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.

4.3.5 Debates around homeopathy

The true role of the Russian Orthodox clergy in the spread of homeopathy in the Empire must be evaluated not only from homeopathic sources but also from contemporary allopathic and clerical literature and periodicals. Yet, some significant difficulties are encountered. The clerical authorities, which controlled the church printing machine, preferred not to debate publicly on specific medical matters like preference for homeopathy or allopathy; such discussions were possibly considered as an intervention into State affairs. On the other hand, contemporary Russian allopathic literature and periodicals never really discussed the clergy's collaboration with homeopaths. They however sometimes briefly reacted to debates which had already been developing in the press. In my opinion, the best way to discover the involvement of clergymen in the history of Russian pre-World War I homeopathy is to investigate some references to the share that the clergy had in the spread of homeopathy. I will then analyze the character of those references and discussions.

4.3.5 (i) Discussions on teaching homeopathy in seminaries

As I mentioned above, in the 1880s, church authorities found homeopathy very beneficial for the church's prestige, because an increasing number of priests were practicing homeopathy in the villages. There was at that time widespread discussion (on the mainstream of the Pobedonostsev's "simplification" and "becoming nearer to the people" of the Orthodox clergy, see the section 1B in this chapter) of the possibility for medicine to be taught in the theological seminaries as one of the disciplines. The Holy Synod, the highest church authority ruled by the State, planned to introduce homeopathy in the curriculum of these institutions92.

It should be noted that regular physicians, at the beginning of the development of zemstvo medicine, strongly resisted the modest attempts of the government to involve the rural clergy in the zemstvo public health system. This resistance continued even though a large number of people lived in places where it was impossible to have access to qualified medical help. These physicians refused the government's order to include into local medical data the clergy's statistics regarding the number and causes of deaths during epidemics in villages. Any allusion to any kind of initiative by the rural clergy in homeopathic treatment was met by a hostile attitude from regular physicians. Later, in the 1880s, in the light of the impossibility to provide medical help everywhere through rural Russia, the medical establishment had to agree with the necessity to offer the students of the theological seminaries an opportunity to get some medical knowledge which they might need in the future.

"Vrach" wrote:

We have already said more than once that teaching medicine in seminaries could be very useful, but on the condition that the teaching program curriculum would be limited to a basic knowledge of anatomy, physiology, hygiene and looking after the sick. The teaching of therapy to those without necessary training, could lead to an increase in the number of quacks, self-assured in their "knowledge" and defended by imaginary rights. Unfortunately, in the program approved by the Synod [...] they made exactly that mistake. As a matter of fact, seminarians will be taught 'methods of internal and external treatment'. Furthermore, they will study the 'treatment of main diseases'. Moreover, they will make acquaintance with homeopathy as well. There are among high-ranking ecclesiastics [...] followers of so-called homeopathy, so it is very likely that the poor students will have to study homeopathy as well. It will be very interesting to know whether the Medical Council has been consulted. If it was, what did the Council reply?93

Naturally, homeopaths had another point of view. In the homeopathic periodical "Vestnik gomeopaticheskoi meditsiny" the editor, Dr. E. Diukov wrote distinctly enough:

Who will teach and what should be taught [in seminaries]? Allopaths, of course, will teach. From the discussions of the numerous zemstvo-physicians and the decisions of physicians' meetings, the 'rational' basis of hygiene and prophylaxis will be taught. It goes without saying that this is good and maybe even necessary for the activity of medical staff living within the people, but this is not medicine itself [...]. Hygienic and prophylactic lectures and discussions are probably good and useful, but only for healthy persons. For the sick persons such lectures would be edifying only retroactively. The sick person doesn't need salutary lessons, he/she needs to be cured from his/her illness [...]. Popular medicine should provide helping measures, even if it is only, at first, domestic help, until genuine medicine comes (if it comes at all) [...]. What 'didactic' lessons for the clergy can allopathic medicine give? Very little, it could even be argued, nothing [...]. The teaching of popular medicine can have some practical results for future clergymen if the clergy, besides learning hygienic facts, would also learn how to help sick persons. This help could be of benefit only in the case the clergy would receive medicines which help and cause no harm. Only homeopathy answers these requirements, not allopathy. The numerous clergymen who use homeopathy for treatment of their parishioners and for themselves can be seen as a proof that homeopathic drugs are indispensable in domestic medicine94.

Three years later in the same periodical, an editorial by Dr. Ivan Lutsenko entitled "About teaching medicine in seminaries" asserted that zemstvo medicine swallows up about one third of the zemstvo budgets but this is not enough to support effective medical service. Thus, even allopaths understood that it was essential to induce the clergy to improve what appeared to be an unsatisfactory system of medical help.

