Rodney Stark describes what happened when great plagues swept through the Roman Empire.
I think the thing that stands out in my mind about the early church was its care of the disadvantaged. That no one was beneath dignity. That everybody mattered, and that consequently people in the greatest need, serious efforts were made to help them and relieve them.
You know, it’s … Christians could count on … okay, come the great plagues – and there were several that came, swept through the Empire in the days of early Christianity – and a lot of Christians died treating the sick. That’s what they did. That was considered an obligation. And one of the great early bishops wrote at length about the fact that, of course we’re not afraid of this, because we know that we’re going to spend death in eternity. But we have this obligation to care for one another. And as a result, Christians survived the plagues at a very high rate. It turns out that just giving people liquid and some sustenance, a lot of people would recover from the plague. But if you basically run away from them or push them into the street because this is contagious and a very, very fatal disease, then it is a fatal disease. I mean, if people are willing to treat it, a lot of people will survive.
Well, you know, the pagans looking around realised their Christian neighbours were surviving the plague when they weren’t. And of course it appeared to be a miracle. I mean, this has been studied by a lot of people with proper medical knowledge, and you know, people have even done analyses of early graveyards and discovered … even back then on the tombstones you put date of birth and date of death, and concluded that Christians were living much longer than their pagan neighbours on average, way back in the early days of the church. Quite remarkable. I mean the studies are amazing.