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“A SOURCE OF INSPIRATION”
Krishna Consciousness and the Judeo-Christian Tradition
A Guide to Interfaith Discussion
The ethical basis for vegetarianism and animal rights is secular and nonsectarian. The religious basis for vegetarianism in the Western religions, however, has its origin both in the Bible and the Jewish tradition. To this day, the largest number of religious vegetarians outside India can be found in Israel. According to the Bible, God intended the entire human race to follow a vegetarian diet. Paradise is vegetarian.
"And God said: ‘Behold! I have given you every plant-yielding seed which is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree, in which is the fruit of a tree-yielding seed; you shall have them for food.’"
"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."
In his book Judaism and Vegetarianism, Dr. Richard H. Schwartz makes a very rational case for Jewish vegetarianism on moral, economic and physiological grounds, as well as religious grounds, and notes that God’s blessings to man throughout the Bible are almost entirely vegetarian: products of the soil, seeds, sun and rain. Philip L. Pick, founder of the International Jewish Vegetarian Society, similarly observes:
"The practice of vegetarianism is implicit in the teachings of Judaism and is evident from the oft-repeated phrases in Genesis ‘to man and all creatures wherein there is a living soul.’ This indicates a common life and a shared destiny and the principle is exemplified throughout biblical writings. Nowhere is it stated that the abundance of flesh shall be the reward for observing the Law; rather, there are promises of fruits of the vine and pomegranates, wheat, barley and oil, and peace when each man shall sit under the shade of his own fig tree, not, let it be noted, under the shadow of his own slaughterhouse."
"They shall not hurt or destroy
in all my holy mountain
For all the earth shall be
in full knowledge of the Lord
as the waters cover the sea."
The Bible thus begins and ends in a Kingdom where slaughter is unknown, and identifies the one annointed 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.
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."
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."
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 Judgement 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."
"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 lillies of the field (Luke 12:27).
"God so cares for His creation that even ‘foxes have holes, and 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)"
From history, we learn that the earliest Christians were vegetarian. 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. Pliny, who was Governor of Bithynia, where Peter had preached, wrote a letter to Trajan, the Roman Emperor, describing the early Christian practices:
"...they met on a day before it was light (before sunrise) and addressed a form of prayer to Christ as to a god, binding themselves by a solemn oath never to commit any sin or evil and never to falsify their word, nor deny a trust, after which it was their custom to meet together again to take food, but ordinary and innocent food."
The church father Irenaeus preserved a fragment of a quote by Papias, disciple of John the Evangelist:
"Papias related how the elders and John and heard the Lord teach that creation renewed and liberated shall yield an abundance of all kinds of food, seeds, grass, fruits, grains, and flour in corresponding proportion, and that all animals will use these foods and becomein turn peaceful and in harmony with another and with man."
This teaching of Jesus corresponds to the visions of peace and vegetarianism given in Isaiah (11:6-9, 65:25). Clement I, Bishop of Rome, in an epistle to the Corinthians (AD 88-97) wrote: "Perrenial springs, created for enjoyment...offer their life giving breasts to man and even the smallest of animals that they get together in peace. All things the Creator ordered to be in peace and harmony...take refuge through our Lord Jesus Christ."
The Clementine Homilies, Jewish Christian teachings written during the 2nd century, give us a picture of the life of Clement I, Bishop of Rome. Clement is portrayed as a spiritual seeker, going to various schools of thought, looking for solutions to his doubts about the origin of the world, the immortality of the soul, etc... Eventually, he hears about how Jesus appeared in Judea. He undertakes a long journey through Egypt to Palestine, where he meets the apostle Peter in Caesarea. Clement becomes a Christian and is invited by (Simon) Peter to accompany him on his missionary journeys.
The text includes debates between Peter and Simon Magus. Peter refers to Jesus as "Teacher" and "Master," teaches Clement to love his enemies and persecutors, insists upon the renunciation of worldly goods, and connects flesh-eating to idolatry. In the Clementine Homilies, we read:
"The unnatural eating of flesh-meats is as polluting as the heathen worship of devils, with its sacrifices and impure feasts, through participation in which a man becomes a fellow-eater with devils."
