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, 8 (3), 403-21

Paracelsus Confronts the Saints: Miracles, Healing and the Secularization of Magic


Paracelsus Confronts the Saints: Miracles, Healing and the Secularization of Magic

C Webster. Soc Hist Med.


The sixteenth and seventeenth centuries witnessed an erosion of the role played by the church in healing. Magical practices mediated by the church were replaced by the resources of medicine. This represented an important cultural development and it is often regarded as a manifestation of increasing secularization, the decline of magic and rise of science. This paper examines this issue with special reference to miraculous healing associated with saints, which constituted one of the most important facets of magic controlled by the church. It will be suggested that Paracelsus (Theophrast von Hohenheim, 1493-1541) played an important part in the argument concerning the miraculous powers of saints. Many works by Paracelsus produced at various points in his career were relevant to this issue, but De causis morborum invisibilium, the sequel to his important Opus Paraminum (1531), was especially significant. The question of miraculous healing was therefore important in the first, full presentation of the new system of medicine developed by Paracelsus. Modern commentators have understandably found De causis morborum invisibilium less intelligible and congenial than the more accessible Opus Paramirum. But the former was important to Paracelsus, and it addressed problems that were fundamental to his audience. This case-study shows how conclusions reached by Paracelsus about medical questions were integrally tied up with his theological standpoint and with his wider reaction to the acute crisis of confidence which affected the church and the established social order at the beginning of the sixteenth century. By eliminating the miraculous intervention of saints and promoting the secularization of magic, Paracelsus was contributing to one of the important cultural changes associated with the Reformation.

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