Religious Rationale For The Plague In Rosemary Horrox’s The Black Death

960 words - 4 pages

Religious Rationale for the Plague in Rosemary Horrox’s The Black Death

After the September 11th, 2001 attacks, prominent religious figures claimed that depraved American lifestyles were to blame for the bombings; Protestant leader Jerry Falwell came forth and stated that the attacks were a manifestation of God’s irritation at impious people. This attitude stems from a reaction to contemporary events, but possesses roots that date back to 1348. Throughout the time of plague in medieval England, priests and other spiritual leaders insisted that mass devastation via disease was a God-sent punishment for decadent lifestyles and impious behavior. These officials claimed that the ...view middle of the document...

By allegedly wasting precious resources and practicing indiscriminate sex, the guilty revelers aroused God’s wrath and ushered in the plague. The notion of ingratitude is a crucial component for arriving at this conclusion: to a medieval theologian reading the Old Testament and specifically the Book of Numbers, it is clear that God loathes the malcontent, or people who fail to appreciate his gifts. Concerned with the possibility of incurring God’s anger and thus plague, religious leaders of 1348 vehemently discouraged all forms of wasteful or promiscuous recreation, and placed blame on parties who failed to conform.

Parties who failed to conform to reigning biblical and social standards of decency in 1348 could be discerned through an examination of appearance as well as behavior. By way of historical documentation, it is apparent that medieval observers believed that indecent dress was as much to blame for the onset of plague as refusal to obey marriage rites. In The Black Death, an anonymous monk makes this point by describing the inappropriate clothing worn by people who encouraged the plague’s presence. He states, “They have abandoned the old, decent style of long, full garments for clothes which are short, tight, impractical [. . . ] . The sin of pride manifested in this way must surely bring down misfortune in the future” (131). This passage is important to readers because it contains a sentiment that characterizes religious reaction to the plague of 1348. The sin of pride, which is responsible for incensing God, is manifested in appearance, through one’s chosen attire. Guilty parties display their sins outwardly, and can be readily detected. Men and women who break medieval rules of decorum thus make obvious targets for religious leaders anxious to decipher the cause of God’s wrath via plague.

The medieval rules of decorum required adherence to traditional gender codes as well as standards of modesty and humility. By examining relevant passages from The Black Death, one can gather that...

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