Read transcript of Ep 5: Flesh & Spirit

Close up of Coptic Papyrus

Alternatively, follow this link to hear Ep 5: Flesh & Spirit and read the show notes. Transcription by Amy Carpenter.

[Sound effects: carts and crowd noises. The city of Rome. Ancient music from a stringed instrument.]

Seneca [actor reading]:

I shall not be ashamed to tell you what ardent zeal Pythagoras inspired in me.

Ian McDonald:

It is the first Century. Seneca is a playwright and politician, looking back on his youth in Rome. When Seneca was a teenager, an epic wherein Pythagoras pleads for vegetarianism, “Ovid’s Metamorphoses”, was all the rage.

Seneca:

I was imbued with the teaching, and began to abstain from animal food; at the end of a year the habit was as pleasant as it was easy.

Ian:

Seneca’s education would have also included philosophers like Epicureans, who preached that happiness lies in the modesty of desires, and many of whom were vegetarian too.

[Bell rings; ancient music continues]

Seneca:

Some foreign rites were at that time being expelled, and abstinence from certain kinds of animal food was set down among evidence of the superstition.

Ian:

Seneca’s probably talking about a persecution aimed at Jews. Romans viewed foreign rites with both fascination and fear.

And as still happens to young vegetarians today, Seneca met with family opposition.

Seneca:

So at the request of my father, who did not fear prosecution, but detested philosophy, I returned to my previous habit.

Ian:

Young Seneca experiences the factors that clash over vegetarianism in the Roman empire – pagan philosophers and mystics inspired by Pythagoras, Greek gods, and those exotic eastern cults. Including Persian Manichaeans with their plant-based priesthood, Judaism, and Christianity.

[Men chanting and cymbals]

Ian:

To discover vegetarian traditions that survive from this era, I visit an Egyptian Coptic monastery whose monks periodically follow a vegan diet.

And I chart the fight for the soul of Rome, and how close pro-vegetarian faiths came to winning it.

[Theme starts – music with sound of gongs]

Ian:

Vegetarianism: The Story So Far. With me, Ian McDonald. Episode 5, Flesh and Spirit.

[Theme music ends]

Ian:

By the first Century, there are reputedly vegetarian groups of Jewish monks and nuns called Essenes and Therapeutae. These are ascetics, leading a disciplined life. They avoid meat because they think it self-indulgent, not out of concern for animals. This monastery is in Egypt, near the Roman Empire’s second city and intellectual hub, Alexandria.

[Ancient music starts to play]

Philo [actor reading]:

They lay self-control to be, as it were, a foundation of the soul to rest upon, on which to build up other virtues.

The table too is kept pure from blood. The food laid on is bread with salt as seasoning, sometimes flavoured with hyssop herb as an extra relish for the daintier appetites.

Ian:

Dr David Grummet is a Christian theologian who has published on the ideas around diet and asceticism. He came into the Resonance FM studio, and I asked him about the Essenes and Therapeutae.

Dr David Grummet:

Well, taking those groups together, these kinds of radical ascetic groups who are not eating meat, they are not even eating animal byproducts probably. So they have a strict vegetarian / water diet. Why are they doing this? Well …

Ian [to Grummet]:

So they are vegan?

Grummet:

They are vegan, yes. And in being vegan, they are following in a tradition that’s present in the Old Testament. Not in terms of the history, people being vegan for the whole of their lives, but going through particular periods of strict abstinence, times of year when people would abstain from certain foods.

Ian [as narrator]:

Those traditions live on in Orthodox Christianity. Fortunately for the travel budget, the prayers of Coptic Egyptian monks also echo in a remote valley in my own native Yorkshire.

[birdsong]

Ian [to Yostas]:

Father Abouna.

Father Abouna Yostas St Athanasius:

Welcome.

Ian:

Nice to meet you.

Yostas:

Nice to meet you too. Ian?

Ian:

Yes.

Yostas:

Yes, right [laughs]. And I’m Father Yostas.

[sound of door opening]

Yostas:

Here you are, have a seat.

Ian:

Thank you.

[as narrator]:

The monastery of St. Athanasius is a low redbrick building with just a single coptic cross embedded in the stonework.

[to Yostas] What were the Hebrew, Old Testament fasting traditions?

