etween the 2nd and the 6th centuries, when Christianity was still new, a series of devastating plagues struck the Roman world. Sweeping across the Empire, they took the lives of as many as one-third of the population, devastating families and cities. In the 3rd century, one particularly vicious outbreak appeared. At its height, from 250 to 262, 5,000 people a day were said to be dying in the capital city of Rome. Those struck down suffered a horrible, painful death.
Even in an age that did not understand the details of germ theory, the danger of contagion was well-known. Many of those who could, fled, including pagan physicians and priests who abandoned major cities during significant outbreaks. Those who were most able to assist the victims, then, abandoned them. Those suffering were left to suffer alone. In the midst of this many Christians took a different path. Dionysius, bishop of Alexandria reported that:
Many of our Christian brothers showed unbounded love and loyalty, never sparing themselves, and thinking only of one another. Heedless of the danger, they took charge of the sick, attending to their every need and ministering to them in Christ, and with them departed this life serenely happy; for they were infected by others with the disease, drawing on themselves the sickness of their neighbor and cheerfully accepting their pains.
Cyprian, bishop of Carthage, said explicitly that he regarded the situation as a test of sorts.
What a great thing is it, how pertinent, how necessary, that pestilence and plague which seems horrible and deadly, searches out the righteousness of each one, and examines the minds of the human race, to see whether they who are in health tend the sick.
read more: https://churchlifejournal.nd.edu/articles/amidst-plagues-the-churchs-call-to-foster-care-and-more/
SI Moderator - Greg Gordon