Decretal Super Illius Specula The following was taken directly from an article written in 1907 by James J. Walsh, which contains a complete [English language] translation of the “Decretal Super Illius Specula.” The article is included in whole because it also talks about a medical school edict that the reader might find interesting.
TRADITIONAL VERSUS DOCUMENTARY HISTORY.
It is now more than one hundred years since the Comte de Maistre in the Soirees of St. Petersburg declared that history for the last three hundred years had been a conspiracy against the truth -tine conjuration contre la verite. It has taken the full century for the world generally to recognize the truth of this declaration, but at last a universal recognition is coming of the fact that history has been written entirely too much from the personal standpoint of the historian without due reference to contemporary documents and authorities or with the citation of only such references from these as would support the special contention of the writer. Even the writers of history whose reputation has been highest have suffered from this fault and the consequence is that on disputed points it is more important to know what is the attitude of mind of a historian than what he may actually have to say.
One of the most important acknowledgments of the untrust- worthiness of even supposedly good authorities in history has come from the editors of the Cambridge Modern History which was planned by the late Lord Acton so as to include most of the advances in documentary history that have been made in recent years. The passage of the preface in which they emphasize their opinion in this matter is all the more interesting because it recalls the word of de Maistre in a very striking way.- The whole paragraph is worth quoting because it serves to show how careful the modern historical student must be, even though he has the best of supposed authority, not to trust to anything but absolutely contemporary documentary authority on disputed points of history.
" Great additions have of late been made to our knowledge of the past; the long conspiracy against the revelation of truth has gradually given way, and competing historians all over the civilized world have been zealous to take advantage of the change. The printing of archives has kept pace with the admission of enquirers; and the total mass of new matter, which the last half-century has accumulated, amounts to many thousands of volumes. In view of changes and of gains such as these, it has become impossible for the historical writer of the present age to trust without reserve even to the most respected secondary authorities. The honest student finds himself continually deserted, retarded, misled by the classics of historical literature, and has to hew his own way through multitudinous transactions, periodicals and official publications in order to reach the truth. "Ultimate history cannot be obtained in this generation; but, so far as documentary evidence is at command, conventional history can be discarded, and the point can be shown that has been reached on the road from one to the other."In the recent controversy with President White with regard to the supposed prohibition of chemistry by Pope John XXII will be found some excellent illustrations of the wide gap that exists between traditional and documentary history. The first one is, of course, the fact that the Bull appealed to as having forbidden chemistry only forbids the deception of the people of the time by the pretended making of gold and silver by the alchemists. There are, however, more striking illustrations of the necessity for the consultation of original documents herewith presented. President White seems to consider that Pope John was one of the most superstitious men of his time, whose state of mind was so strikingly expressed in many papal documents that it could scarcely help but affect his generation and thus make his people the prey of all manner of ignorant deceptions. President White does not hesitate to say this in a very forcible way, not only in his answer to my article, but also in his " History of the Warfare Between Science and Theology." I quote one typical passage from The Medical Library and Historical Journal
"It is a pity that Dr. Walsh does not quote in full Pope John's other and much more interesting Bull, Super illius specula, of 1326. One would suppose from the doctor's account that this pontiff was a kindly and rational scholar seeking to save the people from the clutch of superstition. The bull of 1326 shows Pope John himself, in spite of his infallibility, sunk in superstition, the most abject and debasing; for, in this bull, supposed to be inspired from wisdom from on high, Pope John complains that both he and his flock are in danger of their lives by the arts of the sorcerers. He declares that such sorcerers can shut up devils in mirrors, finger- rings and phials, and kill men and women by a magic word; that they had tried to kill him by piercing a waxen image of him with needles, in the name of the devil. He therefore, not only in this bull, but in brief after brief, urged bishops, inquisitors and other authorities, sacred and secular, to hunt down the miscreants who thus afflicted the faithful, and he especially increased the power of the inquisitors in various parts of Europe for this purpose. This bull, it was said, and others to the same purpose, which stimulated that childish fear and hatred against the investigation of nature which was felt for centuries and which caused chemistry to be known more and more as one of the ' seven devilish arts.' "There can be no doubt that this is an awful arraignment of a Pope. The Bull in question is quoted so