Yostas:

In the first… at the beginning of the… God created Adam and Eve. They were just eating, like, vegetarian stuff. They don’t eat meat and stuff. Till I think Noah came, and they started to eat meat.

Ian [as narrator]:

Remember, Hebrews and Christians share this idea of a vegetarian Golden age with pagans; it’s part the rhetoric of the Pythagoreans.

Yostas:

So fasting and the prayer is the most important things we have to do in our lives. Because it’s like, prayer bring us back to in the relationship with God.

And fasting to control our bodies by little things which we have in the front of us, but give us automatically by the grace of God, the control to other things which is more harder than food.

You remember when, in Daniel in the Old Testament…

Ian [as narrator]:

In this story, Daniel & his fellow Israelite princelings in exile in Babylon forswear the royal meats.

Yostas:

Kingdom foods which is so delicious, so beautiful. And they only need the vegetarian seeds, and vegetarian seeds.

Ian [as narrator]:

And still physically outshine the omnivorous locals.

Yostas:

Because they were the most stronger people by the seeds and vegetables.

Ian [as narrator]:

For Father Yostas, it’s all about fasting and prayer. But it’s also a lot easier to keep Jewish food laws in a pagan society if you avoid meat. Pagan slaughter isn’t just not kosher, it could be positively idolatrous.

And 1st Century Jews who adopt Christianity seem to have a similar issue.

Grummet:

We have the early church traditions. We know that there are questions over eating meat. Certainly, in Paul’s letter to the Romans and his first letter to the Corinthians, it’s clear that different dietary habits and expectations within the nascent Christian church were causing problems.

Ian [as narrator]:

Paul of Tarsus who spearheads the spread of Christianity beyond Judaism, writing to Christians in Rome, he tries to make peace between vegetarians and meat-eaters.

Paul of Tarsus [actor reading]:

For, one with strong faith may eat all kinds of food, while another who is weaker eats only vegetables.

Let not those who eat meat look down on those who do not, and those who do not eat meat must not judge those who do; for God has accepted them.

Ian:

These could be ethical vegetarians, but they’re probably Jews who are avoiding Roman meat. Same as Daniel in the old testament.

Grummet:

So when you had these Jewish Christians and formerly Gentile Christians sitting down around a single table to share a meal, you had disputes breaking out. And we know how important dietary customs and rules are for group identity.

Ian [as narrator]:

In 70 Common Era, after a couple of failed revolts, the Temple in Jerusalem, the spiritual heart of Judaism, is destroyed. Some Jews suggest that without temple sacrifices, truly kosher meat is impossible. But Rabbis counter that vegetables were offered at the temple too, so the same applies there.

To the east, the Ebionites, vegetarian Jewish Christians, reminiscent of the Essenes, persist at least into the 2nd Century. In their Gospel, Jesus is explicitly vegetarian, saying…

Gospel of the Ebionites [actor reading]:

I came to abolish sacrifice, and if you do not cease from sacrificing, the wrath of God will not cease from you.

Ian:

The mainstream gospels, on the other hand, have Jesus kill pigs and fish. But early Christian tradition does have other major figures following a plant-based asceticism.

Grummet:

There were traditions around some apostles, particularly James. It was believed that he might have had an extremely ascetic lifestyle including being vegan as we call it today.

Obviously John the Baptist is perhaps the key figure that we think of, when we think of asceticism in the New Testament. And he was probably the figure, more than any other, who was held up as an example to the developing tradition of hermits within Christianity.

Ian [to Grummet]:

So tell me about the hermit tradition.

Grummet:

Well, from the 2nd Century or so, there seem to have been a people who felt it was their specific Christian call to go into the desert, into the wilderness to spend a life in prayer and contemplation, relying to the absolute minimum extent possible on the wider world.

Yostas:

We want to flee, not from the world, but towards God.

Ian [as narrator]:

In the small monastery chapel, colourful painted icons of saints surround us.

[to Yostas] So, he looks like a proper hermit.

Yostas:

Yes, he is. Saint Onuphrius the Hermit, or Anchorite.

Ian:

Why hair down to his shoulders and a beard down to his toes?

Yostas:

It’s only because they have no clothes. God give him this very heavy hair, to cover all his body.

Ian:

His fulsome beard.

Yostas:

Yeah. And he was eating only the dates of the palm trees.

Ian:

The classic idea of the Anchorites, eating not just a diet with no animal products, but a diet that’s incredibly restrictive.

