Member News | Faq | Member Missions | Newsletters | Login
Choose Your Languagee
Smokh Logo  
On This Day   -  ()
Your Are Here: Main Page -
A Study Introductory to the 'Christian Home Doctor' by our GRAND MASTER of the Sacred Medical Order of the Knights of Hope
In the early christian periods, there was no one single, organized, practice of medicine. Believers struck down by injury or disease could turn to folk medicine, prayer, spells, mysticism, or visit an established physician if such were available. The boundaries between each, magic and medicine, and even professional, were mixed and fluctuating. Classical medical texts, such as those by Galen, were widely used on the basis of authority rather than experimental confirmation.
In the early Middle Ages, the prevalence of illness and infectious disease guided the practice and development of medical care. Since there were poor living conditions, poor hygiene, no formal schools of medieval medicine, disease was a constant threat in Christendom and often controlled people’s daily lives. The two most memorable diseases of the Middle Ages were plague and leprosy, one a rapid killer of millions, the other very slow but equally horrifying because of the ways in which it was regarded and understood. This mortality caused tremendous social disruption: the Italian author Giovanni Boccaccio wrote that "brother forsook brother, uncle nephew and sister brother and oftentimes wife husband; nay (what is yet more extraordinary and well nigh incredible) fathers and mothers refused to visit or tend their very children, as [if] they had not been theirs." The Plague of Justinian was a pandemic that afflicted the Byzantine Empire, including its capital Constantinople, in the years 541–542 AD. It has been speculated that this pandemic marked an early recorded incidence of bubonic plague, which centuries later became infamous for either causing or contributing to the Black Death. Its social and cultural impact was comparable to that of the Black Death of the 14th century. In response to the known epidemics - plague, leprosy, and influenza, common to those times, the Church began searching for an effective means of medical practice. ‘Medicine' was then considered a religious necessity for society. In this context, medicine expanded into an important occupation, encompassing a variety of professional and folk practices, ranging from natural, physical-based medicine to religious (monastic) medicine, folk medicine and herbal medicine. [1]
One of the important social developments of this time was the introduction of medieval, Christian monastic hospitals, which arose as probably the only organized provider of medical care in the early Middle Ages. Serious monastic medicine began to develop in the west when the monastery of Montecassino was founded by St. Benedict of Nursia in 529. From here the Benedictines spread the medical texts and teachings to other monasteries, most notably Fulda in Germany, while Irish missionary monks founded centers in Switzerland (St. Gall and Reichenau) and in Italy (Bobbio). Monastic health care was a result of the work of educated monks with access to historical records, mostly Greek and Roman, containing the Hippocratic writings, the listing or plant remedies, Dioscorides' De Materia Medica, and others, combined with a calling to serve God by helping people. The monastic medical tradition had its roots deep in the fundamental doctrines of the Christian faith and served a very specific role in the monastic community. Indeed, Christianity could be said to be a “healing” faith, with its central notion of the Blood of Christ as “curing” us of our sins, and the abundance of stories about miracle cures performed by the Saints and their venerated relics. [2]
In 375, St. Basil the Great included a hospital and leprosarium in the institutions he founded in Caesarea, Syria. St. John Chrysostom followed Basil's example in Constantinople in 400-403, building a number of hospitals. Monastic medicine, the predominant form of healthcare during the sixth through twelfth centuries, was based on Hippocratic and Galenic theory placed against the background of medieval theology. Between 500 and 1050, before the advent of the heroic Knights Hospitaller, monastic hospitals served as the unique centers of hospitality in medieval society, a notable Christian contribution, offering care and treatment to monks, nuns, pilgrims, paupers, and even nobility. The monks, being the primary care givers, focused on natural, physical-based medical practices, including well-respected techniques such as general hygiene, bloodletting, dietetics, and herbalism. The unique feature of the monastic medical system as shown in church records was its use of these physical treatments as a manifestation or extension of God's work, as spiritual or religious practices.
Monastic medical practice respected Hippocractic doctrine, that natural causes did contribute to illness and disease, and monks performed natural based, physical treatments on patients, what we call today natural medicine (a system of therapeutics in which only natural, medicinal agents and forces are used that is inherently suitable for an invariable sequence between specified conditions (ill health) and an expected phenomenon of healing). The design and function of monastic hospitals, however, shows that natural medicine practice was overseen and incorporated in an integrated practice that emphasized the importance of the spiritual element in health care. Monastic natural medical care remained subordinate to the practice of religious medicine. The practice of Christian Medicine brings God's mercy into His domain. Religious medical practice is therefore an act of worship and charity above being a career to make a living. Monks focused on treating a patient’s soul, in addition to his or her body, believing and confirming that God had ultimate authority in one’s health and recovery. Prayer was and is a vital and essential aspect of recovery.
