The Black Plague struck Europe in the 17th century, and modern historians estimate that it wiped out nearly one third of Europe’s total population. There was no cure – the people were helpless to save themselves. And many of them cried out to God – but there was no salvation. The Plague continued to spread.
The culture lost its faith in God. They began to revive the worldviews and thinking of the Ancient Greeks and Romans, renewing principles of logic and reason, and throwing themselves to enjoy things of the physical world, for they knew they could die at any moment. They lost a sense of morality found in Scripture – they drifted from the religious devotion of the earlier medieval periods because they felt that God had abandoned them.
Using the system of thinking I have learnt to adopt in this course, the changes become more marked and easier to see.
#1 – Sovereignty – In earlier periods, the people would have looked to God as their sovereign, but now they were going through hard times and believed that God had abandoned them. Even though God still held a position of sovereignty over them, they chose to ignore Him. The people didn’t realize that hard times may also come after choosing to follow God, as a test of faith.
#2 – Authority – As a result of the above points, the people switched from relying on both the Church and the State, to simply relying on the State.
#3 – Law – In spite of the fact that the laws of the land still existed and the State was in control, many officials were incapable of enforcing said laws, because of the great sickness and confusion. Moral law, however, was a different story – there was NO control, because the Church had lost its power in the eyes of the people. Since the people had decided that they didn’t want God to be their sovereign, they simply decided not to follow his moral laws. This led to an extreme moral deterioration in which adultery, murder, and theft abounded, and was often even glorified through the literature.
To quote “The Decameron” … “whereby every man was free to do what was right in his own eyes.”
To quote the Bible … “every man did what was right in his own eyes.”
The Israelites also fell prey to this mindset, yet God did not give up on them. The Europeans should have learned their lesson from the Israelites.
#4 – Sanctions – No one was getting punished for disobeying the moral laws that the nations had once held to, because there was no longer any punishment for disobedience of those moral laws. (Reason #1 – Moral decline. Reason #2 – Most potential enforcers of correct moral sanctions were unable to actually enforce them.) New sanctions were being presented, such as: If one should choose to commit adultery, let him – he may die soon anyway.
#5 – Inheritance – When faced with the bleak prospect of imminent death by an incurable virus, people lost heart. According to them, the end was near. They had no desire to work towards the future, because they had lost hope in the future. This resulted in many people living “for the moment”, doing whatever they wanted, regardless of the consequences. This calls to mind the age-old phrase, “Eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we may die.”
Boccaccio invoked the name of God in order to hide what he was really dishing out, which was smut literature, for the purpose of the satisfaction of sexual desires. I will not be reading the more unsavory parts of the Decameron, but the mere fact that in one chapter God’s name is called upon, and then in the next a sexual scene is described, impresses upon me that perhaps Boccaccio was not himself a man of moral uprightness and perfect character.
In general, the Decameron emphasized that religion required reason and sincere faith. According to the book, actions didn’t matter, as seen in the chapters in which impure conduct is described. Yet biblically, deeds displayed true faith. Moral uprightness shows the world that we believers truly are different and have a different spirit inside of us.
We even have this problem today. People believe that as long as they have faith in God, say that He is the lord of their lives, and accept the fact that Christ will forever be the only perfect man, they can do whatever they want. They say that actions don’t much matter to their faith – that, as long as they are sincere in merely their thoughts, they are “all good” under heaven. This is certainly not the case – but people didn’t get it in the 1700s, and they still don’t get it today.
Sadly, even contemporary literature displays this theme – a book may refer to God, in passing, but yet the characters themselves may act just like the world, with debauchery and impure swearing – in other words, like non-Christians. One example is the popular and exciting ‘Divergent’ series – yes, full of adventure, and it does throw a few bones to a supreme deity – yet full of moral decay to the foundations.
“People can’t read your thoughts to see if you have a truly sincere faith. A truly sincere faith is shown by the deeds and actions of the believer.”