Yostas:

Some of the saints, the monks, start to fast like a whole day with no food at all. And they expand it to three days, and some of them expand it for one week. So they, like, eat one meal every one week. But the main thing, as I mentioned, it’s for the sake of God.

Grummet:

These were celebrities. These were people who led incredible lives that other people wanted to know more about.

Ian [as narrator]:

Some desert hermit stories explore fellowship with animals.

The story of Abba Theon [actor reading]:

His food consisted of garden herbs, and they said that he used to go out from his cell by night and mingle with the wild animals of the desert, and share with them the water he found.

Grummet:

Yes, in the Syrian tradition, in particular, monks eating with the animals, evoking perhaps a return to Eden, harmony between humans and animals, but also perhaps looking forward to some future condition of harmony.

The story of Abba Theon:

The footmarks which appeared by the side of his abode were those of buffaloes, and goats, and gazelle, in the sight of which he took great pleasure.

Grummet:

It seems that a lot of them, particularly in Egypt, around somewhere like Alexandria, were actually highly literate. They were reading a variety of religious texts, probably Christian scriptures, Jewish scriptures, and also sort of Gnostic, mystical texts. So they were influenced by a variety of traditions and texts.

Ian [as narrator]:

Christianity still has fuzzy boundaries and diverse voices. Some Christian voices, like Clement of Alexandria, actively advocate strict ascetic vegetarianism.

Clement of Alexandria [actor reading]:

But if any one of the righteous does not burden his soul by the eating of flesh, he has, unlike the Pythagorean dream of the reincarnation of the soul, a rational reason.

Ian:

That’s the classic Pythagorean argument that if you’re not vegetarian you might accidentally eat your reincarnated relative. But even when Clement talks about rules that protect animals, they’re only to encourage a habit of compassion to humans. They’re…

Clement:

Training man to gentleness by what is beneath him, by means of the irrational creatures.

Ian:

But one pagan philosopher does make a directly ethical case.

[Ancient music starts]

Plutarch [actor reading]:

Nothing puts us out of countenance, not the charming beauty of their form, not the plaintive sweetness of …

Ian:

Plutach, in late 1st Century Greece, could be a modern ethical vegetarian.

Plutarch:

No, for the sake of a little flesh we deprive them of sun, of light, of the duration of life to which they are entitled by birth and being.

Ian:

I visited Michael Beer, who researched the ancient world’s food taboos at Exeter University, and asked him about Plutarch.

Michael Beer:

A priest of Apollo, in Kyrenia, which is in… which is obviously ruled by Rome at that stage, he’s written huge numbers of works including biographies of famous Romans, philosophical works. So he’s somebody that is very, very prolific and has a high religious ranking in his community.

Ian [to Beer]:

Apollo is the god linked to Orpheus, who is then linked back to the Orphic movement.

Beer:

Absolutely. And of course if the so-called birthplace of Apollo, which is the island of Delos in the Cyclades. Delos is particularly known for having bloodless sacrifices. There are no blood sacrifices on Delos.

And Plutarch is a writer that actually talks about vegetarianism in terms of the effect on the animal. He writes three works. And in all those works, he argues that it’s not natural or kind to kill animals for food. And this is in contrast to all the other writings we have on vegetarianism in the ancient world, which always stress the effect on the eater, not on the eaten.

[Ancient music]

Plutarch [actor reading]:

You call serpents and lions savage, but you yourselves by your own foul slaughter, leave them no room to outdo you in cruelty. For their slaughter is their living, yours is a mere appetiser.

Ian [to Beer]:

It’s amazing that there’s this almost lone voice arguing for vegetarianism. And he’s one of the major writers of the time.

Beer:

Absolutely. I was surprised when I did some research on this that he is so outspoken about the cruel methods of killing animals, using them in food. He argues for their superiority in intellect in certain cases, the fact that animals should be respected. He talks about the fact the humans are not naturally suited to eating meat.

Plutarch:

He has no curved beak, no sharp talons and claws, no pointed teeth.

Beer:

So it’s not natural for humans to eat meat. And that is a very radical position.

Ian [as narrator]:

In the 200s, a new movement emerges, building on Plutarch, and the Pythagoreans. The mystical Neoplatonists see Pythagoras as the inspiration for Plato, and see this world as an imperfect copy of a Platonic ideal.

