Will history repeat itself? Read this account from the 2nd – 4th century, and perhaps you will be as surprised as I was when what just happened in Spain when the ebola-infected nurse’s dog was killed, is seemingly a reliving of responses to a plague in the 4th Century!
The conditions of men and women’s hearts is revealed when they feel unprotected. Consider the responses around you to ebola, and contrast that to the way Christians have historically responded to the plagues of their time. Dionysius, writing from Corinth in the 2nd century (when there were no HazMed suits and gloves…) observed how Christians behaved in the grip of a rampant plague:
“Most of our brethren showed love and loyalty in not sparing themselves while helping one another, tending to the sick with no thought of danger and gladly departing this life with them after becoming infected with their disease. They drew the sickness onto themselves from their neighbors and willingly partook of their sufferings. Many, in nursing the sick and helping them to recover, themselves died, transferring to themselves the death coming to others…. The best of our brethren departed life in this way…so that on account of the great devotion and strong faith it entails, this kind of death does not seem inferior to martyrdom. Gathering up the bodies of the saints with open hands into their laps, they closed their eyes and shut their mouths before carrying them on their shoulders; they clasped and embraced them, washed and dressed them in grave clothes- then before long, the same would happen to them, since those left behind were continually following those who had preceded them. But the pagans behaved completely the opposite. They shunned those in the early stages of the illness, fled from their loved ones and abandoned them half-dead on the roads, and treated unburied corpses like garbage, in their efforts to avoid the spread and communication of the fatal disease- which was not easy to deflect whatever strategy they tried. “
In the fourth century, the bishop of Caesarea wrote, “Moaning was heard everywhere, and funeral processions were seen in every lane, square and street…. In some places, naked bodies lay scattered about unburied for days. Among these, some were eaten by dogs, for which reason the living began killing dogs, for fear they might go mad and start devouring people. In this hellish situation, the zeal and piety of the Christians were obvious to all the heathen…as they tended ot the dying and to their burial…their deeds were on everyone’s lips, and they glorified God.”
The extreme sacrifices of Christians attending the sick during epidemics is what some sociologists attribute Christianity’s remarkable growth to during the second and third centuries: “Christians exhibited a heroic willingness to care and die for others. This altruism, combined with reports of marvelous immunity to disease among some Christian nurses, explained how the rate of conversion could outpace the rate of Christian death and apostasy, at a time when severe penalties existed for practicing Christianity” ( Amanda Porterfield, Healing in the History of Christianity).