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Biblical Vegetarianism

Animal advocacy has a long history within Christianity.  Christians today should support animal rights as they support civil rights and / or protection of unborn children.  Abortion and war are the karma for killing animals.  The peace and pro-life movements will never succeed until the slaughterhouses are shut down.  By killing animals, peace and pro-life activists are only thwarting their own cause.

"The vegetarian movement," wrote Tolstoy, "ought to fill with gladness the souls of all those who have at their heart the realization of God’s Kingdom on earth."

According to the Bible, God intended the entire human race to follow a vegetarian diet (Genesis 1:29). Paradise is vegetarian. Rashi (Rabbi Solomon von Isaac, 1030-1105), the famous Jewish Bible commentator, taught that "God did not permit Adam and his wife to kill a creature and to eat its flesh. Only every green herb shall they all eat together." Ibn Ezra and other Jewish biblical commentators agree. 

The Talmud says, "Adam and many generations that followed him were strict flesh-abstainers; flesh-foods were rejected as repulsive for human consumption." Although man was made in God's image and given dominion over all creation (Genesis 1:26-28), these verses do not justify humans killing animals and devouring them, because God immediately proclaims He created the plants for human consumption. (Genesis 1:29) 

In a letter to Pope John Paul II, challenging him on the issue of animal experimentation, Dr. Michael Fox of the Humane Society argued that the word "dominion" is derived from the original Hebrew word "rahe" which refers to compassionate stewardship, instead of power and control. Parents have dominion over their children; they do not have a license to kill, torment or abuse them. The Talmud (Shabbat 119; Sanhedrin 7) interprets "dominion" to mean animals may be used for labor. 

Man was made in God's image (Genesis 1:26) and told to be vegetarian (Genesis 1:29). "And God saw all that He had made and saw that it was very good." (Genesis 1:31) Complete and perfect harmony. Everything in the beginning was the way God wanted it. Vegetarianism was part of God's initial plan for the world. 

"It appears that the first intention of the Maker was to have men live on a strictly vegetarian diet," writes Rabbi Simon Glazer, in his 1971 Guide to Judaism. "The very earliest periods of Jewish history are marked with humanitarian conduct towards the lower animal kingdom...It is clearly established that the ancient Hebrews knew, and perhaps were the first among men to know, that animals feel and suffer pain." 

After the Flood, God revised His commandment against flesh-eating. Human beings, since eating of the forbidden fruit, seemed incapable of obedience on this issue. One Jewish writer comments, "Only after man had proven unfit for the high moral standard given at the beginning, was meat made a part of the humans' diet."

It is important to note that before the Flood, when humans were vegetarian, lifespans were measured in terms of centuries.  Adam, for example, lived to be 930 years old.  Seth (Adam's son) lived to 912.  Enoch (Seth's son) to at least 905.  Kenan (Enoch's son) lived to 910, all the way up to Methuselah, who lived for 969 years. After the Flood, when flesh-eating was permitted, human lifespans were reduced to decades.  Abraham, for example, lived to be only 175.  Genesis 1:29-31 was a blessing; Genesis 9:2-4, a curse.

According to the Torah (Genesis 6:9), Noah is honored as a "tzaddik," or a righteous man. Commentators say this is because he provided charity ("tzedakah") for so many animals on the ark. The high level of awareness and concern given to the care and feeding of the animals aboard the ark reflects the traditional Jewish value of not causing harm to animals, or tsa'ar ba'alei chayim. This moral principle--officially set down as law in the Bible and elaborated upon in the Talmud (Shabbat 128b), the medieval commentaries and the Responsa literature--permeates the many legends that grew up around the leading figures in the Torah and in Jewish history.

Kindness to animals was so valued by the Jewish tradition; it was also considered an important measure of a person's piety, compassion and righteousness. From this value emerged the stories about how shepherds such as Moses and David were elevated to national leadership because of their compassion for their lambs. There are also many "maysehs," or moralistic folktales in Judaism about sages who rescued or fed stray cows and hungry chickens, watered thirsty horses and freed caged birds.

A Jewish legend says Moses was found to be righteous by God through his shepherding. While Moses was tending his sheep of Jethro in the Midian wilderness, a young kid ran away from the flock. Moses ran after it until he found the kid drinking by a pool of water. Moses approached the kid and said, "I did not know that you ran away because you were thirsty; now, you must be tired." So Moses placed the animal on his shoulders and carried him back to the flock. God said, "Because thou has shown mercy in leading the flock, thou will surely tend My flock, Israel."

In his essay, "The Dietary Prohibitions of the Hebrews," Jean Soler finds in the Bible at lest two times when an attempt was made to try the Israelites out on a vegetarian diet.  During the period of exodus from Egypt, the Hebrews lived entirely on manna.  They had large flocks which they brought with them, but never touched.

The Israelites were told that manna "is the bread which the Lord has given you to eat." (Exodus 16:5)  For forty years in the desert, the Israelites lived on manna (Nehemiah 9:15,21).  The apocryphal Wisdom of Solomon (16:20) calls manna the food of the angels. Manna is described as a vegetable food, like "coriander seed" (Numbers 11:7), tasting like wafers and honey (Exodus 16:31).

On two separate occasions, however, the men rebelled against Moses because they wanted meat.  The meat-hungry Hebrews lamented, "Would that we had died by the hand of the Lord in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the flesh-pots."  God ended this first "experiment in vegetarianism" through the miracle of the quails.

A second "experiment in vegetarianism" is suggested in the Book of Numbers, when the Hebrews lament once again, "O that we had meat to eat."  (Numbers 11:4)  God repeated the miracle of the quails, but this time with a vengeance:  "And while the flesh was between their teeth, before it was even chewed, the wrath of the Lord was kindled against the people, and He struck them down with a great plague." (Numbers 11:33)

The site where the deaths took place was named "The Graves of Lust."  (Numbers 11:34; Deuteronomy 12:20)  The quail meat was called "basar ta'avah," or "meat of lust."  The Talmud (Chulin 84a) comments that:  "The Torah teaches a lesson in moral conduct, that mean shall not eat meat unless he has a special craving for it, and shall eat it only occasionally and sparingly."  Here, according to Soler, as in the story of the Flood, "meat is given a negative connotation.  It is a concession God makes to man's imperfection."

In his excellent A Guide to the Misled, Rabbi Shmuel Golding explains the orthodox Jewish position concerning animal sacrifices:  "When G-d gave our ancestors permission to make sacrifices to Him, it was a concession, just as when He allowed us to have a king (I Samuel 8), but He gave us a whole set of rules and regulations concerning sacrifice that, when followed, would be superior to and distinct from the sacrificial system of the heathens."

Some biblical passages denounce animal sacrifice (Isaiah 1:11,15; Amos 5:21-25).  Other passages state that animal sacrifices, not necessarily incurring God's wrath, are unnecessary (I Kings 15:22; Jeremiah 7:21-22; Hosea 6:6; Hosea 8:13; Micah 6:6-8; Psalm 50:1-14; Psalm 40:6; Proverbs 21:3; Ecclesiastes 5:1).

Sometimes meat-eating Christians foolishly cite Isaiah 1:11, where God says, "I am full of the burnt offerings..."  These Christians claim the word "full" implies God accepted the sacrifices.  However, in Isaiah 43:23-24, God says:  "You have not honored Me with your sacrifices... rather you have burdened Me with your sins, you have wearied Me with your iniquities."  This suggests, as Moses Maimonides taught and Rabbi Shmuel Golding confirms above, that "the sacrifices were a concession to barbarism."