The practitioners of the Middle Ages, from about 500 to 1500 A.D., involved a wide variety of professional and vocational groups. Medical practitioners included academically trained physicians, barber surgeons, bone setters, religious leaders, and herbalists, among others. When Christianity was introduced in Russia, both folk and secular medicine also began to give way to monastic medicine. In this diverse environment, monastic medicine and hospitals maintained a large following by lay people, in addition to functioning for the spiritual medical care of monks: “The number of these hospitals [which were under supervision of religious orders] at their maximum . . . was surprisingly large, and they were ubiquitous in the populated parts of the country.” [32] In addition to their expansive numbers and popularity, monastic practices were considered among the most successful forms of medical care in the Middle Ages.
By the eleventh century, women were given the role of healthcare provider and medical practitioner. Among the great healers in twelfth-century monastic medicine is Hildegard of Bingen, an ecclesiastical authority known for her visionary capabilities and ideas on natural philosophy as well as for her poetry and musical compositions. She was the author of the original medical text Liber Simplicis Medicinae, which contains Cause et Cure (Causes and Cures), a section devoted to the understanding of humoral physiology, disease, and treatment. The concepts discussed in Cause et Cure incorporate the dominant medical writings constructed by Hippocratic and Galenic tenets of humoral physiology and pathology, as well as medieval theological principles.
The health care in the St. Gall Hospital (St Gallen Canton, Switzerland, circa 820 A.D.) was an excellent example of monastic care of the times. It was governed by the Rule of St. Benedict, a code of rules for monastic living. The way the monks cared for the sick, Benedict states: “Before others and above all, special care must be taken of the ill so they may be looked after, as Christ... The sick must remember they are being taken care of for the honor of God” and Christ himself [23]. In a Benedictine monastery, health care to monks was expected to emulate the treatment exemplified by Jesus Christ. St. Benedict’s edict explicitly points out that the care of the body is designed to function in the larger context of the “healthy” soul. The Christian faith served well as a vehicle for the propagation of medical inquiry and practice since it related to a Deity who had a vested interest in the human race, going even so far as to create the human body and later to assume a human likeness in the Incarnation of Christ.
There is a plan of the great monastery (according to the Rule of St. Benedict) preserved at the library of St. Gall
Monastic Hospital of Natural and Spiritual Medicines
The whole design of St. Gall, which really includes all the “necessaries” within its walls, falls into three divisions: first, the church with the buildings for Regulars in the center; secondly, on the north-east, schools, hospitals, and guest-houses; and, thirdly, to the south-west, stables and farm- buildings. Not only the monastery proper and the church, but almost all the other buildings are grouped round a center space, an open court with a portico.

The school and the hospital have similar peristyles; and other buildings, the guest- house, a second school, etc., seem to have a covered atrium as their central place. Though we learn so little about the planting of the peristyle, the artist is most explicit as to the special monastic gardens at the school and hospital. South of the hospital is the physician’s house, so arranged that the very sick patient could be taken there. On the west side is the physic-garden, a small quadrangle, divided into sixteen straight beds. This may have been following Roman tradition, but the raised beds, straight and square, point to the ever-present need of careful tending.

The medicinal herbs which grow in our monastery cloister gardens are plainly marked by name on the plan: first come roses and lilies, and then sage, rosemary, and other herbs that look pretty and are aromatic. Thus this little garden gave not merely healing medicines to the sick, but also a very charming view to the convalescent. The original idea, the germ, of all specialised flower-growing is here in this physic-garden; and so deep down was it in the heart of man that even when horticulture was highly advanced, in the days of the Renaissance, the place where flowers were grown was always called the garden of medicinal herbs.
