Then & now

Long before the Batflu, there were plagues, as I’ve been hinting lately. Perhaps I should thank the shut-in, for an opportunity to revisit Marcus Aurelius, and the physician Galen, too. Roman soldiers campaigning in the Persianist Near East had often returned with nasty infections, in that ancient globalizing world, when the West was first trading with India and Han China; and disease was among the first things they traded in.

But the Antonine Plague of the later 160s AD, with its spectacular fevers, inflammations, and skin eruptions (possibly smallpox), visited millions of deaths upon the people everywhere from sober civilized Africa, far north into the German heart of darkness, making previous spot outbreaks seem tame. The later Plague of Cyprian (possibly our first adventure with the measles) also paradoxically helped to keep the Huns at bay, by substantially reducing the pressure on land.

Our estimates of the death tolls from these contagions are even less reliable than those from Italy or New York today. Hospitalizations were zero, however, because hospitals hadn’t been invented yet. Perhaps a quarter of the population was eliminated in each of these plagues; but it could have been half in either. Large rural areas were completely depopulated, from disease and the subsequent famines and disorders. The economy could be a problem, even then.

Yet the thoughtful Marcus Aurelius, who may himself have died from plague complications (he’d had co-morbidities all his life), did not think it was the worst thing that could happen, even when it was at its most raging in Metro Rome.  He thought the spread of falsehood and of charlatanry was worse — the way deceit circulated, as it were, like a virus.

Saint Paul of beloved memory had already issued his “Guidance” to the longsuffering citizens of this world. He did not (check it out) specify social distancing, sheltering in place, or any other method to stay safe. Rather his advice to its inhabitants was, “Be ye not conformed to the world.” This would work for all occasions.

In this generation of deChristianization, when the cads and monsters of surveillance are increasing their control, it is worth remembering our one defence against them. Even if gentle reader has been gaoled, for congregational singing, or for being a clergyman over the age of sixty-five (I cite two of the many banned items in a provincial instruction on church re-openings), he may remain inwardly free. For stone walls do not a prison make, &c.

Of course, if it were up to me, I would have the Knights of Columbus form armed militias to prevent the cops from busting in during Mass, but I doubt this idea would appeal to our present church leaders. Other, more pacific suggestions, such as sending a few Christians with flowers to a nearby abortion clinic, to keep the cops busy while others pray in church, would probably also be ignored. From the pope, performing pagan rites in Rome again this week, while continuing to sell out the Catholics in Red China, down to every smarmy liberal bishop and priest, our Church has herself been active in the deChristianizing process.

But it wasn’t just Saint Paul preaching non-conformity. Jesus of Nazareth had already warned us to expect stuff like this.