Seventy Years on!
The first issue of The Ark was published in February 1937, a few years after
the Catholic Study Circle for Animal Welfare (CCA’s previous name) was
established in London. Then just 20 pages, with no covers or pictures, it
contained four items, apart from the Editorial written by Dom Ambrose Agius OSB,
a monk of Ealing Abbey. The four items were: Announcements, [including that of
the annual subscription rate of two shillings and sixpence!], an account of the
Origins and Progress of the Study Circle; revised Suggestions [for the
Constitution], and an article by the Editor on Saints and Animals.
To commemorate this first issue, we reprint an abridged version of that last
Saints and Animals
‘The Earth is the Lord’s, and the Fullness thereof’
I feel I cannot begin this paper better than by quoting the famous prayer
the liturgy of St Basil:
O God, enlarge within us the sense of fellowship with all living things, our
brothers to whom Thou hast given 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
with 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 realise that they live not
for us alone but for themselves and for Thee, and that they love the sweetness
of life even as we, and serve thee better in their place than we in ours.
In this prayer nine principles are contained. One, we have from God, by
virtue of His creation, fellowship with all living things. Two, God, not
ourselves, gave to them earth for a home. Three, our right to claim a home on
earth comes from the same source. Four, if we have dominion over them, it is a
high one: i.e. received from and accountable for to God. Five, it is our fault
if God’s creatures have more wrongs than rights (and by rights here I mean a
natural existence, accordance with which praises their Creator). Six: even if we
have dominion over animals yet they have a life to live, i.e. they were intended
by their Creator to have some natural happiness in life. Seven: and to render
Him praise by fulfilling the natural law He implanted in them. Eight: if life is
sweet to us, it is also to them, and Nine: they fulfill their destiny and honour
their Creator more unerringly and infallibly according to their measure than
many human beings who have reason to help them.
In other words, as Charles Reade says: ‘The question is, not how vulgar man
feels, but how the common Creator of man and beast doth feel towards the lower
animals.’ Or, as St Bonaventure tells of St Francis:’ He considered all created
beings as coming from the paternal heart of God.’ This community of origin made
him feel a real fraternity with them all. ...
[Then Fr Agius goes on to give a wide-ranging account of the ways in which
various saints, particularly the Desert Fathers and Celtic saints, related to
animals. From these accounts he draws six principles, with which he concludes
Let me illustrate six principles which emerge from the legends of saints and
animals, principles which have a religious and not merely sentimental foundation
First, the saints recognize that the beasts were on certain occasions, anyhow,
the voice and instrument of God.
When St Marcarius saw from the behaviour of the hyena that it understood his
words and expressed repentance and promise of obedience, he gave glory to God,
‘Who gives understanding to beasts for a reproach unto ourselves,’ and prayed,
‘I give glory to Thee, O God, who wast with Daniel in the lions’ den, who didst
give understanding to beasts, as Thou hast given to this hyena. And Thou hast
not forgotten me, but Thou has made me perceive that it is Thy ordering.’
In the servant of St Godric of Finchale, who was harried by his cow, but not
harmed, the chronicler sees three works of God expressed by the animal’s action:
its respect for the property of the man of God; thus fulfilling the desire of
Christ; and in making manifest the merits of the man of God.
In the services of the strange attendants of St Colman, the chronicler says,
‘Marvellous are these condescensions of the grace of God, the collusions of
Christ with His servants; yet incredible only to those who have too little
thought for how marvellous is God in His praises, how gracious and tender His
affection for those that sincerely love Him; and how befitting His ineffable
loving kindness, that those who have renounced all fellowship and service of men
that their spirits may be swifter to serve Him, should themselves receive the
good offices of dumb beasts, and a kind of human ministering.’
In brief, animals are God’s ministers and instruments, almost human, expressing
His gratitude to His servants, and performing for them tasks that seem at
variance with their nature. And since these actions are not normal or according
to natural law, they are directed from above. Animals then receive (or received,
if you like) direct instructions from God and obeyed them.