confidently under its Latin title that any one who reads this paragraph must necessarily conclude that it contains all that President White says and that he was fresh from the reading of it. I may say that though I had already found that two Bulls were seriously misrepresented, I could not bring myself to think that this same thing might be true with regard to citations from this third Bull. In my previous answer to President White I was much more occupied with the questions of the supposed prohibitions of Chemistry and of Anatomy than with a defense of the character of Pope John XXII, which was the issue introduced into the controversy by President White. Though I had by me, thanks to my good friend, Father Corbett, of St. Charles Seminary, Overbrook, Philadelphia, a copy of this Bull at the time I was writing my previous article for The Messenger, I did not consult it for I felt sure that it must contain the expressions which were so confidently quoted. My surprise can be better imagined than described when on reading the Bull I found that it contained practically no foundation for the awful charges made by President White. I had been given another lesson in the difference between traditional and documentary history, the significance of which will I hope, be appreciated by others. It led me to consult the further Bulls of John XXII which bring out his character better than any modern historian possibly can and which serve to show that, far from being an obscurantist in any sense of the word, he was deeply interested in education, expressed his appreciation for it on many occasions in the highest terms, encouraged his people to seek it in any and every form, scientific as well as literary and philosophic, and stated confidently that education was sure to redound to the benefit of the Church and deserved to be the special object of ecclesiastical favor.
First, however, let me quote the Bull, Super illius specula, of which President White has said so much. I present a close, almost literal, translation of the document as it is to be found in the collections of Thomassetti and Coquelines.
"Seeking to discover how the sons of men know and serve God by the practice of the Christian religion, we look down from the watch-tower where, though unworthy, we have been placed by the favoring clemency of Him who made the first man after His own image and likeness; setting him over earthly things; adorning him with heavenly virtues; recalling him when a wanderer; bestowing on him a law; freeing him from slavery; finding him when he was lost; and finally ransoming him from captivity by the merit of His passion. With grief we discover, and the very thought of it wrings our soul with anguish, that there are many Christians only in name; many who turn away from the light which once was theirs, and allow their minds to be so clouded with the darkness of error as to enter into a league with death and a compact with hell. They sacrifice to demons and adore them, they make or cause to be made images, rings, mirrors, phials or some such things in which by the art of magic evil spirits are to be enclosed. From them they seek and receive replies, and ask aid in satisfying their evil desires. For a foul purpose they submit to the foulest slavery. Alas! this deadly malady is increasing more than usual in the world and inflicting greater and greater ravages on the flock of Christ.Now here is a papal document that, far from containing any of the superstitions that President White so outspokenly declares it to contain, is a worthy expression of the fatherly feelings of the head of Christendom that might well have been issued at even the most enlightened period of the world's history. The two sentences on which all of President White's serious accusation is founded are simple expressions of the Pope's solicitude for his flock on hearing of some of the practices that some are said to give themselves up to. He does not say even that sorcerers can shut up devils in mirrors, finger-rings and phials, but uses the hypothetical expression that in these things, by magic art, evil spirits are to be enclosed. The Bull has no reference at all to the killing of men and women by a magic word and where President White found that Pope John declares in this Bull that sorcerers had tried to kill him by piercing a waxen image of him with needles in the name of the devil, it is impossible to understand; I should like very much to know what his authority is, because then it could be refuted in its source. As it is Dr. White said it was in the Bull and now every one can see for himself that it is not.
Let us go a step further and take President White's single sentence, " One would suppose from the doctor's account that this pontiff was a kindly and rational scholar seeking to save the people from the clutch of superstition," and let us illustrate the phrase " a kindly and rational scholar " by some documents issued by Pope John XXII. Take for instance the special Bull issued by him for the confirmation of the establishment of chairs in canon and civil law, and the founding of masterships in medicine and in arts in the University of Perugia by which he also conveyed the authority to confer the degrees of doctor and bachelor in all these faculties on those who were found worthy after careful examinations. In the preamble of this Bull we shall find abundant evidence of Pope John's kindly and rational scholarship, of his eminent desire to encourage education in all its forms, literary and scientific, and to make the people of his time understand how valuable he considered education, not only for the sake of the individuals who might acquire it, but also for the church and for the cause of religion.
