site logo

Further Christian Physicians

Another distinguished Christian medical scientist was Theophilus

Protosbatharius, who belonged to the court of the Greek Emperor

Heraclius, in the seventh century. He seems to have had a life very full

of interest and surprisingly varied duties. He was a bishop, and, at the

same time, commander of the imperial bodyguard, and the author of a

little work on the fabric of the human body. The most surprising chapter

in the
history of the book is that for some two centuries, in quite

modern times, it was used as a text-book of anatomy at the University of

Paris. It was printed in a number of editions early in the history of

printing, at least one very probably before 1500, and several later.

There are very interesting phases of medicine delightfully surprising in

their modernity to be found here and there in many of these early

Christian writers on medicine. For instance, in a compend of medicine

written by one Leo, who, under the Emperor Theophilus, seems to have

been a prominent physician of Byzantium (the compend was written for a

young physician just beginning practice), we find the following

classification of hydrops or abdominal dilatation: There are three

kinds; the first is ascites, due to the presence of watery fluid, for

which we do paracentesis; second, tympany, when the abdomen is swollen

from the presence of air or gas. This may be differentiated by

percussion of the belly. When air is present the sound given forth is

like that of a drum, while in the first form ascites the sound is like

that from a sack [the word used is the same as for a wine sack]; the

third form is called anasarca, when the whole body swells.

It has often been the subject of misunderstanding as to why medicine

should have developed among the Latin Christian nations so much more

slowly than among the Arabs during the early Middle Ages. Anyone who

knows the conditions in which Christianity came into existence in Italy

will not be surprised at that. The Arabs in the East were in contact

with Greek thought, and that is eminently prolific and inspiring. At the

most, the Christians in Italy got their inspiration at second hand

through the Romans. The Romans themselves, in spite of intimate contact

with Greek physicians, never made any important contributions to medical

science, nor to science of any kind. Their successors, the Christians of

Rome and Italy, then could scarcely be expected to do better, hampered

especially, as they were, by the trying social conditions created by the

invasion of the barbarians from the North. Whenever the Christians were

in contact with Greek thought and Greek medicine, above all, as at

Alexandria, or in certain of the cities of the near East, we have

distinguished contributions from them.