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Medical Topics in the De anima Commentary of Coimbra (1598) and the Jesuits’ Attitude towards Medicine in Education and Natural Philosophy

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Early-modern Jesuit universities did not offer studies in medicine, and from 1586 onwards, the Jesuit Ratio studiorum prohibited digressions on medical topics in the Aristotelian curriculum. However, some sixteenth-century Jesuit text books used in philosophy classes provided detailed accounts on physiological issues such as sense perception and its organic location as discussed in Aristotle’s De anima II, 7–11. This seeming contradiction needs to be explained. In this paper, I focus on the interst in medical topics manifested in a commentary by the Jesuits of Coimbra. Admittedly, the Coimbra commentary constituted an exception, as the Jesuit college that produced it was integrated in a royal university which had a strong interest in educating physicians. It will be claimed that the exclusion of medicine at Jesuit universities and colleges had its origin in rather incidental events in the course of the foundation of the first Jesuit university in Sicily. There, the lay professors of law and medicine intended to avoid subordination to the Jesuits and thereby provoked a conflict which finally led the Jesuit administration to refrain from including faculties of medicine and law in Jesuit universities. Towards the end of the sixteenth century, a veritable Jesuit animosity towards medicine emerged for philosophical and pedagogical reasons. This development reflects educational concerns within the Society as well as the role of commentaries on Aristotle for early-modern learning.

Affiliations: 1: Technische Universität Berlin


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