The Talmud (Baba Mezia 85a) contains the story of Rabbi Judah. A calf was being taken to be slaughtered. It broke loose, and hid its head under the rabbi's skirt. It cried out in terror. The rabbi said, "Go, for you were created for this purpose." In heaven, the response was, 

"This man has no pity, let suffering come upon him." The rabbi then began to suffer from disease for the next thirteen years. One day his maidservant was going to sweep away some young weasels. The rabbi said to let them be, quoting Psalm 145:9, "and His tender care rests upon all His creatures." The rabbi's health was then restored.

In the Talmud (Eruvin 100b), Rabbi Yochanon teaches, "Even if we had not been given the Torah, we still would have learned modesty from the cat, honesty from the ant, chastity from the dove, and good manners from the rooster. Thus, the animals should be honored."

According to the Talmud (Shabbat 77b), the entire creation is to be respected: "Thou thinkest that flies, fleas, mosquitos are superfluous, but they have their purpose in creation as a means of a final outcome...Of all that the Holy One, Blessed be He, created in His world, he did not create a single thing without purpose."

The Talmud (Avodah Zorah 18b) also forbids association with hunters. Rabbi Ezekiel Landau (1713-93) was once asked by a man if he could hunt on his large estate. The rabbi replied:

"In the Torah the sport of hunting is imputed only to fierce characters like Nimrod and Esau, never to any of the patriarchs and their descendants...I cannot comprehend how a Jew could even dream of killing animals merely for the pleasure of hunting...When the act of killing is prompted by that of sport, it is downright cruelty."

The Talmud (Gittin 62a) further teaches that one should not own a domestic or wild animal or even a bird if he cannot properly care for it. Although there is no general rule forbidding animal cruelty, so many commandments call for humane treatment, the Talmudic rabbis explicitly declared compassion for animals to be biblical law (Shabbat 128b).

According to the Talmud (Shabbat 151b), "He who has mercy on his fellow creatures obtains mercy for himself." The first century Jewish historian Josephus described mercy as the underlying principle of all Jewish laws. These laws, he says, do not ignore the animals: "Ill treatment of a brute beast is with us a capital crime."

The Tanchuma, homilies from the 5th century AD, teach:

"If men embark on a sea voyage and take cattle with them, and should a storm arise, they throw the cattle overboard, because people do not love animals as they love human beings.

"Not so is the Lord's love. Just as He is merciful to man, so is He merciful to beasts. You can see this from the story of the Flood. When men sinned, the Lord decided to destroy the Earth. He treated both man and beast alike. But when He was reconciled, He was reconciled to both man and beast alike."

During the Middle Ages Yehudah Ha-Chassid taught, "The greatest sin is ingratitude. It must not be shown even to the brute. That man deserves punishment who overloads his beast, or beats or torments it, who drags a cat by the ears, or uses spurs to his horse..."

The medieval work Sefer Chasidim, or The Book of the Pious, says, "Be kind and compassionate to all creatures that the Holy One, Blessed be He, created in this world. Never beat nor inflict pain on any animal, beast, bird or insect. Do not throw stones at a dog or a cat, nor should ye kill flies or wasps."

According to Shulhan Aruch, the Orthodox Code of Jewish Law, no special blessings are given for meat dishes. "It is not fitting to bless God over something which He created and which man has slain." It is also forbidden to celebrate the acquisition of a leather garment. 

Similarly, it is a custom never to wear leather shoes on Yom Kippur. "One does not ask for forgiveness of sins while wearing articles made from the skins of slaughtered animals." Shulhan Aruch teaches: "It is forbidden, according to the Torah, to hurt any living creature. 

It is, on the contrary, one's duty to save any living creature, be he ownerless, or if he belongs to a non-Jew."

Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch taught, "The boy, who in crude joy, finds delight in the convulsions of an injured beetle or the anxiety of a suffering animal will also be dumb towards human pain." British historian William Lecky noted, "Tenderness towards animals is one of the most beautiful features of the Old Testament."

There is considerable evidence within the Bible suggesting God's plan is to restore His Kingdom on earth and return mankind to vegetarianism.  Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook, the Chief Rabbi of prestate Israel, wrote:  "It is inconceivable that the Creator who had planned a world of harmony and a perfect way for man to live should, many thousands of years later, find that this plan was wrong."

Rabbi Kook believed the concession to eat meat (Genesis 9:3) was never intended to be a permanent condition.  In his essay, "A Vision of Peace and Vegetarianism," he asked:  "...how can it be that such a noble and enlightened moral position (Genesis 1:29) should pass away after it once has been brought into existence?"

Rabbi Kook cited the messianic prophecies (Isaiah 11:6-9), in which the world is again restored to a vegetarian paradise.  The Bible thus begins and ends in a Kingdom where slaughter is unknown, and identifies the one anointed by God to bring about this Kingdom as "Mashiach," or the Messiah.  Humanity's very beginning in Paradise and destiny in the age of the Messiah are vividly depicted as vegetarian.  "In that future state," taught Rabbi Kook, "people's lives will no longer be supported at the expense of the animals."  Isaiah (65:25) repeats his prophecy again.  This is God's plan.

Rabbi Kook taught that because humans had an insatiable desire to kill animals and eat their flesh, they could not yet be returned to a moral standard which calls for vegetarianism.  Kook regarded Deuteronomy 12:15,20 ("Thou mayest slaughter and eat...after all the desire of thy soul,") as poetically misleading.  He translated this Torah verse as:  "because you lust after eating meat...then you may slaughter and eat."

In his book Judaism and Vegetarianism, Dr. Richard H. Schwartz notes that God's blessings to man throughout the Bible are almost entirely vegetarian:  products of the soil, seeds, sun and rain.  (e.g., Deuteronomy 8:7-9; Isaiah 30:20,23; Nehemiah 9:25)

Rabbi Zalman Schachter makes no apologies for past injustices inflicted upon animals in the name of religion. Much of the Bible was spoken to primitive tribes, wandering through the desert. "Our forefathers were a pastoral people," he writes. "Raising animals for food was their way of life. Not only did they eat meat, they drank water and wine from leather flasks, they lived in tents and wore clothes made from skins and sewed together with bones and sinews. They read from a Torah written on parchment, used a ram’s horn as a shofar, and said their morning prayers with leather tefellin." 

He adds, "Are we ashamed to recall that Abraham had two wives because in today’s Western world he would be called a bigamist? Vegetarianism is a response to today’s world...Meat-eating, like polygamy, fit into an earlier stage of human history."

In Kashruth and Civil Kosher Law Enforcement, Sol Friedman explains the meaning behind ritual slaughter:  "In Judaism, the act of animal slaying is not viewed as a step in the business of meat-preparation.  It is a deed charged with religious import.  It is felt that the flame of animal life partakes of the sacred, and may be extinguished only by the sanction of religion, and only at the hands of one of its sensitive and reverential servants."

The inconsistency in Judaism’s sanctioning the slaughter of animals while worshiping a God who has mercy on all His creatures is dealt with in Rabbi Jacob Cohen’s The Royal Table, an outline of the Jewish dietary laws. His book begins: "In the perfect world originally designed by God, man was meant to be a vegetarian." The same page also quotes from Sifre: "Insomuch as all animals possess a certain degree of intelligence and consciousness, it is a waste of this divine gift, and an irreparable damage to destroy them."

