Skip to content
Catholic Online Logo

Born at Brussels, 1577; died near Vilvorde, 30 December, 1644. This scientist, distinguished in the early annals of chemistry, belonged to a good Flemish family. He was brought up by his uncle, and studied humanities at Louvain, but refused to take his degree of Master of Arts, on the theory that it was a source of pride. The Jesuit order attracted him, but he did not enter it. He investigated the Stoic school of philosophy, and, to practice the evangelical counsel of poverty, he conveyed all his property to his sister. Urged on by a desire to relieve human suffering, he began to study medicine. He was appointed to the chair of surgery at Louvain. The course of his studies was interfered with by a sickness, scabies, which affected him. The Galenists treated him with purgatives, not recognizing that it was a parasitical disease. This disgusted him with the Galenists; and he began his travels through England, France, Switzerland, and Italy, for the purpose of investigating the practice of medicine in these different countries. Eventually he was healed by an Italian charlatan, who used sulphur and mercury. He practised as a physician and, instead of using plants, prepared his medicines in the laboratory of the day, in which the furnace, crucible, and retort were most largely employed; this made him known as the medicus per ignem . He departed somewhat from the counsel of poverty by marrying Margaret van Ranst, an heiress of Brabant, and settled down at Vilvorde. He had now acquired a wide reputation in medicine, and had received his doctor's degree at Louvain as early as 1599. Yet he failed in the treatment of his own family ; and, in spite of his remedies, death carried off one of its members when attacked by scabies, the very disease of which he had been cured. His celebrity was now very great, and it is said that he was suspected of diabolism. A fantastic element appears in his work, largely due to the age in which he lived; but his scientific work is of a high order of merit. He investigated gases, notably carbon dioxide, which he discovered in various sources, and it was he who first applied the name gas ( geist ) to this family of substances. He applied the balance in his investigations. He discovered sulphuretted hydrogen in the human system, made hydrochloric gas, which he called gas of salt, explained the explosion of gun-powder on the theory of the expansion of gases, discovered or investigated sulphuric acid, nitric acid, and nitrogen oxide. He was one of the first to recognize the rôle played by acid in the gastric juice, attributing disease to an excess of the same. Like all other chemists of the time, he studied the transmutation of metals, naming his son Mercury, believing that he had succeeded in getting gold from mercury. His various books were published from 1622 to 1652. In 1648 a collection of his works was published posthumously under the auspices of his son.

More Encyclopedia

The Catholic Encyclopedia is the most comprehensive resource on Catholic teaching, history, and information ever gathered in all of human history. This easy-to-search online version was originally printed between 1907 and 1912 in fifteen hard copy volumes.

Catholic Encyclopedia

Designed to present its readers with the full body of Catholic teaching, the Encyclopedia contains not only precise statements of what the Church has defined, but also an impartial record of different views of acknowledged authority on all disputed questions, national, political or factional. In the determination of the truth the most recent and acknowledged scientific methods are employed, and the results of the latest research in theology, philosophy, history, apologetics, archaeology, and other sciences are given careful consideration.

No one who is interested in human history, past and present, can ignore the Catholic Church, either as an institution which has been the central figure in the civilized world for nearly two thousand years, decisively affecting its destinies, religious, literary, scientific, social and political, or as an existing power whose influence and activity extend to every part of the globe. In the past century the Church has grown both extensively and intensively among English-speaking peoples. Their living interests demand that they should have the means of informing themselves about this vast institution, which, whether they are Catholics or not, affects their fortunes and their destiny.

Copyright © Catholic Encyclopedia. Robert Appleton Company New York, NY. Volume 1: 1907; Volume 2: 1907; Volume 3: 1908; Volume 4: 1908; Volume 5: 1909; Volume 6: 1909; Volume 7: 1910; Volume 8: 1910; Volume 9: 1910; Volume 10: 1911; Volume 11: - 1911; Volume 12: - 1911; Volume 13: - 1912; Volume 14: 1912; Volume 15: 1912

Catholic Online Catholic Encyclopedia Digital version Compiled and Copyright © Catholic Online


Newsletter Sign Up icon

Stay up to date with the latest news, information, and special offers

Subscribe to Catholic OnlineYouTube Channel

Daily Readings

Reading 1, Ephesians 5:21-33
21 Be subject to one another out of reverence for Christ.22 ... Read More

Psalm, Psalms 128:1-2, 3, 4-5
1 [Song of Ascents] How blessed are all who fear Yahweh, who walk in his ... Read More

Gospel, Luke 13:18-21
18 He went on to say, 'What is the kingdom of God like? What shall I ... Read More

Saint of the Day

Saint of the Day for October 25th, 2016 Image

St. Daria
October 25: There is very little known about them. ... Read More