This Bull was issued Feb. 18, 1321:
" While with deep feelings of solicitous consideration we mentally revolve how precious the gift of science is and how desirable and glorious is its possession, since through it the darkness of ignorance is put to flight and the clouds of error completely done away with so that the trained intelligence of students disposes and orders their acts and modes of life in the light of truth, we are moved by a very great desire that the study of letters in which the priceless pearl of knowledge is found should everywhere make praiseworthy progress, and should especially flourish more abundantly in such places as are considered to be more suitable and fitting for the multiplication of the seeds and salutary ge'rms of right teaching. Whereas some time ago, Pope Clement of pious memory, our predecessor, considering the purity of faith and the excelling devotion which the city of Perugia belonging to our Papal states is recognized to have maintained for a long period towards the church, wishing that these might increase from good to better in the course of time, deemed it fitting and equitable that this same -city, which had been endowed by Divine Grace with the prerogatives of many special favors, should be distinguished by the granting of university powers, in order that by the goodness of God men might be raised up in the city itself pre-eminent for their learning, decreed by the Apostolic authority that a university should be situated in the city and that it should flourish there for all future time with all those faculties that may be found more fully set forth in the letter of that same predecessor aforesaid. And whereas we subsequently, though unworthy, having been raised to the dignity of the Apostolic primacy, are desirous to reward with a still richer gift the same city of Perugia for the proofs of its devotion by which it has proven itself worthy of the favor of the Apostolic See, by our Apostolic authority and in accordance with the council of our brother bishops, we grant to our venerable brother the Bishop of Perugia and to those who may be his successors in that diocese the right of conferring on persons who are worthy of it the license to teach (the Doctorate) in canon and civil law according to- that fixed method which is more fully described and regulated more at length in this our letter.Here is a Bull issued within five years after the Bull which President White so falsely impugns and which tells a very different story with regard to the relationship of the Popes to education in general and especially to scientific education, from that which unfortunate misrepresentation have accorded to them. Perugia was a city of the Papal States, though really scarcely more than under the dominion of the Popes in name. The citizens exercised a large freedom not only in all civic matters, but even in regard to their relationships with neighboring cities and political powers. One of the things which Pope John seems to have been especially solicitous about, however, as we shall see in a subsequent Bull, was that the educational institutions in the Papal States should be maintained at a high standard. A university had been established at Perugia by his predecessor, and Pope John not only confirmed this establishment, but gave the additional privilege of conferring degrees in Canon and Civil Law as well as in Medicine and the Arts.
Lest there should be any thought that the fact that the conferring of such privileges by the Pope might seem to be a limitation of "university privilege, it may be said at once that practically all universities have at all times been under the supervision of Government and had derived their privileges from the political authorities. During the Middle Ages the universities were -really developments of Cathedral schools, and as such were usually under the authority of the Chancellor of the Cathedral. As an ecclesiastical person he looked to the Pope as the source of his authority, and in order that uniformity of requirement for various degrees and of educational methods might be maintained, there was practically universal agreement that such centralization of the power to grant privileges for the erection of universities and the conferring of degrees was the most practical way. With regard to Perugia besides there was the additional reason that the Pope represented the political as well as the ecclesiastical authority in the matter, and that very naturally the encouragement for the good educational work already being done in the Umbrian City should come from him.