During the 1970s, Rabbi Everett Gendler and his wife studied Talmudic attitudes towards animals, and came to "the conclusion that vegetarianism was the logical next step after kashrut—the proper extension of the laws against cruelty to animals." After becoming a vegetarian, a rabbinical student in the Midwest said, "Now I feel I have achieved the ultimate state of kashrut."

In their book, The Nine Questions People Ask About Judaism, Dennis Prager and Rabbi Telushkin explain: "Keeping kosher is Judaism’s compromise with its ideal vegetarianism. Ideally, according to Judaism, man would confine his eating to fruits and vegetables and not kill animals for food."

Along with the concession to eat meat, many laws and restrictions were given. Rabbi Kook taught that the reprimand implied by these regulations is an elaborate apparatus designed to keep alive a sense of reverence for life, with the aim of eventually leading people away from their meat-eating habit. This idea is echoed by Jewish Bible commentator Solomon Efraim Lunchitz, author of K’lee Yakar:

"What was the necessity for the entire procedure of ritual slaughter? For the sake of self-discipline. It is far more appropriate for man not to eat meat; only if he has a strong desire for meat does the Torah permit it, and even this only after the trouble and inconvenience necessary to satisfy his desire. Perhaps because of the bother and annoyance of the whole procedure, he will be restrained from such a strong and uncontrollable desire for meat."

A similar statement was made by a modern rabbi, Pinchas Peli:

"Accordingly, the laws of kashrut come to teach us that a Jew’s first preference should be a vegetarian meal. If however, one cannot control a craving for meat, it should be kosher meat which would serve as a reminder that the animal being eaten is a creature of God, that the death of such a creature cannot be taken lightly, that hunting for sport is forbidden, that we cannot treat any living thing callously, and that we are responsible for what happens to other beings (human or animal) even if we did not personally come into contact with them."

In the face of cultural assimilation, Rabbi Robert Gordis does not believe the dietary laws will be maintained by Jews today in their present form. He suggests that vegetarianism, a logical conclusion of Jewish teaching, would effectively protect the kosher tradition: "Vegetarianism offers an ideal mode for preserving the religious and ethical values which kashrut was designed to concretize in human life."

In his 1987 book, Food For the Spirit: Vegetarianism and the World Religions, writer Steven Rosen makes a well-reasoned case for Jewish vegetarianism, concluding:

"...even if one considers the process of koshering to be legitimate, it is an obvious burden placed upon the Jewish people, perhaps in the hope that they will give up flesh-foods altogether. If eating meat is such a detailed, long, and drawn-out process, why not give it up entirely?"

Stanley Rubens of the Jewish Vegetarian Society says: "I believe man’s downfall is paralleled by his cruelty to animals. In creating slaughterhouses for them, he has created slaughterhouses for himself...What is the future for mankind? When the Day of Judgment comes, we will be given that same justice that we gave the less fortunate fellow creatures who have been in our power." According to Rubens, "it is essential for an orthodox Jew to be vegetarian."

The late Rabbi Isaac ha-Levi Herzog once predicted that "Jews will move increasingly to vegetarianism out of their own deepening knowledge of what their tradition commands...Man’s carnivorous nature is not taken for granted or praised in the fundamental teachings of Judaism...A whole galaxy of central rabbinic and spiritual leaders...has been affirming vegetarianism as the ultimate meaning of Jewish moral teaching."

“In the killing of animals, there is cruelty.”
--Rabbi Joseph Albo, Sefer Ha-Ikarim, Vol. III, Ch. 15 

“To make animals suffer is forbidden by the Torah.”
---Rabbi Shear Yashuv Cohen, Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi of Haifa, Israel 

“The dietary laws are intended to teach us compassion and lead us gently [back] to vegetarianism.” 
---Rabbi Shlomo Raskin 

"Aside from the cruelty, rage and fury in killing animals, and the fact that it teaches human beings the negative trait of shedding blood for naught; eating the flesh even of select animals will yet give rise to a mean and insensitive soul.” 
---Rabbi Joseph Albo, c. 1380-1444 

“A higher form of being kosher is vegetarianism.”
---Rabbi Daniel Jezer 

“What may have once made sense, now can no longer be justified...Let us realize today, in the vast majority of cases, 'kosher meat' is an oxymoron.” 
---Rabbi Fred Scherlinder Dobb 

“If you do not eat meat, you are certainly kosher… And I believe that is what we should tell our fellow rabbis.”
---Rabbi Shear Yashuv Cohen, Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi of Haifa, Israel 

“The Nazis explicitly structured their industrial destruction of the Jews on the model of animal slaughter. This is not to compare the suffering of animals and humans, but shows that the way we treat animals is similar to the way the Nazis treated us.” 
---Rabbi Hillel Norry 

“It is not necessary for any human benefit to consume the flesh of animals. In fact it is harmful to human health, destructive of the environment, and wasteful of valuable resources that could be better used to feed the hungry and provide for the needy. All of these are Torah values.”
----Rabbi Hillel Norry 

“Even the Torah itself recognizes that eating meat is not an ideal thing for the human being. It's not the ideal diet for the human race.”
---Rabbi Simchah Roth 

“There is simply no spiritual defense in either the Western or Eastern religious traditions for eating meat.”
---Rabbi Marc Gellman, The First Hamburger 

“I relate vegetarianism to Judaism in several ways…the torture of animals and the suffering that they go through, to be raised on these large factory farms and then eaten is really forbidden by Judaism.” 
---Adam Stein, rabbinical student

 Roberta Kalechofsky of Jews for Animal Rights similarly says:

"Merely by ceasing to eat meat

 Merely by practicing restraint

 We have the power to end a painful industry

 

"We do not have to bear arms to end this evil

 We do not have to contribute money

 We do not have to sit in jail or go to

 meetings or demonstrations or

 engage in acts of civil disobedience

 

"Most often, the act of repairing the world,

 of healing mortal wounds,

 is left to heroes and tzaddikim (holy people)

 Saints and people of unusual discipline

"But here is an action every mortal can perform-

surely it is not too difficult!"

In the July/August 1997 issue of Humane Religion, in an article entitled "Jews, Christians and Hunting", the late Reverend Janet Regina Hyland, writes:

"Aside from the identity of the promised Messiah, Christian interpretations of the Hebrew scriptures rely heavily on Jewish sources. The biblical heroes of Judaism are the heroes of Christendom; the enemies of the Chosen People are seen as the enemies of God by Christians as well as Jews. And the historical background, as well as the significance of specific scriptures expounded by Jewish scholars, is accepted by their Christian counterparts.

"But there is a glaring exception to this reliance on Jewish sources and commentaries. When it comes to the matter of hunting, there is a wide divergence between Jewish and Christian tradition.

"The traditional Jewish abhorrence of hunting begins with commentaries on the man called Nimrod...The rabbis castigated him for this activity, and linked it to the general degeneracy of his character...(Jewish) commentators who castigate Nimrod have little use for that other biblical hunter, Esau, who ate the animals that he killed...But this ongoing, pervasive condemnation of hunting within Jewish tradition had no parallel among Christians. In fact, Christianity had increasingly supported the cruelty which vented itself in hunting...And because the churches and their clerics coveted...support...they blessed this slaughter of the innocent.

"The Christian voices that were raised in protest against the wanton murder of animal beings were ignored. Even the repugnance towards hunting and hunters that was encoded in Catholic Canon Law, was ignored. "Esau was a hunter because he was a sinner; and in the Holy scriptures we do not find a single holy man being a hunter." (from the Corpus Juris Canonici. Rome, 1582.)

