'For it is improper to be addicted to the tedium of affliction': Christian Responses to Pandemic in Late Antiquity and the Early Middle Ages


The current COVID-19 pandemic has seen some turn to the past to see if the historical evidence provides any assistance to forecasting the probable duration and intensity of the disease and the length of time until a vaccine or cure is found. In this paper, on the contrary, the aim is to look to the present situation to help understand the past. The current pandemic, which seems impossible to halt even as vaccines start to roll out, and threatens to destroy the way people interact with one another and provide for their families has undermined confidence in the progress of medical science and the human mastery over the natural world. The fear and helplessness that has come in its wake is much the way people in previous centuries felt in the face of rampant and uncontrollable disease. In this paper several episodes of the first bubonic plague, known as the plague of Justinian, that lasted from the sixth to eighth centuries, as reported by Gregory I, bishop of Rome, and Gregory, bishop of Tours, both active at the end of the sixth century, will be explored. In light of our own experience of vulnerability because of the impotence of modern medicine so far to offer protection, we are better able to appreciate the reaction of people who lived in Lombard Italy and Merovingian France to intractable natural disaster.


infectious disease; pandemic; Gregory the Great; Gregory of Tours; Paul the deacon; John Immonidea; Justinianic plague; COVID-19; Rome; Castel Sant'Angelo

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Published : 2021-06-15

Dunn, G. (2021). ’For it is improper to be addicted to the tedium of affliction’: Christian Responses to Pandemic in Late Antiquity and the Early Middle Ages. Vox Patrum, 78, 389-426. https://doi.org/10.31743/vp.11896

Geoffrey David Dunn  gdd62au@hotmail.com
John Paul II Catholic University of Lublin  Poland