A True Great Medical, Religious and Social Reformer of the XVI Century
Admired by many
Despite the prosecution he was subjected to, there were many who during his life acknowledged his values, from nobles to poor peasants; from great humanists to highly recognized scientists. Many rulers knowing his remarkable healing successes solicited his services. Among his patients he had at least 18 princes.22 And some received him with great honors, for example prince Palatine of Saltsburg and duke Ernest of Bavaria, who was a great lover of the occult sciences.23 In his youth he was even honored by the king of Denmark and Norway, Christian II, who named him royal doctor and awarded him with honors and gold for his medical services to the Danish troupes in an expedition to Sweden;24 and in his middle age, by the future emperor of Austria Ferdinand I, who received him in Vienna and also awarded him with a gold chain for his services. In 1536 Paracelsus dedicated to the monarch one of his great works, published during his life –The Great Surgery- who offered to introduce him to the team of doctors of the court. However, Paracelsus declined the offer. On one occasion however, he accepted the invitation of the Russian tsar, Vassily III, even though this meant he had to move to Moscow, when this ruler wanted to have all the wise men of Europe at his court.25
Although he was only 27 years old the winter of 1520-1521, at the time when he went to Russia, he was already recognized as a very good doctor in government and humanist circles of great parts of Europe. During the travels done between 1516 and 1520 through the Netherlands and Naples and during the wars of Venice, Denmark and Holland he had won great reputation as a great healer.26 Prominent figures in the European humanities offered him their collaboration or asked him for help or medical services, starting with the famous Erasmus of Rotterdam –whom on one occasion he cured from gout and liver and kidney pains, and on other occasions, by petition of this Dutchman, he gave advice on health-, and going through many renown humanists like Sebastian Franck –who said he was a “wonderful man” –27, Boniface Amerbach and Johannes Oecolampadius, who did not find any difficulty recognizing the medical and reformist merits of Paracelsus. Often, these men had to protect him from prosecution from intransigent authorities or from the orthodox scientists of the time who were against him. In no case Paracelsus was part of the humanist and intellectual circles of that time nor did they accept him as one of their own. Although he knew Latin and did not lack any knowledge in humanities and in general, there were some very important aspects in his medical thought, such as the relationship between medicine and astrology, not all humanists shared. Paracelsus spoke many times of the “ignorance of the intelligentsia”.28 However, he shared with them fundamental aspects of his thinking, such as the need of carrying out social, political, cultural, scientific and religious reforms in the Europe of the XVI century, as well as the need to achieve independence or freedom of expression and thinking, so strongly yearned for by the humanists. On the other hand Paracelsus himself benefited much from the humanist enthusiasm for the ancient texts.
Without a doubt, the majority of humanists who knew Paracelsus perceived his great reformist potential at all levels although may not have agreed with all his scientific and religious beliefs. They held him in great esteem, therefore he was always in touch with humanists and he always had support in some areas. At the universities and centers where he studied as a young man he could begin to socialize and become friends with them as for example in the known German humanist center of Erfurt, where he met men of a similar background like Martin Luther himself.
In the many cities he visited he was always welcome in the humanist circles, for example in Nuremberg, where he became friends with the liberal protestant reformer Sebastian Frank and with the humanist Speng-ler. In Strasburg he had friendships with Nicolaus Gergelius, Kaspar Hedio and the important religious reformer and scientist, German Wolfgang Capito and was protected by them.29
Paracelsus was also strongly recognized by the lower social ranks of the regions he traveled through and where he healed people. In some of them, such as the Alsace, he always encountered admiration and gratitude. The entire population admired him and sought his advice and assistance, as if he were a second Asclepius.30 The people’s belief of that region in Paracelsus’ healing powers was so great that Paracelsus had not died but was only sleeping in this grave. This belief lasted at least until the 19th century. Up to that century, pilgrims from all over Austria –where Paracelsus’ body is buried- came to his grave, waiting for him to heal them. And in times of epidemics, such as the cholera of 1830, the church was full of people where his grave is. Still today the magnetic power of Paracelsus continues to attract people and in some areas of Germany, such as Suabia, where many streets and public squares were named in his honor, he is still widely recognized.31
The eulogies by great German poets like Goethe, or the best romantic literates like William Blake or Robert Browning, who in 1834 dedicated an epic poem about his life to Paracelsus, influenced the sympathy greatly. They were only some of the many admirers of Paracelsus, who after the death of the master, continued to deeply admire his great works and made every effort to study his books and to spread them. The most known of them was the famous Belgian doctor, chemist and philosopher Van Helmont (1579-1644). But other renowned scientists with the reputation of a Giordano Bruno recognized their connection to Paracelsus. Even Newton confessed to own the majority of books written by Paracelsus.32 Between the 16th and 17th centuries other outstanding followers of Paracelsus were the Danish astronomer Petrus Severinus (1542-1602), one of the most influential European followers of Paracelsus, the English doctor Robert Fludd (1574-1637), considered one of the great humanists of the Renaissance, the French scholar and diplomat Jacques Bongars (1554-1612), and the German physicist and scholar, innovater of chemistry, Johann Becher (1635-1682). Between the 18th and 19th century we can highlight the German doctor Christoph Wilhelm Hufeland (1762-1836), the most distinguished representative of Vitalism of his country, who adopted the theory of infectious diseases from Paracelsus. Furthermore we highlight the famous German psychologist Joseph Enremoser (1787-1854) and between the 19th and 20th century the German Karl Sudhoff (1853-1938), an expert on medical history, who is mainly responsible for the modern scientific rehabilitation of Paracelsus. On a spiritual level we also have to mention those humanists who consider themselves heirs of Paracelsus’ masterworks. Some of them were known as theosophists, such as Jacob Boehme (1575-1624), the romanticist Goethe (1749-1832) and the founder of modern theosophy, Helena P. Blavatsky (1831-1891)
Mostly thanks to them, we know and can admire the figure of Paracelsus. They made sure that his work and authentic biography were not forgotten, and thus could be saved. Thanks to them, we know who Paracelsus was and thus could see his greatness, importance and magnitude. And this is what we have tried to express in this work. However, there is still much to learn about his life and work. There are still voids to be filled. May we be able to slowly fill them to finally better know Paracelsus. We do not doubt that one day this will be so and that we finally do him justice. He was a great reformer of the Renaissance, who’s intention was that the modern world would not be built by forgetting the old one, but that it would be built on the principles of wisdom which the old ones appreciated and enjoyed.
…to be continued