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At the Heart of Christianity

Vegetarianism is at the Heart of Christianity. 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.

One of the greatest theologians in the early Christian church, Tertullian, or Quintus Septimius Florens Tertullianus, was born in Carthage about AD 155-160. Cyprian, the Bishop of Carthage, called him the "Master."

Tertullian was one of four early church fathers who wrote extensively on the subject of vegetarianism. According to Tertullian, flesh-eating is not conducive to the highest life, it violates moral law, and it debases man in intellect and emotion.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

According to Tertullian, the entire creation prays to God:

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

In his commentary on the Book of Daniel, Hippolytus (AD 200) depicted the Biblical hero and his three companions as pious ascetics. Referring to the passage in Scripture which states that these four men did not wish to defile themselves with the king’s meat, Hippolytus equated the purity of their vegetarian diet with the purity of their thoughts:

"These, though captives in a strange land, were not seduced by delicate meats, nor were they slaves to the pleasures of wine, nor were they caught by the bait of princely glory. But they kept their mouth holy and pure, that pure speech might proceed from pure mouths, and praise with such (mouths) the Heavenly Father."

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

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

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

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

Clement acknowledged the moral and spiritual advantages of the vegetarian way of life:

"If any righteous man does not burden his soul by the eating of flesh, he has the advantage of a rational motive... The very ancient altar of Delos was celebrated for its purity, to which alone, as being undefiled by slaughter and death, they say that Pythagoras would permit approach.

"And they will not believe us when we say that the righteous soul is the truly sacred altar? But I believe that sacrifices were invented by men to be a pretext for eating flesh."

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"As to the argument that in God’s second blessing (Genesis 9:3) permission was given to eat flesh—a permission not given in the first blessing (Genesis 1:29)—let him know that just as permission to put away a wife (divorce) 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.

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 Episcopal 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."

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

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

(The Ark is a bulletin published by the Catholic Study Circle for Animal Welfare.)

Aegidius (c. 700) was a vegetarian who lived on herbs, water and the milk of a deer God sent to him. Boniface (672-754) wrote to Pope Zacharias that he had begun a monastery which followed the rules of strict abstinence, whose monks do not eat meat nor enjoy wine or other intoxicating drinks. St. Andrew lived on herbs, olives, oil and bread. He lived to be 105.

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

Vegetarian writer Steven Rosen (Satyaraja dasa) explains:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

St. 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!"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Another cardinal, Henry Edward Manning (1808-92), spoke out against cruelty to animals, especially experimentation upon animals. In a letter dated July 13, 1891, he wrote: "We owe ourselves the duty not to be brutal or cruel; and we owe to God the duty of treating all His creatures according to His own perfections of love and mercy."

Bishop Westcott wrote, "Animals are in our power in a peculiar sense; they are committed by God to our sovereignty and we owe them a considerate regard for their rights. No animal life can be treated as a THING. Willful disrespect of the sanctities of physical life in one sphere bears its fruit in other and higher spheres."

Cardinal Francis Bourne (1861-1934) told children in Westminster Cathedral in April 1931: "There is even in kindness to animals a special merit in remembering that this kindness is obligatory upon us because God made the animals, and is therefore their creator, and, in a measure, His Fatherhood extends to them."

Cardinal Arthur Hinsley (1865-1943), the former archbishop of Westminster, wrote that "the spirit of St. Francis is the Catholic spirit." According to Cardinal Hinsley, "Cruelty to animals is the degrading attitude of paganism."

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

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

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

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

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

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

In 1969, Reverend Kevin Daley, as chairman of the CSCAW in London, wrote that "the work of animal welfare" is an "essential part of the work of a Christian."

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

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

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

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

Vladimir Lossky wrote about "Cosmic Awareness" and the teachings of St. Maximus in a 1973 religious text: The Mystical Theology of the Eastern Church. According to Lossky, the limitations of the creation are part of its intrinsic nature:

"they are problems to be resolved, obstacles to be surmounted on the way towards union with God. Man is not a being isolated from the rest of creation; by his very nature, he is bound up with the whole of the universe, and St. Paul bears witness that the whole creation await the future glory which will be revealed in the sons of God (Rom. viii, 18-22). This cosmic awareness has never been absent from Eastern spirituality, and is given expression in theology as well as in liturgical poetry, in iconography and, perhaps above all, in the ascetical writings of the masters of the spiritual life of the Eastern Church...

"In his way to union with God, man in no way leaves creatures aside, but gathers together in his love the whole cosmos disordered by sin, that it may at last be transfigured by grace."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Brother Aelred (Chaitanya dasa), a Catholic monk and Krishna disciple living in Australia during the 1990s, discusses the moral issue of killing animals for food in his book Encounter: Christ and Krishna. He points out that Jesus Christ greatly expanded the interpretation of the commandment "Thou shalt not kill" to include not getting angry without cause.

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

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

Brother Aelred ends with the following:

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

Any Christians looking for the spiritual dimension to vegetarianism and animal rights, should read Every Creature a Word of God by Annika Spalde and Pelle Strindlund. (Vegetarian Advocates Press, Cleveland, OH, 2008)

"This book is beautifully written and carefully argued. It would be the perfect book for a Bible study or church study group," writes Stephen Webb, professor of Religion and Philosophy at Wabash College, and author of Good Eating and On God and Dogs: A Christian Theology of Compassion for Animals.

