Paracelsus, Theophrastus Philippus Aureolus Bombastus von Hohenheim

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(b. Einsiedeln, Switzerland, ca. 1493 [or 1 May 1494(?)]; d. Salzburg, Austria, 24 September 1541)

Chemistry, medicine, natural philosophy, cosmology, theology, occultism, iatrochemistry.

“Paracelsus,” a nickname dating from about 1529, may denote “surpassing Celsus”; it might also represent a latinization of “Hohenheim,” or even refer to his authorship of “Para [doxical]” works that overturned tradition. Paracelsus was the son of William of Hohenheim, a memeber of the Bombast (Banbast) family of Swabia, who practiced medicine from 1502 to 1534 at Villach, in Carinthia; his mother was a bondswoman of the Benedictine abbey at Einsiedeln. Paracelsus received his early education particularly in mining, mineralogy, botany, and natural philosophy–from his father. He was later taught by several bishops and aparently by Johannes Trithemius, abbot of Sponheim and a famous exponent of the occult, who was also in contact with Heinrich Cornelius Agrippa von Nettesheim. Paracelsus did practical work in the Fugger mines of Hutenberg, near Villach, and in those of Siegfried Fueger at Swaz.

In addition, Paracelsus probably studied at various Italian universities, perhaps including that of Ferrara. It is not certain that he received the doctorate; the only documentation would seem to be a personal deposition made before a magistrate in Basel. (This deposition was accepted in lieu of an oath by a witness in a lawsuit between two Strasbourg burghers, one of whom had been a patient of Paracelsus.) At any rate, in his laudatory preface to Paracelsus’ Grosse Wundartzney (Augsburg, 1536), Wolfgang Thalhauser, municipal physician at Augsburg, called Paracelsus “Doctor of both medicines.” It is possible that Paracelsus took a lower medical degree at Ferrara, as may be borne out by his subsequent service as a military surgeon, first in the service of Venice, then elsewhere on his early travels (including those to Scandinavia and probably to the Middle East and Rhodes). His work as a surgeon reflected his nonconformity; in reply to the traditional separation of medicine and surgery he coined the phrase “In judicando, a physician; in Curando, a surgeon.”

In 1525 Paracelsus was in Salzburg for a short time. While there he barely escaped prosecution for exhibiting sympathy for the Peasants” War. Following some abortive attempts to establish himself in southern Germany and Switzerland, he set up a successful practice in Strasbourg. Called in consultation to Basel, he saved the life of the influential Humanist and publisher Johannes Froben. His conservative and cautious treatment of Froben and the medical advice that he gave Erasmus, who was then staying in Froben’s house, won paracelsus the post of municipal physician and professor of medicine at Basel in March 1527. His appointment was sponsored by Strasbourg and Basel church reformers, especially Johannes Oecolampadius, and was not approved by the academic authorities. The latter refused to admit into their company a man who not only failed to submit qualifying documents and declined to take the required oath, but also issued instead an iconoclastic document, the Intimatio. In this work (which, published as a broadside, is extant in the 1575 edition of Michael Toxites’ Libri paragraphorum, although it has been lost in its original form since 1616) he professed disagreement with Galenic medicine and promised to introduce a new syllabus based upon his own firsthand experience as a naturalist and in treating patients at the sickbed.

Paracelsus next offended by burning a copy of Ibn Sīnā’s Canon at a student rag on St. John’s Day (24 June). He further lectured in German, contrary to academic tradition, and admitted barber-surgeons to his courses. When his patron Froben died suddenly in October 1527 his opponents (who had at first been subdued by the enthusiastic response to Paracelsus’ teaching by the students, humanists, and reformed churchmen) gained ground. Chief among his enemies were the professors and, especially, the apothecaries, who objected to his control of the pharmacies and his criticism of the profits that they made. The public mood began to turn against Paracelsus, and his protests to the town council—directed against the apothecaries and against the lampoons that the fickle students had begun to publish about him—were ignored.

The final clash came in February 1528, when Paracelsus publicly denounced a magistrate who had found against him in a lawsuit against a church dignitary who had had Paracelsus called in for consultation in an acute abdominal emergency. He promised Paracelsus the enormous fee that he demanded; having been cured by a few of Paracelsus’ laudanum pellets, the patient refused to pay, and Paracelsus charged him with default. Having made his denunciation, Paracelsus had to leave Basel, thereby relinquishing all his property. He never obtained academic preferment or contractual employment again.

Paracelsus then paid a short visit to Lorenz Fries at Colmar, stopped for a brief time at Esslingen, and reached Nuremberg in 1529. He remained there until 1530, leaving after a series of altercations, the chief of which developed from his stated disapproval of the treatment of syphilis by guaiacum and poisonous doses of mercury; his criticism of Lutheran orthodoxy; and his assertion of his right to publish (which was followed by censure elicited from the Leipzig Medical Fauulty). He proceeded to Beratzhausen, where he worked on his Buch paragranum, then spent an uneasy period of about two years at St. Gall. There paracelsus completed his main medical work, the Opus paramirum, which he dedicated to Joachim de Watt (Vadianus), humanist, Zwinglian churchman, geographer, and acting mayor. He left despite influential friends and patients and good chemical laboratory facilities.

Paracelsus then embarked upon a career as a wandering lay preacher, appearing in “beggar’s garb” in Appenzell, Innsbruck, and Sterzing (Vipiteno). He failed to secure the medical work he hoped for, but was able to study miners’ diseases—silicosis and tuberculosis—at Solbad Hall in Tirol and at Schwaz, to which he returned in 1533. He found better luck in Merano, St. Merano St. Moritz, and especially pfäfers-Bad Ragaz, where in August 1535 he was consulted by the abbot John Jacob Russinger. The following summer he was at Augsburg and Ulm, where he supervised the printing of his Grosse Wundartzney. He traveled on through Bavaria (where he wrote a work on tartar) to Kromau in Bohemia, where he wrote a work on the occult-metaphysical philosophia sagax and continued chemical laboratory work. In Austria he had audiences with Ferdinand of Bohemia, brother of Charles V, and thus temporarily recovered much of his former status.

In 1538 Paracelsus reached Villach, where his father had died four years before. Here he completed his Carinthian Trailogy, which included a Chronica of the land, his last work On Tartar, the Labyrinth of Doctors perplexed, and the Seven Defenses against his critics. Although the Carinthian authorities promised him publication, the work was not published until 1564, and then in Cologne. Paracelsus again practiced medicine, although his own health was failing. Finally he was called to Salzurg by Ernest of Wittelsbach, suffragan of that city; he died there and was buried in the almshouse of St. Sebastian. The site of his grave was a place of pilgrimage for the sick for a long time after.

Paracelsus’ difficult personality may have been formed from his resentment of his father’s illegitimate birth and of his mother’s status as a bondswoman. He was an angry man, and his career followed a pattern of initial triumphs followed by losing battles, in the course of which he alienated even his best friends and patrons. His wholesale condemnation of traditional science and medicine found its parallel in his rough behavior and in his unwillingness to make concessions to custom and authority. He sought to learn new cures and remedies from the common people, and spent many hours drinking with them in low taverns; his expertise concerning wines and vintages is apparent in some of his medical writings. Paracelsus was prepared to treat the poor without any reward, but required high fees of the rich and reviled them if they defaulted (or, indeed, if he even thought that they had). Some of his cures were probably not as brilliant as they appeared to be at the time, and some may even have done more harm than good in the long run (although some of these criticisms must be discounted as the canards of more traditional practitioners).

