Purity of Heart: The Person and Society
OF THE CATHOLIC TEACHER OF MEDICINE
"To Reveal Christ the Healer"
Cardinal Javier Lozano Barragán
President of the Pontifical Council for Health Care Ministry
April 15, 2007
It is a very drawn out task to establish the profile of the Catholic
teacher of Medicine. It involves understanding what a teacher is,
what a teacher of medicine is, and knowing what it means to describe
them as Catholic.
In the following reflection I will especially look at the term
"Catholic." The question has to be asked whether a non-Catholic
teacher of medicine will really be different from a Catholic teacher
of medicine. And, if so, of what will this difference consist?
I will try to begin by following this sequence in order to answer
these questions: the teacher as the one who teaches, the teacher as
professor, and the teacher as a Catholic.
To talk about a teacher is to talk about culture. Culture has been
defined in very many ways; here I understand it as the humanization
of nature. I understand nature to be everything outside individuals
that they need to live. Education, seeing culture like this, will be
the assimilation of culture. It is necessary to understand the
process of culture to understand the process of education. This
involves four basic stages: introspection, tradition, assimilation
and progress. In introspection, individuals realize their own needs.
In tradition, they see what they are offered to meet these needs. In
assimilation, they meet them. And in progress, they detect new needs
and proceed to create new satisfiers which they have not found in
I. The Catholic professor of medicine
1. The teacher of medicine as a "teacher"
Teachers of medicine are teachers; they teach. The word "teach"
comes from a word meaning a sign. The teacher gives the students the
signs that they need and must appropriate. This means that first of
all the teacher has to know what the students need in order to guide
them in their own introspection and to realize what their needs are.
Once the teacher has taught the students to know their own needs,
they show them how they can meet these needs in tradition. This is
what tends to be called a "cultural asset."
Having detected the "cultural asset" they also signal the way to be
able to appropriate this asset and assimilate it.
They also need to signal new horizons, both in relation to needs and
in relation to possible new horizons. They teach the research which
leads to the "creation" of new cultural assets as something
Consequently, medical culture consists of the humanization of
medicine, and medical education consists of the assimilation of the
humanization of medicine. The task of the teacher of medicine is to
signal to the medical student how to assimilate the humanization of
Following the steps of all culture, in the introspection stage, the
teacher of medicine needs to signal to the students the path so that
it is the students themselves who find the needs that they have,
which lead them to seek the medical tradition as a satisfier of
these needs. Here we can see firstly whether or not the students
have the aptitude to learn medical culture. If their needs, which
are related to their abilities, are not those which are fulfilled
with medical culture, the teacher should indicate to the possible
student that they should not be educated in a culture that they do
not need, or for which they are not capable.
Having passed the introspection step in medical culture, the teacher
of medicine should signal the medical tradition. This is the whole
set of medical "cultural assets" that exist. Here we find the
complex field of medical science, technology and art. The teacher of
medicine should have a command of this field, or, given the
complexity of current medical know-how, at least the specialty that
they are teaching.
In addition to scientific and technical competence, the teacher of
medicine, like any other teacher, should be an expert in educational
science, especially in Didactics, as when "teaching," they should do
so with such clarity that the students can find the medical cultural
asset that they are being shown. The teacher of medicine thus
tackles the third step of culture, assimilation. It is not
sufficient to teach medical culture; rather it is necessary to
indicate to the students the practical path which has to be taken to
have a command of it.
Once the teacher of medicine has completed this third step, they
should open up subsequent paths for the students to recognize
subsequent medical needs and, based on that already existing, to
succeed in "creating" new medical cultural assets in the future. In
particular, they should indicate the paths of medical progress, and
how their students should move along these previously unexplored
2. The teacher of medicine as a professor
In addition to a teacher, the teacher of medicine should be a
professor, and here we expand our thoughts to enter the field of the
Catholic teacher of medicine. As teachers, to a certain extent, they
share their personality with any other teacher of medicine, of
whatever mentality or ideology. As a professor, it is different.
