Sacrifice: "one thing that the early Christians did not do"?

After finishing Rowland’s book on Ratzinger (review currently in preparation), I have picked up again N.T. Wright’s “The New Testament and the People of God” (after a long hiatus). And lo and behold, one of the first passages I read has direct relevance to the ongoing discussion on the Sacrifice of the Mass in the Combox to this blog.

Here is what he has to say:

Among the striking features of early Christian praxis must be reckoned one thing that early Christians did not do. Unlike every other religion known in the world up to that point, the Christians offered no animal sacrifices. Some early Jewish Christians may, of course, have continued to particpate in the sacrifical cult in Jerusalem, and it is not impossible that the letter to the Hebrews was written to warn them off. Some pagan Christians undoubted particpated in the sacrificial cult of pagan deities, and it is likely that 1 Corintihans was written partly in order to tell them to stop. But no Christians offered animal sacrifice qua Christians. Nobody ever thought that the worship of the god now made known in Jesus of Nazareth required the blood of calves and lambs. At this point the evidence is clear and unambiguous, and its significance is enormous. Although sacrificial language was used often enough–it could hardly be avoided, since it was the regular language of both pagan and Jewish devotion–it is clear from our earliest records that the usage, in relation to Christian devotion and ethics, is completely metaphorical.

Now he has two footnotes to this paragraph, the second of which is the less intresting (“The exception that proves the rule is the use of sacrifical language referring to Jesus actual death; though there, perhaps, a different level of metaphor is operating”).

The more interesting footnote is to his (debatable) comment regarding the letter to the Hebrews (personally, I think Hebrews owes its theme to the fact that it was written after the destruction of the Temple). Here it is:

Neusner 1989, 290, suggests that from the time of Jesus himself, Christianity saw the eucharist as an alternative sacrificial sysem to that of the Temple. If there is a grain of truth here, it is in my view hidden within a sheaf of misunderstanding.

Yes, in his view. I was at a meeting with a learned theologican of the Church of Christ tradition the other day who said I was reading meaning into St Paul’s expression (1 Cor 7:24) “In whatever condition you were called, there remain with God” when I said it was refering to “when you were baptised”. Dogmatic assumptions and traditions effect hermeneutics. Believe me.

But here is the really interesting thing. The “Neusner” he is referring to who made this comment is none other than Rabbi Jacob Neusner, whom the Holy Father speaks of with high regard in his “Jesus of Nazareth” and who declined to criticise the new prayer “pro conversione Judaeorum” in the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite.

From a liturgical point of view, there has long been a basic thesis that the liturgy of the word in the Christian mass has its origins in the Synagogue while the liturgy of the eucharist was the “cultic” element in Christian worship which filled the gap left by the temple. The fact that Christian believers since day dot believed that the same sacrifice (hardly a “metaphor”) which replaced the sacrifice of lambs and calves in the temple was present in the eucharist gives, I think, a great deal of credence to Neusner’s assertion–a “grain of truth”, maybe, but a grain which was in fact the “mustard seed” from which further insight and understanding developed.

It would indeed have been remarkable if a religion had appeared in which there was no sacrifice, ie. that sacrifice was something which its adherants “did not do“. Now every Christian today would agree (Wright included) that in fact Christianity “has” a sacrifice (or “a Sacrifice”), but the point at issue is that religion involved “offering” a sacrifice, not just having one. The point that Josh has been making in the combox of the previous blog is precisely this (and explains the “directionality” that concerns Pastor Weedon in Thomas Aquinas”: as on Mount Moria in the Gen 22, so (in Christ) God has provided the Sacrifice which (in the Eucharist) we offer to him.

(Neusner’s 1989 article, by the way, was “Money Changers in the Temple: the Mishnah’s Explanation”, published in New Testament Studies 35:287-90)

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28 Responses to Sacrifice: "one thing that the early Christians did not do"?

  1. The Welsh Jacobite says:

    Do you know the work of Margaret Barker?

    A useful post (and comments) at:

  2. Joshua says:

    I don’t have my copy to hand – argggh, more than three bookcases of theology alone, and all at the other end of the continent! – but surely the Supreme-Pontiff-formerly-known-as-Cardinal-Ratzinger’s book “The Spirit of the Liturgy” covers this very point?

