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 test-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 anasarea, 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 Home 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.