Indeed, the word professor contains a religious connotation, as it
comes from the verb to profess, which means adherence to a faith and
its profession. If the teacher just remains at the level of teacher,
they will be frustrated and so will their students. They signal
health and life sciences and technology but, being realistic, they
indicate that the whole of medical science and technology finally
lose the battle, because death arrives and, in the face of death,
all medical science and technology are shown to be impotent and
fail. Being sincere with themselves and with their students, at the
levels of introspection and assimilation of medicine to overcome
disease, they should signal the ultimate failure of all medical
science, technology and art, as death can be found at the end of all
Only if they are capable of signaling, together with the same
medicine and in a way from it, the overcoming of death, does their
teaching have a lasting value and is not lost in just delaying the
end as much as possible.
For this they must go beyond the mere level of the teacher and truly
become a professor. To profess a faith which opens up health and
life to transcendence.
3. The teacher of medicine as a Catholic professor
If the professor of medicine is a Catholic, then this transcendence
and this victory over death are not merely beautiful desires which,
for many, in our secularized culture, do not go beyond good
intentions and palliatives for the failure of death, but rather they
are based on the same reality of an irrefutable historical event,
the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ.
On professing this faith, the teacher of medicine becomes a
triumphant professor. He and his students advance toward medical
culture with the certainty and the joy of knowing that the progress
in health science is a foretaste of the full health that they will
find for themselves and for their patients in the resurrected
It is obvious that this is incomprehensible for those who do not
profess this faith. For a physician who does not have faith in
Christ and in his Church, nothing here means anything, and rather it
is something absurd which would appear to be for ignorant and mad
people as it goes against the biological experimental knowledge
which they believe to be the only one valid in medicine:
"evidence-based medicine." However, here is another type of
evidence, even stronger than laboratory evidence, the evidence of a
faith based on an irrefutable fact which is reached for the same
reason, but which arises from a free and firm decision of the will
of each person. St Paul already said that the announcement of a
crucified Messiah was offensive for the Jews and madness for the
Gentiles, but it is much wiser than all human wisdom, and what may
seem to be weakness in God, is stronger than all human strength (1
In accordance with this profession of faith, what then should a
Catholic professor of medicine be like? The answer is to teach how a
physician should be who is not frustrated but rather who opens up
health science and technology, the art of curing, toward the full
victory over death in the resurrection of Jesus Christ our Lord. A
Catholic professor of medicine is one who teaches, signals, to their
students, how to be a Catholic physician.
Below I propose a few lines which set out the figure of the Catholic
physician and which can be used as a basis for a Catholic professor
of medicine to signal to their students how to be a Catholic
II. The Catholic physician
I take as the basis the Charter for Health Care Workers published by
the Pontifical Council for the Health Pastoral Care, which in turn
refers to the thought of God's Servant John Paul II in this respect
and from the identity expressed by the Pope, and in it I try to put
together a few ideas to interpret and discuss it.
CHARTER FOR HEALTH CARE WORKERS
The Catholic physician is described as follows in the Charter for
Health Care Workers:
The Catholic physician's profession requires them to be a custodian
and server of human life. They should do this through a watchful and
solicitous presence with the sick. The medical and healthcare
activity is based on an interpersonal relationship. It is an
encounter between trust and conscience. The trust of a man marked by
suffering and disease who trusts in another man who can take care of
his need and who is going to go to him to assist him, care for him
and heal him.
The patient is not just a clinical case, but rather a sick man
toward whom the physician should adopt an attitude of sincere
sympathy, suffering together with him, through personal
participation in the specific situations of the individual patient.
Sickness and suffering are phenomena which, when dealt with in
depth, go beyond medicine and deal with the essence of the human
condition in this world.
The physician who cares for them must be aware that the whole of
humanity is involved, and that complete dedication is required. This
is their mission, and is the fruit of a call or vocation that the
physician hears, personified in the suffering and invoking face of
the patient who trusts in their care. Here the physician's mission
to give life is linked to the life of Christ, who came to give life
and to give it in abundance (Jn 10,10). This life transcends the
physical life, to reach the height of the Holy Trinity. It is the
new and eternal life that consists of communion with the Father to
whom every man is called freely in the Son, through the work of the
The physician is like the Good Samaritan who stops by the side of
the sick man to become his neighbor, because of his understanding
and sympathy, in short because of his charity. The physician thus
shares the love of God as an instrument of diffusion and at the same
time becomes infected with the love of God for man.
