18 March 2020
In the face of a fear-inducing pandemic, Christ and Christian communities have much to offer.
In the early centuries of the Church, Christians stood out amongst contemporaries for their response to the epidemics that swept through the Roman world. Julian the Apostate, the last pagan Roman Emperor, wrote during the mid-fourth century that, “the godless Galileans care not only for their own poor but for ours as well.” As sociologist Rodney Stark notes:
“Christian values of love and charity had, from the beginning, been translated into norms of social service and community solidarity. When disasters struck, the Christians were better able to cope...”
This social response led to Christians sacrificially serving their neigbours. We have many accounts of Christians entering plague-ridden cities to care for the sick, and in doing so helping to contain fear and the spread of disease. Eusebius, bishop and historian, wrote of Christian responses to a third-century outbreak:
“Most of our brother Christians showed unbounded love and loyalty, never sparing themselves and thinking only of one another. Heedless of danger, they took charge of the sick, atttending to their every need and ministering to them in Christ... Many, in nursing and curing others, transferred their death to themselves and died in their stead... in every way the equal of martyrdom.”
Crises also tend to shake the assumptions of societies, and it is here where we hope and pray that our response will bear witness to the Gospel. Stark writes:
“Frequently in human history, crises produced by natural or social disasters have been translated into crises of faith. Typically, this occurs because the disaster places demands upon the prevailing religion that it appears unable to meet.”
Covid-19 will continue to expose some of the inadequacies of our prevailing ideologies, systems and lifestyles. From the simple commands like “do not fear”, “pray continually” and “love your neighbour” (even at great personal cost), to the wider frame of Christian theology, work and worship, we have great resources to respond to this.
May we as a College demonstrate in these coming weeks and months the intelligent and courageous faith that we pursue, and model Christ’s “perfect love [that] casts out all fear”.
Dr Roshan Allpress
 Rodney Stark, The Rise of Christianity (Princeton UP, 1996), p. 74.
 Eusebius, “Festival Letters”, quoted in Stark, p. 82.
 Stark, p. 77.