XI. FINAL BREAKING AWAY OF THE THEOLOGICAL THEORY IN MEDICINE.
While this development of history was going on, the central idea on which the whole theologic view rested--the idea of diseases as resulting from the wrath of God or malice of Satan--was steadily weakened; and, out of the many things which show this, one may be selected as indicating the drift of thought among theologians themselves.
Toward the end of the eighteenth century the most eminent divines of the American branch of the Anglican Church framed their _Book of Common Prayer_. Abounding as it does in evidences of their wisdom and piety, few things are more noteworthy than a change made in the exhortation to the faithful to present themselves at the communion. While, in the old form laid down in the English _Prayer Book_, the minister was required to warn his flock not "to kindle God's wrath" or "provoke him to plague us with divers diseases and sundry kinds of death," from the American form all this and more of similar import in various services was left out.
Since that day progress in medical science has been rapid indeed, and at no period more so than during the last half of the nineteenth century.
The theological view of disease has steadily faded, and the theological hold upon medical education has been almost entirely relaxed. In three great fields, especially, discoveries have been made which have done much to disperse the atmosphere of miracle. First, there has come knowledge regarding the relation between imagination and medicine, which, though still defective, is of great importance. This relation has been noted during the whole history of the science. When the soldiers of the Prince of Orange, at the siege of Breda in 1625, were dying of scurvy by scores, he sent to the physicians "two or three small vials filled with a decoction of camomile, wormwood, and camphor, gave out that it was a very rare and precious medicine--a medicine of such virtue that two or three drops sufficed to impregnate a gallon of water, and that it had been obtained from the East with great difficulty and danger." This statement, made with much solemnity, deeply impressed the soldiers; they took the medicine eagerly, and great numbers recovered rapidly. Again, two centuries later, young Humphry Davy, being employed to apply the bulb of the thermometer to the tongues of certain patients at Bristol after they had inhaled various gases as remedies for disease, and finding that the patients supposed this application of the thermometer-bulb was the cure, finally wrought cures by this application alone, without any use of the gases whatever. Innumerable cases of this sort have thrown a flood of light upon such cures as those wrought by Prince Hohenlohe, by the "metallic tractors," and by a multitude of other agencies temporarily in vogue, but, above all, upon the miraculous cures which in past ages have been so frequent and of which a few survive.
The second department is that of hypnotism. Within the last half-century many scattered indications have been collected and supplemented by thoughtful, patient investigators of genius, and especially by Braid in England and Charcot in France. Here, too, great inroads have been made upon the province hitherto sacred to miracle, and in 1888 the cathedral preacher, Steigenberger, of Augsburg, sounded an alarm. He declared his fears "lest accredited Church miracles lose their hold upon the public," denounced hypnotism as a doctrine of demons, and ended with the singular argument that, inasmuch as hypnotism is avowedly incapable of explaining all the wonders of history, it is idle to consider it at all. But investigations in hypnotism still go on, and may do much in the twentieth century to carry the world yet further from the realm of the miraculous.
In a third field science has won a striking series of victories. Bacteriology, beginning in the researches of Leeuwenhoek in the seventeenth century, continued by O. F. Muller in the eighteenth, and developed or applied with wonderful skill by Ehrenberg, Cohn, Lister, Pasteur, Koch, Billings, Bering, and their compeers in the nineteenth, has explained the origin and proposed the prevention or cure of various diseases widely prevailing, which until recently have been generally held to be "inscrutable providences." Finally, the closer study of psychology, especially in its relations to folklore, has revealed processes involved in the development of myths and legends: the phenomena of "expectant attention," the tendency to marvel-mongering, and the feeling of "joy in believing."
In summing up the history of this long struggle between science and theology, two main facts are to be noted: First, that in proportion as the world approached the "ages of faith" it receded from ascertained truth, and in proportion as the world has receded from the "ages of faith" it has approached ascertained truth; secondly, that, in proportion as the grasp of theology Upon education tightened, medicine declined, and in proportion as that grasp has relaxed, medicine has been developed.
The world is hardly beyond the beginning of medical discoveries, yet they have already taken from theology what was formerly its strongest province--sweeping away from this vast field of human effort that belief in miracles which for more than twenty centuries has been the main stumblingblock in the path of medicine; and in doing this they have cleared higher paths not only for science, but for religion.[]
| HOME | CONTENTS | NEXT |