This is the therapeutic charity of Christ who went around doing good
and healing all (Acts 10:38). At the same time, it is the charity
toward Christ represented in each patient. It is he who is cured in
each man or woman, "I was sick, and you looked after me," as the
Lord will say in the Last Judgment (Matthew 25:31-40).
It thus results that the physicians' identity is the identity
received from their therapeutic ministry, their ministry of life.
They collaborate with God in the recovery of health in the sick
person's body. The Church accepts the work of the physician as part
of its ministry, as it considers the service to sick people to be an
integral part of its mission. It knows that physical harm imprisons
the spirit, and the evil of the spirit overpowers the body. Through
their therapeutic ministry, physicians thus share in the pastoral
and evangelizing action of the Church. The paths that they should
take are those marked by the dignity of the human being and
therefore by Moral law, especially when it is a question of
practising their activity in the field of Biogenetics and
Biotechnology. Bioethics will provide a channel for them, outlining
their principles of action.
THE IDENTITY OF THE PHYSICIAN
A short summary of the Christian identity of the physician can be
found in this position of the Pontifical Council for the Health
Pastoral Care. As already mentioned, I will strive to reflect on
this identity, paying particular attention to the fact that it is an
identity received from a vocation and a mission which founds a very
special ministry, the therapeutic ministry, the ministry of life,
the ministry of health.
The Vocation and the Church
We can begin by referring to the meaning of a vocation in the
Church. Etymologies often help to take us back to the original
meaning of the words that we use frequently and which appear to be
weakened through use. One of them is the word Church. There are two
etymologies, the Greek and the Latin. Its Greek etymology takes us
to the verb "ekkalein," to call. The Church, "ekklesia," would be
the plural participle of the verb "ekkalein," and would mean those
who have been called.
Looking from the Latin etymological perspective, the Church is the
effect of the "Vocation." The "Vocation," etymologically speaking,
is the nominalized Latin acceptance of the Latin verb "vocare," to
call, (the same as "ekkalein") and would this mean the same calling
which brings together those who have been called, that is which
congregates them in the Church. The vocation thus makes the Church.
The only "Vocation" or fundamental calling is the one made by God
with the Word with which he calls into existence everything that
exists, and this calling, this primitive "vocation," is Christ, who
is the Word of God through which everything that exists and each of
us is called into existence (cf. Ephesians 1:3-10; Colossians
1:15-20). It is especially interesting to see that God's maximum way
to call everything that exists, the maximum presence of Christ in
the world, is through the Eucharist, as it is the memorial, the
presence of Christ in the present of history (cf. Luke 22:19).
In this calling from God, we discover three essential moments which
make it up and which we can summarize in three words: "BEING,"
"WITH," "FOR." We are thus called to be (to exist), with God, for
We can verify this in Christ's call to his apostles (Mark 3:14-15),
and most especially his call to the Virgin Mary to be the Mother of
God, the Messiah (Luke 1:26-38). But it is a paradigm that spreads
throughout the history of Salvation.
We are going to use these three words of the Vocation as a guideline
to reflect on the pontifical doctrine on the identity of the
Catholic physician which we set out in the Charter of the Pontifical
When we talk about "Being" in the vocation, we are talking about
total existence. God speaks and everything begins to exist. Genesis
says: "God said, Let there be light. And there was light ... (1:3).
When God pronounces his Word, it is practical: he does what he says,
and everything has its consistency, its beginning and its end, its
totality, in it.
When we talk about true Catholic physicians, they are so because of
a true vocation received from the same God from which they receive
their whole existence, obviously without excluding the same
physician's collaboration with the calling. How does God call the
physician to the medical vocation, and of what does this vocation
consist? Below we offer some characteristics of the " being" of this
1.1. The profession
Firstly, we will say that God calls the physician for a profession
which is not the same as for a trade. Historically, three
professions are recognized, that of the priest, that of the
physician and that of the ruler or judge. It should be noted that,
as we said earlier, the profession is somewhat linked to the
profession of the faith, is something religious. The profession is
not strictly speaking something legal, as what is legal may or may
not be carried out, or changed depending on the will of those who
take on an obligation. On the contrary, the profession is an
obligation and a responsibility which is contracted with God
himself. It is a responsibility and responsibility originally meant
the capacity to respond, and respond comes from the Greek "Spenden"
which originally meant to offer a sacrifice of libation to God.