    I seem to recall he first of all emphasises that, when Moses was sent to Pharaoh to proclaim “Thus saith the Lord: Let My people go” – cue image of Charlton Heston and Yul Brynner, I just can’t picture it otherwise – the reason given was “that they may offer sacrifice to Me in the wilderness”. So, therefore, while entrance into the Promised Land is the initially-hidden goal, and escape through the Red Sea together with the destruction of the host of the Egyptians – cue the best special effect of 1956 – was the method of definitively breaking the bonds of Egypt, the stated objective, for their desert journey, was to offer sacrifice.

    Now, for Christians reading the Old Testament in the light of Christ, the Red Sea is baptism (as the Apostle testifies), whereby the Devil and his imps are drowned, and the Promised Land is heaven – but most notably in the present case, the desert journey is the life of the baptised, and hence they, too, must go to offer sacrifice.

  3. Joshua says:

    David is also quite right in alluding to the Tridentine definition: Christ left a visible sacrifice to His Church, “as the nature of man requires” – famous line!

    All religions include the offering of sacrifice, although perhaps Islam almost forms the exception.

    Perhaps my point in the earlier discussion became obscured, but offering sacrifice to God is the highest, the only complete form of latria, divine worship, whereby we acknowledge the Deity as absolute Lord of everything.

    “On the mountain the Lord provides” – the Christian, having nothing of his own fit to offer the Almighty, finds, not now a ram caught by the horns in a bush, but the most pure Lamb of God, standing as it were slain, and desirous of being taken to our hearts and offered up before God His Father and ours.

  4. Schütz says:

    The Muslims do have an animal sacrifice, although the thinking behind it is more commemorative than propitiary, and symbolic of willingness to worship Allah. Not surprisingly, it is precisely in connection to the story of Abraham offering his son Ishmael (not Isaac as in our tradition) that they slaughter a domestic animal (sheep, goat, camel etc) once a year on Eid al-Adha. A portion of the meat is given to the poor, which perhaps has parallels in the way that in early Christian offertories the food was collected for the poor and a portion of it was then taken to use for the Eucharist.

    In any case, I suspect that Islam was what Tom Wright was thinking of when he spoke of “every other religion known in the world up to that point“. It is important in this regard to remember that early Islam drew upon the religious traditions of the Synagogue and the Church of the 7th Cent middle East–neither of which practiced animal sacrifice of any sort.

  5. Schütz says:

    But, I should add, both of which had clear theologies of sacrifice.

  6. Peregrinus says:

    It’s very easy to look back and analyse the acts and attitudes of the early church with the benefit of the two thousand years of theologizing and reflecting which has gone on since then.

    If the early Christians were the first religion not to offer sacrifice, that certainly is remarkable. We can say, if we choose to, that this indicates that they regarded their Eucharistic celebrations as sacrificial, and saw no need for any further sacrifice. Or we can say, if we choose to, that this indicates that they saw the sacrifice of Christ on calvary as definitive, and saw no need for any further sacrifice.

    But these statements are really an attempt to impose a modern Catholic understanding, or a modern Protestant understanding, on the early church. One thing that we can safely say was completely foreign to the early church was any appreciation of Catholic/Protestant theological differences, or any self-identification as Catholic (in the modern sense) or Protestant.

    The truth is that we don’t really know why the early church did not sacrifice, and I strongly suspect that the early church did not know, in any corporate sense, itself. Individual Christians, and probably individual Christian communities, probably had their own perspectives on this.

    As Wright says, the Jewish Christians of Jerusalem probably did take part in the Temple sacrifices, and the Jewish Christian community as a whole may have felt a corporate connection with those sacrifices – they were, after all, Jews, and as far as I know there was no expectation in the Jewish tradition that the practice of Temple sacrifices would cease when the Messiah came. Wright makes the point that they did not sacrifice [i]qua[/i] Christians, but I doubt if they would have compartmentalized their own religions identity in this way.

    Once we move a little distance from Jerusalem, we have Christian communities who [i]can’t[/i], physically, participate in Temple sacrifices. But, of course, we have Jewish communities in the same situation. Those communities consider themselves, as Jews, to be represented in the Temple sacrifices, and so to participate in sacrifice in that way, even though most of their members rarely or never make it to Jerusalem. Presumably Christian-Jewish communities outside Palestine felt the same way.

    Then we get the phenomenon of Gentiles converting to Christianity. The very early Gentile converts may indeed have felt that they were becoming Jews, and so were participating in the Temple sacrifices, but as we know from [i]Acts[/i] it was established pretty early on, by about AD 50, that Gentile converts did not have to observe the Law, so presumably from that time on they did not consider that they were becoming Jews. And I’m sure it’s not too long after that before we have local churches made up largely or entirely of non-Jewish Christians who do not observe the Law, who are not considered Jewish by Jews of any sect (including Christian Jews) and who do not consider themselves Jewish.

