December 26, 2021
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In 1655 the plague spread through London, killing a quarter of the population. The city was rife with reports of strange visions, prophecies and rumors. Daniel Defoe wrote about the happenings during the plague, writing in the first person although he was only four years old at the time. Nevertheless, the book is not fiction but rather a well-researched account of the events during the plague. It is quite possible that much of the information came from the journals of his uncle. The book makes the following observation about the way many preachers attempted to apply their understanding of Christian faith to what was happening all around them. Words that could be applied in many other places and circumstances.
“Neither can I acquit those Ministers, that in their Sermons, rather sunk, than lifted up the Hearts of their Hearers; many of them no doubt did it for the strengthening of the Resolution of the People; and especially for quickening them to Repentance; but it certainly answer’d not their End, at least not in Proportion to the injury it did in another Way; and indeed, as God himself thro’ the whole Scriptures, rather draws to him by Invitations, and calls to turn to him and live, than drives us by Terror and Amazement; so I must confess, I thought the Ministers should have done also, imitating our blessed Lord and Master in this, that his whole Gospel, is full of Declarations from Heaven of God’s Mercy, and his readiness to receive Penitents, and forgive them; complaining, ‘Ye will not come unto me that ye may have Life,’ and that therefore, his Gospel is called the Gospel of Peace, and the Gospel of Grace.”
-Daniel Defoe, A Journal of the Plague Year, first published in 1722
March 24, 2020
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Firenze (Florence) Italy. Image by Daniel Wanke from Pixabay
A careful observer who escaped the plague at Florence in 1617 describes the barricaded houses and empty streets, forbidden to all but food suppliers. Florence was dead: no business activities and no religious services — except for the odd mass which the officiant celebrated at the corner of a street and in which the people participated from behind closed windows.
-Fernand Braudel, Structures of Everyday Life © 1979 Librairie Armand Colin, Paris for the original French edition. English version © 1981 Harper & Row