Medical professional responsibility means a commitment (Commitment
is "syngrafein" in Greek, which means to write together), which is
written jointly by man and God.
This sacred nature of the medical profession led to the Hippocratic
oath, which is the oath not to harm the patient, to always do good
to them and to look after all stages of life, an oath which is not a
promise made to the patient, but rather directly to God. In this
context the physician's vocation is a vocation which is born from
the love of God, and it is God that the physician follows in this
profession, as extremely benevolent Good.
1.2. The love of God in the physician
However, despite the sublime nature of this Hippocratic position, it
is limited and defective. We were talking about the love of God, but
this love, in accordance with the classical Greek mentality, the
mentality of Socrates and Plato, which Hippocrates shared, is
defective because it presupposes need and is never plenitude.
Indeed, for classical Greek philosophy, God does not love. He is
extremely benevolent, but he does not love, as love would mean a
lack and God cannot lack anything. Love is only characteristic of
the needy man interested in sating himself, not of God the
All-perfect. In Greek mythology, love arises from Poros and Penia in
Aphrodite's wedding. Poros represents expediency, need, and Penia,
poverty; on bringing together need and poverty, love is born as
This mentality is completely corrected by the divine Revelation: God
himself is Love. This is the deepest definition of God. His love
does not consist of him lacking something, but rather of the
greatest circulation of his kindness, which is presented is such a
way that God the Father loves the world that he created so much
that, out of his love for it, he gives his one and only Son in death
The Christian medical profession is therefore centered on love, but
not on self-interested and poor, Hippocratic, love, but rather it
imitates the perfect love of God and has its paradigm in the Good
Samaritan, thus suffering together with the sick, pitying them and
providing them with everything they need to cure them. The Good
Samaritan is thus the example to be imitated by the Christian
physician. The Good Samaritan is the figure of Christ who takes pity
on the whole of sick and fallen humanity, and raises it up to
deification. He is infinite love and is in both those who love and
those who are loved. He is in both as plenitude. The Good Samaritan
is thus the figure which identifies the physician who takes pity to
such an extent on their patient that they do everything they can to
return them to health, out of love of plenitude.
Talking about the love that physicians must have for God and thus
for their patients, Pope Pius XII talks to us about the commandments
of the law of God in the sphere of medicine. He talks to us about
the first commandment which is to love God above all else and about
the second which is to love your neighbor like yourself, and the
identity of physicians consists of this love when their relations
with the patient are surrounded by humanity and understanding,
gentleness and devotion.
The same Pope Pius XII complements the characteristics of the
physician on referring to two other commandments in particular, the
fifth, "you shall not murder" and the eighth, "you shall not give
1.3. Respect for and Defense of Life
The fifth commandment reminds us how the identity of the Christian
physician means that, because of the love they are obliged to have
for God and for their patient, they are totally obliged to defend
life at any of its stages, but especially at the stages at which it
feels the weakest, which are the initial and the terminal stages.
Their personality is formed from a clear and absolute no to abortion
and no to euthanasia. The whole meaning of human life is contained
in the fifth commandment, as a gift given by God to be merely
administered by man and by woman, and which should only have its
origin in marriage.
1.4. Medical training
The eighth commandment, "you shall not give false testimony," tells
us about the physician's clear commitment to the truth, both to the
truth of disease and of health, and to the truth of medical
The physician's identity comes from the training that they receive.
However, if we look at what is occurring in many Faculties of
Medicine, we can see that this training has many defects. Indeed,
the curriculum of the medical degree has two essential parts. The
first is the basic knowledge and the second is the knowledge that is
obtained from the clinical science divided into disciplines or from
a consideration of the different organs of the human body. It is
obvious that these subjects should be taught, but at the same time
it is noted that there is a bio-technical reductionism. On
presenting the subjects, their anthropocentric value and the
ethical, affective and existential values have been lost. The
physician is seen from the requirements of the patient and the
demands of an economicist health system with complete indifference
for the violations of human rights, especially human life.
