Billeder på siden

The unavoidable result of once admitting the unknown and unknowable power of preternatural forces into the practice of medicine is irrationality and extravagance; and, even in the present day, a special reference to the inevitable evil of such a proceeding is not altogether out of place.

The Church, considered as an embodiment of belief in the preternatural, was in its operation purely antagonistic to the development of the science as well as the art of medicine. It made the accumulation of data for scientific purposes difficult, if not impossible, and it superseded the necessity of the practice of the art. We must use other words when we regard the Church as a great organization. In this aspect it afforded essential aid, both to medical art and science. The monk is so out of place in the present day, that it is difficult for us to realize a state of matters in which he could be anything else. But when we reflect upon the condition of Europe during the first ten centuries of the Christian era; when we read its history and find a battle in every page-and such battles!-not fought for victory and the restoration of the balance of power, but in which nation encounters nation for the purpose of mutual extermination, the frequent issue being the extinction of the vanquished, which disappears like a ship sunk at sea, never to be seen again; when we contemplate this succession of sanguinary conflicts, literally occupying the whole theatre of history, we cannot be surprised that it should have occurred to men of sane mind that there was no chance of living a holy life in such a world; and that to do so they must withdraw from the tumult into strict seclusion, and dedicate their time to meditation, prayer, and acts of charity and benevolence. For, at this period, mercy in the battle-field was almost unknown. Slaughter or slavery were the only alternatives left to the conquered. Here the office of the holy man, who was known not to


be a fighting man, came into play: respected by both sides, he could administer consolation and alleviation to all.

Although it was not until the middle of the dark ages that monasticism assumed its full proportion, yet we find it in existence at the beginning of our era. The first monks who find a place in history were Jews, and went by the name of Essenes. Josephus' tells us that they lived a life of self-denial, despising all bodily gratification, and absolutely refraining from the accumulation of wealth; that they had all their possessions in common, managed by curators or trustees; and he then adds, "Only these two things are done among them at every one's own free will, which are, to assist those who want it, and to show mercyfor they are permitted of their own accord to afford succour to such as deserve it, when they stand in need of it, and to bestow food on those that are in distress; but they cannot give anything to their kindred without the curators. They are eminent for fidelity, and are the ministers of peace; whatsoever they say, also, is firmer than an oath. They also take great pains in studying the writings of the ancients, and choose out of them what is most for the advantage of their soul and body, and they inquire after such roots and medicinal stones as may cure their distempers,”—and, we may add, not their own distempers only, but also those of all to whom they had access; hence they got the name of Therapeutæ, or healers.

[ocr errors]

This honourable appellation, given to the members of the earliest monastic institution, was equally merited by their Christian successors during a period of some centuries at least; for we find that Theodore, Archbishop of Canterbury, who died A.D. 690, issued practical directions to the monks as to how they should treat their patients. This prelate's manual of medicine contained, among other rules, an injunction against blood-letting “while the moon was 1 Wars of the Jews. Book II. Chap. 8.

[ocr errors]

waxing." If he had added "and when it was waning,' there is little doubt that he would have contributed greatly to the saving of human life. Carrying out the original conception of a "Holy Life," the cloistered fraternities were, in the main, devoted to doing good, especially to curing the sick in a comparatively short period, notwithstanding the faith of a few, and the fanaticism of many, the monkish substitute for genuine vitality began to degenerate and decay, while the monks themselves sank into the grossest pollution. "Nothing is more incontrovertible than that the sacred order, both in the west and the east, was composed principally of men who were illiterate, stupid, ignorant of everything pertaining to religion, libidinous, superstitious, and flagitious. Nor can any one doubt that those who wish to be regarded as the fathers of the Universal Church, were the principal causes of these evils. Nothing, certainly, can be thought of, so filthy, criminal, and wicked, as to be deemed incompatible with their characters by the supreme directors of religion and its rites; nor was any government ever so loaded with vices of every kind, as that which passed for the most holy." These are the words of Mosheim, who is distinguished for the temperance of his language, as much as by his general trustworthiness. He is speaking of the tenth century, and we see how the gold has become dross. It is interesting to observe, that, coincidentally with the corruption of morals, these Therapeutæ, or healers, lost their credit as medical men, and brought such disgrace upon the Church by their mistreatment-their mala praxis— that, by the council held at Montpelier in 1162, medicine was formally divorced from theology, and the practice of the healing art from that time forbidden to a priest.3