    Wright suggests that some of these Gentile Christians may have participated in pagan sacrificial practices, but this is not at all the same as Jewish Christians participating in Temple sacrifices, and I suspect even these pagan Christians would have accepted that this was not an aspect of their Christian identity.

    It is these gentile churches who have to grapple with the question of why they do not sacrifice. I suspect that they did not develop a Eucharistic theology, or a Calvary theology, or any other theology, which led them to the conclusion that other sacrifices were inappropriate. Rather, they found that they did not engage, directly or indirectly, in animal sacrifices, and sought to make sense of this as a characteristic of their new faith. In other words, the theology emerged from their practice, not the other way around. I suspect it is here that the theology of the Eucharist as a re-presentation of the sacrifice of Calvary first emerged.

    I note David’s point that the Liturgy of the Word corresponds to the synagogue rituals of Judaism, while the Liturgy of the Eucharist corresponds to the Temple sacrifices, but another view is possible. Anyone who has attended a Sabbath evening service in a synagogue, immediately followed by participation the the Sabbath meal, will easily see the Liturgy of the Eucharist as corresponding to the Sabbath meal. And this connection will have been particularly obvious to the early church, aware that the first Liturgy of the Eucharist was celebrated as a Passover seder.

    In other words, I question whether Jewish Christians saw their Eucharistic liturgical celebrations as a substitute for the Temple cult. A much more obvious connection is with the ritual meal. I think it more likely to be Gentile Christians, up to a generation later, who discerned and articulated the sacrificial aspect of the Eucharistic liturgy.

  7. Past Elder says:

    Peregrinus is on to it. The Liturgy of the Eucharist, or if I may be permitted, the Mass of the Faithful, derives from the Sabbath meal in general and the seder in particular, not the Temple sacrifices, whereas the Liturgy of the Word, or if I may beg a similar indulgence (OMG, a pun!) the Mass of the Catechumens, is a Sabbath synagogue service.

    And the rest, as they say, is history — or theology.

    We forget that the Temple was still standing for a few decades after Jesus, and personally I think the end of it, the priesthood and its sacrifices was what Jesus meant when he said some of his generation would see the end of the world — meaning the end of the Mosaic Covenant, the world they knew.

    In the end, if one accepts the religion of the Hebrew Scripture, there are two choices: one can follow the rule of Rabbi Yochanan, that our good works now take the place of the sacrifices, though one prays daily for their restoration, or one can follow Rabbi Jesus, whose sacrifice of himself takes the place of the sacrifices permanently and inaugurates a New Covenant replacing the Old. The religion of the Hebrew Scriptures is simply unavailable per se, and continues either as the religion of rabbis and synagogues rather than priests and sacrifices, or as the religion of the one priest and one sacrifice, Jesus.

    One might note too that to most Jews of his day and ours, Messiah has nothing whatever to do with sin or the forgiveness thereof, which is already provided for in the Law, which is why any “Good News” about it seems like no news at all. The Akedah, or Binding of Isaac, is read as not a type of something like Christ, but the definitive statement from God that human sacrifice is the last thing he wants, therefore, his becoming a man so that can happen to atone for sins is utterly out of the question.

  8. Schütz says:

    Well, we can only speculate on the matter. Which we do. I sometimes speculate on what would have happened had the temple not been destroyed in AD70 and had the sacrificial cult continued to this day. Pretty hard to imagine, I grant you. It is not too controversial to point out that the destruction of the Temple was the real parting of the ways for Christians and Jews, and that the two different answers they gave to the meaning of this event and how sacrifice was now to figure in the new situation is one of the defining differences between the two faith traditions.

    However, as Wright also points out, we know diddlysquat about the first 100 years of Christian history. Speculation will continue, and it is no real surprise that the speculation is coloured by dogmatic premises.

  9. Joshua says:

    PE synthesises some very pertinent insights into Judaism past and present – I do hope he’ll favour us with more. I very much agree with all the comments made (!) – they remind me of Bouyer, or Danielou.

    David, I often used to muse, while watching Abp Pell (when still Ordinary of Melbourne) at Solemn Mass, assisted by Fr Portelli as MC (think large, bearded, Maltese priest in purple soutane), how lucky we are to live in New Testament times, and how horrible the stench would be, even with the huge clouds of incense one gets at St Patrick’s Cathedral, if the good bishop and assistants were having to slay hordes of animal victims, the altar and sanctuary running with blood, pouring down into conduits!

