[CS-FSLUG] [NI][OT] What's a 13th-century pope got to do with stem cells? Nothing at all

Michael Bradley, Jr. michaelsbradleyjr at gmail.com
Mon Jul 24 22:47:11 CDT 2006

                                                            JMJ + OBT

Hello, everyone.  I'm posting this message to the list (as OT and NI,
though) since I know you all appreciate how the mainstream media and other
public figures "with an axe to grind" often distort Christian history and
teaching to suit their own agendas.  Moreover, the stem cell stuff fits
rather in the "science and tech" news category with which I know many of you
stay current given your interests in Linux, Free Software, etc.

I read / watched the news story about Sen. Specter citing Pope Boniface VIII
"to represent religious leaders who had slowed scientific progress over the
centuries" this past week, and it irked me.  CNS put together a nice
response-piece which helps to clear up the misinformation, though I didn't
come across it until this evening:

Catholic News Service


What's a 13th-century pope got to do with stem cells? Nothing at all

By Nancy Frazier O'Brien
Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- What does a pope elected at the end of the 13th century
have to do with the Senate debate about embryonic stem-cell research?

Pope Boniface VIII, best known for his efforts to exercise temporal power
over the French monarchy, was cited -- albeit misidentified -- by Sen. Arlen
Specter, R-Pa., from the Senate floor July 18 to represent religious leaders
who had slowed scientific progress over the centuries.

"Pope Boniface VII (sic) banned the practice of cadaver dissection in the
1200s," Specter said. "This stopped the practice for over 300 years and
greatly slowed the accumulation of education regarding human anatomy."

Boniface VII, an antipope who held the papacy during three separate periods
in the late 900s, is clearly not the pope to whom Specter was referring.
Boniface VIII served from 1294 to 1303.

But neither of the Bonifaces, nor any other pope, was responsible for the
type of ban cited by Specter, most historical sources agree.

The New Catholic Encyclopedia entry on Pope Boniface VIII makes no mention
of any papal document related to dissection, but other sources cite the
possible cause for confusion in "De Sepulturis," a papal bull issued in

"Persons cutting up the bodies of the dead, barbarously cooking them in
order that the bones being separated from the flesh may be carried for
burial into their own countries, are by the very fact excommunicated," says
one translation of the document.

"The only possible explanation of the misunderstanding that the bull forbade
dissection is that someone read only the first part of the title and
considered that ... one of the methods of preparing bodies for study in
anatomy was by boiling them in order to be able to remove the flesh from
them easily, (and) that this decree forbade such practices thereafter," the
Catholic Encyclopedia said.

In his 1845 textbook "The History of Medicine," German author Heinrich
Haesar said dissection of cadavers continued without hindrance during the
Middle Ages in European universities, run under the direction of church

The Catholic Encyclopedia, in its entry on anatomy, says that Guy de
Chauliac, considered the father of modern surgery, encouraged the use of
dissection in anatomical studies in the 14th century and insisted "on the
necessity for the dissection of human bodies if any definite progress in
surgery is to be made."

Since de Chauliac was the personal surgeon to three popes and encouraged
dissection while a member of the papal household, "this fact alone would
seem to decide definitely that there was no papal regulation, real or
supposed, forbidding the practice of human dissection at this time," the
encyclopedia says.

In his Senate speech, Specter said one of the victims of the papal ban was
Spaniard Michael Servetus, who "used cadaver dissection to study blood
circulation" in the 1500s and was "tried and imprisoned by the Catholic

While it is true that Servetus is credited as the first to accurately
describe the circulation of blood through the lungs and reportedly used
cadavers in his science, that does not seem to have played any role in his
1553 arrest, trial and execution.

The Servetus International Society, founded to promote and preserve
Servetus' legacy as an "intellectual giant, model of integrity and
standard-bearer in the struggle for freedom of conscience," says the
Spaniard ran into trouble with Catholic officials not for his medicine but
for his theological questioning of the Trinity, infant baptism and original

Servetus also challenged the teachings of French Protestant reformer John
Calvin, whose followers controlled the secular government of Switzerland at
the time. Arrested at a church service in Geneva, Servetus was convicted of
heresy and sentenced to death.

Calvin reportedly asked that Servetus receive the "merciful" punishment of
beheading, but he was instead burned at the stake, along with his books.

"Calvin himself never expressed the slightest regret for it; but Catholics
did not forget, and for generations afterward whenever Protestants
complained of Catholic treatment of Protestant heretics, they retorted by
pointing to Calvin's treatment of Servetus," the society said in its
biography of Servetus.

The Catholic Inquisition in France later joined in the condemnation of
Servetus by burning him in effigy.

Copyright (c) 2006 Catholic News Service/USCCB.



In Christ,

Michael Bradley, Jr.

My home on the Net ::

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