Keith Akers notes that "Compassion for animals is firmly rooted in Judaism," and concludes in his chapter on the Jewish tradition in A Vegetarian Sourcebook (1983): "Judaism does not unequivocally condemn meat eating as a sin. But a strong case can be made that Judaism does revere vegetarianism as an ethical ideal. All Jews are enjoined to have respect and compassion for animals...Jews would have absolutely no problem in becoming vegetarians, while still remaining loyal to their religion."

Jesus taught his disciples to pray for the coming of God's kingdom (Matthew 6:9-10), the kingdom of peace, in which the entire world is restored to a vegetarian paradise (Genesis 1:29; Isaiah 11:6-9).  Recalling Psalm 37:11, he blessed the meek, saying they would inherit the earth.  (Matthew 5:5)  The kingdom of God belongs to the gentle and kind (Matthew 5:7-9)  Christians are to "Be merciful, just as your Father is also merciful."  (Luke 6:36)  Those who take up the sword must perish by the sword.  (Matthew 26:52)  

Jesus repeatedly spoke of God's tender care for the nonhuman creation (Matthew 6:26-30, 10:29-31; Luke 12:6-7, 24-28).   Jesus taught that God desires "mercy and not sacrifice."  (Matthew 9:10-13, 12:6-7; Mark 2:15-17; Luke 5:29-32)  The epistle to the Hebrews 10:5-10 suggests that Jesus did not come to abolish the Law and the prophets (which Paul, and not Jesus, regarded as "so much garbage"), but only the institution of animal sacrifice, as does Jesus' cleansing the Temple of those who were buying and selling animals for sacrifice and his overturning the tables of the moneychangers in the Temple.  (Matthew 21:12-14; Mark 11:15-17; Luke 19:45-46; John 2:14-17)  

Jesus not only repeatedly upheld Mosaic Law (Matthew 5:17-19; Mark 10:17-22; Luke 16:17), he justified his healing on the Sabbath by referring to commandments calling for the humane treatment of animals.  

When teaching in one of the synagogues on the Sabbath, Jesus healed a woman who had been ill for eighteen years.  He justified his healing work on the Sabbath by referring to biblical passages calling for the humane treatment of animals as well as their rest on the Sabbath.  "So ought not this woman, being a daughter of Abraham...be loosed from this bond on the Sabbath?" Jesus asked.  (Luke 13:10-16)

On another occasion, Jesus again referred to Torah teaching on "tsa'ar ba'alei chayim" or compassion for animals to justify healing on the Sabbath.  "Which of you, having a donkey or an ox that has fallen into a pit, will not immediately pull him out on the Sabbath day?"  (Luke 14:1-5)

Jesus compared saving sinners who had gone astray from God's kingdom to rescuing lost sheep.  He recalled a Jewish legend about Moses' compassion as a shepherd for his flock.  

"For the Son of Man has come to save that which was lost.  What do you think?  Who among you, having a hundred sheep, if he loses one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness, and go after the one which is lost until he finds it?

"And when he has found it," Jesus continued, "he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing.  And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and neighbors saying to them, 'Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep which was lost!'

"I say to you, likewise there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine just persons who need no repentance...there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents."  (Matthew 18:11-13; Luke 15:3-7,10)

"The compassionate, sensitive heart for animals is inseparable from the proclamation of the Christian gospel," writes the Reverend Andrew Linzey in Love the Animals.  "We have lived so long with the gospel stories of Jesus that we frequently fail to see how his life and ministry identified with animals at almost every point.

"His birth, if tradition is to be believed, takes place in the home of sheep and oxen.  His ministry begins, according to St. Mark, in the wilderness 'with the wild beasts' (1:13). His triumphal entry into Jerusalem involves riding on a 'humble' ass (Matthew 21).  According to Jesus, it is lawful to 'do good' on the Sabbath, which includes the rescuing of an animal fallen into a pit (Matthew 12).  Even the sparrows, literally sold for a few pennies in his day, are not 'forgotten before God.'  God's providence extends to the entire created order, and the glory of Solomon and all his works cannot be compared to that of the lilies of the field (Luke 12:27).

"God so cares for His creation that even 'foxes have holes, and the birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.'  (Luke 9:58)  It is 'the merciful' who are 'blessed' in God's sight and what we do to 'the least' of all we do to him.  (Matthew 5:7, 25:45-46)  Jesus literally overturns the already questionable practice of animal sacrifice.  Those who sell pigeons have their tables overturned and are put out of the Temple (Mark 11:15-16).  It is the scribe who sees the spiritual bankruptcy of animal sacrifice and the supremacy of sacrificial love that Jesus commends as being 'not far from the Kingdom of God.'  (Mark 12:32-34)

"It is a loving heart which is required by God, and not the needless bloodletting of God's creatures," concludes Reverend Linzey.  "We can see the same prophetic and radical challenge to tradition in Jesus' remarks about the 'good shepherd' who, unlike many in his day, 'lays down his life for the sheep.'  (John 10:11)"

In Christianity and the Rights of Animals, Reverend Linzey finds two justifications for a Christian case for vegetarianism: 

"The first is that killing is a morally significant matter.  While justifiable in principle, it can only be practically justified where there is real need for human nourishment.  Christian vegetarians do not have to claim that it is always and absolutely wrong to kill in order to eat.  It could well be that there were, and are, some situations n which meat-eating was and is essential in order to survive.  Geographical considerations alone make it difficult to envisiage life in Palestine at the time of Christ without some primitive fishing industry.  But the crucial point is that where we are free to do otherwise the killing of Spirit-filled individuals requires moral justification.  It may be justifiable, but only when human nourishment clearly requires it, and even then it remains an inevitable consequence of sin.

"The second point," Linzey explains, "is that misappropriation occurs when humans do not recognize that the life of an animal belongs to God, not to them.  Here it seems to me that Christian vegetarianism is well-founded.  For while it may have been possible in the past to rear animals with personal care and consideration for their well-being and to dispatch them with the humble and scrupulous recognition that their life should only be taken in times of necessity, such conditions are abnormal today."

Jesus insisted upon the moral standards given by God in the beginning (Matthew 5:31-32, 19:3-9; Mark 10:2-12; Luke 16:18), and this did not go  unnoticed by early church fathers such as St. Basil and St. Jerome.

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. 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." 

From history, too, we learn that the earliest Christians were vegetarians as well as pacifists.  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.  

A stumbling block for some Christians is the apostle Paul's having referred to his vegetarian brethren as "weak."   Paul taught that it is best to abstain from meat or from food offered to idols so as not to offend the "weaker" brethren.  Paul repeatedly attacked idolatry.  (Romans 1:23; I Corinthians 6:9-10; II Corinthians 6:16; Galatians 5:19-21)  He recognized the immorality of accepting food offered to idols and pagan gods:  "that which they sacrifice they are offering to demons and not to God, and I do not want you to have fellowship with demons."  (I Corinthians 10:20)  Yet Paul then proceeded to give his followers permission to eat food offered to pagan idols!  "You may eat anything sold in the meat market without raising questions of conscience:  for the earth is the Lord's and everything in it."  (I Corinthians 10:14-33)  

Paul told his followers they need only abstain from such foods if it offends their "weaker" brethren.  "For if someone sees you...sitting at the table in an idol temple, will not his conscience weak as it is, encourage him to eat food offered to idols?...If my eating causes my brother to stumble, I shall eat no meat forever, so that my brother will not be made to fall into sin."  (I Corinthians 8:1-13)

Not only does this contradict the Apostles' decree concerning gentile converts to Christianity (Acts 15), it contradicts the teachings of Jesus himself.  In Revelations 2:14-16,20, the resurrected Jesus specifically instructs John to write to two churches that they not eat food offered to idols.