Genesis 6 describes the "sons of the gods" (angels) having sexual intercourse with the daughters of men, and giving rise to a race of giants. The Clementine Homilies explain that the eating of animal flesh began with this perversion:
"...from their unhallowed intercourse spurious men sprang, much greater in stature than ordinary men, whom they afterwards called giants...wild in manners, and greater than men in size, inasmuch as they were sprung of angels; yet less than angels, as they were born of men.
"Therefore God, knowing that they were barbarized to brutality, and that the world was not sufficient to satisfy them (for it was created according to the proportion of men and human use), that they might not through want of food turn, contrary to nature, to the eating of animals, and yet seem to be blameless, as having ventured upon this through necessity, the Almighty God rained manna upon them, suited to their variant tastes; and they enjoyed all that they would.
"But they, on account of their bastard nature, not being pleased with purity of food, longed only after the taste of blood. Wherefore they first tasted flesh."
The apocryphal Acts of Thomas was used by many of the early Christian sects. Dr. Edgar J. Goodspeed, in his book History of Early Christian Literature, writes that this scripture depicts the disciple of Jesus as an ascetic: "He continually fasts and prays, wears the same garment in all weather; accepts nothing from anyone; gives what he has to others, and abstains from meat and wine." Abstinence from animal flesh thus came to be regarded in gentile Christianity as abstinence from luxury and sensuality; asceticism. The apocryphal Shepherd of Hermas, written in the 1st century, (2 Hermas 12:4-6), says:
"...it is an evil desire to covet another’s wife; as also to desire the dainties of riches; and a multitude of superfluous meats and drunkenness...Whosoever therefore shall depart from all evil desires, shall live unto God; but they that are subject unto them shall die forever. For this evil lusting is deadly."
The early church father Origen (AD 185-254), a vegetarian, explained: "when we do abstain (from eating meat), we do so because ‘we keep under our body and bring it into subjection’ (I Corinthians 9:27), and desire ‘to mortify our members that are upon the earth, fornication, uncleanness, inordinate affection, evil concupiscence’ (Colossians 3:5); and we use every effort to ‘mortify the deeds of the flesh.’ (Romans 8:13)"
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 slaughter house...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, milk, cheese, 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 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
"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 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."
St. Ciaran of Ossory noted in the 5th Century that animals have intrinsic rights because of their capacity to feel pleasure and pain. Butler’s four-volume Lives of the Saints describes many saints as abstinent from childhood, never eating flesh-meats, never touching meat or wine, compassionate to all creatures, etc.
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 feeds 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.
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 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!"
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. Columban, 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."
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."
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. Bridgid 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."
Fyodor Dostoevsky (1821-1881), in his literary classic, The Brothers Karamazov, depicted Father Zossima, a brother in the faith with St. Francis, teaching universal love as a natural result of Christian mysticism:
"Love all God’s creation. Love every leaf, every ray of God’s light! Love the animals, love the plants, love everything. If you love everything, you will perceive the divine mystery in things. Once you perceive it you will begin to comprehend it better every day. And you will come at last to love the whole world with an all-embracing love."
"Love the animals: God has given them the rudiments of thought and joy untroubled. Do not trouble it, don’t harass them, don’t deprive them of their happiness, don’t work against God’s intent. Man, do not pride yourself on your superiority to the animals; they are without sin, and you with your greatness defile the earth by your appearance on it, and leave the traces of your foulness after you..."
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."
A Roman Catholic priest, Msgr. LeRoy E. 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. (Luke 16:17) 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."
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 writer and a vegetarian, 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."
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."
