Epidemic Advice from Martin Luther

We just had a Great little Zoom online meeting of our weekly church study group we call “Lunch and Learn.” A big part of the learning for me was a quote from Martin Luther about a similar time to ours (Thanks, Ken, for sharing it!).

Turns out we aren’t the first to go through difficult days like this.

The Black Death, or bubonic plague, had killed at least a quarter of the population of Europe in the mid 14th century. But it wasn’t done wrecking havoc, and came back many times. In 1527 it hit Luther’s Wittenberg and the surrounding region. Pastors who were following Luther’s reforms in the Breslau area soon sent a letter through Pastor Johann Hess, asking if it was ethical or proper for any of them to flee the plague’s ravages. Luther replied with a letter, which he knew would be published. It soon was distributed widely as a 14 page pamphlet, and circulated to an anxious public.

I think we can all learn and grow from these excerpts from this bit of advice, written by a man steeped in the Gospel, written from a time much like our own, 493 years ago.

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.

…Moreover, he who has contracted the disease and recovered should keep away from others and not admit them into his presence unless it be necessary. Though one should aid him in his time of need, as previously pointed out, he in turn should, after his recovery, so act toward others that no one becomes unnecessarily endangered on his account and so cause another’s death. “Whoever loves danger,” says the wise man, “will perish by it” [Wisdom of Jesus, Son of Sirach 3:26]. If the people in a city were to show themselves bold in their faith when a neighbor’s need so demands, and cautious when no emergency exists, and if everyone would help ward off contagion as best he can, then the death toll would indeed be moderate. But if some are too panicky and desert their neighbors in their plight, and if some are so foolish as not to take precautions but aggravate the contagion, then the devil has a heyday and many will die. On both counts this is a grievous offense to God and to man—here it is tempting God; there it is bringing man into despair. Then the one who flees, the devil will pursue; the one who stays behind, the devil will hold captive so that no one escapes him.

…learn through God’s word how to live and how to die…

May Christ our Lord and Savior preserve us all in pure faith and fervent love, unspotted and pure until his day. Amen. Pray for me, a poor sinner.[1]

[1] Luther, M. (1999). Luther’s works, vol. 43: Devotional Writings II. (J. J. Pelikan, H. C. Oswald, & H. T. Lehmann, Eds.) (Vol. 43, p. 138). Philadelphia: Fortress Press.

FIND OTHER POSTS FROM OUR PANDEMIC BLOG BY CLICKING THE “PANDEMIC BLOG” CATEGORY ON THE RIGHT HAND SIDE OF THIS POST PAGE.

Leave a Reply

 

 

 

You can use these HTML tags

<a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>