  10. Christine says:

    how lucky we are to live in New Testament times, and how horrible the stench would be, even with the huge clouds of incense one gets at St Patrick’s Cathedral, if the good bishop and assistants were having to slay hordes of animal victims, the altar and sanctuary running with blood, pouring down into conduits!

    Ya got that right. The beautiful Jerusalem Temple was also a slaughterhouse.

    From a purely anthropological standpoint animal sacrifice (which was almost universally practiced long before the existence of the Abrahamic religions) has been conjectured to have come into existence as a way to “ritualize” the discomfort that humanity felt at taking the lives of the animals they consumed, just as violence is “ritualized” in the military in order to overcome the inhibition to kill. It is no surprise that the ancient hunter-gatherers offered prayers of thanksgiving over the animals they killed as they lived much closer to nature than we moderns.

    I was just reading an article that stated more and more Muslims are donating money as an Eid sacrifice or making a contribution to charity instead of slaughtering an animal.

    Christians no longer practice animal sacrifice but we, too, have our season of austerity (Lent) which is followed by prodigious feasting, including on animal flesh, at Easter.

    But then, the New Testament does promise that the groaning creation will be liberated when the children of God are revealed. The whole cosmos has been redeemed by Christ.

  11. Past Elder says:

    If you think I’m a character, you’d have loved my rabbi (Orthodox, of course).

    He used to say, We are not waiting for a Messiah who is the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity, and we certainly are not waiting for a Messiah who comes only to say (putting on a Schwartzenegger accent) I’ll be back!

    There is a deep connexion with the laws of sacrifice and the laws of eating. The family dinner table is an echo of the temple altar, and just as there are some animals that are fit for sacrifice and some that are not, there are some animals that are fit for food and some that are not, and in either case to bring one that is not fit to either altar or table is an offence against God.

    What is more, not all manner of sacrifice is acceptable either. The manner of slaughter is specified, to be painless and quick, and to eat anything taken from a living animal is so beyond the pale that it is forbidden to all humanity, not just Jews. Likewise, capital punishment is allowed, but with similar considerations, which is why crucifixion is completely disallowed in the Law.

    For Christians, this has enormous significance. While Jesus died under the Law, he did so in a Gentile manner, and by Gentile authority — criminals are not executed in such a way under the Law. One can see this in two ways: that a crucifixion cannot possibly be a fulfillment of the Law because the act violates the Law (another reason for the stumbling block), or that crucifixion shows that the penalty paid was not just for Jews but for all people, since the manner and authority was not Jewish but Gentile, specifically the ruling type of Gentile (Roman) at that time and place.

    That’s enough for now. I was about to get started on how we used to find such a sign of the victory of the apparent failure of Jesus in that the language in which his sentence was pronounced, Latin, the ruling language in that time and place, is now the language in which his sacrifice is offered from the most urban parish to the most bare missionary parish in all times and places throughout the world — but then I’d probably go off on how that ain’t happening any more and it’s yet one more sign that it’s a different, well, you know, that which must not be said, so I won’t even bring it up.

    So back to the table/altar thing, I still like the classic rabbinic saying that he who eats without giving thanks, it is as if he stole the food.

  12. The Welsh Jacobite says:

    “the language in which his sentence was pronounced, Latin, the ruling language in that time and place”

    Highly unlikely to have been in Latin. Pilate, like all educated Romans, would been fluent in Greek, and Greek was the langauge of the eastern Roman Empire (for administration, as more generally). Very little Latin would have been spoken there. (M. Gibson’s film gets this utterly wrong!)

    Even at Rome, Caesar’s famous dying words, which curiously we know in Latin (“Et tu, Brute”), were actually in Greek, “kai su teknon”.

  13. Christine says:

    Past Elder, unfortunately it is the times we live in but there is now much dispute regarding the “humaneness” of kosher slaughter. There was a recent scandal at a kosher plant in the midwest where some horrible abuses were taking place (it goes without saying that nonkosher plants are even more heinous). Also, suspending a fully conscious, grown steer by one leg while simultaneously trying to sever his jugular can be tricky.

    It all depends on the skill of the shochet. Some are good, some aren’t. There is a growing movement in some countries to outlaw kosher and halal slaugher because it it’s done sloppily it causes great agony to a fully conscious animal (the late, great Isaac Bashevis Singer addressed these issues poignantly in his wonderful novels).