The natural medical practices of the monks of St. Gall is topic and exemplary to spiritual, Christian medicine. The Hospital of St. Gall is a defining feature of what could branded as Christian medicine and what would lead to the movement of the Knights Hospitaller establishing hospitals all over Palestine, the Middle East, Christendom (Europe), North and South America, and the Philippines. [7] Herbalism was central to care of the sick. [4] An important aspect of the monastery ground was the medicinal herb garden, which furnished the physician with the remedies needed for his treatments and cures. Cultivation of this garden was a chief duty of monk-physicians and an expected feature of monks’ daily lives. Physicians made medicines and prescribed courses of treatment based on both empirical, theoretical bases, and folklore of herbals. Plants, fruits and vegetables served as natural remedies, with specific principles of action which were to cure patients. As a result of empirical observation and education, physicians and experienced herbalists confidently prepared and administered a large number of plant species whose names, properties, and uses were then common knowledge. Folk medicine and herbal lore made large contributions to understanding how herbal teas and decoctions worked. [5]. Physicians also relied on medieval medical texts for explanations of the utility of herbs, based on Galen’s theory of four humors.  But most importantly, underlying the empirical basis of herb use, Christian, monastic medicine maintained a spiritual base for its practice. Monks believed that the divine origin of herbs remained a primary reason for their healing powers: “A dependence on the power of herbs . . . without reference to their Creator [God] was regarded as improper for a Christian.” [26] Because God “causes herbs to grow,” their medical utility is fundamentally spiritual. In addition, many plants were used by monks and Christians in general in sacred rituals and ceremonies. They had “well-known symbolic association” and appealed to spiritual bases, as well as physical effects in medical care. Many herbs were named after Saints, e.g. St. John's Wort, St. George's Flower, Mary's Nettle, Adam's apple, etc. which served as useful indicators of their use. Cleanliness and diet were specific allowances to be applied in dealing with illness. Bathing by the ill was an important part of the therapeutics.
Christian, monastic medicine, exemplified by St. Gall, Reichenau, Montecassino, and Bobbio involved a wide variety of natural medical practices that commonly demonstrated scientific knowledge and reasoning by monks: “The illness displayed by a sick monk was checked through an examination of pulse, urine, stool, and blood to determine the trouble and formulate a prognosis” [28]. Although this physical, natural medicine diagnosis often proved successful in curing ailments, monastic medicine was not based on a purely secular concepts but largely framed in terms of how these physical or natural methodologies and remedies served as expressions or tools for spiritual healing of God's work. St. Benedict of Nursia instructs those in his Rule that “before all things and above all things care is to be had of the sick, that he be served in very deed as Christ Himself. . . . And let the sick themselves remember that they are served for the honour of God.”
The monastic hospital of St. Gall consisted of a waiting room, a dormitory, a supply room, and a dining hall, and it was reserved for the monk physicians for the ill and aging monks in the monastery. Laity were accommodated in a separate house for pilgrims and paupers, which often served as a shelter for poverty-stricken people of villages surrounding the monastery. The infirmarian was responsible for the smooth running of the infirmary, having some skill in the healing arts and knowledge of medicinal herbs. The infirmarian generally had at least one servant working under him or her, and if the infirmary is a large complex, he or she may have additional subordinate officials who manage the various buildings, including a kitchener, a chamberlain, and sacrist. The fact that these two groups were not included in one large building complex is specified by “monastic custom,” as well as the rule of St. Benedict, denoting that monks should be separate because of a different degree of practice for higher, spiritual healing. Whereas lay people often received physical medical care and were in part cared for out of monastic responsibility for hospitality, monks were cared for primarily to nurture their spirit in hope of the Lord’s cure: “For ‘superior Christians’ [monks] . . . medicine is of significantly less importance than reliance on God for healing."
The building layout and grounds of St. Gall Hospital originated from spiritual requirements, but it also contributed to responsible medicine by isolating patients with communicable diseases. The idea of isolating contagious patients originated from Biblical medicine and serves as example of the guiding force that spiritual medicine had over secular practices. The monastic infirmaries show architectural resemblance to cathedral hospitals that followed in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries. Although these cathedral hospitals reflected a more sophisticated design with their increasing interest in privacy by partitioning patient wards into small rooms, they maintained a sense of spiritualism in their layout. These hospitals were identical to both monastic predecessors with incorporation of a chapel for the sick. The cathedral hospitals incorporated both natural and spiritual practices in a delicate balance, the monastic hospitals clearly represented a transitory phase in which the authority of God over medicine was unquestioned but still supplemented by physical treatments, under this dominion.
The history of the monastic rule of St. Gall offers full evidence that Christian medical care evolved as a spiritual development for man, which was ultimately in the hands of God, and not just religious or lay health care wrokers. In a book written for the instruction of medicine to monks in 551, Flavius Cassiodorus (the Roman Senator and writer) emphasized that the ultimate result of illness, recovery or death, is the concern of God saying, “I salute you, distinguished brothers, who with sedulous care look after the health of the human body . . . you help the sick with genuine zeal.” He then advises the other brethren to “learn, therefore, the properties of herbs and perform the compounding of drugs punctiliously” and to examine the Herb Book of Dioscordes and the works of Hippocrates, Galen and Aurelius. [9] Cassiodorus’ teachings demonstrate that the developing practice of Christian medicine using natural medicines was viewed as subordinate to, but a part of, spiritual healing. Although natural medicine has positive results in health care, it is a mundane teaching of the Lord. Like all aspects of earthly knowledge, medical knowledge is part of the knowledge of God "who taught man what man never knew". The study of Medicine entails the revealing of God's signs in His creation. Monks were thus allowed and even encouraged to practice medicine, but only with the respect that the Lord created it and ultimately presides over a patient’s health, destiny, and survival.
