Monday, February 5, 2007

Catholic concern for animals

Gentile followers of Jesus address him as “Christ,” which means “Messiah.” The Bible teaches that with the coming of God’s annointed one will be the establishment of the Kingdom of Peace on earth. The prophecies of Isaiah 11:6-9 indicate this new world will in many ways resemble the Garden of Eden (Genesis 1:29-31), where everyone was vegetarian.

Christ’s return, Judgement Day, and the creation of a new heaven and a new earth were believed to be imminent. The earliest generations of Christians lived with this expectation. (Matthew 24:29-25:46; Mark 13:24-37; Luke 21:25-36; I Thessalonians 4:13-18; James 5:7-9; I Peter 5:7; II Peter 3:3-12; I John 2:18; Jude 17-18; Revelations 22:20) Vegetarianism was practiced in expectation of Christ’s coming kingdom. Among the various early Christian sects, the Montanists practiced vegetarianism with the belief that Christ would soon return.

From history, we learn that the earliest Christians were vegetarian. For example, Clemens Prudentius, the first Christian hymn writer, in one of his hymns exhorts his fellow Christians not to pollute their hands and hearts by the slaughter of innocent cows and sheep, and points to the variety of nourishing and pleasant foods obtainable without blood-shedding.

Seneca (5 BC - 65 AD), a leading Stoic philosopher and a tutor of Nero, was an ardent vegetarian. He started a vegetarian movement during one of Rome’s most decadent periods. Yet he had to abandon his cause. The early Christians were vegetarian. The Emperor became suspicious that Seneca might also be a Christian, so he went back to eating animal flesh. He wrote:

“Certain foreign religions (Christianity) became
the object of the imperial suspicion and amongst
the proofs of adherence to the foreign culture or
superstition was that of abstinence from the
flesh of animals. At the earnest entreaty of
my father, I was induced to return to my
former habits.”

Pliny, who was Governor of Bithynia, where Peter had preached, wrote a letter to Trajan, the Roman Emperor, describing the early Christian practices:

“...they met on a day before it was light (before
sunrise) and addressed a form of prayer to
Christ as to a god, binding themselves by a
solemn oath never to commit any sin or
evil and never to falsify their word, nor
deny a trust, after which it was their
custom to meet together again to take
food, but ordinary and innocent food.”

The church father Irenaeus preserved a fragment of a quote by Papias, disciple of John the Evangelist:

“Papias related how the elders and John and
heard the Lord teach that creation renewed
and liberated shall yield an abundance of all
kinds of food, seeds, grass, fruits, grains, and
flour in corresponding proportion, and that
all animals will use these foods and become
in turn peaceful and in harmony with another
and with man.”

This teaching of Jesus corresponds to the visions of peace and vegetarianism given in Isaiah (11:6-9, 65:25). Clement I, Bishop of Rome, in an epistle to the Corinthians (AD 88-97) wrote: “Perrenial springs, created for enjoyment...offer their life giving breasts to man and even the smallest of animals that they get together in peace. All things the Creator ordered to be in peace and harmony...take refuge through our Lord Jesus Christ.”

The Clementine Homilies, Jewish Christian teachings written during the 2nd century, give us a picture of the life of Clement I, Bishop of Rome. Clement is portrayed as a spiritual seeker, going to various schools of thought, looking for solutions to his doubts about the origin of the world, the immortality of the soul, etc... Eventually, he hears about how Jesus appeared in Judea. He undertakes a long journey through Egypt to Palestine, where he meets the apostle Peter in Caesarea. Clement becomes a Christian and is invited by (Simon) Peter to accompany him on his missionary journeys.

The text includes debates between Peter and Simon Magus. Peter refers to Jesus as “Teacher” and “Master,” teaches Clement to love his enemies and persecutors, insists upon the renunciation of worldly goods, and connects flesh-eating to idolatry. In the Clementine Homilies, we read:

“The unnatural eating of flesh-meats is as polluting
as the heathen worship of devils, with its sacrifices
and impure feasts, through participation in which
a man becomes a fellow-eater with devils.”

Genesis 6 describes the “sons of the gods” (angels) having sexual intercourse with the daughters of men, and giving rise to a race of giants. The Clementine Homilies explain that the eating of animal flesh began with this perversion:

“...from their unhallowed intercourse spurious men
sprang, much greater in stature than ordinary men,
whom they afterwards called giants...wild in manners,
and greater than men in size, insamuch as they were
sprung of angels; yet less than angels, as they were
born of men.

“Therefore God, knowing that they were barbarized to
brutality, and that the world was not sufficient to satisfy
them (for it was created according to the proportion of
men and human use), that they might not through want
of food turn, contrary to nature, to the eating of animals,
and yet seem to be blameless, as having ventured upon
this through necessity, the Almighty God rained manna
upon them, suited to their variant tastes; and they
enjoyed all that they would.

“But they, on account of their bastard nature, not being
pleased with purity of food, longed only after the taste
of blood. Wherefore they first tasted flesh.”

The apocryphal Acts of Thomas was used by many of the early Christian sects. Dr. Edgar J. Goodspeed, in his book History of Early Christian Literature, writes that this scripture depicts the disciple of Jesus as an ascetic: “He continually fasts and prays, wears the same garment in all weather; accepts nothing from anyone; gives what he has to others, and abstains from meat and wine.” Abstinence from animal flesh thus came to be regarded in gentile Christianity as abstinence from luxury and sensuality; asceticism. The apocryphal Shepherd of Hermas, written in the 1st century, says:

“ is an evil desire to covet another’s wife; as also
to desire the dainties of riches; and a multitude of
superfluous meats and drunkenness...Whosoever
therefore shall depart from all evil desires, shall
live unto God; but they that are subject unto them
shall die forever. For this evil lusting is deadly.”

