In the Middle Ages how did religion both Help and Hinder medicine ?

During the middle ages religion was extremely important to almost everyone. At that time it was Christianity that people followed. They were greatly influenced by the Christian Church. People would go to church and listen to the Priest read from the bible. The priest would be the only one who could read and write in the Church, apart from the people higher than him (bishops knights) etc. So people enjoyed listening to him read from the bible and the people there wouldn't have known whether it was the truth or not, so they had to take his word for it.

In my essay I will be explaining how religion both helped and hindered the development of medicine. I will then sum up the points I have made with a conclusion, where I will say whether it helped more than it hindered or hindered more than it helped. My prediction now is that it was a hinder more than a help. I think this using what I have been studying over the past few lessons and the notes I have made from websites and books.

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As I mentioned before the Christian Church influenced people, especially Christians. The bible, Priest and higher people of the church taught it was important to help the sick and poor. People listened to this and wanted to help the sick. This encouraged people to look for cures that might help the sick. Monasteries were built to treat ill people, they were basically like a hospital. Because monks and nuns were very religious they were the ones who worked there, looking after the sick people.

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Another way in which the Church helped was with Galen and his ideas. Arabs found Galens books, which contained ideas and cures for common diseases. No-one would be able to understand them written in arabic so people from the church had them translated into latin. They were enabled to spread the word so it ended up that more and more people knew about Galen and his ideas.

Religion hindered progress in many ways and a lot of this hinderence came from superstition and of course the Christian Church, and Saints. Christians believed in following what the Saints said. For example one Saint said that washing was wrong, so obviously after he said that many people did not wash, which would not rid them of dirt they had picked up. This definitely didn't help people to keep healthy, and it just shows how much people listened to the Saints. A lot of people believed that dead Saints had the power to heal, so instead of taking medicine when they were ill they would not do anything. This meant they would not get better but worse, because they were waiting for the dead Saints to heal them. But maybe the worst one that people believed in was that disease came from God's anger, so they would pray to the Saints instead of taking medicine. We know nowadays that disease comes from germs and poor hygiene etc and even if you are very religious you probably wouldn't believe that it was God's anger making you ill.

There were some more simple reasons though. For example, people were influenced by the bible. It was also believed that the God and the Devil influenced how healthy you stayed. Although these ideas were more simple it did not stop them from being a hinderence to medicine.

In the Middle Ages superstition played a big part of people's lives, especially as the Saints and Priests greatly believed in the planets, astrology, charms and spells. This is why medicine became a total hinder, as none of the ideas were going to work, people just thought they did. Medieval physicians took astrology very seriously and believed the position of the planets should be consulted before operating. They would only operate if the planets were 'favourable'. We of course know that this is a silly idea, but in those days people would probably end up dead, because the planets weren't in the right position for them to have an operation. They would die waiting for an operation. Physicians also believed that different star signs ruled certain parts of the body, for example Pisces governs the feet and Taurus rules the neck and so on. It was also thought that the position of the planets affected life and health, not just when to have an operation. So astrology was a major part of the hinderence in medicine.

There were tests that doctors used in those days to decide if you would live or die. A favourite way was putting a 'caladrius' bird on the sick-bed. If the bird looked away from the patient it was believed to result in death. If it looked at the patient then they would supposedly survive. This to us sounds like a ridiculous idea but in the Middle Ages people truly believed in it. In my opinion, putting a bird on the sick-bed was not a good idea anyway, because who knows where the bird had been ? I think the bird would have brought more disease and germs in and would've left its mark on the bed too. This is why animals aren't allowed in hospitals today, as they spread germs about. This idea of the bird was a hinderence in medicine, there is no way that it helped.

The main problem with all these ideas was that the majority of physicians thought that the superstitious ideas had more power to heal than the scientific ideas. This was a big hinderence and the reason for it being a hinder is that the physicians had a lot of influence over the ordinary people and as physicians were thought to be very clever, people weren't going to challenge their ideas. What they said most likely went.

Many people believed in 'healing hands', if you were ill you were and a King or Queen touched you on the head it was supposed to cure you. Of course this was not true, inside the body it could be anyone touching you on the head, and it is not like Kings or Queens had special hands, therefore being a hinderence to medicine. The Church controlled all learning, which resulted in slow progress. In those days the Church was quite a hinderence, but no-one could really do much about it, especially as most people didn't realise that it was a hinderence and also because it had so much influence over people. Communication systems in those days were basically non-existent, making it almost impossible for physicians to share and discuss ideas with each other. This was a hinderence because it meant their ideas couldn't be developed. One big hinderence was the fact that human dissection was forbidden, so they did not have much knowledge of anatomy like we do now. If they used Galen's ideas they were not always completely right, one idea that he had which is now proved to be wrong is the idea of the human jaw being made up of two bones, like animals but it is actually just one bone. This would've come from Galen only being able to dissect animals, not humans.

Now I have made my points on religion helping and hindering I think that it is obvious that religion and the Christian Church in the Middle Ages was much more of a hinderence than a help. In my opinion it wasn't actually the common peoples fault, but the people who had a bit of power ! For example, physicians, priests, kings bishops and many more. The ordinary people followed what these more important people said, as how did they know what was right and what was wrong, or what was a help and what was a hinderence ? Basically they didn't have the knowledge to challenge any of the ideas they were told. So going back to my introduction, I was correct in saying it was more of a hinderence than a help. During the Middle Ages religion did help in some ways for example, building monasteries and spreading Galen's ideas but it hindered in more ways than I ever imagined. For example, believing that the planets controlled health and operations and thinking that dead saints had the power to heal. I could go on forever. My final point is that perhaps people listened to the Christian Church to much ? I think the reason for this is that they didn't really have anywhere else to turn to when something went wrong, apart from religion and the Church. In the Middle Ages religion hindered the development of medicine much more than it helped.

Updated: May 19, 2021
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In the Middle Ages how did religion both Help and Hinder medicine ? essay
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