Skip to main content

The Mental Aspects of Ordinary Disease

  • J. Milner Fothergill (a1)

The relations of body and mind are becoming not only much more comprehensible, but even much better understood, since science has shaken off the incubus of theological teaching as to the severance of soul and body. As long as the mind was something separated from the body, or only united to it by slack and loosely fitting ties, mental phenomena could have nothing to do with bodily conditions—insanity was a disease of the soul; and the monk, standing over a miserable lunatic chained to a staple in a wall, and flogging him in order to make him cast his devil out, was a logical outcome of this hypothesis, however repugnant to more recent and correcter views. The baneful psychology of theologians is now thoroughly undermined, and the erroneous and mischievous superstructure is cracking and gaping on every side, and ere long the ground occupied by a crumbling ruin will be covered by a gradually growing erection based on a foundation of facts, and reared by an expanding intelligence. The union of psychology and physiology is the closing of the circuit, in one direction, of the pursuit after knowledge, and forms the initiation of a rational and intelligible comprehension of the mind and of its relation to corporeal conditions. How such mistaken and false ideas of the word melancholia, as those entertained by the monk as an alienist physician, could have attained their sway in the face of such maxim as mens sana in corpore sano, only becomes intelligible when we remember the ignorance, the superstitious prejudices, the contempt for the knowledge of the natural man, which ever characterise the theological mind, and which found their highest expression during the monkish supremacy of the dark ages—that interval of black ignorance which intervened betwixt the decadence of Latin civilisation and that intellectual evolution, the Renaissance, which indicated the advent of the reign of human intelligence. Slowly but surely was the emancipation of the intellect from the fetters of priestly tyranny achieved, as death thinned the ranks of its opponents, and the grim despotism of Torquemada and his coadjutors waned into the pettier and less terrible persecution of more recent ecclesiastics, and the tremendous grip of hierarchical supremacy gradually merged into the palsied, nerveless grasp of a doting and dying theology, the mere spectre of its former self. Curious men were the Church's leaders of the middle ages. In their cathedrals the light of day was only permitted to enter to a limited extent, and that too through the medium of coloured glass, so as to produce the “dim religious light,” while artificial lights burnt up before their altars; so were their minds closed to the natural light of the human understanding, and artificially illumined by the creations of their diseased imaginations, amidst whose coloured rays the white light of truth was always obscured, if not rarely utterly lost. But in the mortality of man lies the hope, the salvation of truth.

Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

The British Journal of Psychiatry
  • ISSN: 0368-315X
  • EISSN: 2514-9946
  • URL: /core/journals/the-british-journal-of-psychiatry
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *


Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed

The Mental Aspects of Ordinary Disease

  • J. Milner Fothergill (a1)
Submit a response


No eLetters have been published for this article.


Reply to: Submit a response

Your details

Conflicting interests

Do you have any conflicting interests? *