1493? – 1541
by Brother Ray Skogmo
Philipp Theophrastus, Bombast of Hohenheim, aka: Helvetius, Germanus, Suevus and Arpinus: or more properly Paracelsus, nephew of the Grand Master of the Order of the Knights of St. John whose name was George Bombast of Hohenheim.
Philipp like his father had a sharp and intuitive medical mind. (His father William being more than a high ranking military officer but a field physician of stature and chief of staff of the local hospital.) Philipp graduated medical school quickly and took up a hospital internship near his home. His politics, religious attitudes, and honesty created massive personality clashes with the other surgeons of his time. Which he accused of being self absorbed, greedy, lacking compassion and having a God complex.
He subsequently left his residency and began to travel the world. Seeking more medical knowledge and administering medical help to the common people who normally could never hope to see a doctor or real surgeon. The trip to the barber for a good leaching was about all they could hope for.
Philipp studied awhile with Trithemius of Sponheim, and Solomon Trismosin who introduced him to alchemy. Giving rise to his alchemistical speculations that later influenced his chemical research. Which influenced, and helped create modern chemistry. He also worked at the mine laboratories of the Sigismund Fuggers. It was here that he became the father of the now fashionable concept of the Euro health spas.
His travels took him to Germany, Italy, France, the Netherlands, Denmark, Sweden, Russia, and the Near East. While in India he was taken prisoner by the Tarters and brought to the Khan, after words Philipp went to Constantinople with the Khans’ son to be schooled in the secret occult doctrines and sciences of the East (1513-1521).
While in Italy he became a surgeon in the Imperial army. This allowed him to travel more, where he would gather more information from other alchemists, physicians, surgeons, and executioners, barbers, gypsies, and midwifes. His acts of charity became famous. The achievements in alchemy, chemistry and medicine became points of envy and jealousy amongst fellow physicians.
In 1527 on recommendation of Ecolampadius, Philipp was made a professor of physics, medicine, and surgery at the University of Basel. Where he educated students and horrified his colleagues. His fellow professors were teaching Galen, Hippocrates, and Avicenna, which was the standard extent of medical knowledge at the time.
In addition to teaching, Paracelsus ran hospitals that turned down none. He was appointed by the City Council of Basel to be medical quality inspector, and this gave him the power to examine the quality and quantities and prices of compounds, drugs, and medicines. He was given the authority to revoke licenses; give citations and fines to apothecaries, druggists, and physicians. You can well imagine how popular that made him.
In July 1528, he left Basel in a hurry to avoid unpleasant complications of saving some ones life. No good deed goes unpunished. He resumed his roaming: Colmar in 1528, Esslingen and Nuremberg from 1529 to 1530. It was in these times he was again denounced, accused of being a quack, charlatan, and even an impostor. He asked the city council of Nuremberg to gather the patients of the accusing doctors that the physicians had deemed beyond help. They did so, and the cases included a few instances of Elephantiasis. He cured them, and did not charge a fee. The record of this and testimonials are a part of record in the city archives of Nuremberg. More traveling, and more wonders performed in Zurich, Munich, Hungary, to name just a few.
In 1536 he was invited to come to Salzburg by the Prince Palatine, Duke Ernst of Bavaria who was a great fan of the occult arts. Here some of his greatest achievements were made. His wages were good so he was free with his money always giving to those less fortunate. Empowered by the Duke with similar powers of inspection like in Basel, he once again gathered enemies.
In 1541 he was poisoned at a celebration in his honor and died. I have not gone into great detail of specific acts of kindness, medical miracles, occult and alchemical skills, or heroism in combat. There are simply to many of them for me to record here. However I will take a moment to mention that he was much maligned in his time, ridiculed and attacked, but never wavered from always doing his best and epitomizing the Great Work.
He was the Swiss Hermes, father of modern pharmacology, discoverer of hydrogen and nitrogen, inventor of the mineral bath euro-spa, proponent of hygienic environment for surgery. Unlike most physicians of his time, Paracelsus shaved. He believed the long flowing status symbol of the beard wasn’t clean or compatible with surgery. His opponents made up stories to discredit and belittle him by saying he couldn’t grow a beard because as a child he had been emasculated during a secret briss. Which implied he was Jewish, and not a great thing at the time. They spread rumors of his emasculation at a party by a sword of a drunken army buddy of his dads. Sounds pretty dumb and pathetic in retrospect, but really bad stuff in Philipp’s time.
He also put forth the hypothesis of microorganisms like germs and bacteria as the cause of many diseases. For more information on Paracelsus consult your local library, if they don’t have any thing COMPLAIN!
In closing I’d like to leave you with a statement of Paracelsus that he would often use when he had somehow offended some one unintentionally. It has been something I identify with strongly, and so nicely put: “I know that I am a man who does not speak to every one only that which might please him, and I am not used to give submissive answers to arrogant questions. I know my ways, and I do not wish to change them; neither could I change my nature. I am a rough man, born in a rough country. I’ve been brought up in pine-woods, and I may have inherited some knots. That which seems to me polite and amiable may appear unpolished to another, and what seems silk in my eyes may be but home spun to you.”