---2 Hermas 12:4-6

The early church father Origen (AD 185-254), a vegetarian, explained: “when we do abstain (from eating meat), we do so because ‘we keep under our body and bring it into subjection’ (I Corinthians 9:27), and desire ‘to mortify our members that are upon the earth, fornication, uncleanness, inordinate affection, evil concupiscence’ (Colossians 3:5); and we use every effort to ‘mortify the deeds of the flesh.’ (Romans 8:13)”

One of the greatest theologians in the early Christian church, Tertullian, or Quintus Septimius Florens Tertullianus, was born in Carthage about AD 155-160. Cyprian, the Bishop of Carthage, called him the “Master.” Tertullian was one of four early church fathers who wrote extensively on the subject of vegetarianism. According to Tertullian, flesh-eating is not conducive to the highest life, it violates moral law, and it debases man in intellect and emotion.

Responding to the apparent permissiveness of Paul, Tertullian argued: “and even if he handed over to you the keys of the slaughter permitting you to eat all least he has not made the kingdom of Heaven to consist in butchery: for, says he, eating and drinking is not the Kingdom of God.”

Tertullian similarly scorned those who would use the gospel to justify gratifying the cravings of the flesh:

“How unworthily, too, do you press the example of Christ as having come ‘eating and drinking’ into the service of your lusts: He who pronounced not the full but the hungry and thirsty ‘blessed,’ who professed His work to be the completion of His Father’s will, was wont to abstain—instructing them to labor for that ‘meat’ which lasts to eternal life, and enjoining in their common prayers petition not for gross food but for bread only.”

Tertullian made his case for moderate eating by referring to the history of the Israelites (Numbers 11:4-34): “And if there be ‘One’ who prefers the works of justice, not however, without sacrifice—that is to say, a spirit exercised by abstinence—it is surely that God to whom neither a gluttonous people nor priest was acceptable—monuments of whose concupiscence remain to this day, where lies buried a people greedy and clamorous for flesh-meats, gorging quails even to the point of inducing jaundice.

“It was divinely proclaimed,” insisted Tertullian, “’Wine and strong liquor shall you not drink, you and your sons after you.’ Now this prohibition of drink is essentially connected with the vegetable diet. Thus, where abstinence from wine is required by the Deity, or is vowed by man, there, too, may be understood suppression of gross feeding, for as is the eating, so is the drinking.

“It is not consistent with truth that a man should sacrifice half of his stomach only to God—that he should be sober in drinking, but intemperate in eating. Your belly is your God, your liver is your temple, your paunch is your altar, the cook is your priest, and the fat steam is your Holy Spirit; the seasonings and the sauces are your chrisms, and your belchings are your prophesizing...”

Tertullian sarcastically compared gluttons to Esau, who sold his birthright in exchange for a meal. “I ever recognize Esau, the hunter, as a man of taste and as his were, so are your whole skill and interest given to hunting and trapping...It is in the cooking pots that your love is inflamed—it is in the kitchen that your faith grows fervid—it is in the flesh dishes that all your hopes lie hid...Consistently do you men of the flesh reject the things of the Spirit. But if your prophets are complacent towards such persons, they are not my prophets...Let us openly and boldly vindicate our teaching.

“We are sure that they who are in the flesh cannot please God...a grossly-feeding Christian is akin to lions and wolves rather than God. Our Lord Jesus called Himself Truth and not habit.”

In general, Tertullian railed against gluttony, and taught that spiritual life consists of simple living. He explained, “if man could not follow even a simple taboo against eating one fruit, how could he be expected to restrain himself from more demanding restrictions? Instead, after the Flood, man was given the regulation against blood; further details were length to his own strength of will.”

According to Tertullian, the entire creation prays to God:

“Cattle and wild beasts pray, and bend their knees, and in coming forth from their stalls and lairs look up to heaven. Moreover the birds taking flight lift themselves up to heaven and instead of hands, spread out the cross of their wings, while saying something which may be supposed to be a prayer.”

In his commentary on the Book of Daniel, Hippolytus (AD 200) depicted the Biblical hero and his three companions as pious ascetics. Referring to the passage in Scripture which states that these four men did not wish to defile themselves with the king’s meat, Hippolytus equated the purity of their vegetarian diet with the purity of their thoughts: “These, though captives in a strange land, were not seduced by delicate meats, nor were they slaves to the pleasures of wine, nor were they caught by the bait of princely glory. But they kept their mouth holy and pure, that pure speech might proceed from pure mouths, and praise with such (mouths) the Heavenly Father.”

Clement of Alexandria (AD 150-220), or Titus Flavius Clemens, founded the Alexandrian school of Christian Theology and succeeded Pantaenus in AD 190. In his writings, he referred to vegetarian philosophers Pythagoras, Plato, and even Socrates as divinely inspired. But the true teachings, he insisted, are to be found in the Hebrew prophets and in the person of Jesus Christ.

Clement taught that a life of virtue is one of simplicity, and that the apostle Matthew was a vegetarian. According to Clement, eating flesh and drinking wine “is rather characteristic to a beast and the fumes rising from them, being dense, darken the soul...Destroy not the work of God for the sake of food. Whether ye eat or drink, do all to the glory of God, aiming after true frugality. For it is lawful for me to partake of all things, yet all things are not expedient...neither is the regimen of a Christian formed by is not by nature a gravy eater, but a bread eater.

“Those who use the most frugal fare are the strongest, the healthiest and the noblest...We must guard against those sorts of food which persuade us to eat when we are not hungry,” warned Clement, “bewitching the there not within a temperate simplicity, a wholesome variety of eatables—vegetables, roots, olives, herbs, milk, cheese, fruits...?