Medical knowledge is needed for priests not only for their congregations but also for themselves and their families. It was decided by the [high-ranking] representatives of medicine that our rural "fathers" and "mothers" should be educated with knowledge of somatology [i.e., anatomy and physiology] and hygiene. Is this really what they need? Indeed, such topics would enlarge the intellectual understanding of nature by seminary students and by young women in the eparchy schools. Admittedly this knowledge would make these students more competent in health-care, it would not however provide adequate medical knowledge of diseases, nor increase the needed ability to treat these diseases skillfully. The future priests and their wives will remain as helpless in the treatment of disease as they are now...95

After analyzing the situation, Lutsenko concludes that the roots of all the evil are in the present state of medicine which has little to offer to improve the seminarians' skills. He added:

If the authorities of the seminaries wish to give their pupils such "bread" that they consider is needed for their pupils' medical skills, they ought to invite homeopaths, who could teach both somatology and hygiene. In addition they could teach the use of the homeopathic method in the treatment of diseases. The pupils would be countless times thankful to both teachers and superiors for inviting such lecturers96.

The clergy practicing homeopathy took an active part in those discussions of the content of the curriculum. Obviously, they published their pro-homeopathic opinions only in the homeopathic periodicals. The allopathic establishment treated both the clergy and homeopathy with undisguised superciliousness and contempt. In the eyes of allopaths the clergymen were non-specialists who should not get involved in therapy. Homeopaths were "betrayers of scientific medicine for their own benefit and in accordance with the misguided public's demands"97. As I noted earlier, the highest church authorities, with their consistent policy of non-intervention in State affair, never declared that they support any particular medical system, though some high-ranking clerics, like Platon (in the world Nicholas Gorodetsky), the Metropolitan of Kiev and Galicia, did allow themselves to support openly the introduction of homeopathy in the seminaries98. Nevertheless, it was Punchinello's secret. In 1890, the main official church periodical "Tserkovnyie vedomosti" ("Church Gazette") to which each parish had an obligatory subscription, attached a special appendix — brochure entitled "Some brief information about homeopathy" — naturally, without any editorial comment. The brochure had been issued previously by the St. Petersburg Society of Followers of Homeopathy. The latter was completely satisfied with the results obtained from such prosperity of homeopathy:

The income of the Society's pharmacy in 1890, grew by 4,333 rubles in comparison to 1889, due to the increased sale of homeopathic drugs. This proves that the number of those following homeopathy is growing year after year. This growth has been particularly enhanced by the publishing of the brochure entitled 'Some brief information about homeopathy' issued in 50,000 copies. This brochure has been distributed free of charge among the rural clergymen, the rural teachers and all people wishing to get it [...]. In 1890, 417 clerics and 72 rural teachers turned to the pharmacy in order to obtain homeopathic drugs99.

The homeopathic brochure was attached to the church periodical with the personal permission of the Chief procurator of the Holy Synod, Pobedonostsev. Coincidentally, the editor of the periodical, a dean of the Isaac Cathedral in St. Petersburg, Father P. A. Smirnov, was an avowed and committed adherent of homeopathy. This publication noticeably increased the number of the priests who practiced homeopathy. It should be also mentioned, that another high-ranking churchman, Father A. P. Troitsky, the editor of the periodical "Kievskie eparkhialnye vedomosti" (The Kiev Eparchial Gazette) issued in thousands, was a member of the Kiev Society of Followers of Homeopathy. Thus, the most influential church magazines and newspapers were, in fact, controlled by supporters of homeopathy.

One might imagine that there were also opponents of homeopathy among the high-ranking clergymen in Russia, but their voice was not heard. Probably, seeing such a mighty support of homeopathy, they did not desire to be involved in an open controversy with their homeopathically oriented colleagues.

I would like to cite the very important article "Homeopathy in the Priest's Practice", by the priest A. S. Karolinsky, from the village of Lashchov in the Lublin province, which was published in 1894. Apparently the argumentation of this well-educated priest and his examples of homeopathic treatment were so convincing that one year later General Nicholas Fedorovsky, the founder of the Christ-Loving Society of Self-Help in Diseases, decided to use this article in his speech before one of the meetings of the Kiev Society of the Followers of Homeopathy100.

A long quotation from Karolinsky's article will be an excellent example of 1) how priests became followers of homeopathy and 2) how they perceived their role in the zemstvo medical system.

The matter of a minimal medical education for future priests has been repeatedly discussed in the superior spheres of the Religious Department. There was a time when students of the theological seminaries studied medicine. Since then, it has always been clear enough that it is essential [...]. I saw in the library of my father, an old priest, some allopathic self-treatment books with many prescriptions, but I know that nobody has ever been able to use them. Perhaps this medical program was rather poorly organized in the old theological seminaries; the expectations did not justify confidence, so naturally it was stopped. There was no alternative, taking into account that this was allopathic education, with its uncertain and fickle Materia medica as well as dispensing of medicines [...]. My small homeopathic practice will show the advantage of the homeopathic over the allopathic treatment. Based upon my experience and upon my amateur homeopathic practice, I can say that homeopathic knowledge can be attained by any educated person. Homeopathy stands on a strong and steady foundation. Its precepts will never be changed unless there is a change in human beings and in nature. Its Materia medica has been developed on the basis of scientific research on the action of medicines on healthy persons. It would be worthwhile to teach such a fundamental, reliable science to young men, the seminaries' pupils for example, along with homeopathic medical practice, during their four years of general education. The two following years of special theological studies should be also dedicated to this medical practice under the supervision of an experienced homeopathic physician, at the seminaries' hospitals [...]. Since homeopathy has practitioners and sympathizers among the high echelons of the clergy, it would not be difficult to introduce this program with the adequate support of the homeopathic scientific societies. Of course, it cannot be expected that such 'specialists' like priests-homeopaths can be compared to the homeopathic physicians, but such priests might be very helpful for sick people — more than allopaths can be. My personal experience shows that even when there is a physician and a pharmacy, as is the case in the place of my residence as well as in many like these in the district, the common people (and even the educated part of society) prefer the help of the priest-homeopath rather than that of the scientific allopath; the latter is usually only consulted when there is need for surgical help101.

