The history of homeopathy in the Russian Empire
until World War I, as compared with other European countries and the USA: similarities and discrepancies

by Alexander Kotok, M.D.
On-line version of the Ph.D. thesis improved and enlarged
due to a special grant of the Pierre Schmidt foundation.

Chapter Four:
Homeopathy and the clergy

4.1 Introduction

The topic of collaboration between homeopaths and clergymen, though being a part of the more general subject of the role of laymen in the spread and support of homeopathy, will first be analyzed, due to the great importance of the diffusion of homeopathy into the clergy in the Russian Empire. Despite the paucity of previous research hardly allowing me to draw far-reaching conclusions, I would suggest that this role seems significant enough. There is no doubt that in Russia, where the Orthodox Church had been one of the most important social groups during the period under study, the tight collaboration between homeopaths and their non-professional clerical supporters was especially fruitful. In order to understand what induced this mutual attraction, a short history of the Russian Church in the Russian society in general and its role in the development of Russian medicine will be analyzed.

4.2 The Russian Orthodox clergy in Russian society

4.2.1 Russian Orthodox clergy and Russian medicine

From the beginning of the Russian sovereignty the clergy played a very important role in Russian medicine. The Christianization of the Kievan Rus in the end of the 10th century led to the establishment of strong connections between the young Christian country and Byzantium. Obviously, Rus acquired not only a spiritual teacher. The newly formed Christian clergy of Rus adopted much of the art, medical and scientific knowledge of its Byzantian tutors. Meaningful for our investigation is that "Equipped with medical knowledge brought from Byzantium, the clergy undertook the supervision of the medicine of the masses"1.

Mainly, the treatment rendered to everybody in need, was performed in the monasteries which had been growing swiftly in the 11th century. For instance, referring to the Nikon Chronicle2, Nicholas Zagoskin reports that "...The Metropolitan Efrem had established in 1091 hospitals and appointed physicians [healers] there to offer healing to everybody, free of any charge"3.

In fact, till today we do not know exactly what kind of medical facilities the Russian monasteries had. It may be speculated that

The infirmaries at the monasteries most probably had the function to serve the local population [...] as well as those coming for the sake of healing. During unstable periods, when the mass of people suffered, like during wars and epidemics, the infirmaries were transformed into temporary hospitals4.

Another question is whether we should treat these facilities at the monasteries as medical ones at all, taking into account that the Russian Orthodoxy traditionally has tended to see suffering and maladies as God's punishment, whilst the first remedy is penance. So, one of the authors writes:

Almshouses, hospitals, cells [...] were not really medical institutions [...]. They were asylums. No doubt, any kind of medical skills were welcomed there. The treatment of the sick was not the main object of the supervisors at monasteries, seeking the Christian heroic dead in the care of the helpless5.

There are other authors who agree with this point of view:

Reviewing the antique writings I could not find any mention of the existence of hospitals in ancient Rus [...]. Probably, in the Church regulations, under 'hospitals' and 'physicians' were meant almshouses and the staff attached to them. But there were neither hospitals where treatment might have been performed nor physicians who were able to treat6.

Catherine the Great

I would like to stress that nevertheless the would-be medical or rather charitable institutions at the Russian Orthodox monasteries were, in fact, till the 18th (in some places even till the 19th century), the only place where the poor sick could get some help or care in difficult cases under in-patient "hospitalization" conditions. This is clearly a very important point which will later help us to understand the role of the Russian Orthodox clergy in the spread of homeopathy. It must be remembered also that besides its great spiritual influence, the Russian Orthodox church had till the land reform of the Empress Catherine the Great in 1764, extensive land possessions and maintained effectively its economical affairs. Therefore, the Church could afford to provide those medical and charitable facilities and offer its help.

Furthermore, it should be mentioned that the use of medical knowledge at that early Christian period (in Russia) had an especially practical application as an excellent means of spreading the Christian faith among the people still strongly influenced by pagan tradition. Thus, healing soon became a field for the struggle between the newly formed Russian Christian clergy, supported by the state power, and its pagan adversaries, like wizards, sorcerers or exorcists. This struggle took not only the form of a peaceful competition for the sake of the people's health, but it also happened that the most severe measures were taken - the highest point of the repression was the burning of wizards in 1227 in Novgorod. The almighty Russian princes did not suffer rivals to the Church, even in "medicine".

Tsar Alexey Mikhailovich (1629—1676)

This symbiosis between state and clergy has always been, from the beginning, very characteristic of Russian socio-political life. The Russian Orthodox clergy has strongly kept to the so-called Caesaropapist policy, inherited from its Byzantine teachers, a policy of non-intervention in the State affairs. The exceptional experience of the patriarch Nikon (1605—1681) of breaking down the status quo by getting personally involved in the internal and external affairs of the State, was not supported by the clergy. Those events occurred under the rule of the Tsar Alexey Mikhailovich (1629—1676). His son, the Tsar Peter the Great (1672—1725), realized that this was a dangerous precedent for the monarchy. He abolished the patriarchate and established the Holy Synod - the highest Church authority controlled by the State. By these reforms the Russian Church was transformed once and forever into a subordinate ally of the State.