“But those who bend around inflammatory tables, nourishing their own diseases, are ruled by a most licentious disease which I shall venture to call the demon of the belly: the worst and most vile of demons. It is far better to be happy than to have a devil dwelling in us, for happiness is found only in the practice of virtue. Accordingly the apostle Matthew lived upon seeds, fruits, grains and nuts and vegetables, without the use of flesh.”

Clement acknowledged the moral and spiritual advantages of the vegetarian way of life: “If any righteous man does not burden his soul by the eating of flesh, he has the advantage of a rational motive...The very ancient altar of Delos was celebrated for its purity, to which alone, as being undefiled by slaughter and death, they say that Pythagoras would permit approach. “And they will not believe us when we say that the righteous soul is the truly sacred altar? But I believe that sacrifices were invented by men to be a pretext for eating flesh.”

St. Basil (AD 320-79) taught, “The steam of meat darkens the light of the spirit. One can hardly have virtue if one enjoys meat meals and feasts...In the earthly paradise, there was no wine, no one sacrificed animals, and no one ate meat. Wine was only invented after the Deluge...

“With simple living, well being increases in the household, animals are in safety, there is no shedding of blood, nor putting animals to death. The knife of the cook is needless, for the table is spread only with the fruits that nature gives, and with them they are content.”

St. Basil prayed for universal brotherhood, and an end to human brutality against animals:

“The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness
Thereof. Oh, God, enlarge within us the
Sense of fellowship with all living
Things, our brothers the animals to
Whom Thou gavest the earth as
Their home in common with us

“We remember with shame that
In the past we have exercised the
High dominion of man and ruthless
Cruelty so that the voice of the earth
Which should have gone up to Thee in
Song, has been a groan of travail.

“May we realize that they live not
For us alone but for themselves and
For Thee and that they love the sweetness
Of life.”

According to St. Gregory Nazianzen (AD 330-89):

“The great Son is the glory of the Father
and shone out from Him like light...
He assumed a body
to bring help to suffering creatures...

“He was sacrifice and celebrant
sacrificial priest and God Himself.
He offered blood to God to cleanse
the entire world.”

“Holy people are most loving and gentle in their dealings with their fellows, and even with the lower animals: for this reason it was said that ‘A righteous man is merciful to the life of his beast,’” explained St. John Chrysostom (AD 347-407). “Surely we ought to show kindness and gentleness to animals for many reasons and chiefly because they are of the same origin as ourselves.”

Writing about the Christian saints and ascetics, Chrysostom observed: “No streams of blood are among them; no butchering and cutting of flesh...With their repast of fruits and vegetables even angels from heaven, as they behold it, are delighted and pleased.”

Chrysostom considered flesh-eating a cruel and unnatural habit for Christians: “We imitate the ways of wolves, the ways of leopards, or rather we are worse than these. For nature has assigned that they should be thus fed, but us God hath honored with speech and a sense of equity, yet we are worse than the wild beasts.”

In a homily on Matthew 22:1-4, Chrysostom taught: “We the Christian leaders practice abstinence from the flesh of animals to subdue our bodies...the unnatural eating of flesh-meat is of demonical origin...the eating of flesh is polluting.” He added that “flesh-meats and wine serve as materials for sensuality, and are a source of danger, sorrow, and disease.”

In a homily on II Corinthians 9, Chrysostom distinguished between nourishment and gluttony:

“No one debars thee from these, nor forbids thee thy daily food. I say ‘food,’ not ‘feasting’; ‘raiment’ not ‘ornament,’...For consider, who should we say more truly feasted—he whose diet is herbs, and who is in sound health and suffered no uneasiness, or he who has the table of a Sybarite and is full of a thousand disorders?

“Certainly the former. Therefore, let us seek nothing more than these, if we would at once live luxuriously and healthfully. And let him who can be satisfied with pulse, and can keep in good health, seek for nothing more. But let him who is weaker, and needs to be dieted with other vegetable fruits, not be debarred from them.”

In a homily on the Epistle to Timothy, Chrysostom described the ill effects of becoming a slave to one’s bodily appetites:

“A man who lives in selfish luxury is dead while he lives, for he lives only to his stomach. In other senses he lives not. He sees not what he ought to see; he hears not what he ought to hear; he speaks not what he ought to speak. Nor does he perform the actions of living.

“But as he who is stretched upon a bed with his eyes closed and his eyelids fast, perceives nothing that is passing; so is it with this man, or rather not so, but worse. For the one is equally insensible to things good and evil, while the other is sensible to things evil only, but as insensible as the former to things good.

“Thus he is dead. For nothing relating to the life to come moves or affects him. For intemperance, taking him into her own bosom as into some dark and dismal cavern full of all uncleanliness, causes him to dwell altogether in darkness, like the dead. For, when all his time is spent between feasting and drunkenness, is he not dead, and buried in darkness?

“Who can describe the storm that comes of luxury, that assails the soul and body? For, as a sky continually clouded admits not the sunbeams to shine through, so the fumes of luxury...envelop his brain...and casting over it a thick mist, suffers not reason to exert itself.

“If it were possible to bring the soul into view and to behold it with our bodily eyes—it would seem depressed, mournful, miserable, and wasted with leanness; for the more the body grows sleek and gross, the more lean and weakly is the soul. The more one is pampered, the more the other is hampered.”

The orthodox, 4th century Christian Hieronymus connected vegetarianism with both the original diet given by God and the teachings of Jesus:

“The eating of animal meat was unknown up to the big Flood, but since the Flood they have pushed the strings and stinking juices of animal meat into our mouths, just as they threw quails in front of the grumbling sensual people in the desert. Jesus Christ, who appeared when the time had been fulfilled, has again joined the end with the beginning, so that it is no longer allowed for us to eat animal meat.”