    Or so my vegetarian Jewish friends tell me and God bless ’em, they were right on the ball in protesting the kosher plant where the abuses were taking place. There are many Orthodox rabbis who maintain that when the Messiah comes he will return the world to the vegetarian state of Eden.

    The sacrifices at the Jerusalem Temple did insure that the “life”, or “blood” of the animal was returned to God before its flesh was consumed, unlike the peoples who surrounded Israel and who practiced both animal and human sacrifice and consumed blood.

    Going back to my original point, animal (and human) sacrifice were widely practiced in the ancient world long before the first word of Scripture was written down. Thanks be to God that with the death and resurrection of Christ it has been abolished.

  14. Past Elder says:

    Yeah, John must have gotten it wrong about that Hebrew, Greek and Latin thing with the inscription of the charges. After all, it was the last of the Gospels written, clearly from a different and probably later source than the synoptics, which do not mention it, and most likely a pious sentiment of the early believing community rather than recording an historical fact. How could I have forgotten; we learned all that in my Catholic Scripture classes at university.

    OK tongue out of cheek, the point has nothing to do with the fact than even in Rome itself one would as likely hear Greek as Latin, etc.

    Speaking of points — the only one of which seems to ever get clear here is, the Catholic Church is rght — the point about kashrut had nothing to do with bad kashrut, ancient or modern. Nor with disputing that animal and human sacrifice were normal at the time, nor that, as you seem to say, kashrut treated it differently.

    Then again, orthodox anything doesn’t get very far on this blog. If I were not a Christian, I would do as I did when I was not a Christian, pray daily for the restoration of the Temple and the sacrifices, and lament that all we have until that blessed day we have a religion of rabbis and synogogues instead of the religion of priests and sacrifices given by God.

    Oh I forgot, that Hebrew Scripture is variously sourced folk religion that could not possibly have been written by Moses, topped with a new “second law” version stuck in the new Temple so it could be “found”. Learned that too along with the seminarians.

  15. Christine says:

    If I were not a Christian, I would do as I did when I was not a Christian, pray daily for the restoration of the Temple and the sacrifices, and lament that all we have until that blessed day we have a religion of rabbis and synogogues instead of the religion of priests and sacrifices given by God.

    Ah, Eden — what a wondeful picture of Adam naming the animals and walking with them in friendship. It is not until the expulsion that blood sacrifices appear and sinful man is given permission to take animals for food, after athey learned to dread the “crown” of God’s creation, man, who onced walked with them in harmony. You do take the teachings of Genesis seriously, right PE?

    Yes, many Orthodox Jews pray for the restoration of the Temple but I don’t think that’s ever going to happen in secular Israel (not to mention that the Mosque on the Temple Mount ain’t going anywhere anytime soon). And again, there are equally Orthodox Jews who believe the coming Messianic age will again be vegetarian (is it the current or a former Chief Rabbi of Israel (Orthodox) who is a vegetarian ?? Can’t remember).

    There was always a prophetic strain in Israel that taught mercy is superior to sacrifice, upheld by Jesus himself in quoting Hosea who put these words as the admonition coming from Yahweh: “For I desire mercy, not sacrifice, and acknowledgment of God rather than burnt offerings” (Hos 6:6).

    As for “bad” or “good” kashrut it matters very much to Jews who take Proverbs 12:10 seriously. If an animal suffers at slaughter its meat becomes forbidden to Jews who keep kosher.

    I don’t exaggerate when I say that what happened to those poor animals at that “Kosher” plant was a scene from hell. The videos are still up on the internet (just picture your dog instead of the unfortunate cattle there who had their windpipes torn out while they were fully conscious).

    As for your views on Scripture, you’re entitled. I very much believe the Bible to be the Word of God but I am not a fundamentalist. But the genius of Hebrew poetry with its play on “adamah”, earth, for Adam and “Chavah”, or “life” for Eve is magnificent.

  16. Past Elder says:

    Judas, Christine, I didn’t say good or bad doesn’t matter in kashrut, I said it wasn’t my point — which point assumed good kashrut.

    Certainly not will the Temple be rebuilt in modern Israel, which has a lot to do with Jews and little to do with Judaism. And even if it were, how would the priesthood be restored — it’s been a lot longer than the Babylonian Captivity, and just having Cohen for a last name doesn’t cut it.

    Actually, it was realising that restoration of the priesthood was impossible, thus restoration of the sacrifices was impossible even if the Temple were rebuilt, that pushed me toward Christianity thinking the Messiah must have then come before 70 AD. Or else Rabbi Yochanan was right.

