Paracelsus, Philippus Aureolus Theophrastus Bombastus
Paracelsus, Philippus Aureolus Theophrastus Bombastus, an eccentric character of the 16th century, who as physician, magician, and theosophist exercised no inconsiderable influence on certain branches of science and theology. His father was a physician, a native of the Swiss canton of Appenzell, and bore the name William Hechener, but his more ambitious son claimed descent from a noble Suabian family, Von Hohenheim, and changed his patronymic by an odd Graeco-Latin translation into the appellation of Paracelsus, by which he is generally known. His mother had been matron in the hospital of a convent at Einsiedeln. He was an only child, born in 1493 in that small town, in the canton of Schwytz, nine miles from Zurich, famous for a cloister and shrine of St. Mary, to which thousands of pilgrims still flock. Einsiedeln in German meaning hermitage, be sometimes added "Ereinita" to his name, to designate his native place. It is related that as an infant of three years he had the misfortune to be mutilated by a sow in his private parts; his portrait (in Mackay's Extraordinary Delusions, p. 143) shows him indeed without beard, nor was he fond of female society; yet there is no mention made of a mutation of voice usually the consequence of castration. This sexual defect, however, seems not to have impaired the development of his mental faculties. He received his first instruction from his father, who tried to prepare him for the medical profession. Young Theophrastus proved an apt scholar in all that he was taught, and as he was desirous of further accomplishments, especially in alchemy,, then the rage of the age, he was placed in tuition with Trithemius, the celebrated abbot of Sponheim, and later with Sigismund Fugger, who in Schwatz (Tyrol) carried on a large laboratory; and there, Paracelsus assures us, he learned spagyric operations effectually. Imbued with a most ardent desire for information of every kind, he spent several years in traveling, during which he applied to all eminent masters of alchemical philosophy, and visited the universities of Germany, France, Italy, and Spain; he even ventured to the less civilized countries of Northern Europe and Asia, and tried to gather from all sorts of people some knowledge which he might turn to advantage for his own purposes. In this pursuit of "secrets," often under difficulties, he was once taken prisoner on the confines of Russia, and brought before the khan of the Tartars. This barbaric potentate he succeeded in so impressing, and so ingratiated, himself with him, that he was sent in the train of the khan's son on an embassy to Constantinople. It was there, according to his statement, that Paracelsus, in his twenty-eighth year, was initiated into the secret of the philosopher's stone. He was frequently retained as surgeon to armies in battles and sieges. Returning to Switzerland, he soon became renowned by. his wonderful cures, and was introduced to such men as Erasmus, the printer Froben, OEcolampadius, and other distinguished personages. In his thirty-third year he boasted of having cured thirteen princes whose cases had been declared hopeless. By such recommendations he obtained in 1526 the appointment as professor of physic and surgery at the University of Basle. He commenced his course of lectures by denouncing Galen and Avicenna, then standard authorities, as corrupters of medicine, and, taking a brazen chafing-dish, lighted some sulphur and threw their works into the flames, exclaiming, "Sic vos ardebitis in Gehenna." For Hippocrates, on the contrary, he professed great respect. For a while the singular manners and the novelty of his opinions rendered Paracelsus extremely popular, and his room was thronged with students; but his extravagances and self- glorification soon disgusted not a few of the more sober-minded. Among other things, he declared before his audience that he would even consult the devil, if God would not assist him in finding out the secrets of physic. He pretended to have invented an elixir of life which would insure to the happy partaker the age of Methuselah, and dealt in other wonderful preparations, to which he gave pompous and strange names. An outburst of passion deprived him of his professorship. A certain canon Von Lichtenfels, afflicted with gout in the stomach, given over by his physicians, applied to Paracelsus, and promised him one hundred florins for a cure. Paracelsus gave him three small pills of his laudanum, and relieved him. When he demanded his fee, the canon refused so large a sum, as it had taken so little medicine and time to cure him. He sued the churchman; the magistrate favored the canon, and adjudged Paracelsus only a trifle of the amount; whereupon Paracelsus reproached the justice with ignorance and partiality. The insult was reported to the city council, who pronounced a verdict of expulsion. Paracelsus, urged by his friends,had anticipated the sentence by a precipitate flight, in 1528. Henceforth his career was a downward course. He recommenced a wandering life in Alsace, and other parts of Germany and Switzerland, rarely staying long in any one place. He associated with low company, abandoned himself to intemperance, and when in his cups would threaten to summon a million of souls to show his power over them. By occasional extraordinary cures he measurably maintained his reputation. In the summer of 1541 he was called by the archbishop of Salzburg to that city. Here too he ranted against the old- fashioned regular doctors. In revenge he was by the servants of the aggrieved party thrown out of the window of an inn. The fall proved fatal, and thus, Sept. 24, 1541, he ended his erratic life. He was buried in the cemetery of the hospital of St. Sebastian, to which he bequeathed the inconsiderable remnant of