St. Jerome (AD 340-420) wrote to a monk in Milan who had abandoned vegetarianism:

“As to the argument that in God’s second blessing (Genesis 9:3) permission was given to eat flesh—a permission not given in the first blessing (Genesis 1:29)—let him know that just as permission to put away a wife was, according to the words of the Saviour, not given from the beginning, but was granted to the human race by Moses because of the hardness of our hearts (Matthew 19:1-12), so also in like manner the eating of flesh was unknown until the Flood, but after the Flood, just as quails were given to the people when they murmured in the desert, so have sinews and the offensiveness been given to our teeth.

“The Apostle, writing to the Ephesians, teaches us that God had purposed that in the fullness of time he would restore all things, and would draw to their beginning, even to Christ Jesus, all things that are in heaven or that are on earth. Whence also, the Saviour Himself in the Apocalypse of John says, ‘I am the Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end.’ From the beginning of human nature, we neither fed upon flesh nor did we put away our wives, nor were our foreskins taken away from us for a sign. We kept on this course until we arrived at the Flood.

“But after the Flood, together with the giving of the Law, which no man could fulfill, the eating of flesh was brought in, and the putting away of wives was conceded to hardness of heart...But now that Christ has come in the end of time, and has turned back Omega to Alpha...neither is it permitted to us to put away our wives, nor are we circumcised, nor do we eat flesh.”

St. Jerome was responsible for the Vulgate, or Latin version of the Bible, still in use today. He felt a vegetarian diet was best for those devoted to the pursuit of wisdom. He once wrote that he was not a follower of Pythagoras or Empodocles “who do not eat any living creature,” but concluded, “And so I too say to you: if you wish to be perfect, it is good not to drink wine and eat flesh.”

The 4th century St. Blaise is said to have established an animal hospital in the wilderness. The wildlife, in turn, protected him. St. Patrick (389?-481?) is said to have saved a mother deer and her baby from hunters. Commentators say it was this act of compassion which led to the conversion of the pagan.

“By saving the fawn they were about to kill,” writes Richard Power in The Ark, St. Patrick made the Christian religion meaningful to the hardened Ulster warriors. Before that act of compassion, his preaching had failed to convince them.” (The Ark is a bulletin published by the Catholic Study Circle for Animal Welfare.)

St. Ciaran of Ossory noted in the 5th Century that animals have intrinsic rights because of their capacity to feel pleasure and pain. Butler’s four-volume Lives of the Saints describes many saints as abstinent from childhood, never eating flesh-meats, never touching meat or wine, compassionate to all creatures, etc.

According to Father Ambrose Agius:

“Many of the saints understood God’s creatures, and together they shared the pattern of obedience to law and praise of God that still leaves us wondering. The quickest way to understand is surely to bring our own lives as closely as possible into line with the intention of the Giver of all life, animate and inanimate.”

The Reverend Alvin Hart, an Episcopalian priest in New York, says:

“Many Georgian saints were distinguished by their love for animals. St. John Zedazneli made friends with bears near his hermitage; St. Shio befriended a wolf; St. David of Garesja protected deer and birds from hunters, proclaiming, ‘He whom I believe in and worship looks after and feeds all these creatures, to whom He has given birth.’ Early Celtic saints, too, favored compassion for animals. Saints Wales, Cornwall and Brittany of Ireland in the 5th and 6th centuries AD went to great pains for their animal friends, healing them and praying for them as well.”

St. Benedict, who founded the Benedictine Order in AD 529, permitted meat only in times of sickness, and made vegetarian foods the staple for his monks, teaching, “Nothing is more contrary to the Christian spirit than gluttony.” The Rule of St. Benedict itself is a composite of ascetic teachings from previous traditions, such as St. Anthony’s monasticism in Egypt, which called for abstinence from meat and wine.

Aegidius (c. 700) was a vegetarian who lived on herbs, water and the milk of a deer God sent to him. St. Werburgh of Chester made a deal with some geese that were damaging church property. Werburgh promised that no action would be taken against the geese if they left and ceased to cause trouble. But when one of her attendants unwittingly killed one of the geese, the others returned. They came back honking and protesting loudly, until St. Werburgh brought the animal back to life.

In the 7th century, the hermit monk St. Giles was an Athenian, who resided in a French forest, dwelling in a cave, and living on herbs, nuts, and fruits. One day the King of France came hunting in the forest. He pursued a young deer which took refuge in Giles’ arms. The King was so impressed with Giles’ holiness he begged forgiveness and built him a monastery.

Boniface (672-754) wrote to Pope Zacharias that he had begun a monastery which followed the rules of strict abstinence, whose monks do not eat meat nor enjoy wine or other intoxicating drinks. St. Andrew lived on herbs, olives, oil and bread. He lived to be 105.

The early English mystic St. Guthlac of Crowland (673-714) is said to have been able to call birds in to feed from his hand. “Hast thou never learned in Holy Writ that he who led his life after God’s will, the wild beasts and the wild birds have become more intimate with him?” he asked. St. Gudival of Ghent once brought a slaughtered sheep back to life “because he saw in it Christ led like a sheep to the slaughter.”

St. Anselm of Canterbury (1033-1109) “was moved to feelings of compassion for animals, and he wept for them when he saw them caught in the hunger’s net.” St. Richard of Wyche, a vegetarian, was moved by the sight of animals taken to slaughter. “Poor innocent little creatures,” he observed. “If you were reasoning beings and could speak, you would curse us. For we are the cause of your death, and what have you done to deserve it?”

