- 1 Paracelsus: The Life and Legacy of a Controversial Figure
- 2 Paracelsus and Alchemy
- 3 Paracelsus’ Beliefs
Paracelsus: The Life and Legacy of a Controversial Figure
Paracelsus was a Swiss physician, alchemist, and philosopher who made significant contributions to medicine, chemistry, and theology during his time. However, his hot temper and unconventional ideas often put him at odds with his contemporaries and authorities, leading him to lead a nomadic life.
Humble Beginnings and Family Legacy
Paracelsus was born into an aristocratic family in decline, inheriting his bad temper from his grandfather who commanded the Teutonic Knights. He lost his family’s castle and estates due to quarrels with the wrong people. Paracelsus’ father was illegitimate, and he learned about medicine, alchemy, and metallurgy but never acquired his doctor’s credentials.
Early Life and Education
After leading a vagabond life, Paracelsus settled in Einsiedeln, Switzerland, where he learned about healing herbs and minerals from his father. He also studied alchemy, Latin, and various other subjects at different schools and universities, including the ideas of Plato and humanism.
Medical Practice and Philosophy
Paracelsus was appalled at the rampant infection and amputations he witnessed while serving with the Hapsburg armies. He combined observation, experimentation, and magic in his medical practice, placing more faith in nature’s healing power than that of his fellow doctors. He believed that doctors should justly treat all people, rich or poor.
Controversial Lectures and Incidents
At thirty-three, Paracelsus found himself in a teaching position at Basel University, where he lectured in German instead of Latin and attacked Galenic medicine. His ideas upset the faculty and city authorities, leading to several incidents, including throwing a book on classical medicine onto a bonfire and demanding punishment for a student who ridiculed him.
Legacy and Beliefs
Paracelsus took the medieval world towards the modern world, retaining his belief in God, angels, devils, and natural spirits that he used for healing. Many thought him to be a magician, but he firmly believed in the healing power of nature that God had placed there. Paracelsus died in 1541, leaving behind a legacy of groundbreaking contributions to science and medicine, along with a controversial and colorful life story.
Paracelsus and Alchemy
Paracelsus believed in the alchemical process and its ability to create medicines. He named the element zinc and focused on finding medicinal ingredients from plant extracts and mineral compounds.
He recognized the benefits of mineral waters for health, especially Pfaffer water, and used tincture of gallnut as a reagent for the iron properties of mineral water.
Essences and Tinctures
Paracelsus replaced the complicated compound medicines of his time with essences and tinctures extracted from natural plants. Many opponents claimed his remedies were poisonous, but he argued that all things have poisonous qualities and it is only the dose that makes a thing poison.
He believed in the healing power of nature and sought to use it to help others.
Paracelsus believed that the harmony between man and nature was essential to maintaining good health. He did not hold this belief for soul purification, like others before him and some of his contemporaries, but because he saw many similarities between the microcosm and macrocosm. He believed in cosmic correlations and thought that the stars in the human body copied the stars in the sky.
Magic, Intuition, and Empathy
Paracelsus believed in magic, intuition, and empathy, and that physicians should be endowed with compassion and love for their patients. He lived by his motto, «let no man belong to another that can belong to himself,» and continued doctoring the sick after leaving Basel. He revised old manuscripts and wrote his Die grosse Wundartzney (The Great Surgery Book).
Legacy and Burial
Centuries later, the psychiatrist Carl G. Jung respected Paracelsus’ conservatism and radicalism. Paracelsus was buried in St. Sebastian’s cemetery in Salzburg, and his present tomb in the porch of St. Sebastian Church was unanimously donated. In his will, he left directions for a requiem Mass, indicating he still considered himself a member of the Church. Paracelsus’ beliefs and contributions continue to inspire and influence modern science and medicine.
Quotes about poison, toxicology and others
Paracelsus has some famous quotes about toxicology, poison and other topics:
- «All substances are poisons, there is none that is not. The dose differentiates a poison from a remedy»
- «Only a person, intelligent enough to understand the elliptical message of my sentences, will achieve the maximum degree of wisdom, to work as Sweet wants.»
- «This I promise: to exercise my medicine and not depart from it while God consents to exercise it, and to refute all false medicines and doctrines. Then love the sick, each one more than if it were my own body. Do not close your eyes, orient myself for them, or give medications without understanding it or accept money without earning it. «
- It is a doctor who knows about the invisible, about what has no name or matter, and yet has his action. «
- «Who knows nothing, loves nothing. Who can do nothing, does not understand anything. The one who understand nothing is worthless. But whoever understands also loves, observes, sees… The greater the knowledge inherent in a thing, the greater the love… Whoever believes that all fruits ripen at the same time as strawberries knows nothing about grapes. ”
* Galen (129-200) was a Greek physician whose medicine dominated Europe until the Renaissance. His theory was based on the four bodily humors of Hippocrates: blood, yellow bile, black bile, and phlegm. These corresponded with the seasons and elements of the earth.
He followed Greek philosophy, ignoring Celsus’ writings and accepting those of Asclepiades.
Adler, Robert E. «Paracelsus: Renaisannce Rebel» Medical Firsts: From Hippocrates to the Human Genome. Hoboken, NJ. John Wiley & Sons, 2004. pp. 46-52.
Ball, Philip. The Devil’s Doctor: Paracelsus and the World of Renaissance Magic and Science. New York. Farrar, Straus and Giroux. 2006. pp. 302-307.
Hayman, Ronald. A Life of Jung. New York. W. W. Norton. 1999. pp. 375-376.