Commenting on Deuteronomy 22:6, which forbids harming a mother-bird if her eggs or chicks are taken, Martin Luther (1483-1546) wrote: "What else does this law teach but that by the kind treatment of animals they are to learn gentleness and kindness? Otherwise it would seem to be a stupid ordinance not only to regulate a matter so unimportant, but also to promise happiness and a long life to those who keep it." According to Luther, Adam "would not have used the creatures as we do today," but rather, "for the admiration of God and a holy joy." Referring to passages from Scripture concerning the redemption of the entire creation and the Kingdom of Peace, Luther taught that "the creatures are created for an end; for the glory that is to come." British historian William Lecky observed that, "Luther grew sad and thoughtful at a hare hunt, for it seemed to him to represent the pursuit of souls by the devil." Author Dix Harwood, in Love for Animals, depicts a grieving young girl being comforted by Luther. Luther assures her that her pet dog who died would certainly go to heaven. Luther tells her that in the "new heavens and new earth...all creatures will not only be harmless, but lovely and joyful...Why, then, should there not be little dogs in the new earth, whose skin might be as fair as gold, and their hair as bright as precious stones?"
Biblical teachings on human responsibilities towards animals were not lost on John Calvin (1509-1564). According to Calvin, animals exist within the framework of human justice: "But it must be remembered that men are required to practice justice even in dealing with animals. Solomon condemns injustice to our neighbours the more severely when he says, ‘a just man cares well for his beasts’ (Proverbs 12:10). In a word, we are to do what is right voluntarily and freely, and each of us is responsible for doing his duty."
John Wray (1627?-1705), the "father of English natural history," made the first systematic description and classification of animal and vegetable species. He wrote numerous works on botany, zoology, and theology. In 1691, Wray published The Wisdom of God Manifest in the Works of His Creation, which emphasized the sanctity and value of the natural world.
Wray advocated vegetarianism and made two points in his book. The first was that God can best be seen and understood in the study of His creation. "Let us then consider the works of God and observe the operation of His hands," wrote Wray. "Let us take notice of and admire His infinite goodness and wisdom in the formation of them. No creature in the sublunary world is capable of doing this except man, and yet we have been deficient therein." Wray’s second point was that God placed animals here for their own sake, and not just for the pleasure of humans. Animals have their own intrinsic value. "If a good man be merciful to his beast, then surely a good God takes pleasure that all His creatures enjoy themselves that have life and sense and are capable of enjoying."
Thomas Tryon’s lengthy The Way to Health, Wealth, and Happiness was published in 1691. Tryon defended vegetarianism as a physically and spiritually superior way of life. He came to this conclusion from his interpretation of the Bible as well as his understanding of Christianity. Tryon wrote against "that depraved custom of eating flesh and blood." The opening pages of his book begin with an eloquent plea for mercy towards the animals:
"Refrain at all times such foods as cannot be procured without violence and oppression, for know, that all the inferior creatures when hurt do cry and fend forth their complaints to their Maker...Be not insensible that every creature doth bear the image of the great Creator according to the nature of each, and that He is the vital power in all things. Therefore, let none take pleasure to offer violence to that life, lest he awaken the fierce wrath, and bring danger to his own soul. But let mercy and compassion dwell plentifully in your hearts, that you may be comprehended in the friendly principle of God’s love and holy light. Be a friend to everything that’s good, and then everything will be a friend to thee, and co-operate for thy good and welfare."
In The Way, Tryon (1634-1703) also condemned "Hunting, hawking, shooting, and all violent oppressive exercises..." On a separate occasion, he warned the first Quaker settlers of Pennsylvania that their "holy experiment" in peaceful living would fail unless they extended their Christian precepts of nonviolence to the animal kingdom: "Does not bounteous Mother Earth furnish us with all sorts of food necessary for life?" he asked. "Though you will not fight with and kill those of your own species, yet I must be bold to tell you, that these lesser violences (as you call them) do proceed from the same root of wrath and bitterness as the greater do."
"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."
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."