Beer:

You have writers like Porphyry and Iamblichus, who both refer to Pythagoras as being as a sort of a founder father. And they are particularly interested in the life of the intellectual who wishes to have a contemplative life. And they espouse vegetarian philosophy.

For those people who wish to commune with the divine, they see meat eating as an impediment, almost anticipating some of the concerns of early Christians, the body being something that weighs you down, and soul is desperate to connect with the divine.

They are explicit in saying that it’s not for everyone. They are saying that if you are a soldier, or you are involved in manual labour, or if you are a politician, which could possibly mean that if you are integrated in society, they you shouldn’t be a vegetarian.

[Ancient music]

Porphyry [actor reading]:

With the Indians being distributed into many parts, there is one tribe amongst them divinely wise.

Ian:

Porphyry cites vegetarian holy men from across the world – from the Essenes of the Middle East, to the Brahmins and Sramanas of India.

Porphyry:

But the sacred laws of nations and cities appear to have ordained for sacred men purity, and to have forbidden them animal food.

Ian:

Porphyry was scathing about Christians, and he promoted as an alternative to Jesus a 1st Century miracle-working Pythagorean called Apollonius. But these flesh-shunning ascetics – whether they label themselves Christians, Essenes, or Neoplatonists – are actually following very similar lifestyles. David Grummet.

Grummet:

Christianity was probably pretty syncretistic in the early centuries.

Ian [to Grummet]:

Taking in ideas from all over.

Grummet:

Yes, yes, taking in ideas from different places. In a monastery you would’ve had people with a range of beliefs reading a variety of texts. Taking dietary discipline seriously was probably one of the things actually that brought them together. These groups of monks, of anchorites, of hermits, whatever you want to call them, were drawn together partly by a common set of practices as much as a common set of beliefs.

Ian [as narrator]:

Porphyry goes further than other neoplatonists. His book advocating vegetarianism includes ethics as well as asceticism. And in the late 3rd Century, he deals with some of the same questions people are asking me about my veganism today.

[Ancient music]

Porphyry:

To compare plants with animals, is doing violence to the order of things. For the latter are naturally sensitive, and adapted to feel pain.

Ian:

Just one more.

Porphyry:

If God fashioned animals for the use of men, how do we use flies, lice, bats, beetles, scorpions and vipers? If we define things in terms of our use, we have to admit that we were generated for the sake of the most destructive animals such as crocodiles.

Ian:

In the 3rd Century, while Neoplatonism emerges in the West, over in Persia, the Jewish mythology of the Gnostics is becoming the foundation of a forgotten world religion and its plant-based priesthood: the Manicheans. To discover more, I got on a coach to Wales.

Nicholas Baker-Brian:

My name is Nick Baker-Brian. I’m a senior lecturer at Cardiff University, specialising in early Christianity, with particular specialisms in Manichaeism, the Manicheans.

Ian [to Baker-Brian]:

Where did the Manicheans come from?

Baker-Brian:

So we take the Manicheans to be followers of Mani. Mani himself is from, in fact the capital city of Mesopotamia at the time, it’s the Persian empire which owes something to its Persian-ness, but also to its Greekness. So it’s a kind of hybrid empire effectively, in which you have a competing variety of religious traditions.

Ian [as narrator]:

A late 3rd Century inscription announcing a religious crackdown proscribed not just Western groups like Jews and Christians – but familiar names from India too.

[to Baker-Brian] So he lists Hindus. What word does he use for Hindus …

Baker-Brian:

Ah, the Brahmins.

Ian:

So it’s not Brahmins and Śramaṇas.

Baker-Brian:

Yes, it is. Yes, it is.

Ian:

He uses the same formulation as Ashoka: Brahmins and Śramaṇas.

Baker-Brian:

Yeah. [laughs] Which is fascinating, yeah.

Ian [as narrator]:

Śramaṇa, remember, is the Indian umbrella term for Buddhists, Jains, et cetera.

[ancient music]

And Manichaeanism takes influences from East and West.

Baker-Brian:

So even the Jains for example, I think, are much more prominent as an influence on early Manichaeism than the Buddhists probably were.

Ian [to Baker-Brian]:

So who was Mani?

Baker-Brian:

He came from a relatively well-off family. He was taken by his father to a religious community. And was, I guess you could say, educated or indoctrinated as a live-in resident of this religious community.

