By Bill Federer
Washing hands to prevent the spread of disease was recommended in 1844 to the doctors of the Vienna General Hospital by Dr. Ignaz Philipp Semmelweis. Semmelweis had noticed that doctors would go straight from doing autopsies on those who died of puerperal fever to delivering babies, and soon after the mothers would die of puerperal fever.
Nearly 25 percent of all mothers giving birth in hospital maternity wards died of puerperal fever, with epidemics sometimes reaching 100 percent. Dr. Ignaz Semmelweis was ridiculed so much for his “hand-washing” suggestion that he was forced to leave Vienna and eventually died in a mental asylum.
In America, Dr. Oliver Wendell Holmes Sr. made the same suggestion and was similarly criticized by medical professionals. It was not until Louis Pasteur confirmed the existence of microscopic germs that “hand-washing” became an accepted medical practice to prevent the spread of disease.
Dr. Jospeh Lister in Scotland applied Louis Pasteur’s studies of infectious microbiology to the pioneering of sterile surgery. “Listerine” antiseptic mouthwash was named for him.
Dr. Joseph Lister stated: “I am a believer in the fundamental doctrines of Christianity.”
Dr. Joseph Lister told a graduating class: “It is our proud office to tend the fleshly tabernacle of the immortal spirit, and our path, if rightly followed, will be guided by unfettered truth and love unfeigned. In pursuit of this noble and holy calling I wish you all God-speed.”
Louis Pasteur became a professor of chemistry at the University of Strasbourg, where in 1849 he married Marie Laurent, daughter of the University’s rector. Tragically, three of their five children died of typhoid, which led him to research the causes and prevention of diseases. Louis Pasteur’s study of micro-organisms and his germ theory revolutionized medicine.
Pasteur developed vaccines for rabies and anthrax, drawing on Edward Jenner’s 1796 method of inoculating people from smallpox by “vaccinating” them with cowpox – (“vaca” being Latin for cow). Louis Pasteur laid the foundation for the control of tuberculosis, cholera, diphtheria and tetanus – diseases which had killed millions.
Louis Pasteur, Ferdinand Cohn and Robert Koch are considered the fathers of the science of microbiology.
Louis Pasteur describing anaerobic (without oxygen) bacteria: “The more I study nature, the more I stand amazed at the work of the Creator. Into his tiniest creatures, God has placed extraordinary properties that turn them into agents of destruction of dead matter.”
In “The Life of Louis Pasteur,” written by René Vallery-Radot, translated by Mrs. R.L. Devonshire, (McClure, Phillips & Co., 1902, Vol. 1, p. 260-262), Louis Pasteur wrote in a notebook, 1871: “Life is in the germ, that it has been but in a state of transmission since the origin of creation.”
In an interview with the mayor and the president of the Chamber of Commerce of Orleans, France, Louis Pasteur talked of: “Science, which brings man nearer to God.”
Louis Pasteur, as Dean of the Faculty of Sciences at Lille University in France, researched how micro-organisms spoiled beverages, such as beer, wine and milk. In January, 1860, Louis Pasteur wrote to Chappuis (Vallery-Radot, Life of Louis Pasteur): “I am pursuing as best I can these studies on fermentation which are of great interest, connected as they are with the impenetrable mystery of Life and Death.”
Louis Pasteur developed the process of heating the liquids to kill most bacteria and molds, which became called “pasteurization.”
President Eisenhower wrote Jan. 8, 1954: “Pasteurization of milk has prevented countless epidemics and saved thousands of lives.”
As a young man, Louis Pasteur wrote to his sisters, Nov. 1, 1840 (René Vallery-Radot, “The Life of Louis Pasteur,” translated by Mrs. R.L. Devonshire, Vol. I, NY: McClure, Phillips & Co., 1902): “These three things, will, work, success, fill human existence. Will opens the door to success both brilliant and happy; work passes these doors, and at the end of the journey success comes to crown one’s efforts. And so, my dear sisters, if your resolution is firm, your task … is already begun; You have but to walk forward. … If perchance you should falter during the journey, a hand would be there to support you. If that should be wanting, God, who alone could take that hand from you, would Himself accomplish its work.”
