Pastoral Medicine

A genuine course on " pastoral medicine " is a want that has long been overdue and therefore needs no explanation but opinions may be divided as to what it should contain. In our view, pastoral medicine is the sum of those explanations anatomical, physiological, as well as pathological and therapeutic, necessary to clergy in the exercise of pastoral functions. Consequently, it will be my aim in this course to communicate to practitioners those moral principles on medical issues, a sufficient knowledge of which is indispensable to render their professional acts are always safe and consistent with Christian principles.

Pope Innocent III, at the General Council of 1215, confirmed the prohibition of the practice of surgery by monks and clerics. A further proceeding, partly caused by the clerical occupation with medicine, is taken in the well known bull of Boniface VIII (1300), in which excommunication is pronounced upon all those who undertook the dissection of a human body. On account of these and similar severe measures, monastic physicians gradually became extinct.

As the demands of the apothecary and university, for-profit licensed doctors made their opressions apparent, physicians pressed King Henry VIII about this untenable state of affairs and in 1512 the regulation of medicine entered the statute books for the monopoly. In 1518 the College of Physicians was established and had statutory authority by 1523 (Tobyn, 1997). For the first time anyone who caused grievous hurt, damage and destruction to their patients could face legal repercussions. The surgeons, smarting from their demotion, took issue with those self-medicating with herbs, or using local herbs to heal the sick. The poor could little afford the services of physicians, surgeons and apothecaries anyway. However, Henry VIII, a keen herbalist himself, issued a Charter in 1542, which enshrined the right of anyone to use herbal medicines, much to the chagrin of the Royal College of Physicians.

Clerical medicine represented an important transitional period in the history between medieval monastic medicine of Christendom and naturopathy (natural medicine) during which medicine and religion still uniquely coexisted. The ability for pastors to practice medicine in this religious context was based on the subordination (licensure) to the predominant realm of Anglican Church established by Henry VIII and was fostered by the recognized doctrine that the effectiveness of physical medicine was possible only because of this spiritual link as the religious basis for physical treatments.

When the physical practice of medicine became increasingly secular and catholic monks began to practice medicine as a for-profit profession, the threat to monks’ vows of poverty and obedience and to what were viewed within the monastic system as the fundamental and predominant spiritual elements of healing, became too great for the monastic system of medicine to be sustained by the Catholic Church. As a result, the unique role of monastic medical practices essentially ended during the Renaissance due to deliberate institutional changes in Church policy. Clerical medicine would then begin under protestant reformation.


Clerical Medicine can be thus be defined as: charitable medical services (Imitatio Christi) rendered to the poor using natural agents such as food, herbs, electricity, physic, water; "certain cures" and "tried remedies"; and supernatural agents including spiritual counseling, prayer, divination, and worship. Many priest-physicians entered the field including early pioneers in electrotherapy, i.e. John Wesley, and migrants to the New World. 

Bishop Gilbert Burner's Discourse of the Pastoral Care (1692) recommended that clergymen study physic (nature cure) so that they might engage in acts of charity. The principle of pastoral care was strong in both the Puritan and Anglican traditions and such practices spread to the America’s often being referred to as ‘clerical medicine.’

When the American Colonies declared their independence as Sovereign States, in July of 1776, they each adopted the Laws of England as the Common Law of the State. And thus it was that a charter which addressed the evils of restrictions on herbs, herbalist and those who were allowed to practice medicine and healing was made in 1543 during the reign of Henry the VIII and was used by the original 13 States of America to determine the rights of nature cure and clerical doctors and our freedom of access to natural medicine and treatments remains the law of the land.

That is generally where we found the Americas and Europe at the turn of the 20th century. But, that did not completely drown out the voice of the Church and the need for clergy to obtain scientific and medical knowledge. In the intimate connection between body and soul, it seemed necessary to the Church that the clergyman should have some knowledge of the conditions of the body, if he wished to fill with best results the office of administrator to the soul. He required this knowledge, furthermore, for the purpose of applying it to the proper care of his own body, and also to enable him to render judicious advice and practical assistance in cases of serious accident, when he may be on hand before the physician, and to offer counsel in the rational treatment of sickness where, in cases of emergency, a medical man is not immediately at hand; or by the bedside as clergy often makes more visitations than the medic and provide practical knowledge and advice on diet, hygiene and other matters which must be imparted to both patient and family. Clergy must, and are therefore, at duty in numerous instances to impart counsel. This knowledge gained from a course of ecclesiastical training became to be known as “Pastoral Medicine” and was to be used to best advantage in pastoral and missionary care.