Ian:

A monk.

Baker-Brian:

Effectively, yeah. We’re sort of talking about a type of monastic life. This community is clearly following the rule of Elchasi.

Ian [as narrator]:

A 2nd Century Jewish Christian ascetic and the self-proclaimed prophet who founded this sect. Mani rebelled.

Baker-Brian:

So there are a couple of episodes where Mani goes out with one of the elders of the Elchasite community, to harvest figs from a fig tree. The elder of the community starts to reach up and pull the fig off the tree, and Mani says, you know, “stop! the tree is in pain,” effectively, “can you hear the tree weeping?”. And this then leads to a dispute between Mani and the elder about effectively what we call religious animism.

Ian [to Baker-Brian]:

Like the Jain belief in single-sensed beings.

Baker-Brian:

Yes, and this raises the issue of Eastern religious influence on the Manicheans. On Mani in particular.

Ian [as narrator]:

So he breaks away from the Elchasites and ultimately presents a new religious movement to the king.

Baker-Brian:

And he ends up at the royal court in front of Shapur the first. And he offers Shapur a book. And this book of wisdom is full of effectively Jewish-Christian mythology, drawn from non-canonical Jewish Christian traditions. For example, the book of Enoch where there is this kind of universal war between the giants and the sons of men.

So he says ”I am a prophet“. Okay. ”Previous prophets,“ and he lists them, okay, ”Buddha, in the East, Zoroaster, in Persia, and Jesus in the West. These were all my predecessors,“ effectively. I’m paraphrasing slightly now. But he’s saying, ”these are all my predecessors, and they brought much wisdom to the world at various points.“

Ian [as narrator]:

Mani develops this mythology into the proverbial Manichaean struggle between good and evil.

Baker-Brian

So that’s an innovation in a sense, because goodness always sort of precedes, or predates the emergence of evil.

In Mani’s mythology, these two things are co-eternal. They’ve existed from eternity, at the same point. And they’re locked in a universal cosmic war. And in this process, bits of good are lost in this battle, and those are souls. And they’re sort of incarnated in the world, in flesh, in matter, in vegetable matter. So everywhere.

Ian [as narrator]:

Which can only be liberated in the pure bodies of the ordained Manichaean elect.

Baker-Brian:

So for example, Manichean elect, the ordained, were not expected to lie. They had to be pure of mouth and pure of thought. They couldn’t involve themselves in any violence whatsoever. So we’re talking about the elect as vegetarians, very possibly as vegans.

Ian [to Baker-Brian]:

They’ve made themselves into pure, spiritual factories.

Baker-Brian:

Effectively, that’s what they are.

Ian [as narrator]:

As with the Neoplatonists, and the Essenes, no person of the spirit can eat flesh. As with the Indian Śramaṇas, the ordained do the spiritual heavy lifting, and the lay people earn merit by supporting them.

Baker-Brian:

So the elect couldn’t harvest food, because that would be a sin, effectively. Now the hearers, or the lay-people could harvest the food, but they did so with some spiritual cost to themselves, which in the donations of the alms, the food to the elect, the elect then forgave the hearer, the sin of harvesting the food.

Ian [as narrator]:

Although the lay people weren’t necessarily vegetarian, they too have a calendar of fasts. They might have involved periodic vegetarianism like the other groups – we don’t know.

Baker-Brian:

What’s interesting is that Mani himself was an active missionary. We know that Mani himself sent out missionaries both to the East and to the West. So there’s a very well-attested mission to Egypt.

Ian [as narrator]:

There, Manicheans might be seen as a Persian variety of Jesus-venerating vegetarian ascetic. David Grummet.

[to Grummet] To what extent is Manicheanism a rival to Christianity, to what extent a heresy within it?

Grummet:

That’s a difficult question. To answer it, I guess we need to look at how the notion of Christian orthodoxy developed. And it’s not really until the 4th Century that we have the sense of an emerging Christian orthodoxy that is different from the teaching of competing faiths such as Manicheanism.

Ian [as narrator]:

Manicheans and Christians are persecuted together. In Persia, religious toleration drops away and Mani dies imprisoned. At the turn of the 4th Century in Rome, the emperor Diocletian, a traditionalist pagan, tries to extirpate them both.

