Kingdom History: The Plague of Cyprian

Most people would say having a plague named after you is not something you’d hope for.

But all things considered it’s probably better than being forgotten.

In the case of Cyprian, Bishop of Carthage, my guess he is would not complain.

Cyprian would know, as you now know, that the plague is named after him because of his letter describing how Christians should respond to the plague.

The letter has survived 1800 years and provides the most vivid description of a plague some contend changed the course of the Roman Empire.

The plague of Cyprian struck in 249 and hung around for nearly twenty years, although the worst of the plague was seen in the years 249 A.D. to 262. The plague was so contagious some believed it was passed through sight and others attributed it to “corrupted air” that had swept through the Roman Empire, but even worse, the symptoms were grisly and deadly. As Cyprian wrote:

“These are adduced as proof of faith: that, as the strength of the body is dissolved, the bowels dissipate in a flow; that a fire that begins in the inmost depths burns up into wounds in the throat; that the intestines are shaken with continuous vomiting; that the eyes are set on fire from the force of the blood; that the infection of the deadly putrefaction cuts off the feet or other extremities of some; and that as weakness prevails through the failures and losses of the bodies, the gait is crippled or the hearing is blocked or the vision is blinded.”

But God is sovereign, and when the citizens of His kingdom are obedient to Him, He can redeem the worst of situations for the advancement of His kingdom. Cyprian noted the Christians were not spared from the disease or its symptoms but reminded Christians:

“That plague and disease, which seems horrible and bestial, puts each man’s righteousness on trial, and examines the minds of the human race, to find out if the healthy will serve the sick; if relatives will dutifully love their family members; if masters will have mercy on their languishing slaves; if doctors will not desert their pleading patients.”

Christians responded, and while pagans hoarded what they had, fled the sick, and fled the cities, Christians gave, served and helped the sick, often at the cost of their own lives. The pagans noticed, and as the plague dissipated many new converts flocked to the churches because of the the love and selflessness the Christians had demonstrated in the midst of the plague.

Most plagues are remembered by the number of people killed. The Christians of Cyprian’s day ensured the Plague of Cyprian would not be remembered only for how many it killed but how through it so many found life.

How historians remember the Coronavirus Pandemic 100 or 1,800 years from now is a an open question, but with Cyprian, Christians have an example of how to ensure that question is answered in a way that is favorable to the kingdom of God. GS

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