The United Society for Believers in Christ’s Second Appearance, also known as the Shakers, taught equality of the races and sexes, ecological conservation and compassion towards animals. The founder of the sect, Ann Lee (1736-84) came to America in 1774. She and her followers established the first Shakers colony at Watervliet, New York. Ann Lee is said to have taught that a person who mistreated animals could not be a Christian, and to have called for "justice and kindness to all the brute creation."
One of the most respected English theologians of the 18th century, William Paley (1743-1805), taught that killing animals for food was unjustifiable. Paley called the excuses used to justify killing animals "extremely lame," and even refuted the rationalizations concerning fishing.
The founder and first secretary of the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA) was an Anglican priest, the Reverend Arthur Broome. The RSPCA was originally founded as a Christian society "entirely based on the Christian Faith, and on Christian Principles," and sponsoring sermons on humane education in churches in London. The Society formed in 1824, and its first "Prospectus" spoke of the need to extend Christian charity and benevolence to the animals:
"Our country is distinguished by the number and variety of its benevolent institutions...all breathing the pure spirit of Christian charity...But shall we stop here? Is the moral circle perfect so long as any power of doing good remains? Or can the infliction of cruelty on any being which the Almighty has endued with feelings of pain and pleasure consist with genuine and true benevolence?"
This Prospectus was signed by many leading 19th century Christians including William Wilberforce, Richard Martin, G.A. Hatch, J. Bonner, and Dr. Heslop.
The Bible Christian Church was a 19th century movement teaching vegetarianism, abstinence from intoxication, and compassion for animals. The church began in England in 1800, requiring all its members to take vows of abstinence from meat and wine. One of its first converts, William Metcalfe (1788-1862), immigrated to Philadelphia in 1817 with forty-one followers to establish a church in America. Metcalfe cited numerous biblical references to support his thesis that humans were meant to follow a vegetarian diet for reasons of health and compassion for animals.
One of Metcalfe’s converts, Sylvester Graham (1794-1851), was a Presbyterian minister and the originator of graham crackers. He had been healed through a vegetarian diet and advocated the use of unrefined, whole-wheat "graham" flour, from which graham crackers are now made. Graham was a temperance advocate who preached vegetarianism as a cure for those suffering from alcohol abuse. His regimen called for an abundance of fruits and vegetables in the diet, fresh air, moderate eating and plenty of exercise.
Beginning in 1830, Graham boardinghouses, societies and food stores spread across the land. A product of the Victorian period, Graham also wrote lectures on sexual chastity, warning that spices and rich foods heighten sexual desire, while sexual excesses amongst married couples lead to numerous afflictions. Graham influenced Amos Bronson Alcott (1799-1888) and Joseph Smith (1805-1844), founder of the Mormon Church.
The Mormon Church has also advocated a mostly vegetarian diet as part of its philosophy of health and reverence for life. This began in 1833, when church founder Joseph Smith received a revelation of such a health code as God’s will, emphasizing grains as the staple for one’s diet. Meat is meant to be eaten only rarely, such as in times of famine or extreme cold, when animals will likely perish.
General William Booth (1829-1912), founder of the Salvation Army, practiced and advocated vegetarianism. Booth never officially condemned flesh-eating as either cruelty or gluttony, but taught that abstinence from luxury is helpful to the cause of Christian charity. "It is a great delusion to suppose that flesh of any kind is essential to health," he insisted.
"The moral evils of a flesh diet are not less marked than are the physical ills," wrote Ellen White, founder of the Seventh-Day Adventist Church. "Flesh food is injurious to health, and whatever affects the body has a corresponding effect on the mind and soul."
Although Seventh-Day Adventists strongly recommend vegetarianism for reasons of health and nutrition, White also espoused the belief that kindness to animals should be a Christian duty. In Ministry of Healing, she urged the faithful to:
"Think of the cruelty that meat eating involves, and its effect on those who inflict and those who behold it. How it destroys the tenderness with which we should regard these creatures of God!"
