CHAPTER XIII. FROM MIRACLES TO MEDICINE.
I. THE EARLY AND SACRED THEORIES OF DISEASE.
NOTHING in the evolution of human thought appears more inevitable than the idea of supernatural intervention in producing and curing disease. The causes of disease are so intricate that they are reached only after ages of scientific labour. In those periods when man sees everywhere miracle and nowhere law,--when he attributes all things which he can not understand to a will like his own,--he naturally ascribes his diseases either to the wrath of a good being or to the malice of an evil being.
This idea underlies the connection of the priestly class with the healing art: a connection of which we have survivals among rude tribes in all parts of the world, and which is seen in nearly every ancient civilization--especially in the powers over disease claimed in Egypt by the priests of Osiris and Isis, in Assyria by the priests of Gibil, in Greece by the priests of AEsculapius, and in Judea by the priests and prophets of Jahveh.
In Egypt there is evidence, reaching back to a very early period, that the sick were often regarded as afflicted or possessed by demons; the same belief comes constantly before us in the great religions of India and China; and, as regards Chaldea, the Assyrian tablets recovered in recent years, while revealing the source of so many myths and legends transmitted to the modern world through the book of Genesis, show especially this idea of the healing of diseases by the casting out of devils. A similar theory was elaborated in Persia. Naturally, then, the Old Testament, so precious in showing the evolution of religious and moral truth among men, attributes such diseases as the leprosy of Miriam and Uzziah, the boils of Job, the dysentery of Jehoram, the withered hand of Jeroboam, the fatal illness of Asa, and many other ills, to the wrath of God or the malice of Satan; while, in the New Testament, such examples as the woman "bound by Satan," the rebuke of the fever, the casting out of the devil which was dumb, the healing of the person whom "the devil ofttimes casteth into the fire"--of which case one of the greatest modern physicians remarks that never was there a truer description of epilepsy--and various other episodes, show this same inevitable mode of thought as a refracting medium through which the teachings and doings of the Great Physician were revealed to future generations.
In Greece, though this idea of an occult evil agency in producing bodily ills appeared at an early period, there also came the first beginnings, so far as we know, of a really scientific theory of medicine. Five hundred years before Christ, in the bloom period of thought--the period of AEschylus, Phidias, Pericles, Socrates, and Plato--appeared Hippocrates, one of the greatest names in history. Quietly but thoroughly he broke away from the old tradition, developed scientific thought, and laid the foundations of medical science upon experience, observation, and reason so deeply and broadly that his teaching remains to this hour among the most precious possessions of our race.
His thought was passed on to the School of Alexandria, and there medical science was developed yet further, especially by such men as Herophilus and Erasistratus. Under their lead studies in human anatomy began by dissection; the old prejudice which had weighed so long upon science, preventing that method of anatomical investigation without which there can be no real results, was cast aside apparently forever.[]
But with the coming in of Christianity a great new chain of events was set in motion which modified this development most profoundly. The influence of Christianity on the healing art was twofold: there was first a blessed impulse--the thought, aspiration, example, ideals, and spirit of Jesus of Nazareth. This spirit, then poured into the world, flowed down through the ages, promoting self-sacrifice for the sick and wretched. Through all those succeeding centuries, even through the rudest, hospitals and infirmaries sprang up along this blessed stream. Of these were the Eastern establishments for the cure of the sick at the earliest Christian periods, the Infirmary of Monte Cassino and the Hotel-Dieu at Lyons in the sixth century, the Hotel-Dieu at Paris in the seventh, and the myriad refuges for the sick and suffering which sprang up in every part of Europe during the following centuries. Vitalized by this stream, all medieval growths of mercy bloomed luxuriantly. To say nothing of those at an earlier period, we have in the time of the Crusades great charitable organizations like the Order of St. John of Jerusalem, and thenceforward every means of bringing the spirit of Jesus to help afflicted humanity. So, too, through all those ages we have a succession of men and women devoting themselves to works of mercy, culminating during modern times in saints like Vincent de Paul, Francke, Howard, Elizabeth Fry, Florence Nightingale, and Muhlenberg.
But while this vast influence, poured forth from the heart of the Founder of Christianity, streamed through century after century, inspiring every development of mercy, there came from those who organized the Church which bears his name, and from those who afterward developed and directed it, another stream of influence--a theology drawn partly from prehistoric conceptions of unseen powers, partly from ideas developed in the earliest historic nations, but especially from the letter of the Hebrew and Christian sacred books.
The theology deveLoped out of our sacred literature in relation to the cure of disease was mainly twofold: first, there was a new and strong evolution of the old idea that physical disease is produced by the wrath of God or the malice of Satan, or by a combination of both, which theology was especially called in to explain; secondly, there were evolved theories of miraculous methods of cure, based upon modes of appeasing the Divine anger, or of thwarting Satanic malice.
Along both these streams of influence, one arising in the life of Jesus, and the other in the reasonings of theologians, legends of miracles grew luxuriantly. It would be utterly unphilosophical to attribute these as a whole to conscious fraud. Whatever part priestcraft may have taken afterward in sundry discreditable developments of them, the mass of miraculous legends, Century after century, grew up mainly in good faith, and as naturally as elms along water-courses or flowers upon the prairie.
| HOME | CONTENTS | NEXT |