons of the thirteenth century who came after the foundation of the universities, Gurlt says that, “though Arabian writings on surgery had been brought over to Italy by Constantine Africanus a hundred years before Roger’s time, those exercised no influence over Italian surgery in the next century, and there is not a trace of the surgical knowledge of the Arabs to be found in Roger’s work.” His writing depends almost entirely upon the surgical traditions of his time, the experience of his teachers and colleagues, to whom in two places he has given due credit, and on the Greek writers. There are no traces of Arabisms to be found in Roger’s writing, while they are full of Grecisms. Roger represents the first important writer on surgery in modern times, and his works have been printed several times because of their value as original documents.

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)

It might be thought that such examples of persecution were of course rather frequent in the distant centuries, and must not be taken too seriously, since they come in times before men had learned to respect one another’s opinions and to realize that the assertions of an authority in science are only to be considered as worth the reasons he advances for them. Most people will be quite ready to congratulate themselves on the fact that our modern time has outlived this unfortunate state of mind, which served to hamper scientific investigation. They will probably even be quite self-complacent over the supposed fact that, ever since the study of natural science was taken up seriously at the end of the eighteenth and the beginning of the nineteenth century, this unfortunate temper has disappeared.

Those who think so, however, know nothing of the history of nineteenth century science, and especially not of nineteenth century medicine. Jenner’s great discovery of the value of vaccination against small-pox came just before the nineteenth century opened. It met with the bitterest kind of opposition. This was especially the case in England. There is a doubt whether Germany did not eventually do more to bring about the recognition of the immense value of Jenner’s discovery than his native England. Anyone who has read Jenner’s life knows how much he was made to suffer from the bitterness of opponents’ expressions with regard to him. It is true that he was eventually rewarded quite liberally, and that honors were showered upon him, but only after a preliminary series of trials that must have made him regret, if possible, that he had ever devoted himself to the propaganda of a great truth. Nor did the dawn of the vaunted nineteenth century bring in a better state of affairs in this regard.

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

Many people are accustomed to think that, after the spirit that came into the world with the French Revolution, men were less prone to listen to authority or cling to old-fashioned notions, and that liberalism of mind is to be found written large on many pages of nineteenth century scientific history. One of the great scientists of the first part of the last century was Dr. Thomas Young, to whom we owe so much with regard to the theory of light waves and the existence of the ether to carry them. Men absolutely refused to listen to this idea at all at the beginning, though now it is the  groundwork of most of our thinking and of nearly all of our mathematical demonstrations with regard to the movement of light. They not only refused, however, but they expressed their scorn of the man who invented such a cumbrous theory. Dr. George M. Gould, in one of the volumes of his Biographic Clinics, has told the story of Dr. Young’s career, and I prefer to present it in his words rather than my own.

“A practicing physician, Young, as early as 1801, hit upon the true theory of the luminiferous ether, and of light and color, which nearly a century before had been discovered by Robert Hooke. But his scientific contemporaries would not see it, and to avoid persecution and deprivation of practice, Dr. Young was compelled to publish his grand discoveries and papers anonymously. Published finally by the Royal Society (one can imagine the editor’s smile of superior wisdom over such trash), they were as utterly ignored as were those of Mitchell, Thompson and Martin as to eyestrain, two or three generations later. Arago finally championed Dr. Young’s theory in the French Academy, but the leaders, LaPlace, Poissin, Biot, etc., denounced and conquered, and not until 1823 would the Academy allow the publication of Fresnel’s papers on the subject; in about twenty-five years the silencers were themselves silenced. But Young had been silenced too; his disgust was so great that he resigned from the Royal Society, and devoted himself to his poor medical practice and to deciphering Egyptian hieroglyphics.”

(In which, by the way, as might be expected I suppose, he made a distinguished name for himself.)

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

Harvey discovered the circulation of the blood, at a time and under circumstances that would surely lead us to expect its immediate acceptance and the hailing of him as a great original thinker in science. He first expounded it to his class, very probably in 1616, which will be remembered as the year of Shakespeare’s death. The glory of the great Elizabethan era in England was not yet passed. Men’s minds had been opened to great advances in every department of thought during the preceding century, by the Renaissance movement and the New Learning in England. Probably no greater group of original thinkers has ever existed than were alive in England during the preceding twenty-five years…What happened is interesting for our purpose. Harvey was so well acquainted with the intolerant temper of men as regards new discoveries, that he hesitated to publish his book on the subject until men had been prepared for it, by his ideas gradually filtering out among the medical profession through the members of his class. He waited nearly fifteen years after his first formal lesson on the subject, before he dared to commit it to print. Shakespeare had made Brutus say to Portia:

“You are my true and honorable wife,
As dear to me as are the ruddy drops
That visit my sad heart;”

but men were not yet ready to accept the great principle of the blood movement. There seems to be good authority for saying that Harvey had more than suspected his great truth for twenty-five years before he dared print it. He realized that it would surely meet with opposition and would make serious unpleasantness between him and his friends. He was not deceived in anticipation. Many of his friends fell away from him, and according to tradition, he lost more than half of his consulting practice, because physicians could not and would not believe that a man who evolved such a strange idea as the constant movement of the blood all over the body, from heart to surface and back, could possibly be in his right mind, and, above all, be a suitable person to consult with in difficult cases.

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

But let us conjure up the memory of a late medieval feast. The guests have arrived in a great variety of clothes, and even the costumes of the males show the most adventurous diversity. But they all would have belonged to one faith and one basic ideology. Based on this common denominator, they would have uttered a whole score of views. Yet we can very well imagine a dinner given in a “modern democracy” – and not only a so-called “people’s democracy” of the Eastern pattern! – in which all the men arrive in a black uniform (the tuxedo or “tails”), all of them with clean-shaven faces, all of them uttering in unison with parrot-like monotony the same identical political and social cliches. After some questioning and investigation one would nevertheless find that this monotony stems from a chaotic cauldron of the most variegated religions and philosophies.

If a deist Mason, a Catholic, a Barthian, a vegetarian with Hinduist notions, and a “Freethinker” consider it as natural that they all believe in equality, majority rule, compulsory education and “progress” – then we have to doubt sincerely not only the logicality of their capacity to think, but also their real freedom of thinking! And it is also self-evident that a society with different premises, but bent upon achieving the same results from its “thinking” process, has to exercise a far greater pressure than one with a uniform religious basis. In its stark irrationalism such a society must be strictly anti-intellectual, and arrive at the very rejection of methodic thought.

Erik Ritter von Kuehnelt-Leddihn, Liberty or Equality: The Challenge of Our Time (1940)

The truth about chastity belts is that they are largely a fiction constructed in the Renaissance and Early Modern periods in order to conjure a more “barbaric” middle age that had come previously.

As Judith Bennett and Ruth Karras have argued, “In early modern Europe, these stories did what cross-cultural comparisons of women and gender have often done: they elevated one civilization and denigrated another” (2013: 2). It was likely Conrad Kyeser who first created the modern image of a chastity belt. It was for his book on war machinery, Bellifortis (1405). He noted that they were used in Florence–but is perhaps mentioning them in jest. A splendid book has been written on the subject by Albrecht Classen (2007). In it, he shows that the idea of medieval men locking up their women in metal girdles in order to stop marauding men or lustful wives is a myth that “modern” peoples constructed in order to show the lack of civility prior to their own age–much in the way that it was alleged that medieval peoples believed in the idea of a flat earth.


Sarah E. Bond, “Unlocking the Dark Ages: A Short History of Chastity Belts” (June 5, 2015)