Wishing for a Thomist Medicine

One episode in what might be called the legendary history of the medieval medical school at Salerno features a role for Thomas Aquinas. For Salvatore De Renzi, Aquinas is "the most complete synthesis and the most exact expression" of Salernitan medical teaching through the thirteenth century.2 Andrea Sinno invokes the tradition that Aquinas taught theology in the Cathedral of Salerno for a time, apparently in close cooperation with the Masters of medicine.3 Both authors cite what they consider to be instances of Aquinas's borrowing from Salernitan treatises, not to say quoting them.4 Capparoni adds to the evidence a passage "from Thomas" that praises Salernitan expertise.5 Unfortunately, the passage comes from a spurious text.6 If the textual evidence in De Renzi and Sinno is not so obviously misleading,

1 This paragraph contains many invisible references to Michel Foucault. I have in mind particularly his Surveiller et punir: Naissance de la prison (Paris: NRF/Gallimard, 1975), pp. 303—315; compare the English of Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison, tr. Alan Sheridan (New York: Vintage/Random House, 1995), pp. 296-308.

2 Salvatore De Renzi, Storia documentata della Scuola medica di Salerno, 2nd edn. (Naples 1857), p. 482. See pp. 481-490 for De Renzi's collation of Salernitan matter in Thomas.

3 Andrea Sinno, "Determinazione della sede della scuola medica di Salerno: Diplomi di laurea dell'Almo Collegio Salernitano," Archivio storico della Provincia di Salerno 1 (1921): 29-57, at pp. 45-47.

4 De Renzi, Storia documentata, pp. 487-490; Sinno, "Determinazione,"pp. 45-56, with reference to De Renzi.

5 Pietro Capparoni, Magistri Salernitani nondum cogniti (London: Wellcome Institute for the History of Medicine, 1923), p. 8.

6 The treatise appears as Opusculum 64 in the Parma-Vivès edition. It was counted as in-authentic by Mandonnet and Grabmann, who have been followed by later writers, such as Weisheipl and Torrell.

it does not show that Thomas was a member of the Salernitan school — much less, that he was its supreme embodiment.

The legends do pose a question: what is the role of medical doctrine, Salernitan or not, in Aquinas? For believers in the explanatory power of biography, there are several reasons to find the question suggestive. Thomas learned his liberal arts at the university in Naples, Salerno's near neighbor and administrative center.7 Norman Naples is known to have been much concerned with the new natural philosophy and its medical contexts.8 Again, Aquinas first studied physics there under Peter of Ireland, from whom there survives a later disputed question on the teleology of organ-formation.9 More substantively, medicine would seem to offer Thomas a detailed supplement to certain parts of Aristotelian biology. (Aristotle himself frequently gives examples from medicine, but there is no Aristotelian treatise on it.) There are many references to medicine throughout Thomas's writing that point beyond Aristotle. Surely Thomas must have contributed importantly to medicine, even if he was not associated with a legendary medieval medical school.

As soon as one begins to read the texts, these biographical probabilities dissolve. Many of Thomas's mentions of medicine are not pertinent. Medical metaphors appear, for example, throughout his discussion of the sacraments, but the metaphors are both traditional and perfectly general. The same holds for medical examples in illustration of other points, such as the Aristotelian doctrine of analogy. Finally, and again following Aristotle, Thomas frequently uses the physician, the medicus, as typical of those who know by habit some body of knowledge. Thus the medicus appears in discussions about learned error. In each of these cases, the mention of medicine implies no learned views about it.10

Other passages do contain substantive medical doctrine but, on closer examination, the doctrine will appear to be both derivative and rudimentary. Since it is impracticable to survey all the passages, I will concentrate

7 See the early biographies of Peter Calo and William Tocco in Fontes vitae S. Thomae Aquinatis, ed. Dominicus Prümmer (Toulouse: Revue Thomiste, 1935), pp. 20 and 70, respectively.

8 Martin Grabmann, "Kaiser Friedrich II. und sein Verhältnis zur aristotelischen und arabischen Philosophie," in his Mittelalterliches Geistesleben (Munich: M. Hüber, 1926) 2: 103—137.

9 The disputation was published by Clemens Baeumker under the title Petrus de Hibernia, der jugendlehrer des Thomas von Aquino und seine Disputation vor König Manfred, SB Bayer. Akad. Wissenschaften, Philos.-philolog. u. hist. Klassen, J. 1920, Abh. 8, with the text on pp. 41-49.

10 Compare Nancy Siraisi's remarks on the three kinds of medical lore in Albert, "The Medical Learning of Albertus Magnus," in Albertus Magnus and the Sciences, ed. James A. Weisheipl (Toronto: PIMS, 1980), 379-404, at p. 394.

just on three: Thomas's definitions and authorities for medicine, his description of human reproduction, and his mentions of root (or original) moisture.

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