The fundamental reason for the use of physical medicine and natural therapies within the monasteries can be found from the historical records of the early church fathers - Clement of Alexandria, Saint John Chrysostom, and Augustine of Hippo. Because of the church fathers’ acceptance of natural medicine as a consequence of spiritualism, Christianity and monasticism endorsed it as a common and useful practice. The basic spiritual foundation which instructed monks to practice natural medicine was that “the material world was created by God for man’s use.” Natural and physical forms of medical care were created by God, in order to assist humanity in coping with and curing illnesses. Although these practices treat the body and not the soul, they remain fundamentally spiritual because of their divine origin.
In their writings, the early church fathers addressed divine origin, explaining that the efficacy of natural medicine stems from God’s will behind their use. John Chrysostom states that “God gave physicians and medicine.” [9] Clement of Alexandria explains that medicine in general, including natural science, was fundamentally spiritual, being a creation of God: “Health obtained through medicine is one of these things that has its origin and existence as a consequence of divine Providence as well as human cooperation” [10]. Augustine attributes the healing properties of medicine to God:
For as the medicines which men apply to the bodies of their fellow-men are of no avail except God gives
them virtue (who can heal without their aid, though they can not without His), and yet they are applied;
and if it be done from a sense of duty, it is esteemed a work of mercy or benevolence; so the aids of teaching [medicine], applied through the instrumentality of man, are of advantage to the soul only when God works to make them of advantage.
In effort and effect, these natural therapeutics of Christian medicine work only in concert with God’s will. God heals through spiritual medicine and physicians have no utility without the blessing of God. This is the way the early church fathers addressed why we need natural medicine, despite our unquestionable belief that ultimate authority of healing rested in God. All cures, spiritual, physical, with the assistance of physicians and helpers, were a gift of God. Monk physicians utilized spiritual and natural medicines, but their ultimate concern never leaves the commitment to God and spiritualism. Because the efficacy of natural medicine comes directly from God, to resort to it without first praying to and trusting in God would be futile. The monks’ spiritual treatment of disease was based on the important concept that God creates illness as punishment for sins. The monks believed that pain, disease, and other such trials and tribulations were sent for admonition, for correction of past deeds, and to make one mindful for the future. Healing was emergence out of sin. Prayer and good behavior served as a way to ward off illness. The monks viewed sickness not as simply a punishment, but as a way to become closer to God. Disease and sickness was “sent or permitted for his [a Christian’s] ultimate good by a God who loves him and will cause all things to work together for his good.” In this viewpoint, monks used spiritual medicine as a way to improve their relationships with God and refresh their souls, having confidence that any suffering was necessary by God’s plans. As exemplified by St. Gall, patients in monastic hospitals were kept in close contact with chapels and continued to attend religious services, continuously praying for their cure and in many cases, repentance of sins.
As Christianity grew in influence, a tension developed between the church and folk medicine, since much in folk medicine was considered magical, or mystical, and had its basis in sources that were not compatible with Christian faith. Spells and incantations were used in conjunction with herbs and other remedies. Such spells had to be separated from the physical remedies, the herbs and minerals, or replaced with Christian prayers or devotions. Similarly, the dependence upon the power of herbs needed to be explained through Christian concepts which were in development. Thus we have adopted herbs from folk medicine like St. John’s Wort, Blessed Thistle, Christ’s Back, etc. The church taught that God sometimes sent illness as a punishment, and that in these cases, repentance could lead to a recovery. This led to the practice of penance and pilgrimage as another means of curing illness.
The middle Eastern medical systems
MEDICINE by the end of the 11th century was being transformed by the Medical Order of the Knights Hospitaller and was concerned with catastrophic disease and injury. During those days, life expectancy was short, and to admit into a hospital was met with anticipation to more than likely die rather than survive. The Knights and Nuns of the Order sought to change that by being the first to separate patients into their own beds and provide them with fresh blankets, air, water, and nutrition to render them back to health. Knowledge of the use of herbs was fostered by the Therapeutae of Egypt, later by the Essenes, and then the Christian Monks as a continuity of tradition. The Knights implemented some of the first forms of hygienic dietetics and served patients on silver platters. The Knights also learned medicine from their Arab breatheren in spite of the wars of the Crusades.
