Hippocrates on Medicine and His Unique Views on Understanding God

by Christopher Xeneopoulos Janus

Discussions about medicine, doctors, and the latest cure for our ailments are more and more frequent as you get older.

Recently, I was very disturbed to have a doctor from one of the best medical schools in the world tell me that 40 percent of our doctors in the United States are not completely qualified to practice medicine. And that many of them did not adopt the Hippocratic Oath or care much about it.

Other than being very careful to choose the right doctor, there is not much that we can do about it. But it did make me recall a wonderful visit I had to the island of Cos in 1960 and a seminar that I attended that went way beyond discussing Hippocrates as the Father of Medicine.

One of the lectures given, not by a Greek, but by Professor Hindo, a scholar from India and Oxford, was about Hippocrates' unique views of God and the universe. I still have my faded notes about this unique lecture.

Before I write about the special lecture however, following is a biographical summary of Hippocrates taken from varies sources:

Whatever his precise role, it is clear that during the time of Hippocrates, Cos became the center of a new approach to medicine that rejected the old ways of magic and superstition and developed a practice of observation and experimentation to deterime the natural causes of disease

Hippocrates is widely known as the father of medicine. He was part of the, medical school at the island of Cos in the fourth and fifth century B.C. and may have been its founder. Whatever his precise role, it is clear that during the time of Hippocrates, Cos became the center of a new approach to medicine that rejected the old ways of magic and superstition and developed a practice of observation and experimentation to determine the natural causes of disease. The teachings and writings that survived from the Hippocratic School of Medicine provided the basis for the development of medicine into a more scientific field. The influence of Hippocrates is also seen today in the code of conduct for doctors outlined in the Hippocratic Oath, a vow commonly taken by modern doctors.

Cos was the site of one of the great medical schools of ancient Greece, and Hippocrates taught there for many years. He also traveled widely lecturing in Greece and probably throught the ancient Middle East., the ancient Middre;J~ast.; ,r '

He was well known in his lifetime; mentions of him in the writings of the Greek philosopher Plato indicate that he was famous in the city of Athens as a doctor.

The height of Hippocrates' career was apparently during the time of the Peloponnesian War, which lasted from 431B.C. to 404 B.C. He died around 377 B.C. in Larissa, Thessaly, an eastern region of Greece.

Hippocrates is considered the father of medicine because he separated medical knowledge and practice from myth and superstition, basing his work on fact, observation, and clinical experience. Our knowledge of Hippocrates' methods and teachings comes from the Corpus Hippocraticum, or the Hippocratic Collection. This is a series of about 60 books that seem to have been collected in the great Library of Alexandria after about 200 B.C.

Although few if any of these books were written by Hippocrates himself, they are considered to be an expression of his medical teachings and philosphy, and later became an important basis of Western medicine.

The Hippocratic approach to medicine, approach to medicine, expressed in the books, emphasized that disease arose from natural causes, not from whims of the gods. Hippocrates insisted on careful observation of medical conditions; the books contain dozens of detailed clinical descriptions of diseases. He recommends as little interference as possible with the body's own ability to heal. Treatment focused on diet, rest. and cleanliness. He advanced the docterine of the four humors, whereby disease was supposed to result from an imbalance among the body's four important fluids-blood, phlegm, black bile, and yellow bile.

Hippocrates also emphasized a high ethical standard for physicians. The Hippocratic Oath is a statement of medical ethics. Although it too was probably not actually written by him, it reflects the views he espoused, The oath pledges a physician to serve only the benefit of the patient and to keep confidential anything he or she sees or hears in the course of treatment.

Many medical students today still take a form of the Hippocratic Oath when they receive their medical degrees.

Following are Hippocrates unique views on understanding God and the universe:

Hippocrates emphasized that we humans did not have the mental compacity to understand God, we probably needed a completely new way of thinking.

We might have to believe that this is possible that something exist without a beginning or end.

The very word existance might be foreign to God.

It is possible that something could be without a purpose. It is possible that understanding itself does not exist with God.

We humans can't possibly understand God within these limits.

But all is not hopeless, it isn't that God wanted his ways in doing things in secret for he has given us a way to what we call understanding. That way is this:

It is through love. Love is one thing that God and humans have in common. But it is not a love that you experience just in poetry and romance Hippocrates says it is a love that has to be researched and studied as if it was a human element, though a element it is not.

Finally God gives those who would find such research and study dffficult he gives us faith. Hippocrates concludes by saying that if we had faith in love we may indeed understand God and the universe.

(Posting date 18 January 2008)

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