The Fellowship of Life
a Christian-based vegetarian group founded in 1973

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'Catholic Herald' Debate (1980)Letters

Our Lord carnivorous? - not likely

Why should Miranda Scrope, April 11, think Yvonne Phillipson has a hard task to promote vegetarianism among the faithful?

Many of the early Christian Fathers advocated it. Tertullian says of Jesus, "I think He...was wont to abstain...instructing them to labour for that Meat which lasts to eternal life, and enjoining in their prayers petition, not for rich and gross food, but for bread only".

He reprimands certain Christians - "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 sauces are your chrisms and your eructations are your prophesyings".

Clement of Alexandria says "The Apostle Matthew lived upon seeds and nuts, hard-shelled fruits and vegetables, without the use of flesh". The Clementine Homilies (mid second century based on the preaching of St Peter) say "The unnatural eating of flesh meats is as polluting as the heathen worship of devils."

Hegessipus states that James the Lord's brother was holy from his birth, drank no wine and ate no flesh so it is likely that none of his family ate flesh. John the Baptist ate locust beans and wild honey.

It is likely that Jesus was associated with the Nazarenes and the Essenes, the innermost orders of both groups abstained from alcohol and meat. Peter and James were attacked by St Paul, who made scathing attacks on those who abstained from flesh food.

Of the 19 references to meat in the Gospels, some are metaphorical and the Greek words otherwise used simply mean food or nourishment. The view Jesus ate meat has no foundation. The Lord is supposed by many to have kept the Passover (which would entail eating the Paschal Lamb) but it seems the Last supper was instead a fellowship meal intended to supersede the Passover by one of more divine significance.

There is nowhere mention of a lamb, Jesus substituting bread and wine. John, Matthew and Luke state that the Crucifixion (and therefore the Last Supper as the Jewish day began at 6pm) took place on the day of Preparation. The body was not allowed to remain on the cross because "the day of the Sabbath was a high day" (Passover). The members of the Sanhedrin on Good Friday refused to enter the Praetorium for fear they might defile themselves before eating the Passover.

If the Passover had already begun nobody would be carrying weapons or able to buy linen or spices.

It is only after the Resurrection that Jesus is said to have eaten fish. The text of Luke 24 is corrupt and some manuscripts say He ate fish and a honeycomb, a strange mixture. The idea was probably inserted by Christians who wanted to show that Jesus was flesh and bones and not a ghost.

In John Cl, 5 -13 (a late edition to the Gospel) we have Jesus telling his disciples to cast the net on the right side of the ship. They caught so many fish that they could not draw in the net.

The number of fish is however enumerated at 153, and the word for fish - opsarion - is a diminutive. It is best to take this story mystically. Augustine of Hippo said the number 153 was an arithmetical progression from 1 to 17, 10 being the number of the Law and seven the perfect number.

Others thought it represented the total species of fish known at the time. The allegorical interpretation of scripture was usual in the early Church. Origen says "while every passage has a spiritual meaning, many passages have no other meaning, but there is often a spiritual meaning under a literal fiction."

Athanasius warns, "Were we to understand sacred writing according to the letter, we should fall into the most enormous blasphemies, by scribing cruelty and falsehood to the Deity"

The strongest argument for vegetarianism is the ethical one. Jesus was born at a certain point in time and mankind is meant to progress as the ages pass. Tolstoy said "A vegetarian diet is the acid test of humanitarianism". Many young people today are turning to eastern religions and philosophies because they do not find the compassion in Christianity which its Founder intended to be there. As a vegan I can assure Miranda Scrope that my diet has variety and is nutritious and healthful. Moreover, the use of all viable land for growth of plant foods (not to support the meat and dairy industry as at present) is that pattern for the future necessary where millions of people are starving.

Ahimsa - reverence for life. The Gospel of Thomas quotes Jesus as saying. "I am the All. Split the wood - I am there. Lift the stone. I am there." He said, "Whatever you do to the least of my brothers, you do to me."

Anne Farmer
(9/5/80)

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Your letter Shocked by a lethargic church on April 25, reflects the concern felt by many people about factory farming. The unnatural conditions in which factory farmed animals and birds are kept can result in skeletal deformities, growths and a multitude of diseases, some of which can be contracted by humans, but it seems that commercial considerations outweigh those of animal welfare.

Many people who are opposed to these practices while feeling helpless in the face of the huge concerns involved may be interested to know that the National Association Against Factory Farming was formed specifically to focus this opposition.

Our society acts in a positive, but responsible way to oppose cruel farming methods and we believe we have the moral support of the majority of people. However, moral support alone is not enough to right the degradation of animal (and human) life which occurs in factory farms. I will be pleased to supply readers with further information about the aims of the society and how they can help.

A heaven for animals? Definitely so. The NSAFF is also deeply concerned with their hell on earth.

Lucy Newman
(9/5/80)

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Much newsprint, and consequently useful forest would not be wasted if correspondents would not rush into battle fortified by supporting false or unjustified assumptions.

In the matter of cruelty to animals (other than man) it is the case that animals have no rights, but men (collective term applied to humans, men, women and as Rabelais would put it, even the little children) have duties in respect of animals because, practically speaking, men degrade themselves if they treat animals unworthily; nor should one forget that the argument can apply to those who misuse the vegetable kingdom and the inanimate creation.

Brian Coffey
(9/5/80)

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So, Miranda Scrope thinks vegetarians are daft does she? Well I am a vegetarian, and I think her letter was daft.

I have no objection in principal to people eating meat or to the humane killing of animals. What I and many other thinking people object to is the dreadful cruelty involved.

The factory farming, the transporting of live animals over long distances in appalling conditions, the battery hens etc. No-one is going to convince me that God, who cares even about sparrows (Matthew 10.29) approves of this cruelty.

Ann Sims
(9/5/80)

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