The Hermeneutics of Epidemics in Christian Thought and the Idea of the Punishing God

Variant title

L'ermeneutica delle epidemie nel pensiero cristiano e l'idea del Dio punitore


Among the contradictory conceptions of Christianity, the punishing God vs. the merciful God is likely the most radical one. Throughout two thousand years of Christian history, the idea of the punishing God whose wrath against human sins is aimed at punishing them through certain scourges has been used to explain natural disasters such as epidemics. This has fostered the emergence of a “pastoral of fear” supported by the traditional themes of Christian eschatology and the insistence on the eternal punishments of hell. The paper aims to analyze the historical evolution of this idea through some representative historical moments, like the plague pandemics in the 6th-8th-, the 14th- and the 17th-centuries. Since the debate on the punishing God has enjoyed new relevance during the Covid-19 pandemic, the conclusions try to explain the reasons for the continuing success of this idea, even in a changed socio-cultural context.

Article history

Received 28 June 2020. Revised 08 September 2000. Accepted 09 September 2020. Published online 10 September 2020




Italian (it)


Roberto PauraUniversità degli Studi di Perugia


Orbis Idearum Volume 8, Issue 1 (2020), pp. 41-67
Epidemics in the History of Ideas