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A Dark Time in History: the Black Plague

The second major pandemic that devastated Europe happened 800 years after the Justinian plague that devastated the Roman Empire in 540-542 was known as the Black Plague during the 1340’s.   It was the most fatal of all plagues recorded in human history known also as Black Death. It caused from 75,000,000 to 200,000,000 deaths in Europe alone. History scholars estimate may have reduced the world population by 475,000,000 people in the 14th century.  It took 200 years following for the population to recover to its previous levels.  Since the plague of Justinian there were reoccurrences of the plague but was controlled by measures of isolation and that kept the pandemics under control but something happened in the middle 1300’s that caused a recurrence of the  plague to go out of control.   It is determined that the Black Plague death probably started in China and spread eastward along the Silk Route.  This plague was a virus that was transmitted by fleas and rats.  The reason for the rapid spread of the disease was mainly ships moving from port to port with infected rats.  The host rats were carriers of the infected fleas which were transmitted to humans and animals then transmitted from human to human.  This pandemic was very contagious and it caused devastating religious, economic and social chaos across Europe and Asia as often entire villages would be wiped out causing a shortage in farmers producing food for the cities.   The plague would infect a village or city and spread so quickly it would wipe out a large portion of the population in weeks.  

The importance of hygiene was recognized only in the nineteenth century with the development of the germ theory of disease.  City life would be considered as commonly filthy with animals and human living in filth in today’s standards in much of Europe and Asia.  The spread of disease was more rampant in areas of poverty.  It was during the Black Death that “quarantine” was discovered and practiced as an effective measure to control the spread in a pandemic.  Hygiene was discovered and the eliminating of rats from ships and cities was also done to control the spread of the plague. Unfortunately the plague continued to repeat itself from 1346 all the way to 1671.  France alone lost almost 1,000,000 people between 1628-1631.  Every wave of recurrence was less severe where it had already been because of immunity build in populations.  

One part of history that never gets told is the spiritual significance of what happened during the Black Plague or really any other plague.  It has been said that history is Gods story who brings light out of darkness.  Since I have been a Christian I began to dig into history in a way I never had before.  History has an amazing way of teaching us things about ourselves and our mistakes. One thing I have discovered is during this time of the Black Plague in Europe they were also going through great spiritual challenges.  One man John Wycliffe a well respected professor at Oxford University and a member of the church clergy was very disturbed by religious abuses that were done during the plague by the church at the time.   He saw the church was taking financial advantage of families suffering death and loss and it caused him great concern.   The English language was developing during this time and he decided the country needed a Bible in their own language so that the common people could read the Word of God for themselves.  He translated gospels from Latin to English during the plague years and had a group of young students and other men take these portions of scripture to the villages and families scattered around England.  These young men were given the name Lollard’s or Wycliffites.  The Lollard’s were zealous young men who believed the scriptures had the message of salvation and could comfort and give assurance to anyone facing death by faith alone in the Word of God.  The Wycliffe teaching was dubbed and known in these Latin words, “Sola Scriptura” which meant that the scriptures were the only valid source of doctrine and religious legitimacy”.  The Lollards carried this doctrine to the far corners of England and beyond for years to come. They were dubbed with the term Lollard because they were men without ordination and without education.   These men preached that with faith alone in the Word of God men, women and families could be totally accepted by God through believing the gospel alone  and would not require paying penance or other religious traditions and abuses practiced at that time.  Many of the Lollards died themselves because they were exposed to those facing death contracting the very contagious plague that almost meant certain death within 14 days. The Lollards were known as the “buriers” during the Black Plague because they helped so many families bury their dead families and relatives.  John Foxe author of Foxes Book of Martyrs writes some valuable history about the Lollards.  

The Black Plague brought the Lollard movement into action during the plague. It is believed that the Lollard movement actually sowed the seeds and gave birth to the Protestant reformation.  It was instrumental in causing John Wycliffe to translate and produce the first English Bible because he saw the need to help the hurting and dying multitudes.   It stopped the 100 year war between the French and English in a few short years.   Serfdom which was a form of feudal slavery in England ceased shortly after the plague took its toll on England’s population and economy.   So some real good came following the dark days of the Black Plague.  

I am of the firm conclusion that the very words that provided comfort and hope in the days of the |Black Plague will do the same for us during our dark days of pandemic fear and isolation.  Our pandemic is mild in comparison to the Black Plague.  The “Scriptura Sola” is the lesson we need to learn from history that really provides help and hope to every individual who will actually discover it.   Light and life sprung out of the Black  plague days.  The Word of God brought life, renewal and a new beginning for England that made it one of the most powerful Christian nations on earth in years to come. It could be the beginning of a new day for our city, our country and our world if we will discover “Sola Scriptura”. 

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