[to Baker-Brian] Like the persecution under Tiberius, that put paid to the vegetarianism of Seneca, he’s attacking Manicheans and Christians alike.

Baker-Brian:

Yeah, for the same reason. They’re effectively… it’s reducible to a kind of ethnic thing. They’re non-Roman, really.

Ian [as narrator]:

The next sole emperor, Constantine, supports Christianity. Father Yostas.

Yostas:

You know that after the time of persecution finished, and the people were running to shed their blood for Christ. And when this time finished they started to go everywhere to give their lives to God in another way, which is monasticism. The monasteries were full of monks.

Ian [as narrator]:

Constantine organises a council to settle Christian doctrine. And the monasteries’ patron saint plays a big role. In the small monastery chapel, Father Yostas pays his respects.

[to Yostas] When you walked in, you kissed the relics. They’re bundled in red-embroidered cloth.

Yostas:

Yes.

Ian:

But those are relics of…

Yostas:

Saints.

Ian:

Saints.

Yostas:

One of them is Saint Athanasius.

Ian [as narrator]:

In 4th Century sense, Athanasius is important because he has tremendous control of Alexandria and the environs around Alexandria. And Alexandria is an extremely important city for the Manicheans in the West.

Yostas:

And the thing that I should mention also, he defended the faith against heresy on the 4th Century. And he did a council at the time called Nicaea Council at 325.

Ian [as narrator]:

It sets the first Christian creed, and Athanasius is the champion of the winning side.

Yostas:

All the churches all over the world believe in this creed.

Baker-Brian

He’s very keen to streamline Christian theology, Christian orthodoxy. To develop a Christian orthodoxy for Egypt. In a sense you could say taking off the ascetic edges, you know, reducing the opportunities for extreme ascetics like the Manicheans to be acceptable in the eyes of the Church.

Ian [to Baker-Brian]:

So in some ways he’s the beginning of the end of this vegetarian monastic tradition within Christianity.

Baker-Brian:

Yeah, I think you could argue that. Yeah, yeah, yeah.

Grummet:

Strict abstinence became associated with these heretical groups who were performing it – not for biblical reasons, or to emulate Christ – but more to do with superstitions around, for instance, with the Manicheans, like particles being imprisoned within matter.

Ian [as narrator]:

The year after the great persecution ended, a church meeting in Ancyra set this test for Christian clergy.

Council of Ancyra [actor reading]:

Those clergy, priests, and deacons who abstain from eating flesh shall taste it; and afterwards, if they wish, may abstain. But if they disdain it, and will not even eat vegetables cooked with flesh, but disobey the rules, they are to be dismissed.

Baker-Brian:

This is likely to be a test to expose any crypto-Manicheans. I mean, this is what we find in some of the later anathema formulas for example, where people are required to renounce their real or imagined attachment to the Manicheans. You do find tests, meat tests, diet tests.

Ian [as narrator]:

Over the course of the 4th Century, Athanasius’ type of Christianity slowly advances. The last non-Christian emperor is in the 360s – Julian, a neoplatonist who was probably vegetarian.

Most of our knowledge of the Manichaeans comes from an intense young African teacher of rhetoric who adopts it in the 370s.

Baker-Brian:

And it’s interesting, the Manicheans came fairly early in his life, and was catalysed by a sort of youthful interest, youthful energy, passion, for knowledge, for wisdom. And he developed quite an attachment to the Manicheans in this period. And it lasts, roughly speaking, for 10 years.

And then something happens. Something seismic happens in his religious makeup, and he begins to renounce his commitment to the Manicheans. He doesn’t just renounce his commitment, he begins writing, and he writes extremely strongly-worded criticism of all aspects of Manichean thought and practice.

He’s particularly interested in Manichean diet, because he thinks it’s ludicrous, effectively. So he attacks their vegetarianism, he attacks the principles underlying the vegetarianism…

Augustine of Hippo [actor reading]:

Your abstaining from the slaughter of animals and from injuring plants is shown by Christ to be mere superstition.

Baker-Brian:

He attacks the Elects approach to diet. So for example, he says that the elects would gorge themselves to the point of gluttony rather than share any food with a beggar.

Ian [as narrator]:

It’s the logical conclusion if only the elects can liberate souls from plants.

Grummet:

Once Augustine became Christian, he was anxious… he was at great pains to distance himself from Manichean practice. So he really went too far the other way, probably.