A portrait of Paracelsus painted when he was in his thirties shows him as beardless, but with a shock of hair, and almost pathologically obese. Pictures made a decade later show him still beardless and mostly bald, while in his older years he is depicted as looking haggard and ill. The best eyewitness account of him is that of his amanuensis, Johannes Oporinus, which was published in Daniel Sennert’s De chymicorum cum Aristotelicis et Galenicis consensu et dissensu (Wittenberg, 1619).Oporinus was one of the few men for whom Paracelsus himself had words of praise, and he in his turn admired Paracelsus and his medicine although, as a young and timid scholar, he was often overawed by his master’s unconventional behavior.

Oporinus found fault with Paracelsus’ rejection of organized religion and classical scholarship, as well as his addiction to drink, noting that he had been averse to wine until his twenty-fifth year, but later challenged peasants to drinking contests from which he emerged victorious. He gave a vivid report of Paracelsus’ astonishing resilience, describing him dictating, late at night after a drinking bout, with perfect coherence and sense, in a manner that could not have been bettered by a sober person. Then Paracelsus threw himself on his bed with his long sword (which he said he had got from a hangman) still girded about him, and, suddenly leaping up, brandished his sword like a madman, frightening his famulus to distraction. Oporinus further states that Paracelsus was busy all day in his laboratory, but lived luxuriously, never short of money. As part of his treatment for ulcers, in which he ignored the usual restrictive diets, he dined lavishly with his patients, curing them “with a full stomach.” He was not interested in women, and never had sexual intercourse. He liked to buy expensive new clothes, and tried to give his old ones away, although no one would accept them because they were extremely dirty. (This last comment is at variance with Paracelsus’ announced scorn of academic robes and with the modest and practical dress shown in his portraits.)

In his own writings Paracelsus dealt in paradoxes, interlarded with undisguised obscenities and endless outbursts against traditional doctrines and their professors. His works might have at times appeared to be the ravings of a megalomaniac, enjoining the whole learned world to follow him in new paths, away from deceitfully wrong and “excrementitious” humoral lore. Nonetheless, he created a new style and a refreshing and witty language, perfectly suited to the ideas that he wished to convey. These ideas—those of a naturalist physician, spiritualist and symbolist thinker, and passionately religious and charitable fighter against perceived evil—are reflected in the contradictory interpretations that posterity has placed upon Paracelsus’ work. He was, for example, extolled in the early years of the nineteenth century, the era of Romanticism and Naturphilosophie, and reviled before and after, at the beginning of the age of scientific medicine.

Only a few of Paracelsus’ work were published during his lifetime. Among these were some astrological-mantic forecasts, including the Practica gemacht auf Europen in dem nechstkunfftigen Dreyssigtsen Jahr (Nuremberg, 1529); Usslegung des Commeten erschynen zu mitlem Augsten anno 1531; Practica teutsch auf das MDXXXV Jar; and Prognostication auff XXIIII jar. More important were his critical appraisal of the treatment of syphilis by guaiacum (Von Holtz Guaiaco gründlicher heylung [Nuremberg, 1529]); a related treatise on the “impostures” committed therein (Von der Französischen kranckheit Drey Bücher [Nuremberg, 1530]); a booklet on Bad pfäfers (Von dem Bad Pfeffers Tugenden, Krefften und würckung, ursprung und herkommen, Regiment und ordinatez [1535]); and the Grosse Wundartzeney (Augsburg, 1536). Most of his writings came to light in the decades following his death, and their publication reached a peak in about 1570 with the Archidoxis, a handbook of paracelsian chemistry that went through many editions after the first one, issued at Cracow in 1569. The Archidoxis was edited or translated by Adam Schroter, Adam of Bodenstein, Michael Toxites, Gerard Dorn, Balthassar Flæter, and G. Forberger, among others. The work of all of them predated that of John Huser, who edited the first definitive collected editions-ten quarto volumes in 1589–1591, folio editions of 1603 and 1605, and the surgical folio of 1605.

Among Paracelsus’ practical achievements was his management of wounds and chronic ulcers. These conditions were over treated at the time, and Paracelsus’ success lay in his conservative, noninterventionist approach, which was based upon his belief in natural healing power and mumia, an active principle in tissues. He thus continued the tradition of Theodoric Borgognoni of Lucca and his pupil Henry of Mondeville, both of whom had advocated, in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, aseptic and pus-preventing treatment, the method of rara vulnerum medicatio (as Cesare Magati named it in 1616). Chemical therapy had been used chiefly externally by the ancients, but Paracelsus recognized the superiority of chemicals taken internally over the traditional, mostly herbal, internal medicines. He imposed strict controls upon their use, however, holding that chemicals must be given only in moderate doses (in contrast to the toxic doses of mercury then used in treating syphilis) and only in detoxified form, achieved by washing the chemical substance with water and alcohol, “to cleanse the sharpness,” or by oxidation and the induction of solubility (as, for example, in heating white crystalline arsenic with saltpeter or in converting harmful iron sulfides into therapeutic sulfates).

Paracelsus also knew of the diuretic action of mercury in the treatment of dropsy and of the narcotic and sedative properties of ether-like preparations that he obtained from the interaction of alcohol and sulfur. He demonstrated the latter in an early pharmacological experiment on chickens, which he probably selected because of the well-known narcotic effect of Hyoscyamous (henbane) upon them (an effect also called mort aux poules)

Paracelsus’ description of miners’ diseases was the first to identify silicosis and tuberculosis as occupational hazards. He was also the first to recognize the congenital form of syphilis, and to distinguish it from postpartum infection. He studied visceral—notably osseous and nervous—syphilis in its protean manifestations, and differentiated it from hydrargyrosis, the morbid syndrome caused by toxic doses of mercury. (He did, however, regard syphilis as a specific modification of other diseases, rather than as a separate entity.) Paracelsus also gave the first purely medical account of dancing mania and chorea, proposing a natural explanation in place of previous supernatural theories (including possession by demons). He described the symptoms of hysteria, hysterical blindness among them.

Paracelsus further drew the connection between cretinism and goiter, which he identified as being endemic and related to the mineral content of drinking water. He recognized the significance of acid in mineral waters as a powerful aid to gastric digestion and wrote of the “hungry acid” (acetosum esurinum) in the stomach of some animals as permitting them to digest metals and stone. He was not, however, aware of the essential role of acid in the gastric digestion of all animals—this was recognized and studied thoroughly only by J. B. van Helmont, between 1624 and 1644, and to a lesser degree by slightly earlier workers, including Quercetanus (Duchesne), Petrus Castelli, Fabius Violet (perhaps Quercetanus writing under another name), and Johannes Walaeus. Paracelsus also observed the precipitation of albumin in urine after acid (rennet or vinegar) is added.

