“In the summer of 1527, the plague swept through Europe once again. But this time, it fell upon a society deeply divided—“polarized,” we would say—by the events of the Protestant Reformation. On top of all the old fears of death and social breakdown, perceptions of the disease were filtered through new layers of mistrust rooted in religious difference. Both sides gleefully seized on examples of cowardice and other missteps to paint their enemies in the worst possible light.
By August of that year, the first victims of the plague were dying in the city of Wittenberg, where Martin Luther and his colleagues were laboring. Just like many recent governments have done, the Elector John “the Steadfast” ordered a series of dramatic measures to combat the plague, including ordering the faculty of the University of Wittenberg to relocate to another city. Luther refused to leave.
By the time the plague died down in Wittenberg in the fall of that year, Luther was being criticized on both sides. Luther responded in an open letter titled, “Whether One May Flee from a Deadly Plague.” (villageanglicanchurch.com)
The heart of Luther’s response is as follows:
“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.”
God Bless, Rick