Vegetarian writer Steven Rosen explains: “...over the centuries, there has arisen two distinct schools of Christian thought. The Aristotelian-Thomistic school and the Augustinian-Franciscan school. The Aristotelian-Thomistic school has, as its fundamental basis, the premise that animals are here for our pleasure—they have no purpose of their own. We can eat them, torture them in laboratories—anything...Unfortunately, modern Christianity embraces this form of their religion.

“The Augustinian-Franciscan school, however, teaches that we are all brothers and sisters under God’s Fatherhood. Based largely on the world view of St. Francis and being platonic in nature, this school fits in very neatly with the vegetarian perspective.”

It is said that St. Francis of Assisi (1182-1226) bought two lambs from a butcher and gave them the coat on his back to keep them warm; and that he bought two fish from a fishwoman and threw them back into the water. He even paid to ransom lambs that were being taken to their death, recalling the gentle Lamb who willingly went to slaughter (Isaiah 53:7; John 1:29) to pay the ransom of sinners.

“Be conscious, O man, of the wondrous state in which the Lord God has placed you,” instructed Francis in his Admonitions (4), “for He created and formed you to the image of His beloved Son—and (yet) all the creatures under heaven, each according to its nature, serve know, and obey their Creator better than you.” St. Francis felt a deep kinship with all creatures. He called them “brother,” and “sister,” knowing they came from the same Source as himself.

Francis revealed his fraternal love for the animal world during Christmas time 1223: “If I ever have the opportunity to talk with the emperor,” he explained, “I’ll beg him, for the love of God and me, to enact a special law: no one is to capture or kill our sisters the larks or do them any harm. Furthermore, all mayors and lords of castles and towns are required to scatter wheat and other grain on the roads outside the walls so that our sisters the larks and other birds might have something to eat on so festive a day.

“And on Christmas Eve, out of reverence for the Son of God, whom on that night the Virgin Mary placed in a manger between the ox and the ass, anyone having an ox or an ass is to feed it a generous portion of choice fodder. And, on Christmas Day, the rich are to give the poor the finest food in abundance.”

Francis removed worms from a busy road and placed them on the roadside so they would not be crushed under human traffic. Once when he was sick and almost blind, mice ran over his table as he took his meals and over him while he slept. He regarded their disturbance as a “diabolical temptation,” which he met with patience and restraint, indicating his compassion towards other living creatures.

St. Francis was once given a wild pheasant to eat, but he chose instead to keep it as a companion. On another occasion, he was given a fish, and on yet another, a waterfowl to eat, but he was moved by the natural beauty of these creatures and chose to set them free.

“Dearly beloved!” said Francis beginning a sermon after a severe illness, “I have to confess to God and you that...I have eaten cakes made with lard.”

The Catholic Encyclopedia comments on this incident as follows: “St. Francis’ gift of sympathy seems to have been wider even than St. Paul’s, for we find to evidence in the great Apostle of a love for nature or for animals...

“Francis’ love of creatures was not simply the offspring of a soft sentimental disposition. It arose from that deep and abiding sense of the presence of God. To him all are from one Father and all are real kin...hence, his deep sense of personal responsibility towards fellow creatures: the loving friend of all God’s creatures.”

Francis taught: “All things of creation are children of the Father and thus brothers of man...God wants us to help animals, if they need help. Every creature in distress has the same right to be protected.”

According to Francis, a lack of mercy towards animals leads to a lack of mercy towards men: “If you have men who will exclude any of God’s creatures from the shelter of compassion and pity, you will have men who will deal likewise with their fellow men.”

One Franciscan monk, St. Anthony of Padua (1195-1231), who preached throughout France and Italy, is said to have attracted a group of fish that came to hear him preach. St. James of Venice, who lived during the 13th century, bought and released the birds sold in Italy as toys for children. It is said he “pitied the little birds of the Lord...his tender charity recoiled from all cruelty, even to the most diminutive of animals.”

St. Bonaventure was a scholar and theologian who joined the Franciscan Order in 1243. He wrote The Soul’s Journey into God and The Life of St. Francis, the latter documenting St. Francis’ miracles with animals and love for all creation. Bonaventure taught that all creatures come from God and return to Him, and that the light of God shines through His different creatures in different ways:

“...For every creature is by its nature a kind of effigy and likeness of the eternal Wisdom. Therefore, open your eyes, alert the ears of your spirit, open your lips and apply your heart so that in all creatures you may see, hear, praise, love and worship, glorify and honor your God.”

St. Bridget (1303?-1373) of Sweden, founder of the Brigittine Order, wrote in her Revelations:

“Let a man fear, above all, Me his God, and so much the gentler will he become towards My creatures and animals, on whom, on account of Me, their Creator, he ought to have compassion.”

She raised pigs, and a wild boar is even said to have left its home in the forest to become her pet.

“The reason why God’s servants love His creatures so deeply is that they realize how deeply Christ loves them,” explained St. Catherine of Siena (1347-1380). “And this is the very character of love to love what is loved by those we love.”

“Here I saw a great unity between Christ and us...” wrote Julian of Norwich (1360-?), “for when he was in pain we were in pain, and all creatures able to suffer pain suffered with him.”

Christian mystic, Thomas A’ Kempis (1380-1471) wrote in his devotional classic, The Imitation of Christ, that the soul desiring communion with God must be open to seeing, respecting and learning from all of God’s creatures, including the nonhumans:

“...and if thy heart be straight with God,” he wrote, “then every creature shall be to thee a mirror of life and a book of holy doctrine, for there is no creature so little or vile, but that showeth and representeth the goodness of God.”