We often find as a paradigm of the current clinical applications a
fragmentation and reduction of the patient to organs and biological
or technological functions and to medicines. The intention is to
obtain a command of fragmented specialized knowledge without the
perspective of the whole, through knowledge and relational
competence with other human fields outside medicine. The idea of
health is proposed as a passive adaptation to pathogenic stimuli and
to those of a bio-physical nature. The adaptation of the clinic is
carried out with often exclusive reference to the requirements, even
of an economic nature, of the national health system. A loss of the
ethical values in medicine and the anonymity of the patients are
observed. It is even seen that little value is given to the
existential aspects of the medical profession, to the person of the
patient, of the physician and of the nurse.
In the face of these problems of the medical "being" from the
beginning of the training that is received, a series of methods has
been conceived to make the teaching active, especially from the
so-called PBL (Problem-Based Learning) and the teaching method
oriented toward the community which sees the physician as a
necessarily competent person on a relational and scientific level,
inserted in a community reality, capable of collaborating with other
health figures and of administering the resources available with
continuing learning, always an advocate of the patient's health,
capable of combining knowledge with medical practice, and therefore
with continuing training.
This kind of medical training would offer a new understanding of
health and of disease. It would deal with prevention and the
handling of the disease in the context of the individuality of the
patient complemented by their own family and society as a whole. It
would thus develop a learning based more on curiosity and continuous
investigation than on passive acquisitions. It would reduce the
information load. It would encourage direct contact with the
patients through a personalized analysis of their problems and of
the whole of their curriculum.
A program should therefore be prepared which is based on the
following principles: 1. Existence of a comprehensive and ultimate
meaning of medical knowledge. 2. Definition of its epistemological
orientation. 3. Definition of the values, the motivations, the
psychological maturity, the quality of the objective knowledge and
the methodological, relational and technical capacities, applied to
the exercising of the profession. 4. Definition of the values, the
motivations, the capacities and the quality of the training of the
teachers. 5. Definition of the general and partial objectives of the
training. 6. Definition of the teaching methods. These principles
contain the epistemological knowledge of present-day medicine which
considers health as a psycho-biological construction determined by
the possibility and the quality of the person's resources and whose
aim is to give a single response to the fundamental questions of
1.5. Lifelong learning
The physician's identity is not shaped once and for all in their
initial training, but rather is prolonged in their lifelong
learning. It demands a very careful preparation of students of
medicine, but at the same time requires the continuing and
progressive preparation of the lecturers who teach any medical
subject, a preparation that should never be lacking. The lecturers
in particular have the responsibility to promote new physicians, and
they will never achieve this if they are not sure of each student's
capacity to carry out such a delicate mission.
The same eighth commandment obliges all physicians to keep
professional secrecy and, as we have already mentioned, to have a
sound medical culture which should be improved constantly through
We said that the second characteristic of the Christian vocation is
expressed with the preposition "with," with God. That is to say that
any vocation is to be with God our Lord, who prepares man to carry
out a mission which, without his strength, it would be pointless to
carry out. In the book of Exodus we can read what Moses says to God
on mount Horeb: "Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the
Israelites out of Egypt, and God said: I will be with you ..."
2.1. Revelation of Christ the physician
In this section we set out the deepest values that should shape the
identity of the Catholic physician. The personality of the Christian
physician is identified with the revelation of Christ the physician.
Christ sent his apostles to cure all ailment and disease and said to
them, I will be with you to the end of the age (Mark 16:17; Matthew
28:20). The physician performs the therapeutic ministry in this way,
beside the apostles, as a continuation of the mission of Christ and
with his revelation.
