A true Great Medical, Religious and Social Reformer of the XVI Century
For him, medicine was perfectly interlaced with religion and, as we have mentioned earlier, it must not have been surprising to hear concepts and explanations or stories related to religion or sacred books in the frequent classes about medicine he taught in the cities he went through. Many testimonials mention how Paracelsus worked as a religious preacher among the crowds, especially since he landed in Salzburg in 1524, in the midst of the peasant social crisis. In this city he wouldn’t hesitate to address the peasant masses, if necessary, in taverns or other public places such as streets or village squares, demanding social justice based on Christian and biblical principles (1). It was in this city where he started to make public his religious writings and, which he himself would distribute to the city dwellers. Later on, he would continue his “spiritual” lectures at least in Nuremberg, Beratzhausen, Saint Gall, and in the land of Appenzell (2). When he was in Alsace in 1528, he wrote his first monumental work on theology. It was an interpretation of the psalms of David (3). Let us remember that, specifically from his religious work, great number of theological monographs, biblical commentaries, sermons and works on the Eucharist and the Virgin Mary have been preserved. There is no doubt Paracelsus thought in depth about Christianity and spirituality in general. Many of his works, which in later time have been described as “philosophical”, “alchemist” or “magic”, had an undeniable spiritual component and are essential to understand the religious thinking of Paracelsus. According to Paracelsus, it is not a coincidence that science and religion form a unit.
It is quite understandable how the Catholic Church would end up considering him a heretic. He had problems with the religious authorities since he lived in Salzburg between 1524 and 1525, when they considered his writings about the, then explosive social situation of the city, polemic. He himself, in this period, declared his conflicts with the church in his treatise, “About The Seven Points of Christian Idolatry” (4).
We believe that his life was never in danger due to these conflicts. But, much after his death, when religious intolerance grew higher leading to the counter-reformation of the Catholic Church which arose from the Council of Trent in 1564, his image and work were rejected by the official Catholics accusing him of being at least, a pantheist, a neo-platonic, a Gnostic, a hermetic philosopher and an Arian.
Philosopher of fire
The Catholic Church could not approve blunt statements of Paracelsus’ about faith: “Belief is not faith… God does not want us credulous or dumb… We need to learn how to know God, and we can only do this through the acquisition of wisdom. For that we need the love of God; but love will only take birth in our hearts when we feel great love for humanity” (5). Although we can assert Paracelsus was never conditioned by any “ism” or philosophy, his philosophical ideas certainly had connection with the heterodox movements of Catholicism he mentioned at the end of the last paragraph. Pantheism is evident in his idea, according to which, the virtues and the “arcane” in nature are direct emanations of divinity and of that which is not created (6). On the other hand, Paracelsus also had much connection with Neo-Platonism, which was so related to the Kabala, Alchemy, Astrology, Magic, and with Pantheism itself, since Neo-Platonists believed that the origin of all that exists is the absolute unity, the One, the Supreme Reality, from which all the other realities emerge by emanation. Let us remember that on his trip to Egypt, around 1521, he visited Alexandria and there he met, first hand, at least with two mystical traditions which in great measure influenced his philosophy: Neo-Platonism and Gnosticism. These two currents were nourished by the philosophical contributions of Plato, and above all, by thinkers like Pythagoras, Aristotle and Zeno of Elea. At the same time there was also the influence of the mystic aspirations of Hindu origin (7).
However, as we have already discussed, Paracelsus did not find himself alone as evident from his defense of such philosophies in Europe, starting half way in the decade of the twenties. The humanist enthusiasm for old texts which inundated Europe in the beginning of the 16th century made Neo-Platonism in this continent flourish. Besides, the Gnostic tradition, preserved through alchemy and magic writings of the medieval epoch, was in those times, still alive in Europe. Natural magic, astrosophy, microcosmic correspondences, alchemy and the vision of Unity in all kingdoms of creation were ideas greatly valued during the Renaissance (8). Thus it was not just a few people with whom Paracelsus tuned in spiritually and philosophically; especially in the humanist circles frequented by philosophers like Nicolaus Cusanus, Ficino, Pico, Reuchlin, Jacobus Faber Stapulensis, Bovillus, Trithemius or Agripa (9). In this sense, Paracelsus was also a true representative of the Renaissance. In the future, theological writings of Paracelsus would influence the Christian mystics, from Jacob Boehme to the romantics and nature philosophers like Novalis, Goethe or Rudolf Steiner (10).
The above mentioned were also attracted by eastern spirituality. In fact, as we have pointed out earlier on, there is much similitude between the scientific or philosophic system of Paracelsus and that of the eastern adepts. According to Hartmann, if we compare the teachings of eastern sages with the cosmology taught by Paracelsus, substituting the Sanskrit or Tibetan terms used by the former for those invented by the latter, we find the two systems almost, if not totally, identical (11). According to K.P. Kumar, the cosmology teachings of Paracelsus contain the wisdom of the ancients in all dimensions (12). Paracelsus may have been initiated by the eastern masters of occultism in his travels as a youth. We have spoken earlier of his contacts with tartar shamans. In any case, he surely had access to the mystery schools around Salzburg (13), where teachings from the East were given. The information Paracelsus gave regarding the seven principles of man, the qualities of the astral body, the earth elementals, etc. was then completely unknown in the west. Thanks to Paracelsus and his subsequent followers, who will later be called philosophers of fire (14), these teachings, during the subsequent centuries would disseminate all over Europe. They were the same teachings which the theosophist Helena P. Blavatsky and her followers, based on eastern adepts, would make public at the end of the 19th century through books like Isis Unveiled and, The Secret Doctrine or Esoteric Buddhism (15).
… to be continued
1. BALL, Philip, The Devil’s Doctor. Paracelsus and the world of Renaissance magic and science, Nueva York, F.S.G., 2006:123
2. PAGEL, Walter, Paracelsus. An introduction to Philosophical Medicine in the Era of the Renaissance, Basilea (Suiza), Karger, 1982:25; BALL, Philip, The Devil’s Doctor….:232
3. Museum of the Ancient Baths of Pfäfers, St. Gall, 1987:109
4. BALL, Philip, The Devil’s Doctor….:134-135
5. RIVIERE, Patrick, Paracelso. Médico-alquimista, Barcelona, De Vecchi, 2000:42-43
6. PAGEL, Walter, Paracelsus…:42-43
7. BALL, Philip, The Devil’s Doctor….:97
8. PAGEL, Walter, Paracelsus…:203
9. PAGEL, Walter, Paracelsus…:39
10. BALL, Philip, The Devil’s Doctor….:119
11. HARTMANN, F., The life of Paracelsus, London, Kegan Paul, Trench, Trübner & Co., s.f.:50.
12.KUMAR, K.P., Paracelsus. The initiate. Lecture given in December 1999 in Einsiedeln (Switzerland)
13. KUMAR, K.P., Paracelsus…
14. KUMAR, K.P., Paracelsus…
15. HARTMANN, F., The life of Paracelsus…:4