his property. It would be here out of place to descant on the merits or demerits of his medical practice. His epitaph tells perhaps all that can be said in commendation of it: "Lepram, podagram, hydropsin aliaque insanabilia corporis contagia mirifica arte sustulit," including his treatment of syphilis and obstinate ulcers, in which he excelled. Though Paracelsus pretended to be guided by Hippocratic principles, his action appears more that of an empiric. He taught rather a trust in experience and experiment, and ascertaining the nature of the drugs and specific application of them, than a dependence on obsolete theory, and thus he encouraged independent observation and research. His knowledge of chemistry was equal, if not superior, to that of any adept of his time. As regards his theosophical views, they are a quaint medley of the metaphysical and physical, and it is difficult to determine them, on account no less of the subject-matter than by reason of the obscure, singular language he invented, and the peculiar sense he put upon words different from their common signification. He supposed an analogy between the universe (macrocosmus) and the human system (microcosmus, or little world). He gave currency to the opinion, still indicated in our popular almanacs, that the principal parts of a man's body stand in some relation with and under control of the planets; e.g. the heart with the sun, the brain with the moon, the spleen with Saturn, the lungs with Mercury, the kidneys and genital organs with Venus, etc., and extended this influence also to plants, minerals, and animals. He maintained a prima materia, whence spring, among other things, the seeds of plants, animals, and minerals;
generation, he asserts, is only the exit of the seed from darkness to light. Besides the so-called four elements (fire, earth, air, and water), and three principles (salt, sulphur, and mercury), he taught that there is in all natural bodies something of a celestial nature, a quintessence, a substance corporeally drawn from bodies that increase, and from everything that has life, free from all impurity and mortality, the highest subtlety separated from all elements. This he calls by several names: philosophical tincture, philosopher's stone, the flower, the sun, heaven, and ethereal spirit. He believed in an internal illumination, an emanation from Divinity, and in the universal harmony of all things. His mysticism is a kind of pantheism, for which he was decried as an infidel, heretic, and atheist. He was decidedly in favor of the Reformation, as of a tendency to liberate and liberalize the mind from superstition and bigotry. Paracelsus was a contemporary of Luther, and already half a Protestant. He regarded Christ as the light of nature as well as of man, and sought to show the inward relation between the revelation given in Christianity and that manifested in nature. He also held that there is an inward relation between nature and man. Everything is contained in each individual man: he is a microcosm; he has within him even all the spirits of the stars; the only question is how to arouse them. He admitted no astrological fate over man, nor any objective magic; magic is to be found in man himself; it is the power of a man united to God by faith. Faith is omnipotent; it effects what it conceives, what it chooses. In his view, magical power, properly so called, is the imagination of faith, for God also created all things by means of imagination. He has but little to say of sin and justification, but much of the sickness of the body and the reason; this, however, is healed by the imaginative power of the spirit which has placed itself in relation to Christ, and received his Spirit. As our souls were poured into our bodies by God himself in unfathomable love, so do we also receive from Christ, through the Holy Spirit, and by means of the imagination of faith, the seed of a heavenly and spiritual body. This takes place especially in the Lord's Supper, so that Christ has his incarnations in all believers through the Spirit. A tendency towards forming spirit and corpority into a unity is here unmistakable; but this mysticism does not see its way to such a unity except in the case of Christ's glorified body and our resurrection body. Here it finds that union of spirit and nature which it does not extend to the earthly body. This it regards as rejected and a prey to death by reason of its material nature, in which notion a still unsurmounted remnant of dualism, is apparent (Dorner, Hist. of Prot. Theol. 2:179). In spite ,of his abhorrence of book-learning, and his many peregrinations, which would not allow him much time for studied compositions, there are quite a large number of treatises extant which claim Paracelsus as their author; but they are so manifold and so unequal that it is hardly possible to believe that they proceeded from the same brain. The most of them may rather be denominated Paracelsiana — works and interpolations of Paracelsists, his disciples. During his lifetime only a few of them were printed: the first three books of his Chirurgia magna (Ulm, 1536): — De natura rerum (1539): — perhaps also De compositionibus, De gradibus, De Tartaro the explanation of which constituted the subject of his lectures. The following are deemed genuine: Chirurgia magna: — Chirurgia minor: — Depeste: — Archidoxa medicinoe: — De ortu rerum naturalium: — De vita rerum naturalium: — De transformatione rerum naturalium: — De vita longa: — De mineralibus. Many of the theological essays passing under his name are regarded as spurious. The most complete collection of his writings is the one edited by Dr. Huser in Strasburg (1616-18, 3 vols. fol.); the earliest and best is in German (Basle, 1589-90, 10 vols. 4to), followed by that in Latin (Frankf. 1603, 10 vols. 4to; Geneva, 1658, 3 vols. fol.).