The whole breadth of this revelation should be understood. The
physician should reveal the whole life of Christ, which is the
presence of Christ in the physician. Because Christ cures all
ailments and disease with all his action taken as a whole. The
miracle cures that he performed, including the resurrection of the
dead, were not definitive in his struggle against the evil that
exists in humanity, against its ailments and death, but rather just
a sign of the profound reality that entails his own death and
He took all suffering, all ailments, all disease, without exception,
and summarized them in his own death as the death of God who had
become man, so that no pain would remain outside, and from his death
he exploited death itself, he conquered it in the plenitude of his
resurrection. One of the physician's main doubts is always the
problem of pain. This question only has its answer here, when pain
does not appear as something negative, but rather as a positivity
which, it is true, ends in death, but in a death full of
The physician should thus cure, revealing the death and the
resurrection of Christ. An identification of the physician as such,
as a healer, with Christ the healer, is necessary for this
revelation. This identification is now carried out especially
through the Eucharist and through the other sacraments. The
sacraments are the historic presence of Christ in the present, at
the specific moment that we are crossing in life.
Consequently, the physician should realize that health is complexive
and bodily health should not be talked about as something radically
different from the complete health that we call eternal health or
salvation. The physician's ministry is therefore an ecclesiastic
ministry which is directed toward the salvation of man from his
body, but which involves other aspects.
We thus describe health as a dynamic tension toward physical,
mental, social and spiritual harmony and not just the absence of
disease, which prepares men to carry out the mission with which God
has entrusted them, in accordance with the stage of life at which
The physician's mission is therefore to ensure that this dynamic
tension toward complete harmony exists, as required at each stage of
the life of this specific man who is their patient, so that they can
carry out the mission with which God has entrusted them. Thus, the
contradiction of reducing the medical function to the single
physical and chemical aspect of the disease. This function is
complete and moreover cannot be static, but rather should be
inserted within the dynamism of the patients who tend toward their
In this context, death is not a frustration for the physician, but
rather a triumph, as they have accompanied their patient in such a
way that they have been able to use their talents to the full at
each stage of their life. When it has reached its end, the medical
function ends, not with a cry of impotence, but rather with the
satisfaction of a mission fulfilled, both by the patient and by the
Thus, the physician truly is with Christ and their profession is
identified in this communion with Christ, and then the physician
joins together with our Father God like a son with his father, and
their professional love becomes the action of the Love of God in
himself, which is the Holy Spirit. A Christian physician is
therefore one who is always guided by the Holy Spirit. From the Holy
Spirit and with the Holy Spirit is all the sympathy that must exist
between the physician and the patient, all the due humanization of
medicine and all the demand for updating and lifelong learning, as
the Love of the Holy Spirit makes the physician an essentially open
person for the rest, as they are obliged to do so before God because
of their profession of Faith represented by their medical
profession. We thus succeed in outlining the third trait of the
medical identity, being for others, is the "FOR" of their vocation
and of their professional identity.
When God chose Moses, it is very clear that he did so to remove his
people from the power of the Egyptians. God says, "I have come down
to rescue them from the hand of the Egyptians" (Exodus 3:8).
Physicians cannot withdraw into themselves. They cannot simply think
that they already have enough money, that they do not need to work
any more, and that therefore they will now leave their profession. A
true physician is a physician for life. If they have truly received
this vocation, they will have it for ever and they must practice it
for humanity as a mission specifically received for the good of all,
and for which they must account to God when He says to them, "I was
sick, and you looked after me" (Matthew 25:36,43).
3.1. Openness to the patient
We said that love of the medical profession imitates the love of God
which is disseminated. Physicians cannot hide their knowledge in
pure theories and laboratories, but rather should expand them in
favor of the community. They have received the gift of taking care
of life and making it grow. Their vocation is for life, never for
death, which would be to blind the mission with which God has
entrusted each human being. According to Pope John Paul II, nowadays
the religious ministry is connected to the therapeutic ministry of
physicians in the affirmation of human life and of all those
specific contingencies in which life itself can be endangered by
deliberate human will. Their deepest identity involves being
ministers of life and never instruments of death. This is the most
intimate nature of their noble profession. They are called to
humanize medicine and the places where they practice it, and to use
the most advanced technologies for life and not for death, always
having Christ, the physician of bodies and of souls, as their
According to Pope Pius XII, Catholic physicians should place their
knowledge, their strengths, their heart and their devotion at the
disposal of the sick. They should understand that they and their
patients are subject to the will of God. Medicine is a reflection of
the goodness of God. They should help the sick to accept their
illness, and they should make sure they are not dazzled by
technology and use the gifts that God has given them and not give in
to the pressure to assaults on life. They should remain firm in the
face of the temptations of materialism.