Secondly, as the animals are God’s instruments, so they are found to obey for
His sake and at the invocation of His name. The dragons [i.e. alligators] obey Ammon ‘for God’s sake’, the penitent wolf is an example of ‘the power of
Christ’. St Francis says to the wolf he tamed, ‘Brother Wolf, I command thee in
the name of Jesus Christ, that thou come now with me, nothing doubting, and we
will go to ratify this peace in the name of God’. And the wolf went with him as
obedient as a lamb, and as they entered the city no dogs barked.
Thirdly, the charity of the saints towards beasts was part of the love they had
to God and to their neighbour for God’s sake.
St Ciaran was ‘like a burning lamp of charity, so rare that not only did the
fervour and devotion of his pitiful heart go out to the relieving of the hunger
of men, but he showed himself tireless in caring for dumb beasts in their
Fourthly, the saints honoured the creatures because of their Creator. So the
‘blessed Bishop Mohig used to keep animals both wild and tame about him, in
honour of their Maker, and they would eat out of his hand’. And when the fox
misbehaved and stole a hen, and on being convicted stole another to make up for
it, the saint made him make restitution. ‘And those who saw … so great a marvel
wrought, in either place, made merry over it and blessed God.’
Montaigne wrote in defence of this principle. ‘Theology itself enjoins us some
favour in their behalf [i.e. animals]; and considering that one and the same
master has lodged us together in His palace for His service, and that they as
well as we are of His family, it has reason to enjoin us some affection and
regard to them.’
Fifthly, there is the principle that sinlessness and nearness to God in the
saints beget confidence on the part of animals.
As Clement sang the praises of God … ‘he heard a clear whine, not unmelodious’.
He peeped through the chinks of his rude door, and there sat a great red wolf
moaning melodiously, with its nose high in the air. Clement rejoiced. ‘My sins
are going,’ he cried, ‘and the creatures of God are owning me, one after
another.’ And in a burst of enthusiasm he struck up the laud, ‘Praise Him, all
ye creatures of His. Let everything that hath breath praise the Lord.’ We read
also of the mosquitos that sang office with St Rose of Lima.
Lastly there is the principle that God, who gave to animals their instincts of
self-preservation, gave them an added instinct to know that with His special
servants their safety lay.
‘Many a time,’ says the chronicler, ‘the dumb creatures of the wood would swerve
aside from where the huntsmen lay in wait, and take shelter in the safety of
Godric’s hut; it may be that by some divine instinct they knew that a sure
refuge awaited their coming.’
And for the ‘divine instinct’ foreseeing death there is the touching story of St
Columban and the white horse. Let me introduce it by a similar story of our own
day. At a convent in Ealing [West London] one of the nuns, who had been in
charge of the bees, lay very ill. One day the bees found their way into her
room, a thing which had never happened before. Very soon after, she died. The
bees also disappeared and never returned.
Now for St Columban. ‘As he sat there, an old man taking his rest awhile, up
runs the white horse his faithful servitor, that used to carry the milk pails;
and coming up to the saint he leaned his head against his breast and began to
mourn, knowing as I believe from God Himself (you see!)-- for to God every
animal is wise in the instinct His Maker has given him- that his master would
soon go from him, and that he would see his face no more; and his tears ran down
as a man’s might into the lap of the Saint, and he foamed as he wept.
Seeing it, Diarmid would have driven the sorrowing creature away, but the Saint prevented
him, saying; ‘Let be, let be, suffer this lover of mine to shed on my breast the
tears of his most bitter weeping. Behold, you that are a man and have a
reasonable soul, could in no way have known of my departing if I had not now
told you; yet to this dumb and irrational beast, his creator in such fashion as
pleased Him has revealed that his master is to go from him.’ and so saying, he
blessed the sad horse that had served him, and it turned again to its way.’
T.A. Agius, OSB