The history of homeopathy in the Russian Empire
until World War I, as compared with other European countries and the USA: similarities and
by Alexander Kotok, M.D.
On-line version of the Ph.D. thesis improved and enlarged
due to a special grant of the Pierre Schmidt foundation.
Some information may be found on the clerical support of homeopathy in Great Britain. Phillip
Nicholls asserts that
The 1850s and 60s [...] were a period of optimism and confidence for homeopaths.
The number of practitioners was growing, new hospitals and dispensaries for the poor were opening,
and the system enjoyed a wide spectrum of public confidence, clerical sympathy and aristocratic
In the same source, while describing lay support of homeopathy in Britain, the author notes:
Clerical support for homeopathy probably stemmed from Hahnemann's contention
that illness was essentially a spiritual condition, and that potentisation released a corresponding
energy in medicines. Presumably, too, the homeopathic pharmacopoeia, derived from plants, animals
and minerals, could be seen as evidence of divine beneficence: in creating the natural world, God
had compensated for disease by furnishing an environment with resources which, if used correctly,
could cure the ills from which people suffered. Everest [see further], for example, described
homeopathy as 'the medicine of love', and 'the medicine of harmony'; whereas
'... medicines in a brute, material state, having a totally different action on the human
organism, are perfectly useless, or rather merely injurious'. Moreover, 'the art of cure
separated from the holy principles of love has lost its way, and fallen into foul company, and
consorted with all unlovable things - cathartics, moxa, the lancet, emetics and
It is known that the first who wrote on homeopathy in English was Reverend Thomas Rapoul Everest
(1801—1855), an Anglican clergyman and the Rector of Wickar in Gloucestershire. This
churchman had been a patient of Hahnemann and became one of the most zealous propagandists of
[...] Was rather eccentric in his homeopathic views and tended to see the
principles of homeopathy as prefigured in the Bible. He interpreted homeopathy as the physical
means of salvation which completed the spiritual means provided by biblical revelation133.
Many British clergymen appeared to be members of management committees and/or patrons to public
Three group feature prominently among the list of those acting [in this capacity]:
the aristocracy (18 names in total), the clergy (60 names), and the military (20 names)134.
The Missionary School of Medicine connected with the Faculty of Homeopathy in London, was
started in 1903 in order to train Christian missionaries in the elements of homeopathy, tropical
medicine and surgery135. This was one of the measures intended to prevent further decline of
homeopathy in the UK, altogether with the re-establishment of the British Homeopathic Association
in 1902, in order to obtain more funds to train doctors and sending young homeopathic doctors to
Chicago to train with Dr. Kent in 1908—13, under Sir Henry Tyler
Scholarship. By 1934, "... there were more than 700 graduates of the Missionary School. The
missionaries, were, undoubtedly, an important diaspora for homeopathy"136.
4.4.4 United States
Regarding the amount of clerical support for homeopathy in the United States, both similarities
and differences in comparison with European countries must be stressed. First of all, from the very
beginning, homeopathy attracted favorable attention of the clergy:
In the first place, the new doctrine was favored by the clergy — a factor of
inestimable importance in nineteenth-century society. Whether attracted by the idea of
"spiritualized essence" of the drug or repelled by the "poisoning and surgical
butchery" of regular practice, many clergymen were zealous propagators of homeopathy. This was
noted with dismay as early as 1838 by the president of the New York State Medical Society, and the
later literature contains many lamentations over the hostility of the clergy toward scientific
[...] With its belief in the body's vital force, it was especially attractive
to America's Transcendentalists and clergymen. A group which included some of the country's
most influential citizens138.
The merit of the clergymen was recognized and appreciated later by American homeopaths:
Itinerant clergymen, observing the need and desire for homeopathy in the
communities they visited, have coupled the dispensing of homeopathic remedies with their religious
labors, and for a time have done good service as colporteurs for our case139.
In fact, American allopaths shared this view of the clergy:
Among the volunteer organizations for its [homeopathy's] dissemination, it is
painful to see members of the sacred profession, who, above all others, ought to keep aloof from
vagaries of any description, and especially of those medical ones which are allied to empirical
Until homeopathy received official equality in rights with allopathy from the authorities, its
newly created institutions needed support of different lay groups. So, describing the first decades
of the leading American homeopathic college, the Hahnemannian Medical College in Philadelphia, N.
It [the college] drew support from religious and religious-fraternal groups such
as Quakers, Swedenborgians [see below], German Lutherans, and Masons in the 1840s and
On the other hand, the clergy in the United States could not play as important a role in the
spreading of homeopathy as it did in the European countries, for in America homeopathy was taken
over by officially graduated practitioners. American homeopaths created their own system of
homeopathic education and postgraduate training. Accordingly, homeopathic societies were composed
exclusively of physicians and there was no place for laypeople.
Another historical fact is of doubtless interest. Many homeopathic physicians in the USA were
adherents of the so-called New (Jerusalem) Church based on the philosophical ideas of the Swedish
scientist and later distinguished theologist, Emanuel Swedenborg
(1688—1772). So that "the members of the New Jerusalem Church were followers of
homeopathy almost to a man"142.