The good physician must therefore have dianoetic virtues and skills
and convert them into virtuosity, that is to say into a habit, so
that both the virtues of theoretical science and those of practice
come together in them as if they were second nature.
3.2. Fundamental qualities of the physician
The fundamental qualities of the physician have thus been classified
under 5 sections: Awareness of responsibility, humbleness, respect,
love and truthfulness. Awareness of responsibility leads them to
work with the patient and be aware that it is the physician who
gives the direction. Humbleness tells them that physicians look
after their patients and not the opposite. Humbleness makes them see
themselves as indebted to the patient. Physicians cannot talk about
"their" patients, but rather the patients will talk about "their"
physician. Physicians should receive their patients as written on
the lintel of an old German hospital: "recipere quasi Christum";
they should receive their patients as if they were Christ himself.
Respect and love for the patient, about which we have already
spoken, are the basis for their humbleness. They know that they have
received a mission for which they do not have the necessary
strength, but rather they receive it from the person who sends it
for this reason. Truthfulness entails being aware of the great trust
that the patient places in them on revealing their personal matters.
Truthfulness is required in the diagnosis and in the therapy, not
just on the bodily but also on the complete, mental, social,
psychic, spiritual level. They should never experiment on the
patient if this involves a danger disproportionate to the good that
they intend to do. This must be absolutely necessary and the patient
must agree to it. They should notify the patient of the development
of their illness, tell them the truth about their condition in the
most appropriate way and at the most appropriate time possible. They
should complement their action with the action of the priest as both
missions, that of the priest and that of the physician, are closely
3.3. Portrait of the physician
The "Portrait of the perfect physician," described by Enrique Jorge
Enriquez in 16th century Spain in the flowery language of the time,
is still current: "The physician should be fearful of the Lord and
very humble, and not haughty and arrogant, and be charitable to the
poor, meek, kind, affable and not vengeful. They should maintain
secrecy, should not be talkative or gossipy, flattering or envious.
They should be prudent, restrained, not be too audacious … should be
distinguished and given to honesty and reserved. They should work on
their skill and flee from idleness. They should be a well-read
physician and should know how to give information about
Nowadays, we would talk about medical excellence. This would be what
Aristotle called the "Teleios iatrós" (perfect physician), or Galen
called "Aristós iatrós" (best physician).
3.4. Morality and Law
Initially we said that the medical profession is something that goes
beyond the Law and is positioned in the framework of Morality, and
this is true, but this does not mean that we can do without medical
Law. Medical Law without adequate morality would be arbitrariness
based on shameful interests. Morality without medical Law would just
be general principles without direct application. The rules of
medical Law must be sufficiently clear and brief to aid the
physician's action. The leading principle is always the same: the
physician's purpose is to help and to heal, not to do harm or to
It is worth mentioning in particular the field of Ethics, the field
of Morality, in which the physician must be competent, but in which
so often they are not specialists. Bioethical committees are
therefore required in each health centre, and should also be created
in the teaching centers, in open dialogue with the specialists in
the different subjects taught.
Physicians are thus trained to bear witness to God in all the
medical, trade union and political environments, etc. They can even
be valid bearers of ecumenical dialogue and dialogue with other
religions, as sickness does not know religious barriers. The
physician will thus actively belong to the Church as an individual
person and as a group.
In order to carry out such a demanding mission, physicians cannot
stay enclosed in their own individuality, but rather should first
open up to other physicians and be sufficiently humble to work in
collaboration and as a team, both on strictly physiological matters,
and especially on those relational matters connected to fields of
which they do not necessarily have a command and which to a certain
extent are outside their competence, namely sociological,
anthropological and political aspects, and those from technical
fields beyond their profession, namely everything connected to the
strictly computing field.