In Patriarchs and Prophets, White referred to numerous passages in the Bible calling for kindness to animals, and concluded that humans will be judged according to how they fulfill their moral obligations to animals:
"It is because of man’s sin that ‘the whole creation groaneth and travaileth together in pain’ (Romans 8:22). Surely, then, it becomes man to seek to lighten, instead of increasing, the weight of suffering which his transgression has brought upon God’s creatures. He who will abuse animals because he has them in his power is both a coward and a tyrant. A disposition to cause pain, whether to our fellow men or to the brute creation is satanic. Many do not realize that their cruelty will ever be known because the poor dumb animals cannot reveal it. But could the eyes of these men be opened, as were those of Balaam, they would see an angel of God standing as a witness to testify against them in the courts above. A record goes up to heaven, and a day is coming when judgement will be pronounced against those who abuse God’s creatures."
In Counsels on Diet and Foods, White referred to the Garden of Eden, a Holy Sanctuary of God, where nothing would ever die, as the perfect example of humans in their natural state: "God gave our first parents the food He designed that the race should eat. It was contrary to His plan to have the life of any creature taken. There was to be no death in Eden. The fruit of the tree in the garden was the food man’s wants required."
"Tenderness accompanies all the might imparted by Spirit," wrote Mary Baker Eddy, founder of Christian Science, in Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures. "The individuality created by God is not carnivorous, as witness the millenial estate pictured by Isaiah (11:6-9). All of God’s creatures, moving in the harmony of Science, are harmless, useful, indestructible. A realization of this grand verity was a source of strength to the ancient worthies. It supports Christian healing, and enables its possessor to emulate the example of Jesus. ‘And God saw that it was good.’"
The Doukhobours were a sect of Russian Christians that originated in the 18th century. They lived as vegetarian pacifists and abstained from alcohol. Like the earliest Christians, they taught and practiced the renunciation of earthly possessions and worldly concerns in favor of a simple life of devotion to God.
These Christians had a profound influence upon Count Leo Tolstoy. "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." The Doukhobours passed on their traditions orally, through hymns and psalms. With the rise of communism and the Russian revolution in 1917, many Doukhobours emigrated to Canada.
Congregational minister Frederic Marvin preached a Christmas Eve sermon in 1899 entitled, "Christ Among the Cattle." Marvin regarded Jesus’ birth in the manger as that of God incarnate teaching humanity by dramatic example. Birth among the cattle was a sign for people all over the world to follow—a lesson teaching the need to show compassion towards the animals.
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."
Dean Inge is reported to have said, "Whether animals believe in a god I do not know, but I do know that they believe in a devil—the devil which is man."
"Dear God," began the childhood prayers of Dr. Albert Schweitzer (1875-1965), "please protect and bless all living things. Keep them from evil and let them sleep in peace." This noted Protestant French theologian, music scholar, philosopher and missionary doctor in Africa won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1952.
Schweitzer preached an ethic of reverence for life: "Not until we extend the circle of compassion to include all living things shall we ourselves know peace." When a man questioned his philosophy, saying God created animals for man to eat, Schweitzer replied, "Not at all."
Schweitzer reflected, "How much effort it will take for us to get men to understand the words of Jesus, ‘Blessed are the merciful,’ and to bring them to the realization that their responsibility includes all creatures. But we must struggle with courage." According to Schweitzer, "We need a boundless ethics which will include the animals also." Schweitzer founded the Lambarene Hospital in French Equatorial Africa in 1913, managing it for many years. "I never go to a menagerie," he once wrote, "because I cannot endure the sight of the misery of the captive animals. The exhibiting of trained animals I abhor. What an amount of suffering and cruel punishment the poor creatures have to endure to give a few minutes of pleasure to men devoid of all thought and feeling for them." Schweitzer taught compassionate stewardship towards the animal kingdom: "We...are compelled by the commandment of love contained in our hearts and thoughts, and proclaimed by Jesus, to give rein to our natural sympathy to animals," he explained. "We are also compelled to help them and spare suffering as far as it is in our power."