Chief among Paracelsus’ contributions to medical theory was his new concept of disease. He demolished the ancients’ notion of disease as an upset of humoral balance—either an excess (hyperballonta) or an insufficiency (elleiponta)—or as a displacement or putrefaction of humors. Each of these conditions depended on the constitution (or physis, or “temperament”) of the individual, as determined by the humoral variations appropriate to him. There were therefore as many diseases as there were individuals, and no disease was considered to be a classifiably separate entity, having a specific agent and specific anatomical effects.

Paracelsus completely reversed this concept, emphasizing the external cause of a disease, its selection of a particular locus, and its consequent seat. He sought and found the causes of diseases chiefly in the mineral world (notably in salts) and in the atmosphere, carrier of star-born “poisons.” He considered each of these agents to be a real ens, a substance in its own right (as opposed to humors, or temperaments, which he regarded as fictitious). He thus interpreted disease itself as an ens, determined by a specific agent foreign to the body, which takes possession of one of its parts, imposing its own rules on form and function and thereby threatening life. This is the parasitistic or ontological concept of disease—and essentially the modern one. It was substantially elaborated by Helmont. The significance of specific disease-semina, its connection with imagination, ideas, and passions, and the bodily manifestation of spiritual impulses, as inculcated by Helmont, is clearly anticipated in Paracelsus’ concept of disease.

Paracelsus’ new idea of disease led him to new modes of therapy. He directed his treatment specifically against the agent of the disease, rather than resorting to the general anti-humoral measures (such as sweating, purging, bloodletting, and inducing vomiting) that had been paramount in ancient therapy for “removal of excess and addition of the deficient.” For Galenic remedies derived from plants, he substituted specifics, often applied on homeopathic principles. Here his notion of “signatures” came into play, in the selection of herbs that in color and shape resembled the affected organ (as, for example, a yellow plant for the liver or an orchid for the testicle). Paracelsus’ search for such specific medicines led him to attempt to isolate the efficient kernel (the quinta essentia) of each substance. His method was thus one of separating drugs into their component parts, rather than compounding them as the ancients had done.

In nontherapeutic chemistry Paracelsus described new products arising from the combination of metals and devised a method of concentrating alcohol by freezing out its watery component. He also developed a new way to prepare aquafortis, and demonstrated its transformation into an oil at the bottom of its container when laminated metals were dissolved in it. In the Archidoxis he grouped chemicals according to their susceptibility to similar chemical processes, although it has been stated (and disputed) that many of the chemicals that Paracelsus believed to be discrete entities were in fact identical distillates containing nitric or hydrochloric acid. It is difficult to reproduce some of the processes that Paracelsus decried, partly because he made deliberate omissions in the interest of secrecy (as, for example, in his instructions for producing the arbor Dianae). It is no easier to decide what in his work is truly original or to what degree it had been anticipated by the Lullists and by Johannes de Rupiscissa, the latter in the middle of the fourteenth century, particularly in regard to the preparation of potable metals and quintae essentiae. Certainly Paracelsus was the first to devise such advanced laboratory techniques as the use of detoxification and freezing to concentrate alcohol and invented new preparations (including those of the ether group and probably tartar emetic); he was, moreover, the first to attempt to construct a chemical system.

Much has been written about Paracelsus as an alchemist, but he was not really interested in the classical alchemists’ problems of transmutation, the philosopher’s stone, or making gold. Rather, “alchemy” meant to him the invention of new and perceptibly influenced by the medieval alchemists and by a number of contemporary herbalist-distillers, including Hieronymus Brunschwig and Ulstadt.

While the observations and achievements in medicine and chemistry cited may be regarded as stepping-stones to modern science, it must be realized that they are selected from the larger body of Paracelsus’ writings, which, in their totality, evoke a world of magia naturalis far removed from the modern spirit of independent inquiry. Paracelsus, on the whole, was as much (and on occasion more) of a seer a cosmosophuc, and religious metaphysician than he was a naturalist and scientist. Having turned against book learning, formal logic, and complacent human reasoning, he espoused the study of nature, which must be “read” by traveling form land to land—“one land one page.” He thus sought to find the invisible, spiritual forces that make visible bodies act.

Paracelsus believed that these invisible forces achieved their purpose through what he called “knowedge,” which is not of the observer but rather of the object observed—the vital principle that, for instance, insures that the seed of a pear tree will grow into a pear tree and not any other kind. Knowledge therefore lies in the object itself and in its specific function; man can acquire this knowledge only through union with the object—a meeting of he spirit of the inquirer between astral bodies (which Paracelsus defined as ethereal spirits of finest corporality, the star-born carriers of vital principles—“souls”—on their descent from heaven) that knowledge is obtained in the “light forces embedded in the visible objects of nature specific their grasping by the mind through union with them. These forces, the divine arcana, are specific for every object and are visualized as volatile. Knowledge through union with the object is possible to man because all the substances and objects of the ambient world are somewhere and somehow represented in him. This follows from the close parallelism between the macrocosm and the microcosm, and from the attraction of like to like (universal sympathy).

Paracelsus believed that the microcosmic state of man permitted the study of the universe so that science and knowledge are possible. He called the study of nature and medicine “astronomy” and urged that every physician be an astronomer—that is, that he study the astra. Paracelsus’ term astra denoted not so much the stars themselves and their influences on sublunary objects (so important in traditional astrology) as the essential virtues and functions of individual objects and their correspondences within all realms of nature, including the stars.

Indeed, each object (or part thereof) has its vital priciples—astra—as well as its celestial star with which it shares specific properties. In the realm of plants, for example, a certain herb represents a certain star, as well as a corresponding mineral, organ, part of the body disease, and remedy. A certain fungus in thus a “fruit” of the earth;its equivalent is vitriol, water emerges as a terrestrial “fruit” in the form of another kind of fungus. Vitriolum terrae album is equivalent to Pfifferling, a kind of chanterelle; vitriolum aquae is the copper of water

In explaining the curative power of mercury in the treatment of dropsy, Paracelsus was able to reach a rational and protoscientific statement: the cure results from the expulsion of a “wrong” salt, which tends to be dissolved, and its replacement by one that remains in a fixed, coagulated state. Less scientifically, however, this “life of salts” depends upon celestial impression—a “shot” fired by the star that represents impression—a “shot” fired by the star that represents the salt in its own world “divides” the bodily salt in the same way that the sun melts snow. The salt is then restored by the celestial virtue of the mercury. Paracelsus thus retained much of traditional astrology, although giving it an original astrosophical interpretation and denying the exclusive power of the stars over human life. Moreover he corrected or dismissed a great deal of traditional lore, and argued generally against complacent human reasoning, which is “from the stars” and comes to us with the astral body.

Paracelsus’ notion of knowledge led him to advocate humanitarian treatment of imbeciles; he posited that since man’s reason and pseudo-knowledge are “astral” the simpleton, unaffected by the astral snares of human reasoning, retains a closeness to God (which incidentally allows him to make accurate predictions). Paracelsus also—although not unequivocally—recommended humane treatment of the insane, stating that their illness is perfectly natural and not simply the work of demons. There are nevertheless certain retrogressive features in his system of therapy—among them many popular superstitions, including Dreck-Apotheke—that are the result of his adherence to magia naturalis and the idea of cosmic sympathy.

