This page is part of the section: Animal Rights:A History
Christianity appears very quiet on the subject of animal rights at least at the beginning of its inception. Neither Jesus nor his followers said anything concerning our relationship with animals nor how animals should be treated. However the Christian Old Testament and the Hebrew Bible, albeit with some subtle differences and
arrangement, contain the same history, the same admonitions and teachings regarding our relationship and treatment of animals. You can read Old Testament scripture and the writings of Christian Saints and other personages of note concerning the treatment of animals here:
Why Animals Matter: A Religious/Philosophical perspective Christianity Quotations
Also if we consider the following there is indeed evidence to substantiate that the early Christians were vegetarian. The philosopher Porphyry wrote against Christianity, but not against Christ or his teachings but rather against the Christians and their sacred books, saying "The Gods have proclaimed Christ to have been most pious, but the Christians are a confused and vicious sect.", he criticised Christians for having abandoned the vegetarianism that had been practiced by Jesus Christ. Also consider why Seneca the Roman philosopher, stoic and tutor to Nero, a staunch vegetarian returned to meat eating. He had to abandon his vegetarianism because the early Christians were vegetarian. This was the beginnings of the persecution of Christians and Seneca was fearful for his life as the emperor's suspicions were aroused that Seneca was a Christian.
In addition there is a considerable amount of vegetarian advocacy in scriptures not accepted as orthodox by main stream Christianity but nonetheless considered by some to be authentic which could perhaps be taken into consideration concerning the history of animal rights in the context of Christianity. For example:
From the Essene Gospel of Peace
"whoso eats the flesh of slain beasts, eats of the body of death"
"Many people believe that these are the words of Jesus to his apostle John:
It was said to them of old time, ‘Honor thy Heavenly Father and thy Earthly Mother, and do their commandments, that thy days may be long upon the earth.’ And next afterward was given this commandment, ‘Thou shalt not kill,’ for life is given to all by God, and that which God has given, let not man take away. For-I tell you truly, from one Mother proceeds all that lives upon the earth. Therefore, he who kills, kills his brother. And from him will the Earthly Mother turn away, and will pluck from him her quickening breasts. And he will be shunned by her angels, and Satan will have his dwelling in his body. And the flesh of slain beasts in his body will become his own tomb. For I tell you truly, he who kills, kills himself, and who so eats the flesh of slain beasts, eats of the body of death. For in his blood every drop of their blood turns to poison; in his breath their breath to stink; in his flesh their flesh to boils; in his bones their bones to chalk; in his bowels their bowels t o decay; in his eyes their eyes to scales; in his ears their ears to waxy issue. And their death will become his death. For only in the service of your Heavenly Father are your debts of seven years forgiven in seven clays. But Satan forgives you nothing and you must pay him for all. ‘Eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot; burning for burning, wound for wound; life for life, death for death.’ For the wages of sin is death. Kill not, neither eat the flesh of your innocent prey, lest you become the slaves of Satan. For that is the path of sufferings, and it leads unto death. But do the will of God, that his angels may serve you on the way of life. Obey, therefore, the words of God: ‘Behold, I have given you every herb bearing seed, which is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree, in the which is the fruit of a tree yielding seed; to you it shall be for meat. And to every beast of the earth, and to every fowl of the air, and to everything that creepeth upon th e earth, wherein there is breath of life, I give every green herb for meat. Also the milk of every thing that moveth and liveth upon earth shall be meat for you; even as the green herb have I given unto them, so I give their milk unto you. But flesh, and the blood which quickens it, shall ye not eat. And, surely, your spurting blood will I require, your blood wherein is your soul; I will require all slain beasts, and the souls of all slain men. For I the Lord thy God am a God strong and jealous, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me; and showing mercy unto thousands -of them that love me, and keep my commandments. Love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength: this is the first and greatest commandment.’ And the second is like unto it: ‘Love thy neighbor as thyself’ There is none other commandment greater than these."
From the Essene Gospel of Peace
The Essences were an ancient Jewish religious Group who lived four thousand years ago, although according to Pliny the Elder, a first century Roman writer, they had existed for thousands of generations.
The Essene Gospel of Peace is alleged to be a discourse by Jesus and focuses on the brotherhood of all living beings and healthy living/eating in which He advocates fasting, detoxing, vegetarianism, and a raw food diet. It is believed to have been written by the authors of the dead sea scrolls, the Essenes, and was translated into English in 1928 by Edmund Bordeaux Szekely who claims to have acquired it from the secret archives of the Vatican library.
In some circles it is postulated that Jesus may have been an Essene or was influenced by their teachings. If so this suggests that he was a vegetarian and that in the beginning of Christianity Vegetarian once played a central role.
Concerning mainstream Christianity, Christians of note concerning their part in the progression towards the concept of animal rights include:
Saint Martín de Porres
Saint Martín de Porres 1579 – 1639 born in born at Lima, Peru, worked on behalf of the poor establishing an orphanage and a children's hospital. St. Martin's love and compassion though included all creatures including animals that many refer to as vermin. It is said that he had a mystical bond with animals. Attributed to him are many miracles including an ability to communicate with animals. At the home of his sister he maintained a hospital for cats and dogs, he saw no difference between animals and man and had a deep compassion for both. He treated them with herbs, performed what surgery he could when necessary and prayed for their well-being. He never passed by any suffering animal who needed his care. For St Martín de Porres all living beings were sacred and he loved and ministered to each without discrimination. Like St Francis animals appeared drown to him by the radiance of his love and he was seem walking through the streets with a following of animals.
Saint Kevin of Glendalough St Richard of Chichester
St Francis of Assisi
Centuries ago Christian Monks where mostly vegetarian, the exception being the very weak and infirm, and it was only the gradual decline towards decadence and greed and a departure from a more aesthetic lifestyle that led to the indulgence in the regular consumption of meat. For example the Cistercians monks who originated in France in 1098 were strict vegetarians.
The rules concerning diet were relaxed during the rein of Henry 8th to allow monks to eat meat. There is an interesting comment in the Guide book of Forde Abbey in Somerset concerning this change in the rules:
"...while many where eager to become carnivores, others frowned upon the dispensation, saying no good would come of it. To avoid the two dissenting groups at Forde Abbey eating together, the upper refectory was therefore built for the meat eaters, directly above the original refectory.
Extract Forde Abbey and Gardens 850 years of history. "
Indeed the dissenting minks where right when they said that no good would come of it.
The middle ages was a time during which monasteries flourished but not simply as places of worship and contemplation: In those times monasteries were seats of learning; centres of art where beautiful illuminated manuscripts such as the book of kells and the Lindisfarne gospels where created; places of industry where sheep were farmed for their wool and places where rulers sought advice and guidance. In short a civilising influence. Some monasteries such as fountains Abbey became so prosperous and industrious that if it where not for the dissolution of the monasteries by King Henry the 8th the industrial revolution may well have occurred much sooner. At one time the revenue of monasteries was almost a fifth of the national income. Perhaps such wealth become a corrupting influence as it appears that as their affluence grew their virtues eroded away and the strict rules of conduct became flouted
"...as religious houses grew so wealthy that their income seems to have been at one time almost a fifth of the whole national income. The original strict rules imposed on the order began to be widely ignored. No longer did monks confine themselves to the cloister, observe the regulations about obedience and poverty, conscientiously say the Masses enjoined upon them by past benefactors, or pay too strict a regard to the rules framed to limit their diet.
Meat, once provided only for the sick, was now enjoyed by all in the infirmary; and when this was forbidden by papal statute, a "misericorde", "the chamber of mercy", between the infirmary and the refectory, where meat was freely allowed on the table. This, too, was prohibited by papal statute; but in 1339 the pope, recognizing that the prohibition was unenforceable, conceded that the monks might continue to relish their meat in the "misericorde" provided that only half their number did so at a time, the other half maintaining the vegetarian rule elsewhere."
Thomas Wright, The Homes of Other Days: A History of Domestic Manners and Sentiments in England, 1871
"In the 16th Century] Erasmus, while deploring what he took to be the excesses of Martin Luther, unfavourably compared "contemptible friars" with "itinerant mountebanks" and roundly condemned the greedy monks, "gorging the carcase to the point of bursting", while scrupulously observing "a lot of silly ceremonies and paltry traditional rules"."
G. M. Trevelyan, English Social History, 1946
The above extracts were acquired from:
History of Vegetarianism - Europe: The Middle Ages to the 18th Century - This website is no longer available
The meatless Friday was the last vestige of Christian monastic vegetarianism and even here the meatless Friday includes fish , an animal of course so this does not really qualify as meatless. Although I rather think that in times past before the modern scientific classification of organisms, fish where perhaps not considered to be animals.
There were several monastic orders including:
Founded in Italy approximately 540 AD by Saint Benedict 480 - 547 the Benedictine order the longest lasting of monastic orders in the west lived according to a book of precepts, a code of conduct set out by St Benedict called the Holy Rule of St Benedict which continues to influence modern monasticism. The most important part concerning this discussion is the rule regarding diet.