This premised, certain features of this Bull are especially noteworthy in the light of modern educational experiences. The Pope was confirming the establishment of a new university. It was to be as he realized, a smaller university in size, but he did not want its standard of education to be lower than that of the great universities. For this reason he insists specifically in the Bull that the license to teach, the equivalent of our modern doctorate in law, letters and science shall not be given except after the completion of a course equivalent to those given in these subjects in Paris or Bologna, the great universities of the time, and that the examinations shall be quite as rigid and shall be conducted under conditions that, as far as human foresight can arrange, shall preclude all possibility of favoritism of any kind entering into the promotion of candidates for these degrees. The fact that oaths were required in the hope that standards would be thus maintained shows how seriously the subject of education was taken at this time, when, if we would believe some of those who depreciate the Middle Ages, ecclesiastical efforts were mainly occupied with the attempt to keep the people as ignorant as possible.
This phase of the papal decree is all the more interesting when it is viewed in the light of some modern educational developments. A few years ago there was a very general complaint that the doctorate in philosophy was conferred too easily, especially by the minor universities, and that as a consequence this degree had come to mean little. It required a distinct crusade of effort to raise standards matter, and even at the present time the situation is not satisfactory. A very curious element in the situation lies the fact that, in comparison to the number of students, certain of the smaller universities conferred this degree much more frequently than the larger universities. This was found to be true even among the German universities, where I believe that according to statistics the little University of Rostock, in Mecklenberg. confers the degree proportionately oftener than any other German university. Pope John XXII was evidently endeavoring to prevent any such development as this, or perhaps he was trying to remedy an abuse which he knew had already crept in, for all of his Bulls on educational matters insist with no little emphasis on the necessity for the maintenance of a high standard of educational requirements as regards the length of time in years and the books to be read and lectures attended, as well as on the rigor yet absolute fairness of examinations.
I am sure that the Bulls of John XXII must never have come under President White's eyes or he, as an experienced educator who has had to meet most of these problems in our time, would have been more sympathetic with this medieval ecclesiastic, who did all in his power to maintain university standards. Pope John's career deserves study by all modern educators for this reason, and the surprise of it will be that in education, as practically in everything else, in spite of our present-day self-complacency in the matter of educational progress, there is nothing new under the sun, certainly nothing new in the problems university authorities have to meet in order to maintain their standards.
The best possible proof that Pope John XXII was not opposed in any way to the development of science nor to the study of sciences at the universities is to be found in his establishment of this medical school at Perugia. We may say at once that this is not the only medical school with whose encouragement he was concerned since the erection of the University of Cahors, his birthplace, and the establishment of a medical school there, as well as the provision of funds for certain medical chairs in the University at Rome, shows the reality and the breadth of his interest'in medicine. It must be remembered that under the term medicine at this time most of the physical sciences as we know them now were included. It is the custom sometimes to think that the students of medicine in the Middle Ages knew very little about medicine itself or the sciences related to medicine. This thought was excusable some years ago when the old medical text books of the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries had not as yet been printed. At the present time such a mistake would be unpardonable for any scholar who pretends to first hand knowledge of this period. In his address before the Congress of Arts and Sciences at St. Louis two years ago Professor Clifford Alibutt, Regius Professor of Physic at the University of Cambridge, reviewed the progress of medicine and surgery down to the sixteenth century. Some of his utterances about the ordinary teaching in the medical schools of Italian universities during the thirteenth century must be a source of supreme surprise to those who have been accustomed to think of ignorance of science or neglect of observation as the distinguishing marks of medical education at that time.
There is scarcely a modern idea in medicine or surgery that was not seriously touched upon by distinguished teachers of medicine in the thirteenth century. William of Salicet and Lanfranc anticipated many of the ideas that are supposed to be essentially modern. They insisted on the necessity for ligatures for bleeding vessels, of the advisability of picking up the ends of severed tendons and nerves and suturing them together, of the danger of wounds and operations in the region of the neck, of the hardening of the kidneys that is associated with dropsy, the importance of certain forms of social diseases supposed not to have been recognized until long after their time, and they did their teaching by means of cases and not as is usually asserted by discussions on Hippocrates and Galen. The employment of opium with its scientific limitations began in the thirteenth century and a form of anaesthesia was much more widely employed in surgical operations than modern students of medical history have had any idea of until very recent years.