Paracelsus’ general natural philosophy is spiritualst. The important forces in nature are the invisible “spirits” such as the quintae essentiae; these are the life substances of objects and the magus may know how to extract them, particularly from herbs and chemicals. These “spirits” may not be defined in terms of the merely passive (“female”) elements, ancients; they are rather the specific active (“male”) arcane and primordial seeds (semina) that emanate immediately form God and direct inform nature. Each contains its own archeus (vulcanus), which determines individual form and function. The arches is also called the “internal alchemist”, the digestive principle that, acting in the “kicchen” (“stomach”) of each organ (most notably the stomach proper), separates nourishment form poison, the pure from the impure, and the assimilable from waste. Its failure leads to the deposit of sediment which constitutes pathological change, the paracelsian tartar. The semina are preformed in an invisible, nonmaterialforeword the iliastrum, or prime matter. This has nothing to do with matter in any modern sense of the word; rather, it denotes in themselves uncreated (divine) impulses (logoi),the word fiat the directs an original watery “matter” to form individual objects. This matter is an archetype of water, an invisible “creative” water that is linked to ordinary water (that is the material, elementary world) through bearing the semina of all things; it is thus the mother element, the mother of all things. Earth air and fire also occur in the paracelsian world not in the ancient sense of elements, but rather in the platonic and cabalistic (sepher jezirah) sense of mothers. They are the wombs that give birth to groups of objects, each specific to its source; thus, minerals and metals are the “fruit” of water and plants and animls—including man—the “fruit” of earth. Each of these “fruits: has its corresponding “fruit: in each of the mothers.

The three Paracelsian principles—salt, sulfur, and mercury—likewise do not replace the elements of the ancients, nor are they matter of any kind. They are rather principles within matter that condition the state in which matter can occur. There is thus in every object a principle (salt) responsible for its solid state; a principle (sulfur) responsible for its inflammable, or “fatty,” state; and a third (mercury) responsible of its smoky (vaporous) or fluid state. Of these, salt is of particular importance in medicine. It represents a state of fixation or coagulation and sedimentation, and appears in the pathological for of tartar. According to Paracelsus, tartar is any pathological change that can be interpreted as a deposit, and the remains of inassimilable nourishment for an organ; it is coagulated under the influence of acid and affects the opposite pole of spirit, that is of what is active and alive; it reflects the pain of hell and its curse in the life of man. It is for this reason named “tartar” (cagastrum), which also denotes the useless and troublesome deposits in wine vats, comparable of the the stones and calcifications in the channels of the kidneys, bladder, bronchi and other organs. (In the lung such deposits cause pulmonary tuberculosis through bronchial obstruction.) A universal solvent, the liquor alcahest, was therefore a medical necessity, and one was eagerly sought.

Of the Paracelsian principles, mercury denotes the highest spiritual state and sulfur an intermediate one. Sulfur is also called the soul, and forms the link between the spirit (geist, mercury) and the solid body (salt). It is, of course, the spirit that animates an object—that is, that accounts for its specific form and function—and each object is an “essential thing” by virtue of its specific spirit. This spirit gives life, a “spiritual, invisible, incomprehensible thing”; it makes dead things “male” (männisch)—that is, alive and responsive.

Paracelsus was conversant with traditional academic medicine and naturalism, both ancient and medieval. although he was in principle intent on destroying tradition, he retained much of it in his system often merely changing its emphasis or giving it an original interpretation. for example, during the Middle Ages salt as a third principle was known as faex, or earth; its admixture to sulfur and mercury had been though to influence proportionally and mercury of a metal (by Michael Scott) or any other substance (as in the Seven Hermetic Tracts, Archelaus [Arisleus], and the Lullists). Paracelsus assignee salt a much not only a bodily admixture to a mineral or metal, determining that makes an object appear in solid formthat is for whatever causes a deposit in a nonsolid medium or promotes any change in normal appearance, as in organ. In the latter sense, salt can denote any morbid anatomical change although it can at the same time mean any proticular salt, such as sodium chloride, that has caused this change. (Paracelsus referred to an ulcer as a salt mine)

Obviously then Paracelsus was not the first to introduce the concept of the third principle but he did give it an original meaning. Similarly he adapted the quintae essentiae and their use in medicine, merely studying them further and applying them in greater depth and compass. He did the same thing with the notion of the astral body a Neo Platonic concept that he probably owed to Marsilio Frcino, whose influence is apparent in the work of Paracelsus as a whole as well as in detail in his medical system (most notably in his ideas in the cause of the plague, the role of the stars, and magia naturalis). Natural magic meant, to Paracelsus, capturing and demonstrating heavenly “gifts,” rather than cultivating demons, in which parallels between his work and that of Agrippa von Nettesheim may be seen.

Among the medieval antecedents of Paracelsus’ work, Konrad of Megenberg’s Buch der Natur, of about 1350, would seem to be of importance. Paracelsus used the phrase “Buch der Natur,” recommending that it be studied instead of the printed books of scholars and professors, Doctrines that are common to Paracelsus and Konrad of Megenberg may also be traced to earlier sources. Some of these ideas bear the clear stamp of gnosticism, as transmitted in the esoteric and largely suppressed medieval literature of the “prohibitedarts” of alchemy and astrology. These ideas include the notion to lower, “incompetent” astral “administrators” responsible for the creation of our evil world which emerges in paracelsian (and notably pseudo-Paracelsian) treatises as the concept of the vulcani or archei. Likewise gnostic are the ideas of prime and uncreated matter (and its offspring, the original “water”); of the elemental and material world as the workshop of the devil; of missiles from the stars as the agents of insanity aggression delinquency, and physical malformations; of the spliting off of a female principle in the person of God; and of the ultimate return of the immortal soul to God and of the fine pneumatic shell of the soul (the astral body) to the stars.

Paracelsus made a distinct contribution to medicine and chemistry in his nomenclature for substances that were already known—for example, he substituted the word “alcohol” (which had previously meant any subtle substance in dispersion) for “spirit of wine” and “synovia” for the “gluten” contained within the joints. His more general reforms were however less scientific in character (although protoscientific elements are prominent in them). Chief among his posthumous accomplishments was the introduction of Paracelsian chemicals into the London Pharmacopoeia of 1618—some of these, calomel among them, owed their inclusion to Croll, Turquet de Mayerne, and other Paracelsists. But however his specific contributions may be qualified, there is no doubt of Paracelsus” essential influence, both direct and indirect, on medical reform, as there can be no doubt of his truly naturalist empiricism and skepticism toward the prevalent Galenic tradition.

Medicine was the chief focus of Paracelsus’ labors the center of his anthropocentric world. Nonetheless, it was by no means his only concern—he was further committed to the reformation of religion and society. At heart neither protestant nor Catholic, he opposed any closed church (Mauerkirche) and fought against what he considered to be the fraudulent rationalism of dogma and formal juridical logic the man-made snares “sold” by jurists as divine laws and institutions. He belonged to the group of spiritualist and individualist reformers that included Sebastian Franck, whom he had probably met at Nuremberg and Augsurg. Like Franck he whore in paradoxical language to advocate a return to the ideals of early Christianity including poverty the redistribution of wealth, and regeneration (” glorification of the flesh”) through the sacraments.