I would like to describe the very interesting (and also quite typical) history of "homeopathic conversion" of the priest Karolinsky. His wife, who had experienced a puerperal fever after her first childbirth experience, suffered severely from strong facial pains after her second childbirth. The married couple had visited many physicians and spent a lot of money for solutions and powders without success. Morphine and cantharides were also of little help. Finally their local physician said that it was not possible [for him] to treat this disease; perhaps it would be worthwhile to visit some professors in Warsaw. On the advice of the local teacher, they decided to visit a landowner, who was a homeopathic practitioner. As Karolinsky wrote: "We went to a landowner, not at all believing [in success]". After examination and inquiries, the landowner prescribed three medicines, saying that after taking the first the pains would get worse, after taking the second the patient would feel better and after the third she would get well. The process went exactly as the landowner had predicted. From that time, the priest became an enemy of allopathy and a follower of homeopathy, trying, as he noted, "to learn something about homeopathy". Karolinsky continued his account as follows:

To my great joy, some time later, the brochure 'Some brief information about homeopathy' attached to 'Tserkovnyie vedomosti' was received. It could not have been a better surprise for me. On no other writing have I pounced on with such zeal... A short time later I acquired a little homeopathic chest consisting of 88 medicines, and the self-treatment book of P. Solov'ev102. I began exchanging letters with the homeopathic pharmacies of St. Petersburg and Warsaw, as well as with some homeopathic physicians. Following their instructions I bought books by Laurie and Hughes, Ruddock's 'Reference book of a homeopath', and some books on special diseases, and also subscribed to 'Vrach-gomeopat'103. Little by little I added to my homeopathic chest, which now consists of more than 120 medicines. For more than two years I have treated many different diseases not only in my family and in my parish, but also sick persons coming from distant places. Until now in my modest amateur practice which counted 389 patients [...], only 6 of them died, and only a long time after my treatment, so that the cause of their death can hardly be connected with the treatment itself104.

Further, the priest described some quite difficult cases he had treated successfully, demonstrating a deep knowledge of homeopathic Materia medica. In order to reorganize the health system in villages, the priest suggested it would be wise to entrust the treatment of sick peasants to rural priests and teachers — "each of whom must have a self-treatment book and a homeopathic chest" — who would prescribe the required medicines which could be obtained from the district pharmacies. In the case of epidemics, in his view, it would be possible to enlist even local village elders [starosty] to offer homeopathic treatment under supervision of homeopathically educated priests or teachers105.

This story was also commented upon in the allopathic press:

Could a normal person seriously advocate such a practice? -

the editor of "Vrach" Manassein asked rhetorically, commenting on this article and then adding:

However, anything could indeed happen, considering that homeopathy is supported by high-ranking persons on the one side, and by priests and teachers on the other. Whilst they should diffuse light and knowledge, they [priests and teachers], on the contrary, diffuse darkness and ignorance!106

In my opinion, these controversies were not just a discussion about medicine as an educational discipline to be taught in the seminaries. This was part of the debate concerning the future of Russian medicine in the zemstvos, as well as whether rural medicine would follow the homeopathic practice. In fact, this was one of the last serious, although doubtless too belated, attempts of Russian homeopaths to take the initiative.

Interest in introducing homeopathy into the teaching program of seminaries continued until the First World War and finally came to a dead end. Neither church authorities nor homeopaths had enough power to fight the whole allopathic state medical system. After having scrutinized the situation of homeopathy in Russia in the period under study, I can assert that even if the Holy Synod's and the homeopathic societies' proposal to introduce homeopathy in seminaries would have been accepted, it would not have had a conclusive influence on the general situation. The number of homeopathic physicians in Russia was so insignificant (a little more than 100 physicians openly practiced homeopathy in the best days) that I doubt that all the seminaries could have found even one homeopathic teacher each. To the best of my knowledge the only doctor who indeed had delivered lectures at a seminary was Dr. Ivan Lutsenko, invited by the Odessa spiritual seminary107. Allopaths knew this well and did not worry too much, as appears, for example, in the following statement:

Fortunately, to the great honor of Russian physicians, the number of homeopathic physicians in our country is so insignificant, that even some zemstvos which would have liked to introduce homeopathy, could not find agents108.

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