In the middle east, around 1050 was the advent of the Knights Hospitaller of St. John. The Jerusalem hospital, fully built by the Order of St. John in the 12th century, was one of the first great medieval hospitals and the way it was run had a huge influence on the development of others all over the middle east and Christendom. The Hospitallers maintained services, hospices, and hospitals throughout the Holy Land, Europe, North and South America, and even the Philippines. There were hundreds of flowers named in medieval times as symbols of the life, mysteries and privileges of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of Jesus; of Saints; and other religious symbols. These are recorded by botanists, folklorists and lexicographers. We note here many of those herbs that have sustained their uses in natural medicine and are used throughout the world.
The Hospitaller Compound in Jerusalem
By the Thirteenth Century many European towns were demanding that physicians have several years of study or training before they could practice. Surgery had a lower status than pure medicine, beginning as a craft tradition until Roger Frugardi of Parma composed in his treatise on Surgery around about 1180. This led to a stream of Italian works of greater scope over the next hundred years, later spreading to the rest of Europe and the middle east to the Order of the Hospitallers, who were the first to implement demands for training in dissection.
During the Crusades, European medicine began to be favorably influenced by Islamic medicine. Islamic commentators often saw existing European medical practises as barbaric and superstitious; Usamah ibn Munqidh for example visited sick or injured European pilgrims who eventually died due to poor medical care.
From the 12th century, when monasteries began cultivating herbal gardens, up to the Victorian times, scripture herbals and collections of simples (the use of) and samples of herbs mentioned in the Bible were popular. This talk reveals the scriptural references and much more about the nature of herbs and plant resins such as frankincense, cinnamon and myrrh. Most monasteries by then had developed sophisticated herb gardens for use in the production of herbal cures, and these remained a part of monastic medicine. Books of herbal remedies were produced, one of the most famous being the Welsh, Red Book of Hergest, dating from around 1400. The fifteenth, sixteenth, and seventeenth centuries were the great age of herbals, many of them available for the first time in English and other languages rather than Latin or Greek. The first herbal to be published in English was the anonymous Grete Herball of 1526. The two best-known herbals in English wereThe Herball or General History of Plants (1597) by John Gerard and The English Physician Enlarged (1653) by Nicholas Culpeper. [17] Culpeper’s blend of traditional medicine with astrology, magic, and folklore was ridiculed by the physicians of his day yet his book - like Gerard’s and other herbals - enjoyed phenomenal popularity. The Age of Exploration and the Columbian Exchange introduced new medicinal plants to Europe. The Badianus Manuscript was an illustrated Aztec herbal translated into Latin in the 16th century.
Nursing is a development of the mother-care of the young, and had co-existed with Christian medical care from the earliest time. The word itself comes from the word meaning “to nourish.” In its broadest meaning in covers not only the care of the sick, the aged, the helpless, and the handicapped, but the promotion of health and vigor in those who are well, especially the young, growing creatures on whom the future of the race depends. Thus in the primal significance of the title “nurse” there is the idea of cherishing perfect health, as well as that of relieving illness, and this latent idea must always have prompted some Christian effort toward preventive care in nursing work, though only in recent years has this aspect of the nurse’s historical work which started with the Order of the Hospitallers come to be generally recognized. Florence Nightingale, as late as the 19th century, was herself a member of the Order of the Hospitallers.
The great crisis in European medicine came with the Black Death epidemic in the 14th century. Prevailing medical theories focused on religious rather than scientific explanations - all to no avail since about a third of the population of Europe was eliminated from contagion.
Medicine up until the nineteenth century was concerned chiefly with the study of survival and disease. The discovery of germs, what Pasteur called the kingdom of the infinitely small, opened the doors of a new world. Every physician was eager to enter and possess it. Thus the bacteriologist, the man who was master of the germs of disease, became the most prominent figure on stage. He told his admiring colleagues that this or that infirmity was due to this or that bacillus, and that if the germ could be destroyed the malady would disappear from the earth. The very highest hopes were formed; the most extravagant ideas were put forth as serious contributions to scientific progress. The Knights were instrumental in these efforts as they were the first to implement quarantine (40 days and 40 nights) by modern hospital record as early as the 15th century.
It would be wrong to deny that great benefits have been obtained from this attack on the seeds of disease. We owe to bacteriology much of our safety and fitness as a community. It has given us purer water, cleaner and more wholesome food and freedom from many infections. Nor are its services in these directions by any means exhausted. It has given us, also, a new insight into the spread of disease and into the subtle and wonderful methods by which nature defends herself against attack. This knowledge has placed such potent weapons as the anti-diphtheria serum and the smallpox vaccine in our hands. Again, it has given us antiseptics and so modern surgery.