In a certain way, within this opening-up, in the Spanish field of
medicine what two authors call the decalogue of the new physician is
designed. They express it like this: 1. Multidisciplinary teamwork
with a single person ultimately responsible. 2. The more scientific
the professional, the better. 3. The human aspects will be
strengthened in professional practice. 4. Action will be adapted to
agreed scientific diagnostic and therapeutic protocols. 5. They will
be aware of the expense. In addition to the protocols, they will use
guides to good practice. 6. They shall aid coexistence and
solidarity with work colleagues and with the patients. 7. They shall
think that all healthcare acts can involve a preventive action, and
even a promotion of health. 8. They shall bear in mind at all times
the need to care for the satisfaction of the user of the service. 9.
The Patient Service Units will be strengthened, circulating the
complaints and suggestions which arise among the people affected.
Frequent opinion surveys will be held. 10. It will be essential to
apply ethical principles to the professional activities.
Being a Catholic physician is a ministry which arises from a
vocation in the Church. It is a therapeutic ministry. It is closely
linked to God our Father, revealed in Christ the physician, full of
the Love which is the Holy Spirit. Being a physician is a path to
achieve the plenitude of the human being, to initiate the
resurrection already. It involves proximity and a special intimacy
with God, and at the same time represents an opening-up and a
complete gift to others. This is the Catholic identity of the
physician, to reveal Christ the healer.
Being a Catholic professor of medicine is to have far-reaching sight
to be able to see the resurrection in death. It is not just this,
though. It is the ability to sense a harmonious tension in health
which leads to plenitude, in accordance with the different stages of
the life of people. And it is to feel in medical science, technology
and skills the all-powerful force of God who resurrects his Son
Jesus Christ and who already gives us a foretaste of the
resurrection in medical progress. Being a Catholic professor of
medicine is to teach the Love with which the Holy Spirit delivers
Jesus Christ on the cross to the Father, who with his loving
strength brings him back to life. Being a Catholic professor of
medicine is to teach the physician to be the loving caress of God
who looks after his children in sickness and in death, making their
condition more bearable for them and opening up for them a complete
expectation of health which will not now be tension toward harmony,
but rather the total harmony of love. Being a Catholic professor of
medicine is to teach the physician to be the revelation of Christ
Vatican City, 15 April, 2007.
+ Javier Card. Lozano Barragán
President, Pontifical Council for Health Care Ministry
--- --- ---
 Cf. Pontifical Council for the Health Pastoral Care, Charter for
Health Care Workers, Vatican City, May 1995, 1-7.
 Cf. Gracia Diego, "El Juramento de Hipócrates en el desarrollo
de la medicina," Dolentium Hominum, 31, 1996, 12-14.
 Cf. Capelletti Vincenzo, "Donde hay amor por el arte médico hay
amor por el hombre," Dolentium Hominum, 31, 1996, 22-28.
 Cf. Pius XII, "Discorsi ai medici," Orizonti Medici , Rome
 Cf. Pius XII, "Discorsi ai medici," Orizonti Medici , Rome
 Brera Giuseppe Rodolfo, "La formazione dei medici del terzo
Millennio. La scuola medica come scuola di uomini e di umanità."
Conferenza inaugurale dell'anno accademico 1998-1999. Università
Ambrosiana di Milano, inaugurazione della scuola di Medicina.
 Cf. Pius XII, "Discorso ai medici...," op. cit .
 Cf. John Paul II, in the XV Congresso dei Medici Cattolici, AMCI,
"Cinquent'anni di vita per la vita," Orizonti Medici (1994),
 Cf. Pius XII, Radio Messaggio al VII Congresso Internazionale
dei Medici Cattolici (11.09.1956), "Discorso ai medici," 503.
 Cf. Gracia Diego, "El Juramento de Hipócrates...," 12-14.
 Cf. Martini P., "Arzt und Seelsorge," in LTK (1).
 Cited by Gracia Diego, "El Juramento de Hipócrates...," op.
 Cf. Leone Salvino, Orizonte Medico, 6, Nov-Dec.1996 , 10-11.
 Asenjo Miguel Angel-Trilla A., "Necesidad de nuevos
profesionales para las nuevas situaciones sanitarias," Todo
Hospital, 149, Sept.1988, 497-499.
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