Since Paul refers to Christians who abstain not just from meat, but from food offered to pagan idols as "weak," would his definition of "weak" not have included the resurrected Jesus (Revelations 2:14-16,20)  as well?  Paul's use of the word "weak" has been debated.  According to Christian theologian Dr. Upton Clary Ewing, Paul used the word "weak" with a positive connotation.  According to Paul, "God has chosen the weak things in the world to shame the strong." (I Corinthians 1:27)  

Describing his tribulations for the cause of Christ, being caught up in the heavenly sphres, and a revelation from Jesus, Paul wrote:

"If I must boast, I shall boast of matters that show my weakness...I will boast, but not about myself--unless it be about my weakness...the Lord...he told me, 'my strength comes to perfection where there is weakness.'  Therefore," Paul concluded, "I am happy to boast in my weaknesses...I delight, then, in weaknesses...for when I am weak, then I am strong."  (II Corinthians 11:30, 12:1-10)

Paul wrote further that Jesus "was crucified out of weakness, yet he lives through divine power, and we, too, are weak in him, but we shall live with him for your benefit through the power of God...We are happy to be weak when you are strong."  (II Corinthians 13:4,9)

Taken in this context, the word "weak" suggests complete dependence upon God.

Admittedly, even if Paul did use the word "weak" with a positive connotation, it would not necessarily mean that it's wrong to eat meat (Genesis 9:3), but just that it's better to be a vegetarian (Genesis 1:29; Isaiah 11:6-9)  

The Reverend J. Todd Ferrier, founder of the Order of the Cross, an informal mystical Christian order, believing in reincarnation and abstaining from meat and wine, wrote in 1903: 

"But Paul, great and noble man as he was, never was one of the recognized heads at Jerusalem. He had been a Pharisee of the Pharisees...He strove to be all things to all men that he might gain some. And we admire him for his strenuous endeavors to win the world for Christ. But no one could be all things to all men without running the great risks of most disastrous results...

"But here as a further thought in connection with the teaching of the great Apostle an important question is forced upon our attention, which one of these days must receive the due consideration from biblical scholars that it deserves. It is this:

"How is it that the gospel of Paul is more to many people than the gospel of those privileged souls who sat at the feet of Jesus and heard His secrets in the Upper Room?" 

Christian theologian Dr. Upton Clary Ewing writes:

“With all due respect for the integrity of Paul, he was not one of the Twelve Apostles… Paul never knew Jesus in life.  He never walked and prayed with Him as He went from place to place, teaching the word of God.”

The great theologian Soren Kirkegaard, writing in the Journals, echoes the above sentiment:

“In the teachings of Christ, religion is completely present tense:  Jesus is the prototype and our task is to imitate him, become a disciple.  But then through Paul came a basic alteration.  Paul draws attention away from imitating Christ and fixes attention on the death of Christ, The Atoner.  What Martin Luther, in his reformation, failed to realize is that even before Catholicism, Christianity had become degenerate at the hands of Paul.  Paul made Christianity the religion of Paul, not of Christ.  Paul threw the Christianity of Christ away, completely, turning it upside down, making it just the opposite of the original proclamation of Christ.”

The eminent theologian Ferdinand Christian Baur, in his Church History of the First Three Centuries, wrote:

“What kind of authority can there be for an ‘apostle’ who, unlike the other apostles, had never been prepared for the apostolic office in Jesus’ own school but had only later dared to claim the apostolic office on the basis on his own authority?  The only question comes to be how the apostle Paul appears in his Epistles to be so indifferent to the historical facts of the life of Jesus…He bears himself but little like a disciple who has received the doctrines and the principles which he preaches from the Master whose name he bears.”

Dr. Albert Schweitzer, winner of the 1952 Nobel Peace Prize, wrote in his Quest for the Historical Jesus and his Mysticism of Paul:

“Paul…did not desire to know Christ…Paul shows us with what complete indifference the earthly life of Jesus was regarded…What is the significance for our faith and for our religious life, the fact that the Gospel of Paul is different from the Gospel of Jesus?…The attitude which Paul himself takes up towards the Gospel of Jesus is that he does not repeat it in the words of Jesus, and does not appeal to its authority…The fateful thing is that the Greek, the Catholic, and the Protestant theologies all contain the Gospel of Paul in a form which does not continue the Gospel of Jesus, but displaces it.”

William Wrede, in his excellent book Paul, informs us:

“The obvious contradictions in the three accounts (given by Paul in regard to his conversion) are enough to arouse distrust…The moral majesty of Jesus, his purity and piety, his ministry among his people, his manner as a prophet, the whole concrete ethical-religious content of his earthly life, signifies for Paul’s Christology nothing whatever…The name ‘disciple of Jesus’ has little applicability to Paul…Jesus or Paul:  this alternative characterizes, at least in part, the religious and theological warfare of the present day.”

Rudolf Bultman, one of the most respected theologians of the 20th century, wrote in his Significance of the Historical Jesus for the Theology of Paul:

“It is most obvious that Paul does not appeal to the words of the Lord in support of his… views.  When the essential Pauline conceptions are considered, it is clear that Paul is not dependent on Jesus.  Jesus’ teaching is—to all intents and purposes—irrelevant for Paul.”

Paul quotes Jesus as having said to him three times, "My grace is sufficient for thee." (II Corinthians 12:8-9) Christians sometimes misinterpret this verse to mean they're free to do as they please—ignoring the rest of the New Testament, and (especially) Jesus' and Paul's other teachings.

The apostle Paul taught his followers to bless their persecutors and not curse them (Romans 12:14), to care for their enemies by providing them with food and drink (12:20), and to pay their taxes and obey all earthly governments (13:1-7). He mentioned giving all his belongings to feed the hungry (I Corinthians 13:3), and taught giving to the person in need (Ephesians 4:23). He told his followers it was wrong to take their conflicts before non-Christian courts rather than before the saints. (I Corinthians 6:1)

Paul taught that "it is good for a man not to touch a woman," i.e. , it is best to be celibate, but because of prevailing immoralities, marriage is acceptable. Divorce, however, is not permissible, except in the case of an unbeliever demanding separation. (I Corinthians 7) 

Paul repeatedly attacked sexual immorality."This is God's will—your sanctification, that you keep yourselves from sexual immorality, that each of you learn how to take his own wife in purity and honor, not in lustful passion like the gentiles who have no knowledge of God." (I Thessalonians 4:3-5) 

Paul told his followers not to associate with sexually immoral people (I Corinthians 5:9-12, 6:15,18). He condemned homosexuality (Romans 1:24-27) and incest (I Corinthians 5:1).