    But God either commanded these sacrifices or he didn’t, and if he didn’t then this religious poetry is built on a lie, which however beautiful, remains a lie.

    Then again, it was long since explained to me how he who says “Jesus is risen” because he believes Jesus is risen, and he who says “Jesus is risen” because he accepts the community of faith’s earlier expression of Jesus’ continuing significance to them through their time and culture, both hold the same Catholic faith. Both/and, doctrinal development, deeper understanding, you know.

    On the other hand, you can have all the religious poetry you want and not actually believe it except poetically in the UU.

  17. Christine says:

    Terry, forgive me, but sometimes when I read your posts I’m reminded of:

    While Paul was saying this in his defense, Festus said in a loud voice, “Paul, you are out of your mind! Your great learning is driving you mad.” :)

    Of course, I didn’t experience what you did. I never bypassed Christianity for a sojourn to Judaism (although I’ve done more than the average amount of reading in Jewish studies and have learned much from both my Jewish American and Israeli friends). I was content to sit on the sidelines and watch what happened on the Catholic and Lutheran sides while I was growing up and coming to my own conclusions.

    The entire OT is a marvelous panorama of how God gradually shaped the ancient Hebrews to be DIFFERENT from the cultures around them (although, like us, they often failed)in worshipping Him alone, obtaining forgiveness through animal sacrifice (human sacrifice being strictly verboten) and learning to take sin seriously in the presence of a holy God. That doesn’t change the fact that sacrifice was a SAD necessity. Judaism has a well developed concept of “sorrow for the animals” that Christianity had in its early years (especially among monastics and 19th Century social reformers) but seems to have lost in “modern” times. Since you are so fond of quoting Judaism’s precepts, here’s a few more:

    The celebrated Rabbi Hacohen-Kook, the first Chief Rabbi of Israel, wrote a clear-sighted treatise entitled “The Prophecy of Vegetarianism and Peace”, and in it he deals with the above paragraph as follows: “It is inconceivable that the Creator who had planned a world of harmony and a perfect way for man to live, should, many thousands of years later find that this plan was wrong”. He refers to the dominion over the creatures as not being “the domination of a tyrant tormenting his people and his slaves only to satisfy his private needs and desires. God forbid that such an ugly law of slavery should be sealed eternally in the word of God who is good to all, and whose tender mercies are over all his works”.

    When the Hebrews were eventual1y established in Israel, the law of Moses, which contains 613 precepts, was duly initiated. Notwithstanding that a mixed multitude of 200,000 accompanied the 400,000 Hebrews on their long trek from Egypt to the Promised Land, it was the most serious crime, after murder, to kill an animal outside the gates of the Temple, and carried the most severe penalty next to capital punishment. The great philosopher, medico and bible commentator of the 12th Century, Moses Maimonides, stated “The sacrifices were a concession to barbarism”. It must be remembered that child sacrifice was universal and as the story of the golden calf indicated, the people were surrounded with idol worshipping tribes. The sacrifice of animals was to lead to the abolition of child sacrifice until it lead to its own abolition. Sacrifice is an essential part of the human makeup, as is evidenced today by the way people react in time of war and willingly sacrifice their lives. Primitive people could not understand any other form of worship, and today sacrifice is still required, but is represented by charity and good deeds which satisfy this instinct.

    It was customary among all tribes to drink the blood and cut the limbs from living creatures, with the false idea that they thereby took in the strength from the animal. This belief still holds good among primitive tribes and an example is the Hottentots who drink live elephant’s blood. The laws of Moses were designed to protect the animals from these cruelties, and to prevent the annihilation of the human species from the disease of flesh foods, by not consuming the blood “which is the life thereof”. In this there was also a strong moral issue, and even today when a creature is slaughtered, some of the blood is buried in the ground and a prayer is said over it in order to remind the slaughterer that he has taken a life.

    Although blood can be drained from arteries it is impossible to remove blood from the capillaries and this could therefore be construed as a prohibition against the consumption of flesh entirely. In order to avoid this problem the flesh is burned over a flame or salted for an hour. It might be said that this is begging the question, for, although it is no longer liquid blood, it remains in a solidified form.

    The law contains many other precepts regarding compassion for animals. Some examples are, “Thou shalt not yoke an ox with an ass” (this was cruelty to the weaker creature), “Thou shalt not. muzzle the ox when he treadeth the corn”. This is applied also to human beings; it was considered cruel to prevent a creature eating when it was hungry, whilst producing food for others. It is not even permitted to remove eggs from a nest when the mother bird is in sight, and the prohibition of eating milk and meat together stems from the forbidden practice of killing the young in front of its mother. These and other such laws are explained in the Talmud, a large section of which is devoted to “Tzar Baal Chaim” (The Suffering of Animals).