At his formal inauguration to the Faculty of Letters of Douai and the Faculty of Sciences of Lille, Louis Pasteur remarked, Dec. 7, 1854: “Dans les champs de l’observation, le hasard ne favorise que les esprits préparés” (In the field of observation, chance favors only the prepared mind.)
President George H.W. Bush referred to this statement, Feb. 13, 1989: “You know, Louis Pasteur once said: ‘Chance favors only the prepared mind.’ … For America to be prepared for the future, our children must be educated.”
In a letter to his father, Feb. 7, 1860, Louis Pasteur wrote (Vallery-Radot, “Life of Louis Pasteur”): “God grant that by my persevering labors I may bring a little stone to the frail and ill-assured edifice of our knowledge of those deep mysteries of Life and Death where all our intellects have so lamentably failed.”
Upon his father’s death, Louis Pasteur wrote (Vallery-Radot, “Life of Louis Pasteur”): “Dear children, the dear grandfather is no more. … Until the last moment I hoped I should see him again, embrace him for the last time. … He died on the day of your first communion, dear Cécile; those two memories will remain in your heart. … I was asking you to pray for the grandfather at Arbois College. Your prayers will have been acceptable unto God, and perhaps the dear grandfather himself knew of them and rejoiced with dear little Jeanne over Cécile’s piety.”
In “The Life of Louis Pasteur,” written by René Vallery-Radot, translated by Mrs. R.L. Devonshire, (Vol. I, NY: McClure, Phillips & Co., 1902, p. 257), Louis Pasteur wrote: “Great discoveries … introduce into the whole of Society that philosophical or scientific spirit, that spirit of discernment, which submits everything to severe reasoning, condemns ignorance and scatters errors and prejudices. They raise the intellectual level and the moral sense, and through them the Divine idea itself is spread abroad and intensified.”
In the book, “Louis Pasteur” by Patrice Debré, translated by Eblorg Forster (John Hopkins University Press, 1998), Louis Pasteur is quoted as saying: “In each one of us there are two men, the scientist and the man of faith or of doubt. These two spheres are separate, and woe to those who want to make them encroach upon one another in the present state of our knowledge!”
President Lyndon B. Johnson stated April 7, 1966: “Years ago Louis Pasteur said, ‘I hold the unconquerable belief that science and peace will triumph over ignorance and war; that nations will come together not to destroy, but to construct; and that the future belongs to those who accomplish most for humanity.’”
In 1888, the Pasteur Institute was founded in France. Louis Pasteur stated in his inaugural speech (Vallery-Radot 1901, 2, p. 289): “Two opposing laws seem to me now to be in contest. The one seeks violent conquests, the other, the relief of mankind. The one places a single life above all victories, the other sacrifices hundreds of thousands of lives to the ambition of a single individual. The law of which we are the instruments strives even through the carnage to cure the wounds due to the law of war. Treatment by our antiseptic methods may preserve the lives of thousands of soldiers. Which of these two laws will prevail, God only knows. But of this we may be sure, science, in obeying the law of humanity, will always labor to enlarge the frontiers of life.”
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A Catholic, though sometimes described as a free thinker, Louis Pastuer died on Sept. 28, 1895 while listening to the story of St. Vincent de Paul, a French priest who escaped Muslim slavery in 1605 and helped found religious orders to care for suffering humanity in hospitals.
Shortly after his death, Louis Pasteur was attributed with the quotation: “The more I know, the more does my faith approach that of the Breton peasant. Could I but know all, I would have the faith of a Breton peasant woman.”
As recorded in “The Life of Louis Pasteur” (René Vallery-Radot, 1911, vol. 2, p. 240), Louis Pasteur’s son-in-law gave this description of him: “Absolute faith in God and in Eternity, and a conviction that the power for good given to us in this world will be continued beyond it, were feelings which pervaded his whole life; the virtues of the gospel had ever been present to him. Full of respect for the form of religion which had been that of his forefathers, he came simply to it and naturally for spiritual help in these last weeks of his life.”
Being one of the first European scientists to reject the evolutionary theory of spontaneous generation, Louis Pasteur insisted that life only arises from life, stating: “Microscopic beings must come into the world from parents similar to themselves. … There is something in the depths of our souls which tells us that the world may be more than a mere combination of events.”
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