"Make no mistake," warned Paul, "no fornicator or idolater, none who are guilty either of adultery or of homosexual perversion, no thieves or grabbers or drunkards or slanderers or swindlers, will possess the kingdom of God." (I Corinthians 6:9-10 [NEB])

Paul condemned wickedness, immorality, depravity, greed, murder, quarreling, deceit, malignity, gossip, slander, insolence, pride (Romans 1:29-30), drunkenness, carousing, debauchery, jealousy (Romans 13:13), sensuality, magic arts, animosities, bad temper, selfishness, dissensions, envy (Galatians 5:19-21; greediness (Ephesians 4:19; Colossians 3:5), foul speech, anger, clamor, abusive language, malice (Ephesians 4:29-32), dishonesty (Colossians 3:13), materialism (I Timothy 6:6-11), conceit, avarice, boasting and treachery. (II Timothy 3:2-4)

Paul told the gentiles to train themselves for godliness, to practice self-control and lead upright, godly lives (Galatians 5:23; I Timothy 4:7; II Timothy 1:7; Titus 2:11-12). He instructed them to ALWAYS pray constantly. (I Thessalonians 5:17)

Paul praised love, joy, peace, kindness, generosity, fidelity and gentleness (Galatians 5:22-23). He told his followers to conduct themselves with humility and gentleness (Ephesians 4:2), to speak to one another in psalms and hymns; to sing heartily and make music to the Lord. (Ephesians 5:19; Colossians 3:16)

Paul wrote further that women should cover their heads while worshiping, and that long hair on males is dishonorable. (I Corinthians 11:5-14) According to Paul, Christian women are to dress modestly and prudently, and are not to be adorned with braided hair, gold or pearls or expensive clothes. (I Timothy 2:9)

Christians often ignore the New Testament as a whole, and focus only on one of Paul's statements to justify their hedonism. The late Reverend Janet Regina Hyland, an evangelical minister, a vegan, and author of God's Covenant with Animals (it's available through PETA), said they're quoting Paul out of context. Paul, she observed, was very strict with himself:

"But I keep under my body, and bring it into subjection; lest that by any means, when I have preached to others, I myself should be a castaway." (I Corinthians 9:27)

Regina Hyland said further that this verse indicates it's possible for one to lose one's salvation (a point of contention among born agains!).

Christians who focus only on II Corinthians 12:8-9 MUST be quoting Paul out of context, because otherwise it doesn't make any sense: on the one hand, Paul is warning that drunkards, thieves, homosexuals, etc. will not inherit the kingdom of God, and on the other hand he's saying if you call on Jesus three times. . .you can do whatever you want?! 

The traditional interpretation of II Corinthians 12:8-9 is that Paul had a "thorn" in his side, and asked the Lord what to do about it. The response was simple: "My grace is sufficient for thee." This was a response to a specific problem, not a license to do as one pleases, or why else would Paul himself have given so many other moral instructions?

Reverend Frank Hoffman, a retired vegan Methodist minister, and owner of the www.all-creatures.org Christian vegetarian website says he agrees with the traditional interpretation.  

It's possible historically that Christianity, like Buddhism, began as a pacifist and vegetarian religion, but was corrupted over the centuries, beginning, perhaps, with the apostle Paul.  Secular scholar Keith Akers writes in his as of yet unpublished manuscript, Broken Thread, The Fate of the Jewish Followers of Jesus in Early Christianity:

"The 'orthodox' response to vegetarianism has been somewhat contradictory...The objection to meat consumption has been taken as evidence of heresy when Christians have been faced with outsiders; however, vegetarianism met with a kinder reception among the monastic communities...Vegetarianism does attain a certain status even in orthodox circles.

"Indeed, a list of known vegetarians among the church leaders reads very much like a Who's Who in the early church.  Peter is described as a vegetarian in the Recognitions and Homilies.  Hegesippus, quoted by Eusebius, said that James (the brother of Jesus) was a vegetarian and was raised as a vegetarian.  Clement of Alexandria thought that Matthew was a vegetarian...

"According to Eusebius, the apostles--all the apostles, and not just James--abstained from both meat and wine, thus making them vegetarians and teetotalers, just like James.  Clement of Alexandria, Origen, Basil, Gregory of Nanziance, John Chrysostom, and Tertullian were all probably vegetarians, based on their writings...they themselves are evidently vegetarian and can be counted on to say a few kind words about vegetarianism.  On the other hand, there are practically no references to any Christians eating fish or meat before the council of Nicaea. 

"The rule of Benedict forbade eating any four-legged animals, unless one was sick.  Columbanus allowed vegetables, lentil porridge, flour, and bread only, at all times, even for the sick.  A fifth-century Irish rule forbids meat, fish, cheese, and butter at all times, though the sick, elderly, travel-weary, or even monks on holidays may eat cheese or butter, but no one may ever eat meat.

"The Carthusians were especially strict about vegetarianism.  The origin of their order is related by the story of St. Bruno and his companions, who on the Sunday before Lent are sitting before some meat and are debating whether they should eat meat at all.  

"During the debate, numerous examples of vegetarians among their monastic predecessors are mentioned--the Desert Fathers, Paul (the Hermit), Antony, Hilarion, Macharius, and Arsenius, are all cited as vegetarian examples.  After much discussion, they fall asleep--and remain asleep for 45 days, waking up when Archbishop Hugh shows up on Wednesday of Holy Week!  When they wake up, the meat miraculously turns to ashes, and they fall on their knees and determine never to eat meat again.

"It is true that the church rejected the requirement for vegetarianism, following the dicta of Paul.  However, it is interesting under these circumstances that there are so many vegetarians.  In fact, outside of the references to Jesus eating fish in the New Testament, there are hardly any references to any early Christians eating meat.

Thus vegetarianism was practiced by the apostles, by James the brother of Jesus, Clement of Alexandria, Origen, Basil, Gregory of Nanziance, John Chrysostom, Tertullian, Bonaventure, Arnobius, Cassian, Jerome, the Desert Fathers, Paul (the Hermit), Antony, Hilarion, Machrius, Columbanus, and Aresenius--but not by Jesus himself!

"It is as if everyone in the early church understood the message except the messenger.  This is extremely implausible.  The much more likely explanation is that the original tradition was vegetarian, but that under the pressure of expediency  and the popularity of Paul's writings in the second century, the tradition was first dropped as a requirement and finally dropped even as a desideratum."

In her 2004 book, Vegetarian Christian Saints:  Mystics, Ascetics & Monks, Jewish scholar Dr. Holly Roberts (she has a Master's degree in Christian theology) documents the lives and teachings of over 150 canonized vegetarian saints:

