For Want of a Jesuit . . .

The Puritans' revolution failed. (Well, maybe I exaggerate a wee bit.)Epidemics of malaria periodically decimated the population of England. What to do? Hope seemed to come from exotic and dangerous sources, as the curative powers of quinine were discovered by the Jesuits in Peru in the seventeenth century. It became known as "Jesuits' Powder."The cure got off to a rocky start in England, where loyal Protestants viewed it as part of a Jesuit plot to take over the country. Oliver Cromwell died of malaria at a relatively young age rather than avail himself of dastardly Jesuitical medicine.Charles II, however, was far more fortunate. He was the beneficiary of what the Jesuits of the time might have called a strict mental reservation--and what Pascal might have called, well, a lie."In 1672 Robert Talbor, who described himself as a feverologist, published a book that carefully avoided any mention of the ingredients of his own remedy but warned others: Beware of all palliative cures, and especially of that known as Jesuits' Powder, for I have seen most dangerous effects follow the taking of that medicine.That warning was duplicitous: Talbor was mixing Jesuits' Powder with opium and various wines, thus disguising it from detection.In 1678 a great malaria epidemic broke out around London, and it was not long before King Charles II contracted the disease. News of Talbor's success in curing people reached the king. Despite the fact that Talbor was considered a quack by the College of Physicians, the king demanded his services. Talbor cured the king. "Fr. Eugene Nevins, SJ "Jesuits' Powder."See also this article by the Dean Emeritus of Brown Medical School.As the Pope prepares to go to England, it's good to remember that listening to Catholics (and Jesuits!) can be a good idea--even on their own terms.HT: My ND Law colleague John Robinson.

Cathleen Kaveny is the Darald and Juliet Libby Professor in the Theology Department and Law School at Boston College.

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