The motto of the Benedictine Order is: ora et labora, or "pray and work." Benedictine life stresses both. Benedict, as leader of the group of men that grew up around him, developed a plan of life that stressed balance and moderation: a vegetarian diet, regular hours for sleep, regular hours for prayer, and regular hours for manual labor.
Making allowance for the infirmities of different persons, we believe that for the daily meal, both at the sixth and the ninth hour, two kinds of cooked food are sufficient at all meals; so that he who perchance cannot eat of one, may make his meal of the other. Let two kinds of cooked food, therefore, be sufficient for all the brethren. And if there be fruit or fresh vegetables, a third may be added. Let a pound of bread be sufficient for the day, whether there be only one meal or both dinner and supper. If they are to eat supper, let a third part of the pound be reserved by the Cellarer and be given at supper.
But let all except the very weak and the sick abstain altogether from eating he flesh of four-footed animals.
Rule of Saint Benedict Chapter 39
Founded in 1098 The Cistercians are a monastic order of both monks and nuns which followed a particularly strict Rule of Benedict mentioned above. The Cistercians once referred to as the white monks because of their white habit where self sufficient supporting themselves with agriculture and the brewing of ale. As adherents to the rule of Benedict they were at the time of their formation vegetarians. The Abbey of Fountains in Yorkshire founded in 1132 was perhaps one of the most famous here in the UK, it became rich by farming of sheep for their wool. Nonetheless the monks followed a strict vegetarian diet until the fifteenth century. The monks grew all their own food, had their own bakery having all the facilities at fountains abbey to grind their own grain. Their diet consisted of Bread, home grown vegetables and fruit such as wheat, barley, apples, pears, parsnips, mushrooms, cabbage, and other vegetables and fruits native to Britain. A herb garden was also cultivated as was the case in many medieval monasteries. At Fountains Abbey each day the monk gardener was expected to provide enough vegetables to fill two large cauldrons to make a thick vegetable soup known as "pottage". Sheep's cheese from the huge flocks of sheep was also part of the diet and with the introduction of cows as Fountains grew more prosperous realising there was profit in dairy farming, cheese was made from the milk of the many cows kept by the Abbey.
Founded in 1664 at La Trappe, in Normandy, France, by Armand de Rancé the Trappist order is a reformed version of the Cistercian order and was another strict, in fact extremely austere monastic order of both monks and nuns, the tenets of which along with a rule of silence and manual labour include a vegetarian diet. To abstain from meat was part of the ascetic lifestyle. Like most monastic orders Trappists where self sufficient adhering to the rule of St Benedict.
Trappist monks are today still very active the most famous is Thomas Merton.
Probably Founded in the 12th century on mount Carmel, its origins though remain uncertain, hence its name . Although few records survive Saint Bertold has traditionally been associated with the founding of the order.
" Carmelite orders were and are particularly frugal with their diet (and speech) regarding any kind of rich food to be nonconducive to meditation. "the wisdom behind using vegetarian food is that it is not conducive to lust and not provocative to the flesh." *1
Founded by Saint Francis of Assisi, who as you will have read in the main section concerning Christian saints, was a vegetarian and had an exceptional affinity with animals regarding them as equals and even considered that plants also had feelings.
As already mentioned earlier unfortunately during the later middle ages most monastic orders introduced meat into their diet, but it is important to note that this occurred mostly at the same time as other rules became less strict as monks sought a less austere lifestyle, meat it seems was part of a decadent decline rather than a decision based upon Christian doctrine. Today many monastic orders have reintroduced a vegetarian diet.
Why were the early monks vegetarian?
There are number of reasons for the monastic vegetarian diet such as to comply with vows of poverty and to keep meals simple, less tempting more in keeping with an ascetic lifestyle. When Saint Benedict compiled his Rules of St Benedict he based his dietary restrictions upon the food eaten by the poor people who lived in the area of Italy from where he came.
However the primary reason for a vegetarian diet is the belief that meat eating, particularly of red -blooded animals stimulates the emotions and passions most notably that of lust. The aim of a monastic life style is to attain a quieting of such disruptive passion and emotion, therefore any practice considered to bring about such a state of being was practiced such as contemplation, fasting, vows of silence, manual labour and of course the abstinence from meat. Clearly monks did not consider the abstinence from meat as a breach of God's will as many present day Christians claim.
1) From the website of the International Vegetarian Union
Important please note:
I am not an animal expert of any kind just your average person who loves animals, all animals, and feels deeply about the plight of many of our fellow creatures. Neither am I a writer, or any other expert. Therefore please keep in mind that the information included in this website has been researched to the best of my ability and any misinformation is quite by accident but of course possible.