St. Anthony of Egypt; St. Hilarion; St. Macarius the Elder; St. Palaemon; St. Pachomius; St. Paul the Hermit; St. Marcian; St. Macarius the Younger; St. Aphraates; St. James of Nisibis; St. Ammon; St. Julian Sabas; St. Apollo; St. John of Egypt; St. Porphyry of Gaza; St. Dorotheus the Theban; St. Theodosius the Cenobiarch; St. Sabas; St. Fugentius of Ruspe; St. Gerasimus; St. Mary of Egypt; St. Dositheus; St. Abraham Kidunaja; St. John the Silent; St. Theodore of Sykeon; St. Lups of Troyes; St. Lupicinus; St. Romanus; St. Gudelinis; St. Liphardus; St. Maurus of Glanfeuil; St. Urbicius; St. Senoch; St. Hospitius; St. Winwaloe; St. Kertigan; St. Fintan; St. Molua; St. Amatus; St. Guthlac; St. Joannicus; St. Theodore the Studite; St. Lioba; St. Euthymius the Younger; St. Luke the Younger; St. Paul of Latros; St. Antony of the Caves of Kiev; St. Theodosius Pechersky; St. Fantinus; St. Wulfstan; St. Gregory of Makar; St. Elphege; St. Theobald of Provins; St. Stephen of Grandmont; St. Henry of Coquet; St. William of Malavalle; St. Godric; St. Stephen of Obazine; St. William of Bourges; St. Humility of Florence; St. Simon Stock; St. Agnes of Montepulciano; St. Laurence Justinian; St. Herculanus of Piegaro; St. Francis of Assisi; St. Clare of Assisi; St. Aventine of Troyes; st. Felix of Cantalice; St. Joseph of Cupertino; St. Benedict; St. Bruno; St. Alberic; St. Robert of Molesme; St. Stephen Harding; St. Gilbert of Sempringham; St. Dominic; St. John of Matha; St. Albert of Jerusalem; St. Angela Merici; St. Paula; St. Genevieve; St. David; St. Leonard of Noblac; St. Kevin; St. Anskar; St. Ulrich; St. Yvo; St. Laurence O'Toole; St. Hedwig; St. Mary of Onigines; St. Elizabeth of Hungary; St. Ivo Helory; St. Philip Benizi; St. Albert of Trapani; St. Nicholas of Tolentino; St. Rita of Cascia; St. Francis of Paola; St. John Capistrano; St. John of Kanti; St. Peter of Alcantara; St. Francis Xavier; St. Philip Neri; St. Mary Magdalen of Pazzi; St. Jean-Marie Vianney; St. Basil the Great; St. Jerome; St. Ephraem; St. Peter Damian; St. Bernard; St. Catherine of Siena; St. Robert Bellarmine; St. Peter Celestine; St. Olympias; St. Publius; St. Malchus; St. Asella; St. Sulpicius Severus; St. Maxentius; St. Monegundis; St. Paul Aurelian; St. Coleman of Kilmacduagh; St. Bavo; St. Amandus; St. Giles; St. Silvin; St. Benedict of Aniane; St. Aybert; St. Dominic Loricatus; St. Richard of Wyche; St. Margaret of Cortona; St. Clare of Rimini; St. Frances of Rome; St. James de la Marca; St. Michael of Giedroyc; St. Mariana of Quito; St. John de Britto; St. Callistratus; St. Marianus; St. Brendon of Clonfert; St. Kieran (Carian); St. Stephen of Mar Saba; St. Anselm; St. Martin de Porres; St. Procpius; St. Boniface of Tarsus; St. Serenus. 

In the (updated) 1986 edition of A Vegetarian Sourcebook, Keith Akers similarly observes:  "But many others, both orthodox and heterodox, testified to the vegetarian origins of Christianity.  Both Athanasius and his opponent Arius were strict vegetarians. Many early church fathers were vegetarian, including Clement of Alexandria, Tertullian, Heironymus, Boniface, and John Chrysostom.

"Many of the monasteries both in ancient times and at the present day practiced vegetarianism...The requirement to be vegetarian has been diluted considerably since the earliest days, but the practice of vegetarianism was continued by many saints, monks, and laymen.  Vegetarianism is at the heart of Christianity."

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 feds 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."

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 before 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 no 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. 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!"

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. Brigid 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 one us no harm; next, that the 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 and 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."

"Thanks be to God!" wrote John Wesley, founder of Methodism, to the Bishop of London in 1747. "Since the time I gave up the use of flesh-meats and wine, I have been delivered from all physical ills." Wesley was a vegetarian for spiritual reasons as well. He based his vegetarianism on the Biblical prophecies concerning the Kingdom of Peace, where "on the new earth, no creature will kill, or hurt, or give pain to any other." He further taught that animals "shall receive an ample amends for all their present sufferings."

Wesley's teachings placed an emphasis on inner religion and the effect of the Holy Spirit upon the consciousness of such followers. Wesley taught that animals will attain heaven: in the "general deliverance" from the evils of this world, animals would be given "vigor, strength and swiftness...to a far higher degree than they ever enjoyed."

Wesley urged parents to educate their children about compassion towards animals. He wrote: "I am persuaded you are not insensible of the pain given to every Christian, every humane heart, by those savage diversions, bull-baiting, cock-fighting, horse-racing, and hunting."

In 1786, Reverend Richard Dean, the curate of Middleton, published An Essay on the Future Life of Brute Creatures. He told his readers to treat animals with compassion, and not to "treat them as sticks, or stones, or things that cannot feel...Surely ...sensibility in brutes entitles them to a milder treatment than they usually meet from hard and unthinking wretches."

The Quakers have a long history of advocating kindness towards animals. In 1795, the Society of Friends (Quakers) in London passed a resolution condemning sport hunting. The resolution stated in part, "let our leisure be employed in serving our neighbor, and not in distressing, for our amusement, the creatures of God."

John Woolman (1720-72) was a Quaker preacher and abolitionist who traveled throughout the American colonies attacking slavery and cruelty to animals. Woolman wrote that he was "early convinced in my mind that true religion consisted in an inward life, wherein the heart doth love and reverence God the Creator and learn to exercise true justice and goodness, not only toward all men, but also toward the brute creatures..." 

Woolman's deep faith in God thus led to his reverence for all life. "Where the love of God is verily perfected and the true spirit of government watchfully attended to," he taught, "a tenderness toward all creatures made subject to us will be experienced, and a care felt in us that we do not lessen that sweetness of life in the animal creation which the great Creator intends for them."

Joshua Evans (1731-1798), a Quaker and a contemporary of Woolman's, stated that reverence for life was the moral basis of his vegetarianism. "I considered that life was sweet in all living creatures," he wrote, "and taking it away became a very tender point with me...I believe my dear Master has been pleased to try my faith and obedience by teaching me that I ought no longer to partake of anything that had life."

The "Quaker poet" and abolitionist John Greenleaf Whittier (1807-92), wrote: "The sooner we recognize the fact that the mercy of the Almighty extends to every creature endowed with life, the better it will be for us as men and Christians."

In his 1923 work, The Natural Diet of Man, Dr. John Harvey Kellogg observed:

"The attitude of the Bible writers toward flesh-eating is the same as toward polygamy. Polygamy as well as flesh-eating was tolerated under the social and religious systems of the old Hebrews and even during the early centuries of the Christian era; but the first man, Adam, in his pristine state in the Garden of Eden was both a monogamist and a flesh-abstainer. If the Bible supports flesh-eating, it equally supports polygamy; for all the patriarchs had plural wives as well as concubines. Christian ethics enjoin a return to the Edenic example in matters matrimonial. Physiologic science as well as human experience call for a like return to Eden in matters dietetic."

An essay on "The Rights of Animals" by Dean William Ralph Inge (1860-1954) can be found in his 1926 book, Lay Thoughts of a Dean. It reads in part:

"Our ancestors sinned in ignorance; they were taught (as I deeply regret to say one great Christian Church still teaches) that the world, with all that it contains, was made for man, and that the lower orders of creation have no claims upon us. But we no longer have the excuse of saying that we do not know; we do know that organic life on this planet is all woven of one stuff, and if we are children of our Heavenly Father, it must be true, as Christ told us, that no sparrow falls to the ground without His care. The new knowledge has revolutionized our ideas of our relations to the other living creatures who share the world with us, and it is our duty to consider seriously what this knowledge should mean for us in matters of conduct."