In sum, Paracelsus was a great doctor and an able chemist. That he achieved little in his lifetime (apart from his success in his practice and in the laboratory) may be attributed in part to his uncompromisingly destructive attitude toward tradition. His views encompassed both astrological superstitions and quite conspicuously modern descriptions of diseases, together with shrewd appraisals of their nature and causes. He remained ignorant of a number of important surgical methods that were practiced widely by his contemporaries and, although repudiating astrological beliefs in many instances, he nonetheless incorporated them into his own work and added multifarious mantic lore of his own. It must be noted, however, that his credulousness was part of his unprejudiced and empirical attitude; he was intent on testing all reported observations, no matter how unlikely they might be. All these factors are reflected in the varied quality of his writings—a mixture of pansophic and religious parables with naturalism and medicine, the mixture of the “medieval” and the modern. Nevertheless, Paracelsus is basically consistent in theory and practice. A number of apparent contradictions in their proper context, while others are clearly the result of developmental changes in his life and general outlook.

What is in the end most remarkable in Paracelsus’ work is that he achieved real advances in chemistry and medicine through the revival and original development of lore that had been kept alive only at a very low level (or had, indeed, been suppressed as heresy). This lore—alchemy, astrology, and the “prohibited arts”—can be traced to Hellenistic and Oriental Neoplatonism, gnosticism, and syncretism; in Paracelsus’ hands it became, if not scientific, at least protoscientific. It is difficult to overrate the effect of Paracelsus’ achievement on the development of medicine and chemistry. Some thirty years after his death a powerful Paracelsian movement began to agitate naturalists and physicians all over Europe. It was set in motion by the need to find new and immediately effective medicines, and even orthodox traditionalists joined in in some form (usually in attempting to devise a conciliatory and eclectic synopsis of Paracelsian and Galenic practice). Despite opposition and vilification, the influence of Paracelsus and the Paracelsians is apparent in the work of Van Helmont, Boyle, Willis, Sylvius, Stahl, Boerhaave, and others, well into the eighteenth century.


I. Original Works. The few works appearing during Paracelsus’ lifetime and the first definitive collected ed. by Huser are mentioned in the text. The complete modern and critical ed. of the medical, chemical, metaphysical, and mantic works is Karl Sudhoff, Theophrast von Hohenheim, genannt Paracelsus, sämtliche Werke, 14 vols. (Munich, 1922–1933). An index to the Sudhoff ed. is found in Martin Müller, Registerband zu Sudhoffs Paracelsus Gesamtausgabe (Einsiedeln, 1960), which is Nova acta paracelsica, supp. (1960). Of the planned Die theologischen und religionswissenschaftlichen Schriften, only 1 vol. appeared, Wilhelm Matthiessen, ed. (Munich, 1923). It was resumed in a new critical ed. by Kurt Goldammer, of which 6 vols. (of 14 planned) have appeared (Wiesbaden, 1955–1973). An annotated version of the Huser quarto ed. in modern German appeared under the name of B. Aschner, 4 vols. (Jena, 1926–1932); a “study ed.” of the most important works in slightly modernized form by Will-E. Peuckert, 5 vols. (Basel–Stuttgart, 1965–1968); and an annotated digest by J. Strebel, 8 vols. (St. Gall, 1944–1949).

Modern individual eds. and translations of single or several treatises include A. E. Waite, The Hermetic and Alchemical Writings of Paracelsus the Great, 2 vols. (London, 1894; repr. 1966); Franz Strunz, Das Buch Paragranum (Jena, 1903), and Volumen und Opus Paramirum (Jena, 1904); H. E. Sigerist et al., Four Treatises of Theophrastus of Hohenheim (Baltimore, 1941); K. Leidecker, Volumen Medicinae Paramirum, which is Bulletin of the History of Medicine, supp. 3 (Baltimore, 1949); Kurt Goldammer, Paracelsus. Sozial-ethische und sozial-politische Schriften (Tübingen, 1952); K. Goldammer et al., Die Kärntner Schriften (Klagenfurt, 1955); Robert Blaser, Theophrastus von Hohenheim, Liber de nymphis, sylphis, pygmaeis et salamandris et caeteris spiritibus (Bern, 1960), Altdeutsche Übungstexte, XVI; K. Goldammer and K.-H. Weimann, Paracelsus vom Licht der Natur und des Geistes (Leipzig, 1960), Labyrinthus medicorum and selected theological treatises with bibliography and critical notes; Paul F. Cranefield and W. Federn, “Paracelsus on Goitre and Cretinism,” in Bulletin of the History of Medicine, 37 (1963), 463–471; K. Goldammer, Das Buch der Erkanntnus des Theophrast von Hohenheim. Aus der Handschrift mit einer Einleitung (Berlin, 1964), Texte des Spaten Mittelalters, XVIII; Paul F. Cranefield and W. Federn, “The Begetting of Fools. An Annotated Translation of Paracelsus, De generatione Stultorum,” in Bulletin of the History of Medicine, 41 (1967), 56–74, 161–174.

II. Secondary Literature. Biographical material may be found in W. Artelt et al., Theophrastus Paracelsus, F. Jaeger, ed. (Salzburg, 1941); K. Bittel, Paracelsus-Museum, Stuttgart. Paracelsus-Dokumentation. Referatenblätter (Stuttgart, 1943); R. H. Blaser, “Neue Erkenntnisse zur Basler Zeit des Paracelsus,” in Nova acta Paracelsica, supp. VI (Einsiedeln, 1953); R. J. Hartmann, Theophrast von Hohenheim (Stuttgart–Berlin, 1905); E. Schubert and K. Sudhoff, Paracelsus-Forschungen, 2 vols. (Frankfurt, 1887–1889); K. Sudhoff, Paracelsus. Ein deutsches Lebensblid aus den Tagen der Renaissance (Leipzig, 1936); and E. Wickersheimer, “Paracelse à Strasbourg,” in Centaurus, 1 (1951), 356–365, which includes documentation concerning Paracelsus’ doctorate (?) at Ferrara.

Literary criticism and a bibliography of the corpus of Paracelsian writings, together with a discussion of questions of authenticity, can be found in K. Sudhoff, Versuch einer Kritik der Echtheit der Paracelsischen Schriften, 2 vols. (Berlin, 1894–1899). Vol. I, Bibliographia Paracelsica (repr. Graz, 1958), contains a complete annotated catalog and collation of all works issued under Paracelsus’ name from 1527 to 1893. Vol. II, Paracelsus Handschriften, contains an analysis and collation of letters, documents, and MSS of treatises on medical, chemical, alchemical, theological, and magical subjects (there are no autographs other than of letters, recipes, and documents).

A bibliography of secondary Paracelsian literature is given in K. Sudhoff, Nachweise zur Paracelsus Literatur (Munich, 1932), continued in K.-H. Weimann, ParacelsusBibliographic 1932–1960. Mit einem Verzeichnis neuentdecker Paracelsus Handschriften (Wiesbaden, 1963), which is vol. II of K. Goldammer, ed., Kosmosophie.

