The early church was no stranger to plagues, epidemics, and mass hysteria. In truth, in accordance with each Christian and likewise non-Christian accounts, one of many primary catalysts for the churchs explosive development in its early years was how Christians navigated illness, struggling, and loss of life. The churchs posture made such a robust impression on Roman society that even pagan Roman emperors complained to pagan monks about their declining numbers, telling them to step up their sport.
So what did Christians do in a different way that shook the Roman Empire? And what can the early church educate us in gentle of the coronavirus?
Non-Christian Response to Epidemics
In AD 249 to 262, Western civilization was devastated by one of many deadliest pandemics in its historical past. Although the precise reason behind the plague is unsure, the town of Rome was stated to have misplaced an estimated 5,000 folks a day on the peak of the outbreak. One eyewitness, Bishop Dionysius of Alexandria, wrote that though the plague didn’t discriminate between Christians and non-Christians, Its full impression fell on [non-Christians]. Having famous the distinction between Christian and non-Christian responses to the plague, he says of the non-Christians in Alexandria:
On the first onset of the illness, they pushed the victims away and fled from their dearest, throwing them into the roads earlier than they had been lifeless and treating unburied corpses as dust, hoping thereby to avert the unfold and contagion of the deadly illness; however do what they may, they discovered it troublesome to flee.
Non-Christian accounts verify this sentiment. A century later, the emperor Julian tried to curb the expansion of Christianity after the plague by main a marketing campaign to ascertain pagan charities that mirrored the work of Christians in his realm. In an AD 362letter, Julian complained that the Hellenists wanted to match the Christians in advantage, blaming the current development of Christianity on their benevolence to strangers, their take care of the graves of the lifeless, and the pretended holiness of their lives. Elsewhere he wrote, For it’s a shame that . . . the impious Galilaeans [Christians] help not solely their very own poor however ours as nicely.
Although Julian questioned the motives of Christians, his embarrassment over Hellenic charities confirms pagan efforts fell massively in need of Christian requirements of serving the sick and poor, particularly throughout epidemics. In line with Rodney Stark in The Rise of Christianity, it’s because for all that [Julian] urged pagan monks to match these Christian practices, there was little or no response as a result of there have been no doctrinal bases or conventional follows for them to construct upon.
Christian Response to Epidemics
If the non-Christian response to the plague was characterised by self-protection, self-preservation, and avoiding the sick in any respect prices, the Christian response was the alternative. In line with Dionysius, the plague served as a education and testing for Christians. In a detailed description of how Christians responded to the plague in Alexandria, he writes of how the very best amongst them honorably served the sick till they themselves caught the illness and died:
Most of our brother-Christians confirmed unbounded love and loyalty, by no means sparing themselves and considering solely of each other. Heedless of the hazard, they took cost of the sick, attending to their each want and ministering to them in Christ, and with them departed this life serenely glad; for they had been contaminated by others with the illness, drawing on themselves the illness of their neighbours and cheerfully accepting their pains.
Equally, in Pontiuss biography of Cyprian, the bishop of Carthage, he writes of how the bishop reminded believers to serve not solely fellow Christians but in addition non-Christians throughout the plague:
There’s nothing outstanding in cherishing merely our personal folks with the due attentions of affection, however that one may turn out to be good who ought to do one thing greater than heathen males or publicans, one who, overcoming evil with good, and practising a merciful kindness like that of God, ought to love his enemies as nicely. . . . Thus the great was accomplished to all males, not merely to the family of religion.
The impression of this service was twofold: (1) Christian sacrifice for his or her fellow believers surprised the unbelieving world as they witnessed communal love like theyd by no means seen (John 13:35), and (2) Christian sacrifice for non-Christians resulted within the early church experiencing exponential development as non-Christian survivors, who benefited from the care of their Christian neighbors, transformed to the religion en masse.
Christian Response to Coronavirus
As we proceed to wrestle with how to answer the coronavirus, discover how non-Christians within the Roman Empire emphasised self preservation whereas the early church emphasised fearless, sacrificial service. Whereas non-Christians fled from epidemics and deserted their sick family members as they feared the unknown, Christians marched into epidemics and served each Christians and likewise non-Christians, seeing their very own struggling as a chance to unfold the gospel and mannequin Christlike love.
If the non-Christian response to the plague was characterised by self-protection, self-preservation, and avoiding the sick in any respect prices, the Christian response was the alternative.
How may we put that posture into follow within the face of COVID-19, setting ourselves aside from the world in how we reply to the rising epidemic? Maybe we start by resisting the worry that’s resulting in panic in varied sectors of societyinstead modeling peace and calm within the midst of rising nervousness throughout us. Maybe we select to patronize native Asian American eating places and companies that different Individuals are avoiding as a consequence of fear-based stereotyping. We’d additionally search to sacrificially serve our neighbors by prudently abiding by the recommendation of medical professionals to assist sluggish the unfold of the illness. As a substitute of simply our personal well being we must always prioritize the well being of the broader group, particularly probably the most susceptible residents, by exercising an abundance of warning with out perpetuating worry, hysteria, or misinformation. This may imply prices for uscanceling journey or deliberate occasions, and even self-quarantine if we expect weve been exposedbut we must always settle for these prices with pleasure.
Different folks wouldn’t suppose this a time for pageant, Dionysius stated of the epidemic of his day. [But] removed from being a time of misery, it’s a time of unimaginable pleasure. To be clear, Dionysius was not celebrating the loss of life and struggling that accompany epidemics. Slightly, he was rejoicing within the alternative such circumstances current for testing our faithto exit of our strategy to love and serve our neighbors, spreading gospel hope, in each phrase and deed, in instances of nice worry.