Some Awesome People

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Louis Pasteur - Part 3


A Great Benefactor

Part III

It was at one of these public lectures that Pasteur said of himself :  "In the laboratory it is not religion, philosophy, atheism, materialism nor spiritualism which counts. It is a question of facts, which I approach without any preconceived ideas." He went on to add, "Research on the first cause is outside the scope of science."

This brought forth attacks from the materialists, who, knowing Louis Pasteur to be a man of faith, declared scoffingly:  "The man is no scholar. He is merely a chemist who denies facts in defence of his creed."

He had need of that faith for in that sphere of his affections, where he was most vulnerable, he was to be struck again and again. He had already lost Jeanne, his three-year-old daughter, of typhoid fever. Overwhelmed with grief he had written to his father, saying:  "Yet she is happy, that must suffice. May God's will be done."

Now, in 1862, not only was he to lose that dearly loved father for whom he felt an undying gratitude, but his two--year-old daughter, Camille, dying from tuberculosis, and her sister, Cecile from typhoid, at twelve. Despite his love for his wife, his son and his only remaining daughter, Marie-Louise, what heartache must have overshadowed his new triumphs! The first of these was the discovery that harmful elements could be destroyed by heat. This vital fact was to lead to the pasteurization of milk - a common factor in modern dairy work and the sterilization now practised in all hospitals.

Despite continuous attack and opposition, gradually his ideas won the day; and then a tragedy occurred. In 1868, he was struck down with paralysis. He believed this to be the end.  "I had hoped to render further service to my country," he murmured once. And with reference to his studies on con-tagious disease, "There is so much for me to do. A whole world to be revealed."

But he was not to die. Slowly he regained health and strength and although his left leg was never the same as before, fortunately his mental faculties remained unimpaired. He had just started work again when, in July, 1870, a French declaration of war resulted in the over-running of the country by the Germans and the surrender of Paris. This in its turn brought about a Revolution, in which many priests were executed and deported although Paris was reconquered from the enemy, street by street.

All this came as a great shock to the peace-loving scientist, who had believed war to be a thing of the past. At times he felt greatly depressed, although he was convinced that science and the love of peace would eventually triumph over ignorance and war. With all his knowledge, he did not realize as his wife did that those two factors alone could never prevent either war or civil strife, which is caused by injustice, cruelty, greed, love of riches and power that is, by sin, which can only be overcome through the establishment in this world of true Christianity, through the reign of Christ the King.

Meanwhile, unable with his shattered health to join forces with his son, who was fighting the enemy, the scientist was working to alleviate the suffering of the wounded. Three years earlier, Dr. Lister, a brilliant young surgeon working at Glasgow, had introduced with marked success new methods of treatment by antiseptics, which he ascribed to the discoveries of Pasteur. But in France, as these had not yet been put into practice, 70 per cent of the wounded were dying from blood poisoning and gangrene. Pasteur, having been elected a member of the Academy of Medicine, visiting the hospitals begged that instruments should be passed through a flame and dressings heated to a high temperature to destroy germs, while with the aid of his microscope he showed the surgeons that the pus from infected wounds was swarming with microorganisms. Many of them resented his interference and ridiculed his ideas.

"Why," they scoffed, "what does he know about it! He's not a surgeon, not even a medical man. Just a laboratory chemist. All this talk about bacteria is just rubbish!"

Nevertheless little by little, the new methods gained ground while new honours and awards gave proof of an ever-increasing fame. All this time, remembering the death of his three little daughters, his mind was continuously preoccupied with the causes of such terrible contagious diseases as cholera, small-pox, tuberculosis and typhoid. During an epidemic in Paris, he had at once started experiments using infectious cholera matter. When a friend begged him to give up such dangerous work, he had replied quietly:  "And what about one's duty?" Duty, service to mankind, that was his purpose in life, a purpose warmly upheld by his unselfish wife.

With the belief that all disease was caused by microbes, he now at the age of fifty-five began to consider a preventive for these terrible diseases, and after four years of experiment on rabbits and other small animals, he was convinced that he had found it. This was his discovery: a virulent germ could be modified and converted into a harmless vaccine, which when inoculated into an animal prevented it from acquiring the disease later.
This revolutionary and, it must be admitted, highly dangerous idea was given to the world, in February, 1881, with the publication of his famous paper on Anthrax Vaccine. It caused universal and intense excitement; admiration and enthusiasm on the one hand, indignation and ridicule on the other.

"He has destroyed many animals and saved very few human beings," declared his enemies scornfully.

Many of them, forming themselves into an anti-microbe campaign, went about poking fun at him, saying: "The microbe alone is true and Pasteur is its prophet!"

