Martin Luther on Pandemics
Two hundred years after the Bubonic plague killed half the population of Europe, John Hess, a pastor in Breslau, Germany, wrote to Martin Luther to seek advice. "Can a Christian flee from a deadly plague?" It was not a theoretical questions since black death, small pox and other contagious diseases still festered across Eurpean landscapes and towns in 1527. In reply Luther wrote a lengthly letter offering practical principles during pandemics: who should be obligated to stay (i.e., guardians of orphans, pastors without assistants, governement officials, etc), and who is free to leave (i.e., the aged, infirm, those without responsibilities, etc.). The except below is taken from his letter and applies today as much as it did 400 years ago. Have a read and let us know your thoughts:
If one makes no use of intelligence or medicine when he could do so without detriment to his neighbor, such a person injures his body and must beware lest he become a suicide in God’s eyes. By the same reasoning a person might forego eating and drinking, clothing and shelter, and boldly proclaim his faith that if God wanted to preserve him from starvation and cold, he could do so without food and clothing. Actually that would be suicide. It is even more shameful for a person to pay no heed to his own body and to fail to protect it against the plague the best he is able, and then to infect and poison others who might have remained alive if he had taken care of his body as he should have. He is thus responsible before God for his neighbor’s death and is a murderer many times over. Indeed, such people behave as though a house were burning in the city and nobody were trying to put the fire out. Instead they give leeway to the flames so that the whole city is consumed, saying that if God so willed, he could save the city without water to quench the fire.
No, my dear friends, that is no good. Use medicine; take potions which can help you; fumigate house, yard, and street; shun persons and places wherever your neighbor does not need your presence or has recovered, and act like a man who wants to help put out the burning city. What else is the epidemic but a fire which instead of consuming wood and straw devours life and body? You ought to think this way: “Very well, by God’s decree the enemy has sent us poison and deadly offal. Therefore I shall ask God mercifully to protect us. Then I shall fumigate, help purify the air, administer medicine, and take it. I shall avoid places and persons where my presence is not needed in order not to become contaminated and thus perchance infect and pollute others, and so cause their death as a result of my negligence. If God should wish to take me, he will surely find me and I have done what he has expected of me and so I am not responsible for either my own death or the death of others. If my neighbor needs me, however, I shall not avoid place or person but will go freely, as stated above. See, this is such a God-fearing faith because it is neither brash nor foolhardy and does not tempt God.
You can read this article here for more context. What do you think? Do you agree with Luther?
More in Blog
April 19, 2021RISE Campaign | RISE to Calling | Prayer Guide, Week 1
April 19, 2021RISE Campaign | RISE to Calling | Discussion Questions, Week 1
February 18, 2021Resources for Lent - 2021