The first solid reference to emerging pastoral medicine we find in Carl Franz Nicolaus Capellmann’s PASTORAL MEDICINE, published in 1879. In the preface we find: “The author is Dr. Carl Capellmann, an eminent German physician practising in Aix-la-Chapelle. His treatise, " De occisione foetus," brought him a great reputation among theologians and physicians, and he was strongly urged to publish a book on Pastoral Medicine... A HANDBOOK of "pastoral medicine " is a want that has long been felt by the clergy in the care of souls."

Our next reference of import is Pastoral Medicine, A Handbook for the Catholic Clergy by ALEXANDER E. SANFORD, M.D. 1904. Its stated purpose:

“THE purpose of Pastoral Medicine is to present to the practical theologian facts of physical science, as developed by the medical profession, for the purpose of applying them in pastoral functions and in explanation and support of the teachings of faith and morals. Pastoral Medicine has for its object the treatment of some branches of the scope of pastoral labors, which, as a rule, are but sparingly, if at all, included in the clerical student's plan of studies... The priest is, to a considerable degree, the teacher of the people. The people, as experience teaches, turn often to the priest for help and advice, not only in matters ecclesiastical, but also in questions of physical welfare. To be able to give the advice proper in such instances the priest should be familiar, at least, with the fundamental principles of hygiene.”

Pastorale Medizin
Happily, however, the content of the present COURSE is the mature fruit of a scholar's life-long experience and assiduous study, seasoned with the wisdom of priest and successful teacher. The Reverend Dr. Ludwig Ruland held the chair of Moral and Pastoral Theology in the University of Wiirzburg (Germany), where he had been teaching these subjects for many years in the 1930’s.

Lectures upon medical jurisprudence are delivered both to law-students and students of medicine to gain all necessary information about a science which is, otherwise, foreign to each respectively. In the same manner, pastoral medicine should, in my opinion, meet the exigencies of both priest and physician, the more so as the questions at issue cannot be clearly determined, unless theology and medicine mutually complete each other. It is, of course, unavoidable in such a work to treat on matters that were well known before, either to the priest or to the physician.

Pastoral Medicine required some pioneer work as it was born out of a monastic tradition. The term "medicine" may appear undefined in view of the necessity of assembling a great variety of "problems bordering on the natural sciences," which is the subtitle of the German edition. But, ultimately, all discussions in this volume tend to promote concepts of health, physical, moral and mental, as a pre-requisite of spiritual and religious development.

The guiding principle of Dr. Ruland's work is the formation of proficient shepherds of souls in the civilized world of our modern day. Besides competent advice as to the various practical problems in the work for which priests must assume responsibility, there is need of sound information concerning more general cultural trends and movements which arise out of life in general sciences. Equally important are counsels about more intimately personal matters, which vitally affect the priest-penitent, confessional privilege for successful work in God's vineyard.

A Course of this type cannot be too technical or exhaustive in matters of the medical sciences bearing on Pastoral Theology. Hence no attempt is made to turn the priest into a medical expert. The information goes only do far as priests can safely and profitably use it to solve practical cases, and form an intelligent background concerning the matters in question. The nature of this Course does not  require to treat systematically all the branches of medical science in a popular form, any more than to write a systematic treatise on the whole of Doctrine and Morals.

Systematic treatment on anatomy, physiology, dietetics, pathology and therapeutics, have no place in pastoral medicine, because physician and priest ought to have a thorough acquaintance with them already. Every intelligent, educated pastor is expected, in his own interest, to inform himself on the method of living best suited for health of body and health of soul. But the obligation is still more binding on priests and physicians who have not their own welfare only to consider, but who are intrusted also with the care of the souls and bodies respectively of their fellow-men. To be a physician whether for body or soul, something more is required than mere prescriptions or attempts at therapeutics. To preserve the health is of far greater importance than to restore it.

Health is the greatest of all possessions next to life, and it is only to be expected that every man should take a deep interest in whatever concerns health and its recovery. Pastoral Medicine can also have much to do with the advise and council on diet, in the prevention of obesity, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease, today ravaging the world’s population with the medical profession at a loss of any effective cures. Pastors can also provide council on diet in mission camps where starvation and nutritional deficiencies contribute significantly to morbidity and mortality. The Bible is specific on its instructions on diet, hygiene, and health.

Pastoral Medicine Course of Study - 25 clock hours
    Lesson 0: Introduction Page
    Lesson 1: The Beginnings of Human Life - procreation and birth Page
    Lesson 2: The Conditions of Good Health AIR, RESPIRATION, AND VENTILATION
    Lesson 3: Euphoria and the Euphoric Luxuries Page
    Lesson 4: Life in Sickness and in Health Page
    Lesson 5: Questions Concerning Both Moral Theology and Psychology Page
    Lesson 6: The Ethics of Sex Life 

An enlightening 25 clock hour course, especially important for pastoral practitioners.