But bacteriology, the study of the seed, has not given us that complete dominance over disease which many expected to obtain. And so, little by little, men's minds have turned again to the other side of the problem - the soil in which the seed of disease germinates and grows, the human body. The natural medicine of the twentieth century chiefly became concerned with the study of health, while the “scientists” labored to find more germ fighting measures.
ITS central idea may be expressed in the crude statement that when a man is hit he usually hits back, returning blow for blow. The body, in its ceaseless struggle with survival disease, acts in exactly the same fashion. When attacked, it defends itself, hitting back or reacting with all the vigour at its command by his immune system.
Recovery from disease, therefore, is successful reaction of the body; failure to recover means failure to react or hit back with sufficient vigour. This is a very different idea from the 20th century in that the body was regarded as a passive agent receiving the seed of disease and making no effort to prevent this seed from growing.
So different, indeed, that the 'doctrine of reaction' gave us a New or Natural Medicine, that is, a new outlook on medicine. When, what and how do we decide that treatment may actually be the suppression of the natural survival mechanism? How do we harness the natural survival mechanism to enhance recuperation to health, rather than opposed to creating it and creating a new illness?
No better illustration from this is that of the state of fever. “Give me fever, and I can cure anything,” proclaimed one doctor of natural medicine’s past. Fever is the mounting of attack from an invading organism, and to suppress such with medication thrawts the body’s attempt to cure itself. Fever should only be artificially reduced when the body is in danger of termination or permanent damage. We could say that fever is the body’s attempt at atonement.
Symptoms, for example, we now regard in a different way from the practitioners of regular medicine. We have ceased to think of them as signs of disease; we are learning to know them as signs of the body's resistance to disease. The unconscious, unresisting body of the dying man feels no pain, is not flushed with fever nor vexed with flying pulses. It does not react. These symptoms, therefore, so long ascribed to the assaults of illness, are in fact assaults upon illness. The doctor must not set himself to hamper or hinder or even mitigate this salutary work of atonement.
The New Medicine is the study of symptoms, because these are indications of the lines on which nature conducts her own defense. If we know accurately the symptoms of a disease and the mechanism of these symptoms we know how the disease may be resisted and remediated.
Helping Nature's Defensive Measures
We are thus now genuinely in a position to help nature to help herself. The study of the ductless glands and their relationship to the nervous and immune systems, which has given us thyroid, pituitrin, adrenalin and insulin -all medicines of the highest value- is an example of this new attention to symptoms. So, also, is the study of food, which has revealed the presence of the vitamins and minerals and their influence on health, has led by stages to the fresh knowledge we now possess of the effects of fresh air, water and sunlight on the human body. The truth is slowly becoming established that most drugs exercise their effects indirectly, if not by supression of the survival mechanism and toxicity. They are valuable only when they help to mobilise the body's defenses. In the last issue, irregardless of drug or remedial agency, it is our own flesh and blood which makes war against disease; nor can this fighting force be replaced by any artifice of the physician.
In short, we cannot kill the germs of disease without the assistance of the living organism in which these germs are lodged. Neither antiseptics, antibiotics, nor medicines nor even surgical instruments can prevail without the vigorous action of the tissues themselves. Antibiotics may help destroy germs, but only the body and its immunity can effectuate resistance and continue life. And so, to prevent or cure disease, it is necessary to create or recreate fit men and women for this new century. Drugs will not solve our planetary problems.
The New Medicine is concerned with the whole life of man and woman, because every circumstance of life influences the power to react when germs threaten. Its weapons of prevention are good houses, warm clothes, ventilation, lighting, exercise, a place in the sun, clean and wholesome food, recreation and happiness of mind and body, and the solace of our Lord Savior. Its methods of cure are of the same as nature’s own methods of response, growth, development and decay. Serums and vaccines are but rough imitations of bodily defenses; thyroid and insulin are actually drugs prepared by the body for its own use; even such preparations as niacin and quinine are no more than stimulants of that vital force which flows along every nerve and by means of which the living creature maintains itself in a hostile world.
THUS the New Medicine embraces and coordinates all branches of healing. Its scope is as wide as human life, because there is no circumstance, mental or material, which does not either increase or detract from that vital energy by which we live given to us by the Almighty. A blow or a chemical poison may occasion faintness and collapse; but so also may a stuffy room or a shock in the purely emotional sense. These various stimuli, apparently so different in character, become alike, as judged by their effects, when translated into terms of life and transformed into vital force.