Paracelsus’ doctrines and sources are discussed in K. Goldammer, “Der Beitrag des Paracelsus zur neuen wissenschaftlichen Methodologie und zur Erkenntnislehre,” in Medizin-historisches Journal, 1 (1966), 75–95; “Die Paracelsische Kosmologie und Materietheorie in ihrer wissenschaftsgeschichtlichen Stellung und Eigenart,” ibid., 6 (1971), 5–35; and “Bemerkungen zur Struktur des Kosmos und der Materie bei Paracelsus,” in Medizingeschichte in unserer Zeit. Festgabe fur Edith Heischkel und Walter Artelt (Stuttgart, 1971), 121–144; C. G. Jung, Paracelsica (Zurich-Leipzig, 1942); Walter Pagel, “Religious Motives in the Medical Biology of the XVIIth Century,” in Bulletin of the Institute of History of Medicine Johns Hopkins University, 3 (1935), 97–312; Paracelsus—Introduction to Philosophical Medicine in the Era of the Renaissance (Basel–New York, 1958), trans, into French by M. Deutsch (Paris, 1963); “Paracelsus and Techellus the Jew,” in Bulletin of the History of Medicine, 34 (1960), 274–277; “Paracelsus and the Neoplatonic and Gnostic Tradition,” in Ambix, 8 (1960), 125–166; “The Prime Matter of Paracelsus,” ibid., 9 (1961), 117–135; Das medizinische Weltblid des Paracelsus. Seine Zusammenhänge mit Neuplatonismus und Gnosis (Wiesbaden, 1962), which is vol. I of K. Goldammer, ed., Kosmosophie; “The Wild Spirit (Gas) of J. B. Van Helmont (1579–1644) and Paracelsus,” in Ambix, 10 (1962), 1–13; “Paracelsus’ aether-ähnliche Substanzen und ihre pharmakologische Auswertung an Huhnern. Sprachgebrauch (henbane) und Konrad von Megenbergs Buch der Natur als mögliche Quellen,” in Generus, 21 (1964), 113–125: “Paracelsus: Traditionalism and Mediaeval Sources”, in Medicine, Science and Culture. Historical Essays in Honor of Owsei Temkin (Baltimore, 1968), 51–75; and “Van Helmont’s Concept of Disease—to be or not be? The Influence of Paracelsus,” in Bulletin of the History of Medicine, 46 (1972), 419–454.

See also Walter Pagel and P. Rattansi, “Vesalius and Paracelsus”, in Medical History, 8 (1964), 309–328; Walter Pagel and Marianne Winder, “Gnostisches bei Paracelsus und Konrad von Megenberg,” in Fachliteratur des Mittelalters. Festschrift für Gerhard Eis (Stuttgart, 1968), 359–371; “The Eightness of Adam and Related ’Gnostic’ Ideas in the Paracelsian Corpus,” in Ambix, 16 (1969), 119–139; and “The Higher Elements and Prime Matter in Renaissance Naturalism and the Paracelsian Corpus,” in Ambix, 21 (in press); and O. Temkin, “The Elusiveness of Paracelsus,” in Bulletin of the History of Medicine, 26 (1952), 201–217.

The moral philosophy, sociology, and theology of Paracelsus are discussed in K. Goldammer, “Paracelsische Eschatologie,” in Nova acta Paracelsica, 5 (1948), 45–85, and 6 (1954), 3–37; Paracelsus. Natur und Offenbarung (Hanover, 1953); Paracelsus-Studien (Klagenfurt, 1954); “Das theologische Werk des Paracelsus,” in Nova acta Paracelsica, 7 (1954), 78–102; and “Friedensidee und Toleranzgedanke bei Paracelsus und den Spiritualisten,” in Archiv für Reformationsgeschichte, 47 (1956), 20–46, 180–212. See also Bodo Sartorius von Waltershausen, Paracelsus am Eingang der Deutschen Bildungsgeschichte (Leipzig, 1936).

Critical assessments of Paracelsus’ achievements in medicine and chemistry are in E. Darmstaedter, Arznei und Alchemie. Paracelsus-Studien (Leipzig, 1931), which is vol. XX in the series Studien zur Geschichte der Medizin; and “Paracelsus ’De natura rerum,’” in Janus, 37 (1933), 1–18, 48–62, 109–115, 323–324; F. Dobler, “Chemische Arzneibereitung bei Paracelsus am Beispiel seiner Antimonpraparate”, in Pharmaceutica acta helvetiae, 37 (1957), 181–193, 226–252; W. Ganzenmüller, “Paracelsus und die Alchemie des Mittelalters,” in Angewandte Chemie, 54 (1941), 417–431, repr. in his Beitrage zur Geschichte der Alchemie des Mittelalters”, in Angewandte Chemie, 54 Technologie und Alchemie (Weinheim, 1956), 300–314; R. Hooykaas, “Die Elementenlehre des Paracelsus,” in Janus, 39 (1935), 175–187; “Die Elementenlehre der Iatrochemiker,” ibid., 41 (1937), 1–28; and “Chemical Trichotomy Before Paracelsus?,” in Archives internationales d’histoire des sciences, 28 (1949), 1063–1074; R. Multhauf, “Medical Chemistry and the Paracelsians,” in Bulletin of the History of Medicine, 28 (1954), 101–126; “J. B. Van Helmont’s Reformation of the Galenic Doctrine of Digestion,” ibid., 29 (1955), 154–163; and “The Significance of Distillation in Renaissance Medical Chemistry,” ibid., 30 (1956), 329–346; W. Pagel, “J. B. Van Helmont’s Rformation of the Galenic Doctrine of Digestion—and Paracelsus,” ibid., 29 (1955), 563–568; and “Van Helmont’s Ideas on Gastric Digestion and the Gastric Acid,” ibid., 30 (1956), 524–536; J. R. Partington, A History of Chemistry, II (London, 1961), 115–151; J. K. Proksch, Paracelsus uber die venerischen Krankheiten und die Hydrargyrose (Vienna, 1882); Paracelsus als medizinischer Schriftsteller (Vienna-Leipzig, 1911); and Zur Paracelsus-Forschung (Vienna-Laipzig, 1912); W. Schneider, “Der Wandel des Arzneischatzes im 17. Jahrhundert und Paracelsus”, in Sudhoffs Archiv für Geschichte der Medizin und der Naturwissenschaften, 45 (1961), 201–215; “Grundlagen fur Paracelsus’ Arzneitherapie,” ibid., 49 (1965), 28–36; and “Paracelsus und die Entwickelung der pharmazeutischen Chemie,” in Archiv der Pharmazie299 (1967), 737–746; and Geschichte der pharmazeutische Chemie (Weinheim, 1973); T. P. Sherlock, “The Chemical Work of Paracelsus,” in Ambix, 3 (1948), 33–63; G. Urdang, “How Chemicals Entered the Official Pharmacopoeias,” in Archives internationales d’historie des sciences, 7 (1954), 303–314; and P. Walden, “Paracelsus als Chemiker”, in Angewandte Chemie, 54 (1941), 421–427.