    The Ten Commandments are the basis of the Jewish Faith, and in the Fourth Commandment domestic animals along with the family are commanded to observe the Sabbath Day. The Talmud discourses on this subject and the question as to how domestic animals may observe the answer is “No”, they must be allowed freedom to roam the fields and enjoy the sunshine, air and grass, generally to enjoy the work of the Creation in the same way as man. A far cry from the present practice of permanent incarceration in darkened factory farms.

    Again the Sixth Commandment “Thou shalt not kill”, seals the general teachings relating to carnivorous habits. The implication is that one shall not kill unnecessarily and the oft used translation “thou shalt not commit murder” wrongfully restricts the original meaning of the word. Certainly today, the abundance of nonflesh health giving foods unquestionably means that every time a creature is killed for food a sin against God has been committed.

    Orthodox Jews make a blessing for practically all benefits in life. There is a separate blessing for each type of food, but there is none for flesh foods – something that has been slaughtered cannot be blessed. There is a blessing on wearing new garments, but no blessing may be made over furs or other animal skins of any kind – you cannot destroy the works of Creation and at the same time bless God for having made them. There are blessings on seeing beautiful trees, famous people, thunder, lightning, etc. and the idea underlying it all is to acknowledge the supremacy of God and the dependency of man.

    The festivals, many of which have been incorporated into Christian observance, are Passover (Easter), Pentecost (Harvest Festival) and Succot (Tabernacles) The fast days, however, have not been adopted.

    On Pentecost when the Synagogues are decorated with fruits and flowers, no carcasses of slaughtered creatures are to be seen. On Succot, when the little booths are erected, they are decorated with fruit and flowers, no bodies or portion of bodies are used as decorations. Even on Passover the paschal lamb is purely symbolic, there is no instruction to eat it other than on the first Biblical Passover, and any food symbol can be used to carry out the ordinance that all generations shall remember the going out of Egypt; the departure from slavery to freedom. The paschal lamb was in fact a sacrifice and not permitted therefore since the destruction of the Temple.

    On the solemn Day of Atonement, when all Jews fast and seek compassion from the Almighty for life and health in the coming year, no leather shoes should be worn in the Synagogue. The reason for this is not humility but to avoid hypocrisy. It is not devout to pray for compassion when one has shown no compassion in daily life; likewise it is a sacrilege to wear a fur coat which is for self aggrandisement and the product of extreme cruelty.

    It shou
    ld be observed that nowhere in the Bible are flesh foods promised as a reward for observing the commandments, but an abundance of corn and wine and oil, gardens of nuts and figs and pomegranates, bread to make one strong and oil to make the face shine, a land flowing with milk and honey (milk was an expression of plenty and honey was derived from dates, wine was actually grape juice). A land where each man shall rest in peace under the shade of his own fig tree. Not, let it be noted, under the shade of his own slaughter house. Great scribes, teachers and philosophers stride across the millenniums of Jewish history, imbued with these teachings; many of them were vegetarian.

    Many followed the practice of sects in ancient Israel and helped keep the flame of compassion from being extinguished. One of these tribes, the Essenes who abjured all forms of flesh food and intoxicants still exist in large numbers in modern Israel.

    It is interesting to note that a very much larger proportion of Jewish people are vegetarian than their neighbors. In many instances they take leading roles in furthering knowledge of this great subject. In Israel there have been three vegetarian Chief Rabbis in twenty five years and over four percent of the population are vegetarian, perhaps a higher percentage than any country in the world, excepting India.

    The long winding road back, can now be clearly seen. May it be traversed ever more speedi1y and may the day not be far distant when the beautiful prophesy of Isaiah will be fulfilled. “For behold I create new heavens and the new earth and the former shall not be remembered – and they shall plant the vineyards and eat the fruit of them – the wolf and lamb shall feed together and the lion shall eat straw like the bullock. They shall not hurt nor destroy in all my holy mountain”.