This fact is now beginning to engage a great deal of attention. As early as last century’s surgeon, Sir James Mackenzie, whose studies in bodily reaction provided a new outlook to medicine and neurology, he indicated that vital force is certainly not the same thing as electricity - a view which was shared by most physiologists. It is something peculiar to the body, some special form of energy designed to travel along living nervous tissue. Thus the experiments conducted on animals by means of electrical stimulation cannot be regarded as entirely satisfactory. The results obtained by them leading good reason to think, are not equivalent to results obtained when, instead of electric current, vital force or living electricity courses along the same nerves.
THE outside world, then, influences the body by means of the currents of vital force which it sets flowing along the nerves, not a result of. A slap on the skin is translated into this force and so reaches the brain as a painful stimulus. In the same way a harsh word must be translated into vital force before the brain can hear it. Our sense organs, indeed, are so many interpreters whose duty it is to translate everything which reaches them into the universal language of the body - the vital force or current. This current, therefore, bears a thousand messages, physical and mental, and these are all not of the same quality after they have been changed from their original form into the living, vital form.
That, it would appear, is why circumstances so enormously different as a blow, a hot room and the sight of blood may each cause exactly the same effect - slowing of the heart and faintness That, too, is why the mental doctor is often able to obtain results by his methods of suggestion or analysis which closely resemble the results obtained by physical measures such as drugs or electricity, or even surgery. In all these cases the vital force is being stimulated.
Vital Weakness that Assists Disease
The vital force is thus the most important element in the human soil into which the seeds of disease fall. If it is not flowing freely into any given organ, if the organ lacks this invisible nourishment, then its power of warding off or reacting to the germ poison is enormously weakened. This is seen in its most acute form in those cases in which damage has been done to nerve trunks. The muscles supplied by the severed nerves begin to waste away though they are still being supplied with blood in full amount. Later on abscesses tend to form, and the whole de-nervated area may be destroyed into a state of gangrene to which no doctor can deny.
It follows that any factors which interfere with the free flow of vital force through the body are favouring the germination and growth of disease. A stuffy atmosphere is a case in point. Stuffiness, as modern research in ventilation has shown, is lack of air currents, not lack of air space or of oxygen. In a fresh room the human skin is always being gently stimulated by the movements of air continually in progress. These stimulations are translated by the skin (one of the greatest of sense organs) into currents of vital force which flow all through the body, toning it up. In their absence this tonic effect of life is lost.
Thus stuffiness produces a sense of profound discomfort, of ill-being. The stuffiness of a room, the stuffiness of a persona, the stuffiness of a group of bigots, all have deleterious effects upon the health of an individual. The individual feels that he cannot breathe, or that his breath is doing him no good. His heart becomes upset; his brain is befogged. Lassitude or faintness overcomes him. If he is condemned, day after day, to work in a some what stuffy atmosphere his health deteriorates. The ill-being affects his whole body, which, lacking tonic stimulation, lacks also the power to defend and protect itself. This is the opportunity for those ever-present foes, the germs of the mind and dis-ease. They begin to multiply; their poisons are increased in the circulation. Thus a vicious circle is formed, the poison augmenting the evil effects of the stuffiness.
A man or woman in this condition is a man or woman in danger. The danger may develop itself in several ways. Companionship, for example, is another stimulant of the vital force. The loss of a dear companion, of a wife or fiancé, removes at once a tonic of supreme value in healthy living. If this loss comes to a man already deprived of some of his health by a stuffy workroom, already slightly poisoned by germs, the effect may be a lowering of resistance of so marked a character as to enable some of the more deadly germs, for example, the germs of "consumption," to obtain a lodgment. The old-time figure of the girl who went into a decline because her love affair came to disaster is no imaginary one. But it is probable that girls so affected led very unhealthy lives in stuffy houses. They were not fit when the emotional trouble that came to them. The modern healthy girl is much less likely to become ill as a consequence of severe disappointment than was her mother or her grandmother.
AGAIN, the vital force is stimulated by appetizing food of a wholesome kind. If a man whose fitness is impaired by want of freshness in the atmosphere in which he works has the misfortune to marry an incompetent wife, who serves him with badly cooked, badly chosen food, this circumstance may lead to the onset of disease in the stomach and later the body. Examples of that kind could be multiplied almost indefinitely. For there is no circumstance of life, however trivial, which does not exert its influence on the vital force. The point which must be emphasized is that resistance is a word covering a vast number of different circumstanccs. A man, who lives in a pure atmosphere, enjoys a measure of sunlight, eats good food and takes exercise, companions with people of positive mental attitude, will pass unscathed through an emotional crisis which will bring his fellow of the slum or the unhygienic factory to disease and death.