It was decided to put the matter to the test. So fifty sheep were inoculated with anthrax, twenty-five having first been vaccinated.
"The twenty-five unvaccinated will perish, the twenty-five vaccinated will survive," Pasteur affirmed.

Nevertheless during the next few days, his wife, his friends and his followers experienced the greatest anxiety. Should the test fail, much of his life-work would be brought to nought. But on the final day, twenty-four of the unvaccinated sheep lay dead; all the vaccinated sheep were in perfect health!

Pasteur was the most famous man in France. He was awarded an annuity by a grateful government and the Grand Cordon of the Legion of Honour. At this supreme moment at a ceremony given in his honour, he seized the opportunity to pay public homage to his parents with the words:
"O my father and mother, my dear departed, who lived so humbly in your little dwelling I owe everything to you. . . ."
Invited to occupy the place of honour in an international medical congress in London, he was greeted with such applause that in bewilderment he looked about him, saying:
"It must be the Prince of Wales arriving?"
"Why no," replied the president of the congress beaming at him, "it is you the whole world is acclaiming."

Louis Pasteur French Scientist with His Grand-Daughter 
in 1886  
by T. Hamilton Crawford 

He received a tribute, which must have caused him great happiness from the famous surgeon, Lord Lister: "Truly there does not exist in the world any individual to whom the medical sciences owe more than they do to you. . . . Thanks to you, surgery has undergone a complete revolution, which has deprived it of its terrors and has extended almost without limit its efficacious power."

Yet Louis Pasteur was to achieve yet another outstanding success. It was in 1880, at the age of fifty-eight, that he began his work on that terrible disease, hydrophobia. The result, the first preventive immunization of that little Alsatian boy through inoculation, has already been described. Of the following 350 patients brought to him only one, who arrived too late, died.

The Pasteur Institute for the research of infectious disease and microbic work was erected by a proud nation, in 1888. Louis Pasteur entered it as director, an ageing man, dragging his left leg, ill and worn out with his arduous work. He was to make one further discovery, perhaps in the eyes of God his greatest. Throughout his life he had remained a virtuous man of simple faith respecting but not accepting the Catholic faith of his forefathers. Yet from his knowledge of the past he knew full well that Catholicism was no bar to scientific research. For in every field of science, be it chemistry, physics, geology, astronomy, ethnology, anthropology or the biological sciences, eminent Catholic scientists many of them priests had been renowned for their discoveries. Among them stood forth such names as Linacre (a priest), founder of the Royal College of Physicians, Muller, the physiologist, Mendel (an abbot), Latrielle, the entomologist (a priest), Ampere, Coulomb and Volta, pioneers in electricity, Sensen (a bishop), founder of geology, Copernicus (a canon), a noted astronomer, and so on.

Gradually, however, Louis Pasteur was being brought towards the goal. Meeting as he must have done men, who were both scientists and practising Catholics, talking and listening to a certain Dominican priest Pere Didon, who had united his daughter, Marie-Louise an ardent Catholic in marriage to Rene Vallery-Radot, in 1879, and having ever before his eyes the faith as practised by his beloved wife, he finally agreed to her wish that he should discuss the matter with his daughter's Dominican director, Pere Boulanger.

In the past Louis Pasteur had summed up his appreciation of the grandeur of the religious ideal by those words, which were later to be inscribed on his tomb:

"Happy is he who carries within himself a deity, an ideal of beauty, and who obeys its commands; the ideal of art, the ideal of science, the ideal of patriotism, the ideal of the virtues of the Gospel."

Now the ageing man became aware not of a deity, a vague idea of God as a spirit, but of Jesus Christ, very God of very God, the Way, the Truth and the Life.

Having made this great discovery, Louis Pasteur made his submission to the Holy Catholic Apostolic Church, into which he had been baptized, receiving from the hands of Pere Boulanger the Body of his Lord. God had revealed to this great scientist the wonderful secrets of His creation, now He had given him Himself. It was Easter, April 15th, 1895.

Six months later, in his seventy-fourth year, having received the Last Sacraments, Louis Pasteur passed away. He was laid to rest in a beautiful monument which lies in the crypt of the Pasteur Institute adorned with the inscription of his words on "the ideal" and the figures of Faith, Hope, Charity and Science with the Holy Spirit represented as a dove descending from above. Each year to mark his anniversary, a Mass is offered up in the crypt.

So we have Louis Pasteur, a simple country boy from a humble home, who loved his family and who was not, so it would seem, particularly clever, fulfilling the destiny ordained for him, that of one of the great benefactors of mankind.



The Funeral of Louis Pasteur

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