"The penalty good men pay for indifference to public affairs is to be ruled by evil men." attributed to Plato

"Bad men need nothing more to compass their ends, than that good men should look on and do nothing." attributed to Edmund Burke

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Sunday, 15 December 2013

The History of Western Medicine: Hippocrates to Harvey

I am fascinated by the movement to bring the treatment of the mind, soul and spirit back into mainstream Western medicine. I yearn for a wider mainstream recognition that technology and pharmacology cannot provide all the answers where well-being and healthcare are concerned.
Over the next few weeks in this blog I shall be tracing the history of Western medicine, showing where we lost sight of our souls in our treatments and offering signs of hope all around us for those who are looking for healing for our dis-ease as well as cures for our illness. So far in the last two posts I’ve brought us from primitive man to Ancient Greece where Hippocrates was born in the 5th century BC and where the Asklepian healing temples lasted through to the 5th century AD.
There were few changes in the basic practice of Hippocratic medicine until in the second century AD the Greek physician and philosopher Galen came on the scene. Galen developed the theory that the heart generated the heat of the body and that air from the lungs then regulated the body temperature and stopped it overheating. What an amazing thought now, with the benefit of all our scientific techniques for understanding the workings of the human body! Galen’s was a very theoretical physiology, in marked contrast to the objective, factual medicine of Hippocrates. He was however held in very high regard and when he later moved to Rome he was engaged as physician to the Gladiators, a privileged role indeed. His respected theories, born more out of philosophy than from science or theology, served to stifle the further development of medicine as a science for fifteen centuries until the seventeenth century.
We need to bring the early Christian Church into the story here.

The spread of Christianity with its ministry of healing and compassion was influencing the practice of medicine in the first few centuries AD and was also inhibiting the advance of scientific medicine.
Before seeing why this was so, let’s just spend a moment looking at the concept of the Wounded Healer. I love this idea. In our own healing it is possible for us to discover that we are uniquely equipped to understand the healing needs of others, to walk alongside them and assist them in their own healing process. We will feel a profound and healing compassion towards others. The origins of the concept lie in the Greek myth of Chiron the physician and in the earliest indigenous shamans, or medicine men. But for a Christian Jesus Christ is seen as the greatest Wounded Healer of all time. Christ’s healing powers were manifest in many stories throughout His ministry and were carried through into the early healing missions of the Christian apostles. The methods they used included prayer, the anointing of Holy Oils and the laying on of hands, methods that are being reintroduced into healing services in the twenty first century. But the influence of these healing powers in the very early Christian church diminished over time. The apostles were not Jesus and they lacked the confidence or faith to impart His very special healing gifts to the afflicted. There was a gradual reversion to the earliest religious beliefs that illness was in some way caused by man’s sins, that it was mostly in his own power to heal his afflictions.
Reflection in the font at Salisbury Cathedral
Any possible link between the healing methods of the early church and the clinical methodology of Hippocrates were short lived.

In 1215 Pope Innocent the Third condemned surgery and all priests who practiced it. Then in 1248 the dissection of the human body was declared sacrilegious and anatomy was condemned as a subject of study. 

A split of medicine away from the healing ministries of the church was inevitable.
Little then changed in the development of Western medicine until 400 years later when in 1628 the English physician William Harvey, after nine years of painstaking research, was able to present his theories on the circulation of the blood. This proved to be the most significant medical event since Galen. It opened the way for massive advances in medical science…but at the expense of healing therapy, as we shall see...

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