Men of the caliber of Jesus, Krishna, and Lao-tse, great teachers all, are not the only ones through whom the Gods manifest themselves. There are others, average men and women, whose selfless and altruistic natures attract the attention of the Great Ones, ordinary folk who once called, eagerly sacrifice their all to help in the work of ennobling the race.
Two such come to mind: Paracelsus, that titan genius who was at once alchemist, philosopher and physician; and Florence Nightingale, whose one-pointed heroism in the service of her people won her the reverence of the world. It is not without significance that the amazing careers of both these "servants of God" are a fertile source for serious students. Mrs. Cecil Woodham-Smith's timely biography* of Florence Nightingale brings into sharp clarity the tremendous force of her 'inner call,' and one understands as never before that here indeed was a woman of destiny. As for Paracelsus: perhaps no biographer of the present age can do him justice, for the period in which he lived was one of strange outer appearances, with magic and mystery as part of the stage setting, a smoke-screen deliberately allowed that the real mission be accomplished. Two recent studies: Henry M. Pachter's Paracelsus: Magic into Science† and Jolande Jacobi's edition of his Selected Writings‡ make valuable additions to our knowledge of the period.
* Florence Nightingale, by Mrs. Cecil Woodham-Smith. McGraw Hill Book Co., Inc., New York. 1950
† Paracelsus: Magic into Science, by Henry M. Pachter, Henry Schuman Publishers, New York, 1951
‡ Paracelsus: Selected Writings, Edited by Jolande Jacobi. Translated by Norbert Guterman. Bollingen Series XXVIII, Pantheon Books, New York. 1951
To review adequately the above books, one needs both time and wisdom. Brief comment, however, may serve as pointers to the discerning reader. Florence Nightingale first: six years of meticulous research through previously unpublished letters, gives Mrs. Woodham-Smith's work an authority and readability found lacking in earlier works of Miss Nightingale. This volume is more than a biography. It is the story of one dedicated, who sacrificed fame, wealth and family, that she might pour into one concentrated vehicle of service her inexhaustible faith.
Brilliant, talented and sensitive as a child, Florence Nightingale grew up in luxury, the favorite in cultured social circles at home and abroad. When sixteen she received her 'Call from God,' but not until she was nearly thirty was she able to follow that call. In spite of severe parental protest, she determined to learn nursing, and entered hospitals whose filth and corruption caused more deaths than the wounds of the soldiers on the battlefield. This woman of unrelenting faith and heroic endurance wrought truly a miracle in the Crimea, but no reviewer can do justice to the picture of her triumph as given by the author. Every student nurse today is schooled in the history of Florence Nightingale who dared, in the face of scathing ridicule, to lift nursing from the occupation of tipsy, promiscuous women to a profession of honor and nobility. Her Nightingale Schools stressed the development of character equally with the necessity for academic and practical training. Sanitation and humane treatment of patients became for the first time a must in the civil and military hospitals of England and the Continent. The world took notice, finally; for even when bedridden, her indomitable spirit kept the flame of her sacrifice alive. Interviewing governmental ministers, army officers, writers and public officials, she organized hospital reforms, directed a campaign for sanitation in India, and advised on a hundred branches of public health and welfare. All this scarcely a hundred years ago! At last, exhausted and blind she found peace, found time to receive the public acclaim and honor from a grateful world. Truly, an inspired and an inspiring life.
As for the volumes on Paracelsus referred to: one is just another biography, while the other, of the Bollingen series, is a work of art. In tracing his career from wealth to poverty, from honor to ignominy, punctuated with the bitterest of persecutions, Henry M. Pachter does not see beyond the malicious slander of little minds, jealous and afraid of the revolutionary doctrines Paracelsus taught. While granting the fascination of this genius, whose wonder-cures and alchemical knowledge gained him wide renown, he with many others give full credence to the charges of drunkenness and the like that his enemies insisted upon circulating.
Selected Writings is a vivid portrayal of Paracelsus through his own words. The task of translating the writings of Paracelsus has never been easy. He preferred German to the scholarly Latin, his fertile imagination creating terms to explain his medical, religious and philosophical concepts of a better world, but he seldom revised — all of which has confused innumerable translators who for the most part have been unable to grasp the essential content of his thought. The present translation is outstanding, and one hastens to place this volume beside Plato and Plotinus on the library shelf, to be read in part or in its entirety, for knowledge as well as inspiration.
Precursor of microchemistry, antisepsis, modern wound surgery, Paracelsus was likewise a pioneer of psychotherapy and chemotherapy. Father of Homeopathy, his way to health was the way of Nature. But Paracelsus, born Philippus Aureolus Theophrastus Bombastus von Hohenheim, was primarily interested in Man and his relationship with the Creator. When he wrote on magic or alchemy, on medicine or on astronomy, he dealt with the innate dignity of man, of his duties, and of his future, outlining a simple moral code of spiritual nobility.
Paracelsus was a strange man. Born when Erasmus, Thomas More, Leonardo, Michelangelo, Durer, Vasco da Gama, Cortez, Luther, and Calvin were forging into new worlds, his amazing genius embraced something of them all. His life was spent in wandering, searching and investigating everywhere, coupled with incessant writing. Dealing with a vast range of subjects, his works vary from lists of the latent virtues of minerals and herbs and their medicinal use, to books giving the secret knowledge of death and rebirth, which serve as guides to the Mysteries of God, Nature and Initiation.
Wherever he went, with whomever he stayed, kings or peasants, midwives or gypsies, he seemed like a veritable ball of fire, suddenly coming and as suddenly going, awakening, purifying, and helping those in need. He despised any form of superstition, particularly in medicine and religion, and sacrificed himself in a thousand and one ways to better existing conditions.
Surely he had found the Philosopher's Stone — symbol of divine wisdom. His life knew no pause, yet it was rooted in an unshakable faith, and even during the most adverse circumstances he labored to transmute the dross of his own nature into spiritual gold. After reading his life and works, one is assured that Paracelsus was indeed one of a group of great men who through the generations of mankind have held aloft the torch of universal truth.
(From Sunrise magazine, February 1952; copyright © 1952 Theosophical University Press)