In a sermon preached in Bath Abbey, the Reverend E.E. Bromwich, M.A., taught: "Our love of God should be extended as far as possible to all God’s creatures, to our fellow human beings and to animals...In His love, God caused them all to exist, to express His feelings for beauty and order, and not merely to provide food and companionship for man. They are part of God’s creation and it is God’s will that they should be happy, quite as much as it is His will that we should be happy. The Christian ought to be bitterly ashamed for the unnecessary suffering that men still cause their animal brothers."
According to the Reverend Lloyd Putman:
"In the beautiful story of creation in Genesis, God is pictured as the Creator of all Life—not just of man. To be sure, man is given ‘dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth,’ but far from being a brutal dominion, man is to view the animal world with a sense of stewardship and responsibility. If man lives recklessly and selfishly with no regard for animals, he is denying that God is to be seen as the creator of all life, and he is forgetting that God beheld not only man, but all creation and said that 'it was very good.' He is omitting the Biblical emphasis on man and animals sharing a common creation."
On June 5, 1958, the Reverend Norman Vincent Peale stated, "I do not believe a person can be a true Christian, and at the same time engage in cruel or inconsiderate treatment of animals."
"Honourable men may honourably disagree about some details of human treatment of the non-human," wrote Stephen Clark in his 1977 book, The Moral Status of Animals, "but vegetarianism is now as necessary a pledge of moral devotion as was the refusal of emperor-worship in the early church." According to Clark, eating animal flesh is "gluttony," and "Those who still eat flesh when they could do otherwise have no claim to be serious moralists."
"Clark’s conclusion has real force and its power has yet to be sufficiently appreciated by fellow Christians," says the Reverend Andrew Linzey. "Far from seeing the possibility of widespread vegetarianism as a threat to Old Testament norms, Christians should rather welcome the fact that the Spirit is enabling us to make decisions so that we may more properly conform to the original Genesis picture of living in peace with creation."
The contemporary Christian attitude towards vegetarianism is perhaps best expressed by Kenneth Rose, in a 1984 essay entitled "The Lion Shall Eat Straw Like the Ox: The Bible and Vegetarianism."
"At present," Rose acknowledges, "vegetarianism among those who base their lives on the Bible is quite rare. Nevertheless, vegetarianism remains God’s ultimate will. Since, according to the Bible, the goal of history is the transformation of the predatory principle in the principle of universal love, it seems reasonable to suppose that people who take the Bible seriously should strive to bring their lives into accordance with the righteousness and nonviolence that will prevail in God’s kingdom. Surely we can’t in this life fully escape the consequences of the Fall, but we can try, with God’s grace, to live in accordance with God’s perfect will.
"...no rational or scriptural reason can be discovered," Rose observes, "that would prohibit the teacher of Christian truth from encouraging believers to go beyond the concession to human weakness granted in Genesis 9:3 so that, even now, before the full dawning of God’s kingdom of peace, they may begin living according to the ethics of that kingdom. To live in this way must be considered as part of God’s ultimate intention for humanity, for how else can one account for the fact that the Bible both begins and ends in a kingdom where the sound of slaughter is unknown?
"For those of us who take the Bible seriously," Rose concludes, "our obedience to God will then become greater as it aspires to live out the vision of the peaceable kingdom the Bible points to. To the degree that we stop slaughtering innocent creatures for food, to that degree we will nullify the predatory principle, a principle that structures the injustices characteristic of this fallen age. And seeing all creatures with equal vision, we will enter more deeply into the kingdom of God."
According to the Reverend James E. Caroll, an Episcopal priest in Van Nuys, California, "A committed Christian, who knows what his religion is about, will never kill an animal needlessly. Above all, he will do his utmost to put a stop to any kind of cruelty to any animal. A Christian who participates in or gives consent to cruelty to animals had better reexamine his religion or else drop the name Christian."
In 1992, members of Los Angeles’ First Unitarian Church agreed to serve vegetarian meals at the church’s weekly Sunday lunch. This decision was made as a protest against animal cruelty and the environmental damage caused by the livestock industry.
