[Catherine the Great] decided to have herself and her family and her court inoculated. Inoculation was the great scientific advance…In France and other Catholic countries it was actually forbidden as being contrary to the Will of God. So says Professor Tony Lentin of the Open University at (15.00) here.
I find this quote attributed to Pope Leo XII: Whoever allows himself to be vaccinated ceases to be a child of God. Smallpox is a judgement from God : thus vaccination is an affront to Heaven. Could not God smite some other way? Had strokes and heart attacks increased as vaccination spread, we could use this as evidence of God!
Seeking evidence, I went to Wikipedia. Vaccine Controversies does not finger the Pope, but ascribes similar sentiments to “some Christian opponents“. The article Vaccination and religion has the hallmarks of vituperative editing: Anti-vaccination proponents were most common in Protestant countries, someone has crowed. As I write, it says Quakers opposed vaccination: we were in our Evangelical phase, but I think that unlikely.
Quodlibeta‘s article gives a wealth of detail, and the peroration Leo XII’s alleged ban of vaccination is a whiggish myth which has been repeated and promulgated slavishly ever since…No doubt in cyberspace it will continue amongst those who will swallow any myth as long as it is anti-catholic or anti-religious.
That is the problem. The story has started as anti-Catholic, and is now anti-Christian, showing how we opposed science to the detriment of believers and their victims. The classic such story is geocentrism.
Still in Wikipedia, where the battle rages between those who would maximise or minimise the church’s foolish perfidy, I read that all books refuting geocentrism were banned by the Catholic church until 1757, and Galileo’s Dialogue was prohibited until 1835. Pope John Paul II claimed not to contend with science: the Bible does not concern itself with the details of the physical world, the understanding of which is the competence of human experience and reasoning. Theology is about the human relationship with God, though psychological research impinges on even that.
Seeking a happily partisan view, I went to RationalWiki. It gives little detail on the slow progress of the Roman church, but quotes four verses of the Bible apparently affirming geocentrism, and a link: “Looking for outright lies? CreationWiki has a page on Geocentrism”. Oh, OK. The Encyclopedia of Creation Science points out Einstein’s relativity theory asserts that the frame of reference for observing motion is arbitrary– so you can say the Earth stands still if you want- but Mainstream creationists agree that the the Earth is in motion around the Sun.
The message I wanted to leave you with is that when partisans debate such details, there is more heat than light, and what is needed is a patient examination of the history of ideas, and levels of belief. What I end with is both RationalWiki (Thank God it attacks Creationists, rather than all Christians!) and CreationWiki saying moderately sensible things on Geocentrism; and a University professor peddling an anti-Papist myth.
Also on Catholics in history: a Jewish academic works to rehabilitate the reputation of wartime bishop Aloysius Stepinac.