In May 2020 a doctor friend of mine posted this comment somewhere:
“As a medical professional with a public health degree, I would encourage you to heed the advice of Martin Luther, written during the Black Plague a few centuries ago. It is still exactly what is needed today. Most of us fall into the ‘vulnerable’ group, just on the basis of age alone. Please, please, please, socially isolate/distance yourselves and wash your hands!”
Dr. Ellen Brady, MD MPH
When Martin Luther was dealing with The Black Death plague, he wrote these wise words that can help inform the way we approach things happening in our world right now…”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 inflict 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 no foolhardy and does not tempt God.”
[Luther’s Works Volume 43 pg 132: the letter “Whether one may flee from a Deadly Plague” written to Rev. Dr. John Hess”.]
Ellen, thank you for sharing this wisdom from Martin Luther. We should never pit science and medicine against faith. They are the two books of God, from God. Our faith gives us hope in the midst of a crisis, and motivates us to compassionate, costly care. So faith is vital for our country now.
Luther did not know the cause of the plague; now we know it was caused by a bacterium. And now we know that the COVID-19 sickness is caused by a coronavirus. However, knowing the science is not enough, because we don’t have the means of creating a vaccine fast enough, because our country’s leaders were not motivated to costly planning. So science alone is insufficient, as faith without action is insufficient. I hope we can learn to keep them together. A bird needs two wings to fly.
1 thought on “Martin Luther and the Plague”
This has relevance to the current COVID-19 pandemic, even after all that we have learned about diseases since Luther’s time, 500 years ago!