"It is not a question of palate, of custom, of expediency, but of right," wrote the Reverend J. Tyssul-Davies, B.A., on the subject of vegetarianism. "As a mere Christian Minister, I have had to make my decision. My palate was on the side of custom; my intellect argued for the expedient; but my higher reason and conscience left me no alternative. Our Lord came to give life, and we do not follow Him by taking life needlessly. So, I was compelled, against myself, to eschew carnivorism."
The Reverend George Laughton taught that:
"The practice of kindness towards dumb creatures is a sign of development to the higher reaches of intelligence and sympathy. For, mark you, in every place there are those who are giving of their time and thought and energy to the work of protecting from cruelty and needless suffering the beasts of the field and streets. These are the people who make the earth clean and sweet and more like what God intended it to be."
In a pamphlet entitled "The Spiritual Link Between Humans and Animals," Reverend Marc Wessels writes: "We recognize that many animal rights activists and ecologists are highly critical of Christians because of our relative failure thus far adequately to defend animals and to preserve the natural environment. Yet there are positive signs of a growing movement of Christian activists and theologians who are committed to the process of ecological stewardship and animal liberation.
"Individual Christians and groups on a variety of levels, including denominational, ecumenical, national and international, have begun the delayed process of seriously considering and practically addressing the question of Christian responsibility for animals. Because of the debate surrounding the ‘rights’ of animals, some Christians are considering the tenets of their faith in search for an appropriate ethical response."
According to Reverend Wessels, "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."
"Jesus’ life was one of compassion and liberation;" concludes Reverend Wessels, "his ministry was one which understood and expressed the needs of the oppressed. Especially in the past decade, Christians have been reminded that their faith requires them to take seriously the cries of the oppressed.
"Theologians such as Gutierrez, Miranda, and Hinkelammert have defined the Christian message as one which liberates lives and transforms social patterns of oppression. That concept of Christianity which sees God as the creator of the universe and the One who seeks justice is not exclusive; immunity from cruelty and injustice is not only a human desire or need—the animal kingdom also needs liberation."
In a pamphlet entitled What the Bible Says About Vegetarianism: God’s Best for All Concerned, Frances Arnetta, founder of Christians Helping Animals and People, states that Christians should be "harmless as doves," and describes vegetarianism as "God’s best for good health," "God’s best for the environment," and "God’s best to feed the hungry."
She writes: "Vegetarianism is the diet that will once again be given by God. Jews look forward to that time as the coming of the Messiah; Christians see it as the return of the Messiah—Jesus Christ. It is prophesied in Isaiah 11:1-9 and in Isaiah 65—a time when, under His lordship, predator and prey will lie down side by side in peace and once again enjoy the green herb and the fruit of the seed-bearing tree.
"In the New Testament, Revelation 21:4 describes this as the time when ‘God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away.’
"Not only is it totally Scriptural to be a vegetarian," Arnetta concludes, "but when done in service to the true and living God, it may well be as close to a heavenly lifestyle as one can get!"
The Reverend Andrew Linzey notes that "humans are made in the image of God, given dominion, and then told to follow a vegetarian diet (Genesis 1:29). Herb-eating dominion is not despotism." However, Linzey acknowledges the need for a new theology, an animal liberation theology, which would revolutionize our understanding of humanity’s place in creation and relationship to other species, just as the Copernican picture of a sun-centered universe replaced the earth-centered picture.
"We need a concept of ourselves in the universe not as the master species but as the servant species—as the one given responsibility for the whole and the good of the whole. We must move from the idea that animals were given to us and made for us, to the idea that we were made for creation, to serve it and ensure its continuance. This actually is little more than the theology of Genesis chapter two. The Garden is made beautiful and abounds with life: humans are created specifically to ‘take care of it.’ (Genesis 2:15)
"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."