The Knights of this Order work to remedy all these conditions of ill health, of both mind and body.
To Live Man and Woman Must Know His or Her Body
The New Medicine, therefore, fights disease by fostering health on all fronts. The destruction of germs is but a very small part of it. More important than that is the cultivation of human happiness by means of hygienic, dietetic, emotional and artistic tonics. It is profoundly true that man does not live by bread alone. He lives by his spirit, the shrine of which is his body. He must know about his body; he must know how it works and how to care for it in its working.
We must know ourselves in a new and intimate way - how to eat, how to sleep, how to dress, how to exercise, how to work - above all, how to have peace and play. We must know, too, something of the inner workings of our minds so that we may guard these exquisite instruments against depression and dismay - evil spirits more deadly even than the germs of disease. We must understand the basis of happiness as it affects both the intellect and the emotions, and be instructed in its cultivation.
ALL these branches of a knowledge, ever widening and deepening, are comprised in the present work. The vital point is that the reader should recognize them as branches of a parent stem and not as isolated sections of medical information. He must lift his eyes above disease and the treatment of disease and see the human life which has been so perfectly equipped by nature and our Lord to defend and preserve itself. For the New Medicine is neither more nor less than a return to nature herself as the fountain head of wisdom as that as our Lord Jesus Christ. The monastic hospital of St. Gall consisted of a waiting room, a dormitory, a supply room, and a dining hall, and it was reserved for the monk physicians for the ill and aging monks in the monastery. Laity were accommodated in a separate house for pilgrims and paupers, which often served as a shelter for poverty-stricken people of villages surrounding the monastery. The infirmarian was responsible for the smooth running of the infirmary, having some skill in the healing arts and knowledge of medicinal herbs. The infirmarian generally had at least one servant working under him or her, and if the infirmary is a large complex, he or she may have additional subordinate officials who manage the various buildings, including a kitchener, a chamberlain, and sacrist. The fact that these two groups were not included in one large building complex is specified by “monastic custom,” as well as the rule of St. Benedict, denoting that monks should be separate because of a different degree of practice for higher, spiritual healing. Whereas lay people often received physical medical care and were in part cared for out of monastic responsibility for hospitality, monks were cared for primarily to nurture their spirit in hope of the Lord’s cure: “For ‘superior Christians’ [monks] . . . medicine is of significantly less importance than reliance on God for healing."
[1] Park, K. (1992). Medicine and Society in Medieval Europe, 500-1500. In Medicine in Society: Historical Essays, A. Wear, ed. (New York: Cambridge University Press)
[2] Hammond, E.A. (1958). Physicians in Medieval Religious Houses. Bulletin of the History of Medicine 32: 105.
[3] Benedict. (1975). The Rule of Saint Benedict, A.C. Meisel and M.L. del Mastro, trans. (New York: Doubleday)
[4] Horn, W., Born, E. (1979). The Plan of St. Gall: A Study of the Architecture & Economy of Life in a Paradigmatic Carolingian Monastery, 3 vols. (Berkeley: University of California Press)
[5] Stannard, J. (1987). Medieval Herbalism and Post-Medieval Folk Medicine. In Folklore and Folk Medicines, J. Scarborough, ed. (Wisconsin: American Institute of the History of Pharmacy)
[6] Amundsen, D.W. (1996). Medicine, Society, and Faith in the Ancient and Medieval Worlds (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press)
[7] Para la Historia de la Orden Hospitalaria de San Juan de Dio en Hispanoamerica y Filipinas, 1492 - 1992; Luis Ortega Lazaro; Ediciones Graficas Ortega, Madrid
[8] Risse, G.B. (1999). Mending Bodies, Saving Souls: A History of Hospitals (New York: Oxford University Press)
[9] Cassiodorus Senator. (1946). An Introduction to Divine and Human Readings, L.W. Jones, trans.(New York: Columbia University Press)
[10] Chrysostom, John. Homily 8 on Colossians. In Online Ecclesiastical Library (, pp. 298.
[11] Augustine. On Christian Doctrine, J.F. Shaw, trans. In Online Ecclesiastical Library (htttp:// , pp. 585.
[12] Knowles, D., Hadcock, N.R. (1953). Medieval Religious Houses: England and Wales (New York: Longman, Green and Co.)
smokh Herbs, general
smokh Universal Human Rights
smokh Rev. Wesley
smokh Rev. Kuenzle
smokh Father Kneipp
smokh Rev. Graham
smokh Modern Monastic Medicine
smokh Related Topics