Bogachuk remarks that
Homeopathy as a completely new and original therapeutic system was received by
Swedenborgians with outstretched arms. A decisive role in joining these two systems was played by
the American physician Garth Wilkinson (1812—1899), who became famous for his invention of
the healing properties of ashes of the volcano of Hekla [...]. Besides his work in the capacity of
a homeopathic physician, Wilkinson was also the first translator (from Latin into English) of the
fundamental works of Swedenborg "Arcana Coelestia", "Regnum Animale" and
"Oeconomia Regni Animalis"143.
Analyzing the matter of mutual influences of homeopaths and Swedenborgians, Joseph Schmidt
Conversion happened in both directions: some first adopted Swedenborgianism and
then embraced homeopathy, some had already been homeopaths when they became Swedenborgians. There
is a striking parallelism between the writings of Swedenborg, a unique combination of an
eighteen-century mystic and scientist, and the opinions of Hahnemann at an advanced age. Principles
of universal correspondence, potentisation, vitalism, spiritualism, the theory of chronic diseases,
the divine inspiration of the homeopathic law, etc. had a similar counterpart in the retrospective
The two outstanding American homeopaths, the "father" of American homeopathy, Dr.
Constantine Hering (1800—1880) and the virtual founder of the pure (classical) Hahnemannian
homeopathy of the 20th century, Dr. James Tyler Kent (1849—1916), were members of
the New Church. Other distinguished homeopaths like Dr. Hans Burch Gram
(1787—1840) as well as the world-wide known homeopathic publishers Boericke (1826—1901)
and Adolph Tafel (who had started with publishing Swedenborg's works and on suggestion of
Constantine Hering began later also to publish homeopathic literature), Dr. John Ellis of Michigan
and Dr. Otis Clapp of New England were all followers of Swedenborg145 J.-T.
Kent himself stressed that "All my teaching is based on the doctrines of Hahnemann and
Swedenborg. These doctrines are agreed excellently each with the other"146.
While not attempting here a detailed elucidation of the interactions between the Swedenborgian
and Hahnemannian teachings147, I would like to mention that there were influences on homeopathic
thinking by Swedenborg's ideas (like the doctrine on the Infinity, dividing the psyche
hierarchically into three separate levels, etc.) but not less influential was Kent's adoption
of these ideas. "Especially Kent had combined both systems and thereby created a distinct
school of American homeopathy"148.
Constantine Hering, who became the head of the Hahnemannian College in Philadelphia, which he
had established in 1848, was also an active member of the New Church in Philadelphia. He often
discussed philosophical aspects of Swedenborg's teaching.
In the 1860's—70's, Russian homeopaths tried to attract laymen and the clergy as
supporters. This included high-ranking clergymen but also the rural clergy. The Russian Orthodox
church offered help on all levels of its organization, taking an active part in the spread of
homeopathy in the Russian Empire: the rural clergy treated peasants with homeopathic medicines,
whilst urban clergy participated in the activity of the homeopathic organizations. Both groups of
the clerics aimed at strengthening their social positions and power within the communities
(parishes) they were serving, whilst this strengthening for rural clergymen was to improve also
their economic positions. The demand for any kind of medical support in Russian countryside,
especially in far-away situated villages, remained great throughout all the period under study. The
rural clergymen, who were pretty often the only educated persons in villages, were asked by the
peasants to provide some medical support. Taking into account that allopathic medicines were
expensive, hardly reachable, if used in improper doses, and required deep knowledge in pharmacology
to be prepared and applied, the use of them was substantially problematic. On the contrary,
homeopathic medicines were cheap, safe and easy to be applied and, in fact, were the most
appropriate drugs for laymen's use. It is to guess that many village clergymen also supposed
homeopathy to be excellent means against unavoidable village idleness and boredom. Thus, thousands
of Russian rural priests treated people with homeopathic drugs in the villages until the First
World War. I believe that the highest church figures, which enjoyed high appreciation in the
capacity of honorary members of homeopathic societies, and were virtually the most important
supporters of Russian homeopathy, were prepared to introduce homeopathy in the curriculum of the
seminaries on condition that Russian homeopaths would provide the seminaries with the teaching
staff. But homeopaths did not. Because of the lack of manpower and financial support, Russian
homeopaths failed to create a system of homeopathic education even for possible propagandizers of
homeopathy, i.e., qualified medical practitioners, like feldshers and physicians. Neither laypeople
could expect being taught by professional practitioners. Therefore, the pamphlets and
self-treatment manuals were particularly important. The positive attitude of the clergy toward
homeopathic doctors was of great significance as well, especially in the light of the hostility of
regulars toward healing provided by non-physicians. Nevertheless, manuals and sympathy were by no
means able to replace a systematic study of the subject under professional supervision. This
organizational weakness of Russian homeopathy prevented a wider diffusion of homeopathy among rural
In comparing the role of the Russian clergy with that of Europe and America, it should be
mentioned that no religious confession or denomination was of specific importance. Homeopathy was
supported by the Orthodox clergy in the Russian Empire, by the Catholic clergy in France and in
some Catholic regions of Russia, like the Kingdom of Poland, and by the Protestant clergy in Great
Britain and in the United States.
Copyright © Alexander Kotok 2001
Mise en page, illustrations Copyright © Sylvain Cazalet 2001