Vegetarianism is relevant to both our modern world and its religious teachings. The livestock population of the United States today consume enough grain and soybeans to feed over five times the entire human population. American cows, pigs, chicken, sheep, etc. eat up 90 percent of our wheat, 80 percent of our corn, and 95 percent of our oats.
Less than half of the harvested agricultural acreage in the United States is used to grow food for human consumption. Most of it is used to grow livestock feed. In The Wealth of Nations, economist Adam Smith noted the advantages of a vegetarian diet: "It may indeed be doubted whether butcher’s meat is anywhere a necessary of life. Grain and other vegetables, with the help of milk, cheese, and butter, or oil, where butter is not to be had, afford the most plentiful, the most wholesome, the most nourishing, and the most invigorating diet. Decency nowhere requires that any man should eat butcher’s meat."
Ronald J. Sider, in his 1977 book, Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger pointed out that 220 million Americans were eating enough food (largely because of the high consumption of grain fed to livestock) to feed over one billion people in the poorer countries.
The realization that meat is an unnecessary luxury, resulting in inequities in the world food supply, has prompted religious leaders in different denominations to call on their members to abstain from meat. Paul Moore, Jr., the Episcopal bishop of the Diocese of New York, made such an appeal in a November 1974 pastoral letter calling for the observance of "meatless Wednesdays."
A similar appeal had previously been issued by Cardinal Cooke, the Roman Catholic archbishop of New York. The Reverend Eugene Carson Blake, former head of the World Council of Churches and founder of Bread for the World, has encouraged everyone in his anti-hunger organization to abstain from eating meat on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays.
"Is this not the fast I have chosen? To loosen the chains of wickedness, to undo the bonds of oppression, and to let the oppressed go free?
Is it not to share thy bread with the hungry, sheltering the oppressed and the homeless?
Clothing the naked when you see them, and not turning your back on your own?"
What does the future hold? If the world population triples in the next century, and meat consumption continues, then meat production would have to triple as well. Instead of 3.7 billion acres of cropland and 7.5 billion acres of grazing land, we would require 11.1 billion acres of cropland and 22.5 billion acres of grazing land. But this is slightly more than the total land mass of the six inhabited continents! We are already desperately short of groundwater, topsoil, forests and energy.
Even if we were to resort to extreme methods of population control—abortion, infanticide, genocide, etc.—modest increases in the world population during the next century would make it impossible to maintain current levels of meat consumption. On a vegetarian diet, however, the world could support a population several times its present size. The world’s cattle alone consume enough to feed 8.7 billion humans. Father Thomas Berry, a Catholic priest, author, and founder of the Riverdale Center for 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."
The early Christian fathers followed a meatless regimen. Until the 1960s, the Roman Catholic Church had ruled that Catholics observe certain fast days and abstain from eating meat on Fridays in remembrance of the death of Christ. After 1966, the rule was relaxed, so that Catholics need only abstain from meat on the Fridays of Lent.
There is nothing, therefore, in Scripture or the Christian tradition that would prohibit Christian denominations from admitting that the concession to kill animals granted by God in Genesis 9:3 along with the prohibition against consuming animal blood which is repeated again in Acts 15 does not represent His highest hopes for humanity (Genesis 1:29; Isaiah 11:6-9); recognizing God’s love and goodness towards the animals; citing the lives of the saints and religious leaders in Christianity who taught compassion for all living beings; and recognizing the virtues of vegetarianism.
In his book, Animal Rights: A Christian Assessment of Man’s Treatment of Animals, the Reverend Dr. Andrew Linzey writes with regret: "It has, I think, to be sadly recognized that Christians, Catholic or otherwise, have failed to construct a satisfactory moral theology of animal treatment."
Vegetarianism is ethical, healthier, "environmentally correct," and economical. It’s been said that if everyone had to kill animals every day for his or her own meat, most of us would choose vegetarianism. The vegetarian way of life, as taught by Srila Prabhupada, is consistent not only with human anatomy, the Bible, and Christian tradition and theology, but with Western spirituality in general.
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