The authors, Annika Spalde and Pelle Strindlund, are married antinuclear and animal activists involved in the Lutheran Church in Sweden. They write:

"This is a book about being Christian in a world shared with other beings. We do not live here alone. We have brothers and sisters. 'The animals,' wrote the American monk Thomas Merton (1915-68), 'are the children of God.' What does a spirituality that affirms God's love for all creatures look like? That is the central question of this book.

"The animal rights movement is a recent development, but Christian concern for animals is not. We see it in the stories of medieval monks who helped hares and deer escape from hunters, and of desert hermits who offered water to thirsty donkeys. In these pages you will discover the rich history of animal-friendly living and theology within the Christian tradition...

"This book is a result of years of reflection on our relationship to other species... over coffee in church halls, fellow worshippers have challenged us: Haven't we been given animals for our use? Didn't Jesus eat meat? Such questions have forced us to ask if and how compassion for animals can be an embodiment of the Christian faith. The book is also an answer to the question we have received from many of our friends in the peace movement: How can you focus on animals when so many humans are suffering?"

Annika Spalde is an ordained deacon of the Church of Sweden (Lutheran) and a founding member of the Swedish Christian Vegetarian Movement. Her work for nonviolence and justice has included participation in the Trident Ploughshares campaign to abolish the British nuclear arsenal; organizing against the Swedish arms industry; serving as an Edumenical Accompanier in Israel/Palestine; working as an assistant nurse in Paraguay; and living with homeless at a Catholic Worker house in Duluth Minnesota. Pelle Strindlund holds an MA in Religious Studies and is a founding member of The Rescue Service, a Swedish animal rights organization.

And in School of Compassion, Deborah M. Jones engages with the Catholic Church's contemporary attitude towards animals. This is the fullest sustained study of the subject in that faith tradition. It begins by exploring the history of the Church's ideas about animals. These were drawn largely from significant readings of Old and New Testament passages and inherited elements of classical philosophies.

Themes emerge, such as the renewal of creation in the apocryphal legends, in the Desert Fathers, and in Celtic monasticism. The spirituality of St Francis of Assisi, the legal status of animals, and liturgies of the Eastern Catholic Churches also shed light on the Church's thinking.

The British Catholic tradition - which is relatively favorable to animals - is considered in some detail. The second part of the book provides a forensic examination of the four paragraphs in the Catechism of the Catholic Church which relate particularly to animals. Finally, major contemporary issues are raised - stewardship, anthropocentrism, and gender - as well as key ethical theories. The book revisits some teachings of Aquinas, and explores doctrinal teachings such as that of human beings created in the 'image of God', and, with a nod to the Orthodox Tradition, as the 'priests of creation'. These help form a consistent and authentically Catholic theology which can be viewed as a school of compassion towards animals.

Deborah M Jones is general secretary of the international organization Catholic Concern for Animals and a Fellow of the Oxford Centre for Animal Ethics, with a doctorate in animal theology. She has also worked as editor of the Catholic Herald, deputy editor of Priests & People, as a writer and lecturer, and diocesan adviser for adult religious education.

For Love of Animals: Christian Ethics, Consistent Action offers the reader an introduction to animal rights ethics within a Christian framework alongside directly related sanctity-of-life issues, like the rights of unborn children. The book's foreword is written by Mary Eberstadt, senior fellow with the Ethics and Public Policy Center in Washington, DC, a devout Catholic who identifies herself as "Pro-Animal, Pro-Life."

Author Charles Camosy responds to criticisms from academicians Peter Singer and Lynn White, Jr., that the Christian misinterpretation of "human dominion" (versus compassionate stewardship) is responsible for the current ecological crisis. Camosy indicates that Christianity cannot be blamed if humans with their imperfections distort their own religious teachings, that Christianity did not give rise to the industrial revolution, and that real Christianity -- as it was meant to be practiced -- is at odds with market-driven ethics and mass consumerism (a point made decades ago by liberal Protestant theologian Dr. Harvey Cox).

Camosy discusses the the moral status of animals in the Bible from Genesis to the Peaceable Kingdom in Isaiah 11:6-9, reconciling animal sacrifices and Jesus' miracles like the multiplication of loaves and fishes with the vegetarian view, and downplaying the apostle Paul's dim view of animals by contrasting Paul's words on animals with those of Jesus. Camosy discusses early Christian saints and other great figures in the Christian tradition. Camosy discusses current Christian teachings on animals, including animal-friendly statements by recent Popes. Subsequent chapters discuss factory farming, eating meat, research, hunting, and pets.

In 1992, my pro-life friends in Life Chain couldn't understand my bringing up the issue of animal rights among pro-lifers, and trying to show that the Bible and the Christian tradition support the vegetarian way of life. They compared it to the Pharisees trying to trap Jesus in his own words, whereas I, having researched the long history of animal advocacy and vegetarianism within Christianity, saw it as reasonable and mainstream as someone from a pro-life Christian denomination discussing sanctity-of-life issues with someone from a pro-choice Christian denomination.

Charles Camosy writes in his 2013 book: "About ten years ago I became convinced that, if I wanted to be authentically and consistently pro-life, I should give up eating meat."

The International Network for Religion and Animals (INRA) was founded in 1985, and since then dozens of books have been written on Christianity and animal rights. There is enough of a long history of concern for animals and vegetarianism in Christianity to provide the basis for Christians to be "Pro-Animal, Pro-Life," but Camosy merely provides an overview of animal rights and animal ethics within a Christian framework.

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