St. Thomas More (1478-1535), was an undersheriff of London and the speaker of the House of Commons before he was named Lord Chancellor of England. He refused to approve the divorce of Henry VIII from Catherine of Aragon. He also refused to sign the Act of Succession which placed the King’s powers over those of the Church. For this he was imprisoned, tried for high treason, found guilty, and beheaded. More authored Utopia, a book which describes “the perfect commonwealth.”

In Utopia, More abolished the killing of animals, stating that citizens should “kill no animal in sacrifice, nor (should) they think that God has delight in blood and slaughter, who has given life to animals to the intent they should live.” A vegetarian, More spoke out primarily against butchering and meat-eating, but he also criticized those who would “waste” corn in the production of alcoholic beverages. Did drink wine.

St. Filippo Neri spent his entire life protecting and rescuing other living creatures. Born in Florence in 1515, he went to Rome as a young man, and tried to live as an ascetic. He sold his books, giving away the money to the poor. He worked without pay in the city hospital, tending to the sick and the poor. He gave whatever he possessed to others.

St. Filippo loved the animals and could not bear to see them suffer. He took the mice caught in traps away from people’s homes and set them free in the fields and stables. A vegetarian, he could not endure walking past a butcher shop. “Ah,” he exclaimed. “If everyone were like me, no one would kill animals!”

According to E. Eyre-Smith, in an article from The Ark, “Montalembert’s Monks of the West records in Vita Columbani, the Chronicler Jonas, writing within 25 years of the death of St. Columban, relates that this saint spent long periods in solitary contemplation and communion with the wild creatures of the forest, and insisted on his monks living, like himself, on the fruits of the earth, herbs and pulses. This indicates that in making rules for his followers in regard to non-meat eating, he was moved by his love and regard for the rest of God’s creation.”

St. Martin de Porres was born in 1579 in Lima, Peru, as the child of a Spaniard and Ana Velasquez, a black washerwoman. He joined the Dominican Order at the age of 24, and later established orphanages, hospitals and other charitable institutions. On one occasion, he told his superior, “charity knows no rules!” St. Martin’s compassion extended to the lower animals, including even rats and mice. St. Martin healed and cared for stray dogs, cats, a mule, and even a vulture. He sometimes allowed the mosquitos to bite him, so that they might be fed, saying, “They, too, are God’s creatures.”

The Trappist monks of the Catholic Church practiced vegetarianism from the founding of their Order until the Second Vatican Council in the late 1960s. According to the Trappist rules, as formulated by Armand Jean de Rance (1626-1700), “in the dining hall nothing is layed out except: pulse, roots, cabbages, or milk, but never any fish...I hope I will move you more and more rigorously, when you discover that the use of simple and rough food has its origin with the holy apostles (James, Peter, Matthew).

“We can assure you that we have written nothing about this subject which was not believed, observed, proved good through antiquity, proved by historians and tradition, preserved and kept up to us by the holy monks.”

A contemporary Benedictine monk, Brother David Steindl-Rast points out that the lives of the saints teach compassion towards all living beings. “Unfortunately,” says Brother David, “Christians have their share of the exploitation of our environment and in the mistreatment of animals. Sometimes they have even tried to justify their crimes by texts from the Bible, misquoted out of context. But the genuine flavor of a tradition can best be discerned in its saints...

“All kinds of animals appear in Christian art to distinguish one saint from another. St. Menas has two camels; St. Ulrich has a rat; St. Bridgid has ducks and geese; St. Benedict, a raven; the list goes on and on. St. Hubert’s attribute is a stag with a crucifix between its antlers. According to legend, this saint was a hunter but gave up his violent ways when he suddenly saw Christ in a stag he was about to shoot...Christ himself is called the Lamb of God.”

According to Brother David, “...the survival of our planet depends on our sense of belonging—to all other humans, to dolphins caught in dragnets, to pigs and chickens and calves raised in animal concentration camps, to redwoods and rainforests, to kelp beds in our oceans, and to the ozone layer.”

Roman Catholic Cardinal John Henry Newman (1801-90), wrote in 1870 that “cruelty to animals is as if a man did not love God.” On another occasion, he asked:

“Now what is it that moves our very heart and sickens us so much at cruelty shown to poor brutes? I suppose this: first, that they have done us no harm; next, that they have no power whatever of resistance; it is the cowardice and tyranny of which they are the victims which make their sufferings so especially touching...there is something so very dreadful, so satanic, in tormenting those who have never harmed us and who cannot defend themselves; who are utterly in our power.”

Cardinal Newman compared injustices against animals to the sacrifice, agony and death of Christ upon the cross:

“Think of your feelings at cruelty practiced upon brute animals and you will gain the sort of feeling which the history of Christ’s cross and passion ought to excite within you. And let me add, this is in all cases one good use to which you may turn any...wanton and unfeeling acts shown towards the...animals; let them remind you, as a picture of Christ’s sufferings. He who is higher than the angels, deigned to humble Himself even to the state of the brute creation...”

Another cardinal, Henry Edward Manning (1808-92), spoke out against cruelty to animals, especially experimentation upon animals. In a letter dated July 13, 1891, he wrote: “We owe ourselves the duty not to be brutal or cruel; and we owe to God the duty of treating all His creatures according to His own perfections of love and mercy.” Bishop Westcott wrote, “Animals are in our power in a peculiar sense; they are committed by God to our sovereignty and we owe them a considerate regard for their rights. No animal life can be treated as a THING. Willful disrespect of the sanctities of physical life in one sphere bears its fruit in other and higher spheres.”

