“A plague had ravaged cities and towns throughout the Roman empire, from Asia Minor through Italy and Gaul (i)(ii) The usual response to someone suffering from inflamed skin and pustules, whether a family member or not, was to run, since nearly everyone infected died in agony. Some epidemiologists estimate that the plague killed a third to a half of the imperial population. Doctors could not, of course, treat the disease, and they too fled the deadly virus. Galen, the most famous physician of his age, who attended the family of Emperor Marcus Aurelius survived by escaping to a country estate until it was over.
But some Christians were convinced God’s power was with them to heal or alleviate suffering. They shocked their pagan neighbours by staying to care for the sick and dying, believing that, if they themselves should die, they had the power to overcome death. Even Galen was impressed:
‘(For) the people called Christians…contempt of death is obvious to us every day, and also their self-control in sexual matters…They also include people who, in self-discipline…in matters of food and drink, and in their keen pursuit of justice, have attained a level not inferior to that of genuine philosophers.’ (iii)
Such convictions became the practical basis of a radical new social structure.” (iv)
(i) Stark, R. “The rise of Christianity: A Sociologist Reconsiders History” Princeton (1996)
(ii) In the middle of the second century, C.E.
(iii) Galen in Walzer, R. “Galen on Jews and Christians” London (1949)
(iv) Pagels, E. “Beyond Belief” Vintage Books (2003) p.8