Augustine:

For we see and hear by their cries that animals die with pain. Man, however, disregards this in a beast, with which, not having a rational soul, we have no community of rights.

Ian:

He becomes not just a priest, not just a bishop, but one of the leading Christian theologians of all time.

Grummet:

Augustine was strict with his own diet, but in terms of general prescription, the only thing he said was that Christians should not eat food that had been sacrificed to idols.

Ian [to Baker-Brian]:

If Augustine hadn’t been a Manichean before he became a Christian, would Christianity have spent the next millennium being any more tolerant or accepting of vegetarianism?

Baker-Brian:

Very possibly. Very possibly. I think what you find is that Augustine is not wholly successful in that regard. Because you do see the emergence in the 10th Century onwards of a type of Christianity which the Manicheans represented. So I’m thinking for example in relation to the Cathars.

Ian [as narrator]:

We’ll catch up with them, and the eastern Manichaeans, in episode seven.

Grummet:

With the growth of monastic communities, you really have a shift in emphasis within asceticism from these extreme heroic observances more towards something that was manageable and not too disruptive.

Ian [as narrator]:

Organised monasticism needs rules. At the turn of the 5th Century, monk John Cassian brought those of Egyptian-style monasticism to Europe.

Yostas:

Saint John Cassian took all his teachings from Egyptian monks. He went to the monasteries to take, like, the nectar of every flower in Egypt. He took lots of teachings, and he brought his books. And he came back again to the Western community.

Ian [as narrator]:

At first those rules preserve some of that ascetic vegetarianism.

[to Grummet] When I look at the details of the rules…

Pachomius’s rule in the 4th Century had monks vegetarian unless they were ill, abstaining from flesh entirely. Benedict laid down an exemption only against quadrupeds. Kind of the red meat / white meat distinction again.

You get the impression already the asceticism is getting weaker.

Grummet:

It seems no one’s entirely clear why Benedict refers to quadrupeds, i.e. four-footed animals. Is Benedict drawing on this tradition from the Old Testament of blood being an issue? Also there is this sense that four-footed animals, they literally stand on the ground alongside us. They share the land with us. So they are closer to us.

Ian [as narrator]:

That sixth century rule of Benedict dominates western monasticism. But the Eastern church still preserves some of those ancient fasts.

Yostas:

Even nowadays, we have some of the [unclear], the monks, who is living without eating any meat, any chicken or any meat at all. This is their will to do it. And, but, it’s not the rules of the church that all the Christians, all the Coptic have to do it. We do it about 200 days a year, fasting days, and 55 is vegan, and the rest is, was fishy stuff.

Ian [as narrator]:

And those traditions also survive at one of my favourite food stalls.

[murmuring voices, as at a market]

Elizabeth Hailu:

My name is Elizabeth Hailu. I’ve been trading in Brick Lane Market since October 2006. We have Ethiopian vegan food.

Ian [as narrator]:

Ethiopia joined the Coptic Church roughly when Rome did, and Ethiopia has its own vegan cuisine to fit those orthodox fasts.

Hailou:

It’s a very thin pancake type of bread. So we eat it will all our sauces. The spinach, the soya, the green lentil and the aubergine. They’re all traditional.

Ian:

This episode is a battle that we, the vegetarians, lose.

[people chanting during Ethiopian Orthodox Service at St. Mary of Tserha Sion, London]

But the ideas of Porphyry and Plutarch will be rediscovered in the renaissance, and other Christian attitudes towards animals will return.

Even as vegetarianism retreats in the West, it advances in the East. Next episode, we discover how vegetarianism in India goes from the ascetic fringe to status symbol.

With the music of Robb Masters and Michael Levy, and the acting of Jeremy Hancock and Yasserr Shabann.

I’m Ian McDonald. Full credits and more information at Veg Hist dot org.

END EPISODE 5

This transcript was posted December 4th 2017, but dated so that it appears after the show itself in listings. Many thanks to Amy Carpenter. The featured image is an early papyrus fragment of the non-canon Gospel of Judas.

Tags: , , , , ,

Avatar for Ian McD

About Ian McD

I’m a British new media person with a passion for radio, and interested in the kind of stories best told when we see humans as part of the world of animal minds. I blogged about why I’m producing The Vegan Option.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *