God, mammon and the physician: Medicine in England before the college

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Medieval medical practice has all too often been depicted by historians as ineffective, overpriced and riddled with superstition. Yet the physician, who boasted an impressive range of academic accomplishments, exercised considerable influence in political, religious and cultural affairs. How was this achieved? The overwhelming authority of the Church, in an age of high mortality, when life was generally painful as well as short, helps to explain an apparent paradox. For the practitioner, who was often also a priest, dealt with spiritual as well as earthly diseases, plumbing the recesses of men's souls while he examined their bodies. He was a confidant and mentor, offering advice on all aspects of the human condition. Since physical suffering was often regarded as a consequence of sin, confession loomed large in treatment. Indeed, the practice of both medicine and surgery was regulated by canon law, which looked beyond mere physical fitness to the quest for eternal salvation.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)266-272
Number of pages7
JournalJournal of the Royal College of Physicians of London
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - May 2000

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