Cardinal Francis Bourne (1861-1934) told children in Westminster Cathedral in April 1931: “There is even in kindness to animals a special merit in remembering that this kindness is obligatory upon us because God made the animals, and is therefore their creator, and, in a measure, His Fatherhood extends to them.” Cardinal Arthur Hinsley (1865-1943), the former archbishop of Westminster, wrote that “the spirit of St. Francis is the Catholic spirit.” According to Cardinal Hinsley, “Cruelty to animals is the degrading attitude of paganism.”

Reverend Jean Gautier, a doctor in canon law, a director of the Grand Seminary in Paris (St. Sulpice), and a noted French authority on Roman Catholic philosophy, wrote in his book A Priest and his Dog: “For cruelty to defenseless beings we shall one day have to answer before Him who trieth the heart and the reins. Not with impunity is the weakness of animals abused.”

In his 1957 book, The Status of Animals in the Christian Religion, author C.W. Hume wrote that the catechism children use for their first Communion and for their confirmation in France contains the answer, “it is not permissible for me to cause suffering to animals without good reason, to hurt them unnecessarily is an act of cruelty.” British Jesuit Father John Bligh observed, “A man is not likely to be much of a Christian if he is not kind to animals.”

A Roman Catholic priest, Msgr. LeRoy E. McWilliams of North Arlington, New Jersey, testified in October 1962 in favor of legislation to reduce the sufferings of laboratory animals. He told congressional representatives:

“The first book of the Bible tell us that God created the animals and the birds, so they have the same Father as we do. God’s Fatherhood extends to our ‘lesser brethren.’ All animals belong to God; He alone is their absolute owner. In our relations with them, we must emulate the divine attributes, the highest of which is mercy. God, their Father and Creator, loves them tenderly. He lends them to us and adjures us to use them as He Himself would do."”

Msgr. McWilliams also issued a letter to all seventeen thousand Catholic pastors in the United States, calling upon them to understand “what Christianity imposes on humans as their clear obligation to animals.”

Reverend Basil Wrighton, the chairman of the Catholic Study Circle for Animal Welfare in London, wrote in a 1965 article entitled, “The Golden Age Must Return: A Catholic’s Views on Vegetarianism,” that a vegetarian diet is not only consistent with, but actually required by the tenets of Christianity. He concluded that the killing of animals for food not only violates religious tenets, but brutalizes humans to the point where violence and warfare against other humans becomes inevitable.

A strong condemnation of cruelty towards animals appeared in the March 10, 1966 issue of L’Osserevatore della Domenica, the official Vatican weekly newspaper. Written by the respected theologian, Msgr. Ferdinando Lambruschini, it read in part:

“Man’s conduct with regard to animals should be regulated by right reason, which prohibits the infliction of purposeless pain and suffering on them. To ill treat them, and make them suffer without reason, is an act of deplorable cruelty to be condemned from a Christian point of view. To make them suffer for one’s own pleasure is an exhibition of sadism which every moralist must denounce.”

In his 1970 book God’s Animals Reverend Don Ambrose Agius wrote: “It is a moral obligation for every Christian to fight cruelty to animals because the consequences of cruelty are destructive to the Christian order...The Bible...tells us that cruelty to animals is wicked and that it is opposed to God’s will and intention...The duty of all Christians (is) to emulate God’s attributes, especially that of mercy, in regard to animals. To be kind to animals is to emulate the loving kindness of God.”

In his foreword to Reverend Agius’ book, Cardinal John Heenan wrote: “Animals...have very positive rights because they are God’s creatures. If we have to speak with absolute accuracy, we must say that God has the right to have all His creatures treated with respect...Only the perverted are guilty of deliberate cruelty to animals or, indeed, to children.”

Vegetarianism, however, is still regarded by the Church as a form of abstinence; encouraged as a means to increase one’s will power over mortal flesh and desires: “It is precisely because meat is so good that we do abstain from it,” explained one Benedictine monk. “ forego the use of meat makes one’s meals somewhat less attractive and enjoyable.” With simple living, a monk “will have greater spiritual freedom to attend to the things of the Spirit and of God.”

Father Thomas Berry, a Catholic priest, author, and founder of the Riverdale Center of Religious Research in New York, wrote in 1987 that “vegetarianism is a way of life that we should all move toward for economic survival, physical well-being, and spiritual integrity.”

As a second grade schoolboy, growing up in Petoskey, Michigan, Ron Pickarski had a “vision.” He felt God was calling him to serve by abandoning everything and following Christ. His mother notes that as a youth, Ron Pickarski was introverted and had strong, spiritual inclinations. “He was serious about his God,” she recalls. “He wasn’t one of those kinds who drank and smoked pot.”

At the age of 19, Ron entered Our Lady of the Angels seminary. Six years later, he took the vows of poverty, celibacy and obedience. “It would basically be easier to shoot myself than to leave the order,” he admits. “It’s a commitment between me and God. If I can’t live up to a commitment I made to God, how can I live up to a commitment to anyone else? It’s a commitment to a vision that is unfolding in everything that I’m doing,” he says. “That whole vision is being lived out in my work as a food minister.”

After his father died of cancer, Brother Ron experimented with different kinds of vegetarian diets, including raw foods, natural hygiene and macrobiotics. By this time, he had also become a master chef. Brother Ron studied at the Washburne Trade School for Chefs in Chicago, and graduated at the top of his class.

Brother Ron asked for a solo ministry—rather unusual for a Franciscan monk—and it was granted. His supervisors have compared his ministry to that of St. Francis of Assisi, the patron saint of animals and ecology. St. Francis loved nature and considered it God’s gift to humanity.

Brother Ron combines his religious vocation with a career in vegetarian cooking. He considers himself a health missionary, teaching that a person who is healthy can better serve God. “Our bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit,” he explains. “They are the vehicles by which we serve God. I think the consciousness of a person in a state of wellness is much higher than a person who is not.” Brother Ron believes that God meant for us to eat a high-carbohydrate diet, and the best kind of high-carbohydrate diet is a vegetarian diet. A vegetarian diet promotes health, which puts one in the proper frame of mind to help others.