Tsar Peter the Great (1672—1725)

In the sources dealing with the history of the Russian Church, we may find some passing testimonies that support the fact that even distinguished clergymen had a hand in healing practices although they cared in the first place for the spiritual needs of congregations. The above mentioned rebellious patriarch Nikon, who had been expelled from his order by the Holy Council of 1666—67, and was later exiled, continued in exile to treat the sick who turned to him for help. He composed himself some medicines made of camphor, olive oil, vitriol, alum, etc7.

After the establishment of the first Russian medical schools (by the end of the 17th century), the clergy played a new and very important role in its capacity of providing medical students, especially during the period when Pavel Kondoidi (1710—1760) headed the Meditsinskaia Kantselaria (1753—1760), the main Russian medical administrative body at that time. The chief problem of the Russian medical schools was the lack of candidates having the appropriate general education and at least a basic knowledge of Latin that was then the official language of instruction in medical schools. The students of the Russian spiritual academies8 after 2-3 years of training, were the single native Russian group with the ability to become students in the medical schools9.


From the beginning of the 18th century, the Moscow and Kiev spiritual academies were the sources of the candidates for the medico-surgical schools and in the later medical faculties at the Russian universities, as well as at the St. Petersburg Academy of Science. From 1707 the Moscow Hospital School recruited all of its 50 pupils from among the students of the Slavic-Greek-Latin Academy10.

The archiatre11 Kondoidi attempted to recruit as many as possible native Russians as medical students. Although the enthusiasm of the spiritual authorities left much to be desired, the clergymen carried out this recruitment. According to the report of the Kiev eparchy,

[...] By the written invitations of the Meditsinskaia Kantselaria and by the students' own will, since 1754, more than 300 students [of the Kiev - Mogilianskaia Academia - Mark Mirsky] were released to go into medico-surgical science. Some of those students are serving now in the medical [department] of the army of His Majesty the Emperor as well as in the Moscow and St. Petersburg hospitals...12

According to Bulgakov13, those 300 students were sent to study medicine over a period of 14 years, that is to say from 1754 to 1768.

The distinguished historian of the Russian Orthodox Church Anton Kartashev (1875—1960), described the release of 300 students to medical science together with other events considered by him as a "massacre" of the cleric estate by the state authorities in the 1730s14. Kartashev wrote:

Its [the Slavic-Greek-Latin Academy's] staff was almost completely emptied: one [the authorities] had decided that the students, according to the previously given instructions, should be sent to study surgical science. Those who show themselves as deserving, will be assigned to serve as lekari in regiments15.

Kartashev continues describing "the howl of despair raised by the founders of the not yet completely established spiritual school", then citing the complaints made by the rector of the Moscow Spiritual Academy, Stefan Kalinovsky, to the Synod, "in his obscure, clumsy Russian language" (Kalinovsky was Polish):

[...] Only a small number of students get to theology [...]. Some of them are being sent to St. Petersburg to study the oriental languages and for the Kamchadale expedition; others to Astrakhan to teach the Kalmyks and study their language [...]. Some are being taken to the Moscow printing-house and to the Coin office. Many run away and cannot be found [...]. Only a few of them, after two, three and four years of hard work [...] seem to be reliable and clever, and [who] are worthy of being accepted into rhetoric and philosophy. [But even they] are being lured in studying medicine at hospitals where their friends from the Slavic-Greek-Latin Academy had earlier been recruited [...]. Thus, all the prepared beer is being drunk [...], whilst in the theological schools only the yeast is left [...]16.

Developing further the topic of "imaginary surpluses" of the youth within the clerical estate, Kartashev mentions that those children were used by the state as "human material" for the building of Russian high schools:

Once ordered in 1754 [to send people] to the St. Petersburg Medico-Surgical Academy, the Synod was ready to let the Academy have only the children of 'raznochintsy' [miscellaneous ranks]. But this was insufficient. In 1755 the Medico-Surgical Academy asked for the clergymen's children too. The Synod refused this demand. Later, in 1756 a new humble request was received from the Academy, because of the extreme need for the medical staff, to send at least 50 pupils. The fact that nowhere in Russia were there secondary schools which could provide the knowledge in Latin, persuaded the Synod to yield to the request this time17.

Excepting the "humble request" (no doubt, the Academy's authorities could have achieved their goal by just turning to the Senate), the general picture presented above seems to be true. This shows how the State freely derived its manpower resources from the cleric estate in general and from students of its seminaries in particular.