Paracelsus’ influence is discussed in Allen G. Debus, “The Paracelsian Compromise in Elizabethan England,” in Ambix, 8 (1960), 71–97; “Solution Analyses Prior to Robert Boyle,” in Chymia, 8 (1962), 41–61; “The Paracelsian Aerial Niter,” in Isis, 55 (1964), 43–61; “An Elizabethan History of Medical Chemistry,” in Annals of Science, 18 (1962), 1–29; and The English Paracelsians (London, 1965); P. M. Rattansi, “Paracelsus and the Puritan Revolution,” in Ambix, 11 (1963), 24–32; Dietlinde Goltz, Studien zur Geschichte der Mineralnamen in Pharmazie, Chemie und Medizin von den Anfängen bis auf Paracelsus (Wiesbaden, 1972), which was supp. in Sudhoffs Archiv für Geschichte der Medizin und der Naturwissenschaften, 14 ; and Audrey B. Davis, Circulation Physiology and Medical Chemistry in England 1650–1680 (Lawrence, Kansas, 1973).

Walter Pagel

Paracelsus, Theophrastus Philippus Aureolus Bombastus von Hohenheim

views updated May 29 2018


(b. near Einsiedeln, Switzerland, 1493 or 1494; d. Salzburg, Austria, 24 September 1541), alchemy/chymistry, medicine, natural philosophy, cosmology, theology, natural magic, astrology/prognostication, folklore, philosophy/ethics, iatrochemistry. For the original article on Paracelsus see DSB, vol. 10.

In the few decades following Walter Pagel’s trailblazing research on Paracelsus, which is brilliantly and succinctly presented in Pagel’s DSB article, Paracelsus studies have experienced dynamic activity, including a host of fresh interpretations and newly available primary sources. The trend to ground interpretations of Paracelsus’s biography and concepts in documentary evidence exclusively— and an increasing sensitivity to the demarcation between Paracelsus’s own works and those of dubious authenticity that bear his name—is a welcome development. For example, such spurious and/or dubious works as Philosophy to the Athenians and De natura rerum require more cautious use and indication of questionable nature in citations. There is also an increasing interest in Paracelsus’s explicitly theological works and concepts, as well as the dating of his writings, and thus the development of his thought.

Biographical Information Scholars no longer take for granted that the nickname “Paracelsus,” dating from circa 1529, either denotes “surpassing Celsus” (for Paracelsus first used the name in prognosticative rather than medical writings and—more importantly—never once referred to Celsus) or corresponds to a Latinization of “Hohenheim” (although it may be a Greek version of “Hohenheim”: “para” for the German bei, and “celsus” for hoch). However, as Pagel suggests, perhaps it is related to his confrontation of authority in his “para [doxical]” writings. In his rigorously documented biography of Paracelsus (1997), Udo Benzenhöfer discusses the subject at length, adding that there seems to be a relationship between “Paracelsus” and Paracelsus’s frequent use of the prefix “para,” which surfaces in the titles of some of his important works, for example, Opus Paragranum and Opus Paramirum. Benzenhöfer shows that Paracelsus usually referred to himself as “Theophrastus von Hohenheim,” but also occasionally as “Theophrastus Bombast von Hohenheim” and—especially in his last several years— “Aureolus.” When evoking the family name of “Bombast,” which points to his roots in old Swabian nobility, Paracelsus never used the Latinized form “Bombastus.” “Philippus” is first seen on Paracelsus’s tombstone and may refer to his Christian name (Tauf-name) (Benzenhöfer, 1997).

During his perennial itinerancy—well discussed by Pagel—Paracelsus often clashed with authority, but this does not necessarily include an involvement with the German Peasant’s War. Paracelsus recalls in the De Septem Punctis of his mature years that in 1525 the authorities complained stridently when he turned the farmers against them in Salzburg. He could have been referring to one of the uprisings of the Peasant’s War; however, it is also possible that he meant another agitation in Salzburg, namely, a revolt by tradesmen and mining squires in the silver-gold industry in Gastein and Rauris. In this latter case, Melchior Spach—who was later among the list of witnesses on Paracelsus’s Testament—was the top field captain in the armed uprising in Hallein against Salzburg’s Prince-Archbishop and Cardinal Matthäus Lang (Dopsch, 1993).

In his DSB article Pagel has highlighted most of the essential aspects of Paracelsus’s biography, but requiring further explication are those points related to his theology. During the tumultuous years of his unbroken peregrination, Paracelsus had begun writing at length about not only alchemy and medical theory, but also such theological topics as Mariology and the idolatries of the church— nearly half of his prodigious oeuvre would be explicitly theological, including multifarious biblical exegeses.

He never officially left the Catholic Church, but became deeply involved in the Reformation fervor. George Huntston Williams, in his The Radical Reformation, ranked Paracelsus alongside Caspar Schwenckfeld and Sebastian Franck as one of the spiritualists of the Radical Reformation (Williams, 1992, pp. 721–722). In his heterodox religious works Paracelsus criticized institutionalized Christendom, which he called a church in walls, a Mauerkirche. True Christianity, Paracelsus wrote, does not require rituals and denominations. Rather, there is one spiritual church of all true believers. In the 1530s, his theology would increase in its distinctiveness and in many respects become integrated with his Eucharistic theology, that is the philosophia de limbo aeterno associated with the “spiritual body” and “new Adam” of 1 Corinthians 15. Kurt Goldammer and Hartmut Rudolph have written about the topic extensively. This philosophy—which forwarded the idea that Christians receive their subtle resurrection body at baptism and then nourish it with the Eucharist—would be echoed in Book II of Paracelsus’s magnum opus, the Astronomia Magna (1537/38). Paracelsus believed that medical and natural “miracles” could be performed via the enlargement and employment of the immortal body, and he evokes this Christian magic to explain many biblical miracles.

Cosmological Views When one reads the “religious writings” in coordination with the “medical-scientific writings”—a dichotomy problematically forced upon Paracelsus’s oeuvre by the dean of Paracelsus studies, Karl Sudhoff—one can grasp far more easily his division of the cosmos and human being—a partition at the heart of his medical, scientific, and magical mechanisms. In fact, one sees that Paracelsus’s works subsequent to the mid-1520s tended to feature a quadripartite (and not a tripartite) view of the components of the world and human being.

Actually, given his propensity for analogous dichotomies, it is perhaps preferable to refer to his cosmology/anthropology as a body-spirit dichotomy at the immortal level and a body-spirit dichotomy at the mortal level— thus, Paracelsus’s division consists of mortal spirit (sidereal body), mortal body (elemental body), immortal spirit (soul), and immortal body (resurrection body). Paracelsus writes that the first three of these components—which can be termed spirit, body, and soul—first came together in the human in Genesis 2:7: “And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.” According to Paracelsus, Adam’s spirit and body, which are mortal, came from this limus terrae (dust of the ground) while the immortal soul was drawn from God’s breath. When discussing the dust, Paracelsus says it contained both “sidereal” and “elemental” components. God thus formed Adam, the first human, out of the matter of the stars and the matter of the earthly realm—the immortal spirit (soul) came into Adam when God breathed into this combination of “spirit” (sidereal component) and “body” (earthly component).