Brother Ron believes that if Jesus ate meat or fish, he did so seldomly, and always in the spirit of charity. He defines charity as putting someone else before oneself; encompassing love, respect and understanding. He gives an example from his own life:

“I was at a Christmas celebration last year that I was invited to by my lawyer. His mother, a sweet Italian lady, made this beautiful vegetarian ravioli with a dairy cream sauce. It was her Christmas present to me. I couldn’t say, ‘I’m a vegan (living entirely on plant foods). I’m not going to eat this.’ I sat down, and I ate it and thoroughly enjoyed it. I partook of it in the same spirit in which she made it,” he adds. “If a person knew I was a vegan and did it to defy me, then I’d say, ‘Scratch off. I’m not going to eat it.’”

Prizing charity above everything else, Brother Ron is unimpressed with “self-righteous vegetarians” whose motives do not spring from the heart. “In Corinthians, he (Paul) says that we are just a clanging cymbal unless we act out of love...How many vegetarians out there are clanging cymbals?

“Quite frankly,” he admits, “I would rather be a charitable consumer of meat than a self-righteous vegetarian, because it is love that will transform the world, not vegetarianism.”

Nonetheless, Brother Ron does see vegetarianism as a natural consequence of divine love. “When people learn to love themselves and their fellow human beings, then and only then will vegetarianism predominate the universe. And the funny thing is, they will not perceive it as vegetarianism, just simply loving.”

In an editorial that appeared on Christmas Day, 1988, Washington Post columnist Colman McCarthy, a prominent Catholic writer and a vegetarian, observed:

“A long raised but rarely answered question is this: If it was God’s plan for Christ to be born among animals, why have most Christian theologians denied the value and rights of animals? Why no theology of the peaceable kingdom?...Animals in the stable at Bethlehem were a vision of the peaceable kingdom. Among theology’s mysteries, this ought to be the easiest to fathom.”

Mother Teresa, honored for her work amongst the poor with the 1979 Nobel Peace Prize, wrote in 1992 to Marlene Ryan, a former member of the National Alliance for Animals. Her letter reads:

“I am praying for you that God’s blessing may be with you in all that you are doing to create concern for the animals which are often subjected to much cruelty. They, too, are created by the same loving Hand of God which created us. As we humans are gifted with intelligence which the animals lack, it is our duty to protect them and to promote their well being.

“We also owe it to them as they serve us with such wonderful docility and loyalty. A person who shows cruelty to these creatures cannot be kind to other humans also. Let us do all we can to become instruments of peace—where we are—the true peace that comes from loving and caring and respecting each person as a child of God—my brother—my sister.”

In an article entitled “The Primacy of Nonviolence as a Virtue,” appearing in Embracing Earth: Catholic Approaches to Ecology (1994), Brother Wayne Teasdale wrote: “One key answer to a culture’s preoccupation with violence is to teach, insist on, and live the value of nonviolence. It can be done successfully, and it has been done for more than 2,500 years by Jains and Buddhists.

“Neither Jainism nor Buddhism has ever supported war or personal violence; this nonviolence extends to all sentient beings. Christianity can learn something valuable from these traditions. This teaching on nonviolence has been incarnated in the lives of Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Jr., and the Fourteenth Dalai Lama with significant results...”

According to Teasdale: “ is necessary to elevate nonviolence to a noble place in our civilization of loving-compassion because nonviolence as ahimsa in the Hindu tradition, a tradition that seems to possess the most advanced understanding of nonviolence, is love! Love is the goal and ultimate nature of nonviolence as an inner disposition and commitment of the heart. It is the fulfillment of love and compassion in the social sphere, that is, in the normal course of relations among people in the matrix of society.”

Brother Aelred (Robert Edmunds), a Catholic monk living in Australia, discusses the moral question of killing animals for food in his book Encounter: Christ and Krishna. He points out that Jesus Christ greatly expanded the interpretation of the commandment “Thou shalt not kill” to include not getting angry without cause.

“My position is that Jesus’ teachings on mercy in the Beatitudes require an open-ended ethical inquiry” writes Brother Aelred. “I ask, for example, how a Christian may speak of ‘mercy’ in the terms of Jesus Christ, and deny mercy to creatures of God who, as we do, experience fear and suffering. Isn’t it the case that Jesus constantly went beyond the ‘letter of the law’ to its spirit?”

Brother Aelred quotes the prophecies of Isaiah (11:6-9, 65:25) concerning the coming Kingdom of Peace. “The passage sees a time when pain and bloodshed will be no more; when prey and devourer will be reconciled. What a vision! Even if the passage is seen as just poetic exaggeration, it is clear that there is hope for a future which will be very different to the world we know. And surely we, as Christians, must be part of this ‘peace process.’ Perhaps our main burden, as Christians, is to be part of this message of hope and reconciliation.”

Brother Aelred ends with the following:

“An Anglican Franciscan superior, in Australia, tells his novices that if they wish to eat flesh they must go out and themselves kill the animal. The moral responsibility must be theirs alone. I consider this a thoroughly sound position, and any Christian reading this article might well reflect on the brother’s teaching. In conclusion, I must report a sad truth. My own Christian formation taught me many things of great value, but ‘respect for all things living’ was not part of that formation. It was other religious traditions and ‘secular’ insights which gave me teaching in this area.”

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

This article is extensive with many references of historic import. Wish I had come across it several years ago when I was teaching about vegan eating in a Catholic community. One wonders how we so lost this link to vegetarianism in American spirituality?