A German physician, alchemist, and magician, Paracelsus is renowned for establishing the role of chemistry in medicine. Although his theories qualify as magical, his insistence upon experiential learning in the face of received tradition redirected the practice of medicine following his death.
Born Philippus Theophrastus Bombastus von Hohenheim in Einsiedeln in the Swiss canton of Schwyz, Paracelsus spent his early years in Villach, Carinthia, with his father, an alchemist and physician. He began his lifelong wanderings in 1507, studying in Vienna and most likely attending the Italian universities of Padua and Ferrara until about 1516. Thereafter, accounts of his service as a military physician have him traveling through Europe and the eastern Mediter­ranean.
By 1525, after a brief stay in Salzburg, where Paracelsus angered authorities with his rebellious sympathies for the German Peasants' War, he traversed southern Germany before establishing a successful medical practice in Stras­bourg. Although there is some dispute regarding his completion of an academic degree, he was called to Basel in 1527 and was appointed municipal physician and professor of medicine. This position proved to be short-lived. Finding him­self again under the scrutiny of authorities after he publicly burned several works of traditional medicine, he was forced to flee the following year and again took up a life of wandering. He spent the rest of his life engaged in medical research and publishing a wide variety of works. Always a controversial figure, he found asylum in Salzburg near the end of his life and died there in 1541.
There is little doubt that Paracelsus sought to redefine medical theory and practice. Good evidence for his medical views can be found in the very name "Paracelsus" that he chose for himself. Meaning "above" or "beyond" Celsus (the first-century Roman physician), the name is consciously emblematic of his new ideas and rejection of tradition. Paracelsus's views are a curious mixture of the magical and the practical, certainly out of step with received wisdom, but reflecting the Renaissance notion of Neoplatonic universal harmonies ordering the world. Derived at least in part from this context, his greatest work displays a keen awareness of causation, which he usually cast in terms of the analogous association between the micro­cosm (the individual) and the macrocosm (the universe). Although his theory is magical and astrological, it was nonetheless drawn from empirical practice and experiential learning. The medical doctor was to learn from nature.
His more practical achievements derived from the role of chemistry in his medical theory. They include an excellent clinical description of syphilis, as well as a course of treatment for it using mercury compounds, and a recognition of the etiology of the "miners' disease" of silicosis, a condition caused by the inhalation of metal dust. He can also be credited with the discovery of the connection between goiter and mineral compounds and an explanation of the role of acids in digestive functions.
Paracelsus's new conception of the nature of disease, drawn from his magical conception of the universe, led to more practical results. Gone, for the most part, is the ancient notion that disease was a condition of the body caused by imbalances among the bodily humors, and in its place is a theory emphasizing the external causes of most illnesses. Diseases, according to Paracelsus, had their own substantial being as agents themselves, introduced into the body, occupying a particular place within it, and causing certain, predictable forms of impairment.
From Paracelsus's new conception followed new modes of therapy: "what makes a man ill also cures him" and "nature will heal the wound all by herself." Paracelsus foresaw the curative effects of small doses of disease-causing substances, and he outlined the need for minimalist, noninvasive forms of treatment, calling for basic hygiene and nursing as the most effective treatment for traumas to the body. His most famous explication of therapeutic practices came in his most important work, The Great Surgery Book of 1536.
A Paracelsian movement spread through Europe within decades of his death. Compelled by a desire to replace ineffective treatments with better ones, many of medical science's most important pioneers found inspiration in the alchemist's works.
A. Debus, The Chemical Philosophy, 1977.
C. Webster, From Paracelsus to Newton, 1982.
Edmund M. Kern

Renaissance and Reformation 1500-1620: A Biographical Dictionary. . 2001.

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  • Paracelsus — Par a*cel sus (p[a^]r [.a]*s[e^]l s[u^]s), prop. n. Philippus Aureolus Paracelsus (originally Theophrastus Bombastus von Hohenheim, also called Theophrastus Paracelsus and Theophrastus von Hohenheim). Born at Maria Einsiedeln, in the Canton of… …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • Paracélsus — Paracélsus, Philippus Aureolus P. Theophrastus Bombastus von Hohenheim, Arzt und Naturforscher, geb. 17. Dez. 1493 zu Maria Einsiedeln im Kanton Schwyz, gest. 24. Sept. 1541 in Salzburg, erhielt von seinem Vater, einem Arzt und Chemiker, den… …   Meyers Großes Konversations-Lexikon

  • Paracelsus — (izg. paracȅlsus) (Philippus Aureolus Theophrastus Bombastus von Hohenheim) (1494 1541) DEFINICIJA švicarsko njemački liječnik, prirodoslovac i angažirani renesansni filozof; iako sklon alkemiji, astrologiji i mistici, inzistiranjem na egzaktnom… …   Hrvatski jezični portal

  • Paracelsus — Paracelsus, eigentlich Philipp Theophrastus von Hohenheim od. gräcisirt P. genannt Aureolus Bombastus, geb. 1493 zu Einsiedeln im Canton Schwyz. Von seinem Vater, dem natürlichen Sohn eines Adeligen, von Hohenheim, einem Arzt u. Chemiker, erhielt …   Pierer's Universal-Lexikon

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  • Paracelsus — * Paracelsus liegt noch drum mit Galenus im Streite …   Deutsches Sprichwörter-Lexikon

  • Paracelsus — [par΄ə sel′səs] Philippus Aureolus [fi lip′əs ō̂ rē′ə ləs] (born Theophrastus Bombastus von Hohenheim) 1493 1541; Swiss physician & alchemist …   English World dictionary

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  • Paracelsus — This article is about Philippus von Hohenheim, known as Paracelsus. For other uses, see Hohenheim (disambiguation). Philippus von Hohenheim portrait by Quentin Massys Born Philip von Hohenheim 11 November 1493 …   Wikipedia

  • Paracelsus — Paracelsian, adj., n. Paracelsianism, n. Paracelsic, Paracelsistic, adj. Paracelsist, n. /par euh sel seuhs/, n. 1. Philippus Aureolus /fi lip euhs aw ree oh leuhs/, (Theophrastus Bombastus von Hohenheim), 1493? 1541, Swiss physician and… …   Universalium

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