Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Jenner's Discovery of Vaccination and the Church by Andrew Dickson White 1891

Jenner's Discovery of Vaccination, and the Church by Andrew Dickson White 1891

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The steady evolution of scientific medicine brings us, next, to the discovery of vaccination by Jenner. Here, too, sundry vague survivals of theological ideas caused many of the clergy to side with retrograde physicians. Perhaps the most virulent of Jenner's enemies was one of his professional brethren, Dr. Moseley, who placed on the title-page of his book, Lues Bovilla, as a motto, referring to Jenner and his followers, "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do"; this book of Dr. Moseley was especially indorsed by the Bishop of Dromore. In 1798 an Anti-vaccination Society was formed by physicians and clergymen, who called on the people of Boston to suppress vaccination, as "bidding defiance to Heaven itself, even to the will of God," and declared that "the law of God prohibits the practice." As late as 1803, the Rev. Dr. Ramsden thundered against vaccination in a sermon before the University of Cambridge, mingling texts of Scripture with calumnies against Jenner; but Plumptre and the Rev. Rowland Hill in England, Waterhouse in America, Thouret in France, Sacco in Italy, and a host of other good men and true, pressed forward, and at last science, humanity, and right reason gained the victory. Most striking results quickly followed. The diminution in the number of deaths from the terrible scourge was amazing. In Berlin, during the eight years following 1783, over four thousand children died of the small-pox; while during the eight years following 1814, after vaccination had been largely adopted, out of a larger number of deaths there were but five hundred and thirty-five who died of this disease. In Würtemberg, during the twenty-four years following 1772, one in thirteen of all the children died of small-pox, while during the eleven years after 1822 there died of it only one in sixteen hundred. In Copenhagen, during twelve years before the introduction of vaccination, fifty-five hundred persons died of small-pox, and during the sixteen years after its introduction only one hundred and fifty-eight persons died of it throughout all Denmark. In Vienna, where the average yearly mortality from this disease had been over eight hundred, it was steadily and rapidly reduced, until in 1803 it had fallen to less than thirty; and in London, formerly so afflicted by this scourge, out of all her inhabitants there died of it in 1890 but one. As to the world at large the result is summed up by one of the most honored English physicians of our time in the declaration that "Jenner has saved, is now saving, and will continue to save in all coming ages, more lives in one generation than were destroyed in all the wars of Napoleon."

It will have been noticed by those who have read this history thus far that the record of the Church generally was far more honorable in this struggle than in many which preceded it: the reason is not difficult to find; the decline of theology inured to the advantage of religion, and religion gave powerful aid to science.

Yet there have remained some survivals in both branches of the Western Church which may be regarded with curiosity. A small body of perversely ingenious minds in the medical profession in England have found a few ardent allies among the less intellectual clergy. The Rev. Mr. Rothery and the Rev. Mr. Allen, of the Primitive Methodists, have for sundry vague theological or metaphysical reasons especially distinguished themselves by opposition to compulsory vaccination; but it is only just to say that the great body of the clergy have at last taken the better view.

Far more painful has been the recent history of the other great branch of the Christian Church—a history developed where it might have been least expected; the recent annals of the world hardly present a more striking antithesis between Religion and Theology.

On the religious side few things in the history of the Roman Church have been so beautiful as the conduct of its clergy in Canada during the great outbreak of ship-fever among immigrants at Montreal about the middle of the present century. Day and night the Catholic clergy of that city ministered fearlessly to those victims of sanitary ignorance; fear of suffering and death could not drive these ministers from their work; they laid down their lives cheerfully while carrying comfort to the poorest and most ignorant of our kind: such was the record of their religion. But in 1885 a record was made by their theological spirit: in that year the small-pox broke out with great virulence at Montreal. The Protestant population escaped almost entirely by vaccination, but multitudes of their Catholic fellow-citizens, under some vague survival of the old orthodox ideas, refused vaccination and suffered fearfully. When at last the plague became so serious that travel and trade fell off greatly and quarantine began to be established in neighboring cities, an effort was made to enforce compulsory vaccination. The result was, that large numbers of the Catholic working population resisted and even threatened bloodshed. The clergy at first tolerated and even encouraged this conduct; the Abbé Filiatrault, priest of St. James's Church, declared in a sermon that, "if we are afflicted with small-pox, it is because we had a carnival last winter, feasting the flesh, which has offended the Lord; . . . it is to punish our pride that God has sent us small-pox." The clerical press went further: the Étendard exhorted the faithful to take up arms rather than submit to vaccination, and at least one of the secular papers was forced to pander to the same sentiment. The Board of Health struggled against this superstition, and addressed a circular to the clergy, imploring them to recommend vaccination; but, though two or three complied with this request, the great majority were either silent or openly hostile. The Oblate Fathers, whose church was situated in the very heart of the infected district, continued to denounce vaccination; the faithful were exhorted to rely on devotional exercises of various sorts; under the sanction of the hierarchy a great procession was ordered with a solemn appeal to the Virgin, and the use of the rosary was carefully specified.

Meantime, the disease, which had nearly died out among the Protestants, raged with ever-increasing virulence among the Catholics; and the truth becoming more and more clear, even to the most devout, proper measures were at last enforced and the plague was stayed, though not until there had been a fearful waste of life among these simple-hearted believers, and germs of skepticism planted in the hearts of their children which will bear fruit for generations to come.

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