Furthermore, the seminaries themselves had a short basic medical curriculum. From 1802 till 1814, we find that medicine had been taught in the theological academies in a 2-year course comprising a basic medical curriculum. In the first year, anatomy, physiology, general pathology and therapy were studied, and in the second year the students learned so-called botanical philosophy and pharmacognosy. The medical curriculum was approved by the Meditsinskaia Kollegia18. The same course had also been taught in the spiritual seminaries (there were 36 such seminaries in Russia according to the amount of eparchies). Medical instruction was so valued, that the teacher who taught medicine in the Slavic-Greek-Latin Academy, enjoyed a very significant salary of 400 rubles per year, as much as the teachers of rhetoric or high eloquence, whilst the teachers of the upper grammar classes, of German or French languages had an annual salary of only 240 rubles19.

By the end of the 1760s, under Catherine the Great (1729—1796), an improvement of the medical affairs in the Empire was discussed:

Several laymen [naturally, those who were close to the Empress] suggested that the clergy receive basic medical instructions so they could assist the peasantry of localities without professional practitioners; but Baron Dr. Georg von Asch, a deputy from the Medical Collegium, rejected that proposal as unnecessary and potentially harmful because of the clergy's lack of medical skills. Some nationalistic Russian historians have derided Asch for blind obstructionism...20

It is most probable that the teaching of medicine was neither initiated, nor encouraged by the high church authorities, but just imposed by the State. Generally speaking, the church authorities (especially of the highest rank) had always resisted introducing any "practical", i.e., non-theological disciplines, into the curriculum of the spiritual academies and seminaries, considering such disciplines as an encroachment on their exclusive rights and also as "taking away" the students from their natural spiritual duties. Relying on the sources cited above, and upon the detailed study of Gregory L. Freeze21, it is apparent that the story of the appearance and disappearance of medicine in the curriculum of seminaries and academies in Russia reflected the struggle between the highest state (usually presented by a Chief Procurator of the Holy Synod) and the church authorities for more or less stress on "applied" characters of spiritual education. This struggle may be epitomized by the conclusions submitted in 1814 by the Committee for the Improvement of Ecclesiastical School: the spiritual institutions in Russia were partly liberated from their non-spiritual disciplines and medicine disappeared from the curriculum of the academies and the seminaries. But only for a while. By the 1830s, the regime again found it necessary to continue the transformation of the clergy "into more useful temporal, not just spiritual, servitors"22. Appointed as Chief Procurator of the Holy Synod in 1836, Count Nicholas A. Protasov (1798—1855), pressed for introducing medicine and agronomy into the ecclesiastic curriculum. This, in his opinion, would bring "profit to the [clergymen] themselves and their future parishioners"23.

Pavel Kiselev (1788—1872)

Protasov's designs aroused strong opposition among Church hierarchs. Though sensitive to the seminary's failings, they regarded such schemes as inimical to the interests of the Church and designed purely to serve the worldy needs of the State. This view was clearly evident in 1836—37, when Protasov transmitted proposals to incorporate medicine and agronomy into the curriculum, ideas that the Synod brusquely rejected as unsuitable on practical and pedagogical grounds24.

Nevertheless, Protasov, supported in 1838 by another high official, Minister of State Domains Pavel Kiselev (1788—1872), persuaded the Tsar Nicholas I to replace the Commission of Ecclesiastical Schools (the latter had been created by the initiative of the mentioned above Committee for the Improvement of Ecclesiastical Schools and was in fact the hard core of the opposition to the reforms) by the Bureau of Ecclesiastical Schools directly subordinated to him and composed of non-churchmen. After this proposal had been adopted by Nicholas I, the church authorities were forced to surrender.

However, this achievement was not productive. A historian of the Russian Church, Boris Titlianov, wrote:

Of course, it would be fine if everyone could be a specialist in all the occupations. [...]. However, except during the Protasov epoch, such a fusion has always been recognized as impossible and bringing nothing but harm, because a priest-physician or a priest-agronomist will be a bad pastor, a bad physician and a bad agronomist. Count Protasov would have liked to create the possible from the impossible. Accordingly, the consequences were expectable25.

The failure was soon apparent, although from 1848 and till 1852, medicine had been introduced in all the seminaries as required by the government.

With only a perfunctory knowledge of natural science, pupils had neither preparation nor the time to master medicine; at most, they could read through a medical textbook26.

This failure was not only "anecdotal"; it was reflected also in official inspection reports. Titlianov informs us that no seminary reportedly had a general rating in medicine higher than the modest "satisfactory", whilst in many seminaries the knowledge of medicine for more than half of the pupils was recognized as "unsatisfactory"27. Most probably, the failure of introducing medicine into seminaries' curriculum was caused in first by the relatively low educational level of candidates for the parish clergy, whilst the persistent splitting of attention between spiritual and non-spiritual disciplines made it impossible to get this problem over.

With the establishment of zemstvo medicine28 it was hoped that the problem of intervention of non-professionals in medical affairs would be removed. Nevertheless, around 1880, the government sought again to impose additional extra-spiritual duties on the clergy.

Before an epoch of wars and revolutions at the beginning of the current century, this period was the last long lull which gave the Russian Empire a chance for solving the problems caused by modernization29.

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Copyright © Alexander Kotok 2001
Mise en page, illustrations Copyright © Sylvain Cazalet 2001