Some of the most distinguished figures in the history of both Catholic and Protestant Christianity have been vegetarian.  A partial list includes:  St. James, St. Matthew, Clemens Prudentius, Origen, Tertullian, Clement of Alexandria, St. Basil, St. Jerome, St. John Chrysostom, St. Benedict, Aegidius, Boniface, St. Richard of Wyche, St. Columba, St. Thomas More, St. Filipo Neri, John Wray, Thomas Tryon, John Wesley, Joshua Evans, William Metcalfe, General William Booth, Ellen White, Dr. John Harvey Kellogg, and Reverend V.A. Holmes-Gore.

Reverend Marc Wessels of the International Network for Religion and Animals (INRA) writes:  

"The most important teaching which Jesus shared was the need for people to love God with their whole self and to love their neighbor as they loved themselves.  Jesus expanded the concept of neighbor to include those who were normally excluded, and it is therefore not too farfetched for us to consider the animals as our neighbors.

"To think about animals as our brothers and sisters is not a new or radical idea.  By extending the idea of neighbor, the love of neighbor includes love of, compassion for, and advocacy of animals.  There are many historical examples of Christians who thought along those lines, besides the familiar illustration of St. Francis.  An abbreviated listing of some of those individuals worthy of study and emulation includes Saint Blaise, Saint Comgall, Saint Cuthbert, Saint Gerasimus, Saint Giles, and Saint Jerome, to name but a few."

In a sermon preached in York Minster, September 28, 1986, John Austin Baker, the Bishop of Salisbury, England, attacked the overcrowded confinement methods of raising and killing animals for food ("factory farming"), choosing as his example, the treatment of chickens:

"Is there any credit balance for the battery hen, denied almost all natural functioning, all normal environment, lapsing steadily into deformity and disease, for the whole of her existence?" he asked.  "It is in the battery shed and the broiler house, not in the wild, that we find the true parallel to Auschwitz.  Auschwitz is a purely human invention."

Rick Dunkerly of Christ Lutheran Church says:  

"The Bible-believing Christian, should, of all people, be on the frontline in the struggle for animal welfare and rights.  We who are Christians should be treating the animal creation now as it will be treated then, at Christ's second coming. It will not now be perfect, but it must be substantial, otherwise we have missed our calling, and we grieve the One we call 'Lord,' who was born in a stable surrounded by animals simply because He chose it that way."

In a 1991 article entitled “Hunting: What scripture Says,” Rick Dunkerly observes:

“There are four hunters mentioned in the Bible: three in Genesis and one in Revelation. The first hunter is named Nimrod in Genesis 10:8-9. He is the son of Cush and founder of the Babylonian Empire, the empire that opposes God throughout scripture and is destroyed in the Book of Revelation. In Micah 5:6, God’s enemies are said to dwell in the land of Nimrod. Many highly reputable evangelical scholars such as Barnhouse, Pink and Scofield regard Nimrod as a prototype of the anti-Christ.

“The second hunter is Ishmael, Abraham’s ‘son of the flesh’ by the handmaiden, Hagar. His birth is covered in Genesis 16 and his occupation in 21:20. Ishmael’s unfavorable standing in scripture is amplified by Paul in Galatians 4:22-31.

“The third hunter, Esau, is also mentioned in the New Testament. His occupation is contrasted with his brother (Jacob) in Genesis 25:27. In Hebrews 12:16 he is equated with a ‘profane person’ (KJV). He is a model of a person without faith in God. Again, Paul elucidates upon this model unfavorably in Romans 9:8-13, ending with the paraphrase of Malachi 1:2-3: ‘Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated.’

“The fourth hunter is found in Revelation 6:2, the rider of the white horse with the hunting bow. Scholars have also identified him as the so-called anti-Christ. Taken as a group, then, hunters fare poorly in the Bible. Two model God’s adversary and two model the person who lives his life without God.

“In scripture,” notes Dunkerly, “the contrast of the hunter is the shepherd, the man who gently tends his animals and knows them fully. The shepherds of the Bible are Abel, Jacob, Joseph, Moses and David. Beginning in the 23rd Psalm, Jesus is identified as ‘the Good Shepherd.’

“As for hunting itself, both the Psalms and Proverbs frequently identify it with the hunter of souls, Satan. His devices are often called ‘traps’ and ‘snares,’ his victims ‘prey.’ Thus, in examining a biblical stance on the issue of hunting, we see the context is always negative, always dark in contrast to light...premeditated killing, death, harm, destruction. All of these are ramifications of the Fall. When Christ returns, all of these things will be ended...

“Of all people,” Dunkerly concludes, “Christians should not be the destroyers. We should be the healers and reconcilers. We must show NOW how it will be THEN in the Peaceable Kingdom of Isaiah 11:6 where ‘the wolf shall lie down with the lamb...and a little child shall lead them.’

"We can begin now within our homes and churches by teaching our children respect and love for all of God’s creation...”

Rose Evans, a pro-life Episcopalian and editor and publisher of Harmony:  Voices for a Just Future, a "consistent-ethic" periodical on the religious Left, says there are more Christian vegetarians than Jewish vegetarians.  Yet some people still react to the idea of Christian vegetarianism as though it were an oxymoron.

"Compassion cannot be rationed...The acceptance of one cruelty, under whatever pretext, predisposes men to accept and excuse any and every other cruelty, given suitable pretexts. And the one case of cruelty to which most men refuse to extend their compassion, is the case of slaughter for food..."The acceptance of that cruelty is what conditions men to accept and tolerate other cruelties like vivisection, hunting and trapping...There is little hope of abolishing the manifold cruelties to animals which disgrace our society, until men give up the habit of eating flesh."
---Reverend Basil Wrighton, Roman Catholic priest, 1965

"To stand for Christ is to stand against the evil of cruelty inflicted on those who are weak, vulnerable, unprotected, undefended, morally innocent, and in that class we must unambiguously include animals. There is something profoundly Christ-like about the innocent suffering of animals. Look around you and see the faces of Christ in the millions of innocent animals suffering in factory farms, in laboratories, in abattoirs, in circuses and in animals hunted for sport."
---Reverend Andrew Linzey, Anglican priest, 1998

"A great wickedness of the Christian tradition," observes Reverend Linzey, "is that, at this very point, where it could have been a source of great blessing and life; it has turned out to be a source of cursing and death. I refer here to the way Christian theology has allowed itself to promulgate notions that animals have no rights; that they are put here for our use; that animals have no more moral status than sticks and stones.

"Animal rights in this sense is a religious problem. It is about how the Christian tradition in particular has failed to realize the God-given rights of God-given life. Animal rights remains an urgent question of theology.

"Every year," says Dr. Linzey, "I receive hundreds of anguished letters from Christians who are so distressed by the insensitivity to animals shown by mainstream churches that they have left them or on the verge of doing so. Of course, I understand why they have left the churches and in this matter, as in all else, conscience can be the only guide. But if all the Christians committed to animal rights leave the church, where will that leave the churches?

"The time is long overdue to take the issue of animal rights to the churches with renewed vigor. I don’t pretend it’s easy but I do think it’s essential—not, I add, because the churches are some of the best institutions in society but rather because they are some of the worst. The more the churches are allowed to be left to one side in the struggle for animal rights, the more they will remain forever on the other side.

"I derive hope from the Gospel preaching," Linzey concludes, "that the same God who draws us to such affinity and intimacy with suffering creatures declared that reality on a Cross in Calvary. Unless all Christian preaching has been utterly mistaken, the God who becomes incarnate and crucified is the one who has taken the side of the oppressed and the suffering of the world—however the churches may actually behave."

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© 1998-2012 Vasu Murti