Paracelsus adds that the limus terrae was a “quintessence” that possessed the essences of all being in the world within it. (One should note here that in his mature works Paracelsus employed the term quintessence, discussed in Pagel’s DSB article, in a much different manner than in his formative chemical work of the mid-1520s, the Archidoxis.) Thus Adam became a microcosm, possessing all things within him that exist in the greater world (macro-cosm), from herbs and minerals to heavenly constellations. His elemental body (consisting of “fruits” born in the invisible elemental matrices—or universal spheres—of water, earth, air, and fire) was made out of seeds (which give form) and the tria prima of sulfur, salt, and mercury (principles that provide tangibility). Adam’s sidereal body was composed of the subtle matter of the firmament (born from “the stars,” and present within the limus terrae)—it was through this sidereal body/mortal spirit that he received his mental faculties and talents. Paracelsus adds that through mastery of the sidereal body, a subtle “dust,” the natural magician can perform amazing feats, such as simultaneous long-distance communication. To Adam’s elemental and sidereal bodies was added God’s very breath—the divine image—that is, the soul. The immortal body—of which Christ’s body, the resurrection body, and the Eucharist consist—was a distinct creation by God the Son (Christ) rather than God the Father.

As the above discussion indicates, the progression of Paracelsus’s thought is receiving more marked attention; scholars point to, for example, how his religious development sheds light on the dating of his works. C. Andrew Weeks, who often stresses Paracelsus’s affinity with Martin Luther and other Reformers, argues that “[T]he epoch in which [Paracelsus's] theories were forged … occurred under the decisive impact of the early Reformation, to which the thirty-year-old Theophrastus responded with radical polemical writings during his early, stormy sojourn in Salzburg” (Weeks, 1997, p. 36). Weeks, seeking to approximate better the precise years in which Paracelsus’s individual works were produced, demonstrates that Paracelsus’ earliest works were often theological—and that “the naturalism of Paracelsus turns on a religious center from the very beginning” (Weeks, 1997, pp. 43, 162).

Clearly, given Paracelsus’s extensive reliance on scripture and Genesis cosmogony in the formation of his thought, one should be careful not to overemphasize his adherence to Renaissance Neoplatonism (even if clear ties do exist). Especially problematic are such notions as “uncreated seeds” and Neoplatonic and/or Gnostic emanation theory. Such concepts—which tend to arise more often in spurious works—do not map on well to Paracelsus’s interpretation of Genesis 2:7.


Benzenhöfer, Udo. Paracelsus. Reinbek bei Hamburg, Germany: Rowohlt Taschenbuch Verlag, 1997. Although a rather quick read, this is a book crafted from meticulous attention to primary sources. It is probably the most accurate account of Paracelsus.

——, ed. Studien zum Frühwerk des Paracelsus im Bereich Medizin und Naturkunde. Münster, Germany: Klemm & Oelschläger, 2005.

Biegger, Katharina. De Invocatione Beatae Mariae Virginis. Paracelsus und die Marienverehrung. Stuttgart, Germany: Franz Steiner, 1990. See this text for a bibliography and discussion of Paracelsus’s explicitly theological writings, including those on Mariology and the idolatries of the church; half of his theologica exist only in manuscript form.

Daniel, Dane T. “Invisible Wombs: Rethinking Paracelsus’s Concept of Body and Matter.” Ambix53, no. 2 (July 2006): 129–142.

Debus, Allen G., and Michael T. Walton. Reading the Book of Nature: The Other Side of the Scientific Revolution. Kirksville, MO: Sixteenth Century Journal Publishers, 1998.

Dopsch, Heinz. “Paracelsus, die Reformation und der Bauernkrieg.” In Paracelsus (1493–1541). “Keines andern Knecht …,” edited by Heinz Dopsch, Kurt Goldammer, and Peter Kramml, 201–215. Salzburg, Austria: Pustet, 1993.

——. “Paracelsus, Salzburg und der Bauernkrieg.” In Paracelsus (1493–1541). “Keines andern Knecht …,” edited by Heinz Dopsch, Kurt Goldammer, and Peter Kramml, 299–308. Salzburg, Austria: Pustet, 1993.

Goldammer, Kurt. Paracelsus in Neuen Horizonten: Gesammelte aufsätze. Vienna, Austria: Verband der wissenschaftlichen Gesellschaften Österreichs, Verlag, 1986. Goldammer, who edited a number of Paracelsus’s religious writings, was the authority on Paracelsus’s theologica, and this collection—too often overlooked in Anglo-American circles—provides adroit insight into Paracelsus’s worldview.

Grell, Ole Peter, ed. Paracelsus: The Man and His Reputation, His Ideas and Their Transformation. Leiden, Netherlands: Brill, 1998.

Kühlmann, Wilhelm, and Joachim Telle, eds. and comm. Corpus Paracelsisticum. Vol. 1, Der Frühparacelsismus, Part I. Tübingen, Germany: Max Niemeyer Verlag, 2001.

——, and Joachim Telle, eds. and comm. Corpus Paracelsisticum. Vol. 2, Der Frühparacelsismus, Part II. Tübingen, Germany: Max Niemeyer Verlag, 2004. Kühlmann and Telle have brought rich new insight into the Paracelsians with the Corpus Paracelsisticum, in which dozens of early modern German and Latin texts by significant Paracelsians are presented with the highest standard of philology and erudite commentary.

Newman, William R. Promethean Ambitions: Alchemy and the Quest to Perfect Nature. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2004. This work is good on Paracelsus’s views on monsters and androgyny.

——, and Lawrence M. Principe. Alchemy Tried in the Fire: Starkey, Boyle, and the Fate of Helmontian Chymistry. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2002. This is good on historical alchemy and “chymistry,” including some discussion of the place of Paracelsus therein.

Paulus, Julian. Paracelsus-Bibliographie 1961–1996. Heidelberg, Germany: Palatina Verlag, 1997. This is the definitive bibliography for works in Paracelsus studies from 1961 to 1996.

Rudolph, Hartmut. “Hohenheim’s Anthropology in the Light of His Writings on the Eucharist.” In Paracelsus: The Man and His Reputation, His Ideas and Their Transformation, edited by Ole Peter Grell, 187–206. Leiden, Netherlands: Brill, 1998.

Schott, Heinz, and Ilana Zinguer, eds. Paracelsus und seine Internationale Rezeption in der Frühen Neuzeit. Beiträge zur Geschichte des Paracelsismus. Leiden, Netherlands, Boston, Cologne, Germany: Brill, 1998.

Weeks, C. Andrew. Paracelsus: Speculative Theory and the Crisis of the Early Reformation. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1997.

Williams, George Huntston. The Radical Reformation. 3rd ed. Kirksville, MO: Sixteenth Century Journal Publishers, 1992.

Williams, Gerhild Scholz, and Charles D. Gunnoe Jr., eds. Paracelsian Moments: Science, Medicine, and Astrology in Early Modern Europe. Kirksville, MO: Sixteenth Century Journal Publishers, 2002.

Dane T. Daniel