Paracelsus

PARACELSUS

DER GROSSEN WUNDARTZENEY, ca. 1563

FOR SURGEONS AND FIELD SURGEONS

The work "Der Großen Wundartzney" was first published in 1536. This edition is from around 1563. It comprises two parts. The first is entitled: "... the doctor's body and wound remedy for all wounds, stings, shots, burns, animal bites, broken bones...", the second: "On the origin and healing of open sores".

The "Surgery Book" describes all working areas of the surgeon and – in the event of war – of the field surgeon. This includes the treatment of animal bites, broken bones, burns and chemical burns, gunshot wounds as well as  the specific treatment of the "French pox", an ailment associated with syphilis consisting generally of external ulcers.

These first two parts of the "Great Surgery Book" are the only two larger medical writings published during Paracelsus' own lifetime. They met the need of surgeons for written instructions in the local language and won over readers with simple formulations, and probably also through the sharp disassociation from learned doctors.

A NEW PATHOLOGY

Despite wandering and living in poverty, Paracelsus wrote numerous theological and medical works, including the "Volumen medicinae paramirum", the "Opus Paramirum", "Paragranum" and the "Philosophia Sagax". His theory did not conform to the prevailing doctrine.

Instead of four humours, which correspond to the elements, seasons, stars and qualities, Paracelsus developed a further, more complex concept. He assumed there were five "Enzien" and drafted a pathology based on three principles – burning sulphur, volatile mercury and stabilising salt. Paracelsus called for physicians to base their medicine on four pillars. The first was "Philosophy" –the knowledge of natural substances, the second "Astronomy"– which connects the macrocosm of the universe with the microcosm of the human, the third "Alchemy"– which is the art of obtaining the effective healing principle from natural substances, and the fourth "Virtue"– which assures the physician of God's love.

Through his criticism of dogmatic doctrines, a professional ethics determined by religion and alchemical formulas, Paracelsus found followers, known as "Paracelsists", and later "iatrochemists", while the majority of the physicians of the Enlightenment rejected him. In the Romantic era in 19th-century Germany, there was renewed interest in Paracelsus, and during the era of National Socialism, Paracelsus was even stylised as a symbol of the ideal German physician, to which his anti-Semitic statements contributed. Even up to the present, Paracelsus' readership has been split into supporters and opponents.

ONE-TIME CITY PHYSICIAN IN BASEL

Paracelsus is a humanist name which the author Theophrastus von Hohenheim took as a pen name. He was probably born around the turn of the year 1493/1494. The date and place of his birth are unclear. We know nothing of his mother. His father, Wilhelm, was a physician and came from a minor aristocratic family in the vicinity of Stuttgart. The small family had first lived near the Einsiedeln monastery. At the beginning of the 16th century, father and son moved to Villach in Kernten. Paracelsus was fortunate to be educated by various clergymen. According to his own statements, he then studied medicine "with the German, Italians, and French". He was not able to establish a private practice in Salzburg due to suspicions relating to the Peasant Wars. Paracelsus participated in armed conflicts as a field physician.

After he had healed the book printer Johannes Froben in 1527 in Basel from a leg ailment and thus found a sponsor, Paracelsus was employed as a Professor of Medicine and as the city physician in Basel. Soon, he was lecturing in German and burned books in the St. John's Day fire. The unconventional doctor was not able to survive long. With the death of his sponsor, Froben, he lost all support, and legal disputes followed. In 1528, Paracelsus fled the city. Stays in Alsace and Germany have been authenticated.

In 1535, Paracelsus wrote about Bad Pfäfers. After further travels, which took him through different parts of Europe, he settled in Salzburg. He died there in 1541 and was buried at Salzburg's St. Sebastian Church.

ROUGH, REBELLIOUS AND RELIGIOUS

Paracelsus was a physician and theologian. These identities intermingle in his works: His medical ethics and medical concepts are characterised by deep religiosity. He based his medicine on Nature as God's work.

Paracelsus stood somewhere between the Middle Ages and modern times. On the one hand, his deeply religious attitude was characterised by the medieval image of life as a vale of tears on Earth. On the other hand, he is perceived as more modern and a radical reformer who broke with almost two thousand years of traditional medical thought. His clear, rough, and often accusatory language arose from his bitterness and his fighting spirit. This helps to contextualise the reference to Paracelsus as a "Luther of medicine".

His powerfully eloquent opposition to the dogmatic universities and their learned physicians did not succeed in toppling the predominant doctrines of humoural pathology. Nevertheless, Paracelsus played a central role in the introduction of chemical medicines. As an authentic, unconventional, and combative personality, he caused rifts among the learned which still exist today. It is not only due to the merit of his medical or theological concepts but more so to his unique behaviour and biographical and literary traces that his name is not forgotten to this day.

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