The Fellowship of Life
by Gerard Noel
Let us hope and pray that the coming Christian Ecology Group's conference, concentrating on human behaviour (perhaps "inhuman" would be much more appropriate) toward animals, will be successful and widely reported.
Its organiser, Tim Cooper, is surely right in claiming that the
church has "tended to neglect animals particularly from the pulpit."
I wonder if this was always the case? The medieval "bestiary",
with its elaborate use of beast allegory in order to impart a
balanced Christian ethic, even included, in some cases, practical
advice for the medical treatment of animals.
It is arguable, moreover, that the extensive use of animal
symbolism in the depicting of virtues and vices produced a greater
affinity between man and "beast" than was evident in the supposedly
less barbaric age that followed.
Nevertheless, animals, it seems have never, according to
Christian theology, enjoyed absolute "rights." They have been put
there, say most of the manuals, for man's use and their suffering at
his hands does not, in itself, constitute a sin. The element of sin,
it was argued, only came in if man himself became brutalised by his
treatment of animals.
I remember a spirited discussion on the subject many years ago in
the senior common room of Campion Hall, Oxford. Fr. Leslie Walker, I
think, argued that the latter theory should be taken further and be
more positively stated.
This would result in the principle that any wanton (a la Ancient
Mariner) cruelty toward God's creatures in the "lower" animal world
be at least the occasion of sin and should be preached as such. Not
all the other Jesuits present agreed.
Fr Martin D'Arcy, I believe, "abstained", and called for port.
True animal liberation seems appropriate for a caring Church.
Hasten the day when she will indeed fulfill her obligation.
From the Catholic Herald dated October 5th, 1984.
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