1 Beda, Ecclesiast. Hist. V. iii. p. 374. Quoted by Sprengel, Vol. II. p.


2 Mosheim, Ecclesiast. Hist. p. 259.

Gibbon always calls him the "candid and judicious."

3 Comment. Rer. Francor. 'II. p. 980. Quoted by Sprengel. Vol. II. p. 480.

Of the practical benefits which flowed from the religious or superstitious sentiments of the dark ages, perhaps the greatest was the institution of hospitals for the sick poor. We may call these establishments a direct outcome from Christianity. The idea that all men were brethren, and, as such, to be treated with brotherly love, did not exist in Pagan times, and could not find such an exponent as an edifice for the shelter and healing of the poor in the name of God. That it was a state duty to attend to the care of those who could not afford to pay for medical service, was, as we shall presently show, a Roman, not a Christian maxim. And if we wish to see how Christianity has transfigured the thorn into the rose, we should pass from an English workhouse, where the pauper inmates, when ill, are treated with the coarsest physic and most perfunctory attendance, to an hospital of the Sisters of Charity, where poverty and sickness become claims to the most tender nursing, the most delicate fare, and the most skilful medication of the age. The hospital was at first an appendage to the monastery, and most of the great free hospitals in Europe attest, by the names they bear, their religious origin.

Besides its hospital, the monastery had also its garden, where plants believed to possess healing virtues were assiduously cultivated; and this source of medicines was so important, that Charlemagne issued an edict requiring the monks to grow squills and other medicinal plants for the benefit of the district in which they held their possessions. The church of the dark ages was the depository of all the learning that existed. We are, perhaps, too prone to undervalue what it has done for us, to cry out upon its ignorance, forgetting that it was less ignorant than its surrounding multitudes.

The church, we may observe, was at once centralizing and centrifugal. It centred in the bishops of Rome, among

whom were many devoted to science and literature, and it was owing to the zeal of the higher clergy, that, in the twelfth century, in various parts of Europe, schools were opened, which afterwards enlarged into universities. At first, all learning was embraced under the heads of the Seven Liberal Arts, three of which constituted what was called the Trivium, and the remainder the Quadrivium; to the former belonged grammar, rhetoric, and dialectics; to the latter, arithmetic, music, geometry, and astronomy: to these were afterwards added, theology, jurisprudence, and medicine. The seven first constituted the faculty of philosophy, and the remaining three completed the four "faculties." Hence came the degrees or doctorships. It was by no means uncommon for ecclesiastics to study medicine theoretically without any intention of practising it.2 Medicine then implied a liberal education. It was reserved for modern times and this country to discover that the doctor in medicine was to be regarded as little above an artizan, and the university education he had gone through to be stigmatized as professional! It seems not to be considered at the present day that there are some professions-and medicine. one of them for which a man is really unfitted without such an amount of general culture as to deprive the epithet professional of all its reducing signification.

Without its centralization, the church could not have been so powerful a guardian and promoter of learning. We may call this its episcopal aspect: its centrifugal or diffusive power was the monastic. The monkish impulse was to seek out the inaccessible, remote, and repulsive, in order to find an appropriate abode for the cultivation of the ascetic forms of self-denial and sacrifice. Into regions

1 Mosheim. Vol. II. p. 410. 2 Pope Sylvester II. says:-" Nec auctore quæ medicorum sunt, tractare velis, presertim cum scientiam


eorum tantum adfectaverim officium semper fugerim."--Du Chesne, Hist. Franc. Script. Vol. II. Sprengel, Vol. II. p. 481.

« ForrigeFortsæt »