Better a meal of vegetables where there is love
than a fattened calf with hatred. (Proverbs 15:17)
Somehow I’d failed to read this properly back in June – though that didn’t stop me commenting on it at the time (*blushes*) – but Chris Atwood had an excellent post over at HWS on early Christian vegetarianism.
Vegetarianism among Christians had its roots (no pun intended) in a number of factors: the example of Daniel and his companions, concerns about meat sacrificed to idols, as well as a general emphasis on a frugal and abstemious lifestyle which also featured teetotalism and abstention from sexual relations.
I particularly enjoyed the quote from the fourth century Spanish Christian poet Prudentius, who describes all the foods given by God (“birds ensnared in cunning traps, fish caught in nets and on rods, the rich crop in grains, the vine, the olive, milk, honey, and the fruits of the orchard”) before going on to say:
All this abundance is in the service of Christ’s followers and supplies their every need. Far from us be the appetite that would chose to slay cattle and hack their flesh to make a bloody feast. Let tribes uncivilized have their savage meals from the slaughter of four-footed beasts: as for us, the leaves of greens, the pod that swells with beans of diverse sorts, will feed us with an innocent banquet.
While I personally have some sympathy with the bumper sticker described by Dave H which said, “If God didn’t intend for us to eat animals then why did he make them out of meat?” :-), my wife is a vegetarian, and I won’t hear a word said against vegetarianism. (Nor have I any patience with those who claim to be vegetarian, but then happily eat fish, chicken, bacon, sausages, steak, etc.)
My wife is also a superb cook, who proves that Prudentius is right on the money with his assertion that “the leaves of greens, the pod that swells with beans of diverse sorts, will feed us with an innocent banquet”, though frankly it sounds like Prudentius could have done with a slightly more imaginative range of vegetarian recipes if that’s all he was getting to eat. Perhaps I’ll be able to get my wife to cook for him in the new heavens and the new earth.
Anyway, when you combine this with my recent series of posts about Christian anarchy (1 | 2 | 3 | 4), it’s interesting to be reminded of this important strain in early Christianity that is often airbrushed out of church history: one characterised by vegetarianism, anarchism and pacifism. (Plus all the men wore sandals and had beards – aargh! They were Guardian readers! It brings a whole new meaning to the phrase, “liberal Christian”…)
Even if we decide that those early Christians were mistaken to think that the faith required them to take these positions, it still does us good to have our conceptions of the early church widened in this way. And it’s a useful counterbalance against those Christians who try to argue that vegetarianism is some kind of New Age/neopagan innovation that is forbidden to us as Christians (such as the former Conservative minister John Gummer, who, when he wasn’t force-feeding burgers to his daughter in a doomed attempt to allay fears about BSE, argued that vegetarianism was “wholly unnatural”).