In a word it may be said that the student of medicine of the thirteenth century had to devote himself to very nearly the same departments of science as those which occupy his colleague of the present century. If anything his knowledge of the allied sciences had to be, with due allowance for the times, wider than that of his fellow student of the twentieth century. Diseases were supposed to be much more due to climate and to the conformation of the earth, to soil, and the like at that time, and these had to be the subjects of study. At the end of this fourteenth century antimony was probably introduced into medical practice and it seems not unlikely that other minerals had been employed before this and that medical students were expected to know something about them. Of plants they were expected to know in a general way much more than the modern medical student, to whom botany is not considered of much importance, and of zoology they probably had at least as great practical knowledge since many of their dissections were made on animals, and the differences in structure between them and man were pointed out when the annual anatomies or human dissections at the universities were made. This will give an idea, then, what were in general the studies which Pope John was trying to foster with so much care in the University of Perugia.
There is another phase of his regulations with regard to medical schools which cannot but prove of the greatest of interest to members of present day medical faculties. It has been realized for some time that what is needed more than anything else to make good physicians for the present generation is that medical students should have a better preliminary education than has been the case in the past. In order to secure this, various states have required evidence of a certain number of years spent at high school or college before a medical student's certificate allowing entrance into a medical school would be granted. Some of the most prominent medical schools have gone even farther than this and have required a degree in arts should be obtained in the undergraduate department before medical studies may be taken up. Something nearly of this same kind was manifestly in Pope John's mind when he required that five to seven years should have been spent at a university, at least three years of which should have been entirely devoted to medical studies, before the candidate might be allowed to go up for his examination for his doctor's degree. If we take the longer term as a standard we are nearer the requirements of the most up-to-date universities at the present time than could possibly be imagined likely to be found in such old-time educational institutions as those of the early fourteenth century, only that we have the documentary evidence very clear in the matter. Yet it is the Pope who encouraged devotion to science in all forms as it was studied in his day, who insisted that the standards of education in the universities of the Papal States, over which he had direct control, should he equal to those of Paris and Bologna, who suggested that teachers should be brought from the famous universities for the purpose of introducing the best educational methods, who is now declared by President White to have " stimulated the childish fear and hatred against the investigation of nature which was felt for centuries and whose decrees and briefs are said to have caused chemistry to be known more and more as one of the ' seven devilish arts." Here is the striking difference between traditional as opposed to documentary history.
There are other Bulls of Pope John which serve to bring out his interest in education quite as clearly as this one and show that the ecclesiastics of the time were encouraged to think and act up to the thought that education of all kinds was sure to be of benefit to the Church and her members. In extending the privileges of the University of Perugia on another occasion by the Bull Inter ceteras euros, John declared that among the other cares which were enjoined on him from on high by his Apostolic office and amongst the many projects which were constantly in his mind for the betterment of religion, his thoughts were directed more frequently and more ardently to this conclusion than to any other, that the professors of the Catholic faith whom the true light of the true faith illuminates should be imbued with the deepest wisdom and should become erudite in all the studies that bring profitable knowledge. For, he adds, this gift cannot be bought by any price, but is divinely granted to minds that are of good will. For the possession of knowledge is evidently desirable since by it the darkness of ignorance and the gloom of error are entirely done away with and the intelligence of students is increased so as to direct all their acts and deeds in the light of truth. " It is for this reason (and no wonder)," he adds, "that he was led to encourage the study of letters in which the priceless pearl of knowledge is to be found and especially in such places as may bear worthy fruit for the Church itself and for its members."
The expressions that he here uses are almost word for word, though not quite the same as occur in other Bulls, showing that a sort of formula was constantly used to express the opinion of the Holy See with regard to the desirableness of knowledge and the benefit that might be expected to flow from education. Not all of the Bull, however, is a formula, since in the rest of it Pope John insists that at least five years must be required at the University for the study of canon and civil law, and detailed injunctions are set forth as to the method of examination so as to secure two things, first that a proper standard shall be maintained and that those who have completed the course shall have the right to examinations without further payment of fees, and secondly, that such examinations shall be absolutely fair, without any favor being shown to the applicant in any way and at the same time without any prejudice being allowed to influence his examiners against him.
