Care of Bodies, Cure of Souls: Medicine and Religion in Early Modern Germany

Thumbnail Image




Ross, Tricia Marie


Robisheaux, Thomas

Journal Title

Journal ISSN

Volume Title

Repository Usage Stats



In both medicine and theology, the early modern period was one of flux, characterized by Reformation and Revolution. Scholars tend to analyze shifts in natural philosophy and theology separately. This dissertation brings them together to question how early modern Christians understood their own bodies and souls, the diseases to which they were prey, and the physicians and medicine that treated them.

In doing so, it highlights one influential group of thinkers who addressed these questions: late sixteenth- and early seventeenth-century Lutheran physicians, theologians, and natural philosophers in the so-called Wittenberg Circle. As shown in chapter one, out of inter- and intra-confessional debates in theology, the study of anatomy, and the study of the soul building on the long Aristotelian De anima commentarial tradition, Lutheran thinkers helped create a field of study called anthropologia. Enshrined in the basic curriculum for all students, including physicians, theologians and philosophers, this discipline endeavored to synthesize the fundamental findings of anatomy, philosophy, and theology to explain the nature of human bodies and souls. Building on the intellectual background sketched in chapter one, the second chapter shows how Lutheran physicians attempted to understand bodies and disease in light of this system of thought. To do so, they called on two principal sources of authority: the Bible and medical theory. Following this overview of basic intellectual commitments, the thematic chapters three and four trace evolving notions of (1) the physician as healer of body and of soul, an imitator of Christus Medicus and (2) the spread of learned ideas about body and soul in vernacular literature, and the way patients should understand and cope with their own sicknesses of body and soul.

This dissertation builds on a wide body of academic Latin and popular vernacular sources, from theological and medical treatises to sermons, commentaries, and devotional literature. It highlights the influence of Philip Melanchthon’s commentaries on Aristotle’s De anima, and those of his students and friends, as well as the influential writing of the prominent Wittenberg physician Daniel Sennert. In books of prayer, sermons, and biblical commentaries that treat disease and healing, Lutheran pastors and theologians utilized academic medicine and theology to console patients and to popularize pious understandings of body, soul, and medicine. Together these sources reveal a set of beliefs about the relationship of body and soul and their relationship to material and spiritual forces that permeated every level of society.






Ross, Tricia Marie (2017). Care of Bodies, Cure of Souls: Medicine and Religion in Early Modern Germany. Dissertation, Duke University. Retrieved from


Dukes student scholarship is made available to the public using a Creative Commons Attribution / Non-commercial / No derivative (CC-BY-NC-ND) license.