In erecting the University of Cahors, Pope John took occasion to say that he did so because the city promised to provide facilities and proper conditions for the university and he believed that the existence of such an institution would in very many ways be of benefit to the commonwealth. He wished, therefore, that in Cahors, " a copious, refreshing fountain of science should spring up and continue to flow, from whose abundance all the citizens might drink and where those desirous of education might become imbued with knowledge so that the cultivators of wisdom might sow seed with success and all the student body become learned and eloquent and in every way distinguished, bearing abundant fruit which the Lord in his own good time would give them if they applied themselves with good will." He wished that the erection of the university should be considered as a special reward for their devotion to the Holy See and should always stand as a memorial of that.
The thought may possibly occur to some that Pope John, after having issued these noteworthy documents in the cause of education in the early years of his Pontificate, might subsequently have changed his mind and considered with advancing years that the repression of the enthusiasm for learning would be better for his people from a spiritual standpoint. There is, however, no sign of this to be found in the important documents of his pontificate, nor would any one think of it who realized that John became Pope at the age of 72, after having a very wide definite experience in political affairs as well as ecclesiastical matters, an experience which took him over many parts of Europe and must have greatly broadened his intellectual horizon, and that he remained in full possession of his wonderful intellectual powers until he was well past 90. Within two years before his death he issued the Bull which laid the foundation of the University of Cahors, his native place. This he did at the request of the citizens of the town, who pleaded that no better memorial of their great fellow citizen who had become Pope could be raised among them than a university.
In the light of these other Bulls it is not surprising to find that John should also have endeavored to maintain the standard of the University of the City of Rome. It must be remembered that at this time the Popes were at Avignon and that as a consequence the population of the city of Rome had greatly decreased and there were so many civic dissensions that very little attention could be given to educational matters. Pope John issued a Bull, however, from Avignon confirming the erection of the University of the City of Rome by his predecessor of happy memory, Boniface VIII (the same who is said, though falsely, to have hampered the development of anatomy), and further laying down regulations for the maintenance of the standard of education in the Roman University. In this Bull John says that he considers that a Pope could confer no greater favor in the City of Cities so closely attached to the Roman Church than to bring about the re-establishment of the university there, so that the inhabitants and the visitors to Rome might all have the opportunity and also the incitement to seek after wisdom, for this is a gift which comes from on high, which cannot be bought for a price, but which is also granted to those who seek it with good will.
John proceeds to say that he hopes that the city of Rome shall, under the favor of Providence, produce men of pre-eminent worth in science, and that in order that the wishes of Pope Boniface VIII in this matter may be fulfilled he confirms and extends all the privileges which had been originally granted. In the University at Rome there were also professors of medicine, and there is good historical authority for the assertion that John himself offered to pay out of his private purse the salary of the professor of physic in order that this department of the university might become established as firmly as were the other departments. In a word, in the documentary evidence so readily available to any one who wishes to consult it, we find John manifesting that he was " a kindly and rational scholar," to use President White's expression, " seeking," surely if education shall have any such effect, and in modern times we have been led to believe that it can, " to save the people from the clutch of superstition."
James J. Walsh, M.D., Ph.D.
Fordham University Medical School.
- Dolentes advertimtis. quod etiam cum nostrorum turbatione visce- rum cogitamus quamplures esse solo nomine christianos, qui rellcto primo- veritatis lumine, tanto erroris caligine obnubilantur, quod cum morte foe- dus ineunt, et pactum faciunt cum inferno: daemonibus namque immolant, hos adorant, fabricant ac fabricari procurant imagines, an nulum vel speculum, vel phialam, vel rem quamcumque aliam magice ad daemones inibi alligandos, ab his petunt responsa, ab his recipiunt, et pro implendis pravis suis desideriis auxilia postulant, pro re faet idissima faetidam exhibent servitutem: Proh dolor! hujusmodi morbus pestifer, mine per mundum solito amplius conva-lescens, eccessive gravius inficit Christi gregem.
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