    Even now, as Christians, we cannot appear emptyhanded before God who is always holy but we plead the merits of the Body and Blood of His perfectly obedient Son each time we celebrate the Eucharist because, as Hebrews states, the blood of goats and calves could never take away sin — so I can’t see how it would be God’s will to go back to a system that has been abolished by the new covenant. All creation is now redeemed. And glory to Jesus Christ, who in love and humility now imparts His glorious, risen life to us in the humble forms of bread and wine. No, meat is not forbidden to Christians but as the National Catholic Rural Life Conferences says, today eating is a moral act because of our horrendous farming practices. There is also no proscription that we MUST eat meat. As the NT says, the Kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of peace and righteousness … I find more congruence with the Rabbis than fellow Christians sometimes on these issues.

    Then again, it was long since explained to me how he who says “Jesus is risen” because he believes Jesus is risen, and he who says “Jesus is risen” because he accepts the community of faith’s earlier expression of Jesus’ continuing significance to them through their time and culture, both hold the same Catholic faith. Both/and, doctrinal development, deeper understanding, you know.

    Sorry you had to deal with this kind of nonsense. I’ve never heard it once, not once, in any Catholic parish since I converted.
    Now, I think I’ve “pontificated” (sorry, couldn’t resist) enough today.

  18. Past Elder says:

    Well I suppose if one wants to theologise vegetarianism into Judaism that’s OK. Oddly enough, Hitler was a devout vegetarian too, but what the hell.

    Nature is fallen. For all its beauty, it’s pretty ugly too. The sort of Romantic version of Nature implicit in Kook derives a hell of a lot more from modern man’s misty nostalgia for “nature” than nature itself. The animals are eating animals for food all the time. Get downrange a bit and you loose that misty-eyed romanticism when you become part of the cycle directly.

    On the other hand, why should a revisionist Catholic not like the Orthodox rabbi most liked by non-Orthodox, non-observant, and non-Jews? I’m a Reb Moshe kind of guy myself.

    As to the National Catholic anything, with the exception of abortion the US Catholic Church has been theologising liberal politics into the Gospel of Jesus Christ for decades. As they say, what’s the National Conference of Catholic Bishops — the Democratic Party at prayer.

    God ordained sacrifices and God ordained acts of loving-kindness. God did not say when the time is right you can drop the former for the latter.

    And what would a reply to Christine be without a “when did I ever say …”? When did I ever say it was God’s will to go back to a system abolished by the new covenant? I said nothing of the sort.

    Interesting to have read this on a Friday. In the lunch line at work, the person next to me asked our vendor what they had, the only “fish” offering being shrimp, which she doesn’t like, so she left the line and, being another of these post conciliar converts, announced “I have to have fish”. While I though about saying to her, no you just have to not eat meat, instead I just commented to the vendor it’s nice being Lutheran, you can “fast” but you don’t have to, as I ordered my mini-burgers and pasta. I suppose the whole fins and scales thing would have been lost on everyone!

    The Orthodox rabbi who was going to marry us in a religious but non-Jewish ceremony got booted before this could happen by his congregation over — kashrut, as he wouldn’t wink just a little as the “old” rabbi did.

  19. Past Elder says:

    PS — sure you have, just not applied to “Jesus is risen” perhaps. If you could find a thing and its opposite doctrinal developments or deeper understandings or whatever of each other, there would be no Catholic theology at all! Hell, now they hold the Mass and its negation to be extraordinary and ordinary forms of the same thing! Now there’s a guy who needs to go home and have some brats and maybe get a real life for the time he has left.

  20. Past Elder says:

    Sorry, that’s couldn’t, not could supra. Damn I miss having a graduate assistant sometimes.

  21. Christine says:

    Oddly enough, Hitler was a devout vegetarian too, but what the hell.

    Oh really?

    Robert Payne is widely considered to be Hitler’s definitive biographer. In his book, Hitler: The Life and Death of Adolph Hitler, Payne says that Hitler’s “vegetarianism” was a “legend” and a “fiction” invented by Joseph Goebbels, the Nazi Minister of Propaganda. According to Payne:

    Hitler’s asceticism played an important part in the image he projected over Germany. According to the widely believed legend, he neither smoked nor drank, nor did he eat meat or have anything to do with women. Only the first was true. He drank beer and diluted wine frequently, had a special fondness for Bavarian sausages and kept a mistress, Eva Braun… His asceticism was fiction invented by Goebbels to emphasize his total dedication, his self-control, the distance that separated him from other men. By this outward show of asceticism, he could claim that he was dedicated to the service of his people. In fact he was remarkably self-indulgent and possessed none of the instincts of the ascetic.”

    I am going to consult with some of my German-speaking friends for German references. Past Elder, if you’re going to lecture me on the history of my native country make sure you have your facts straight.

    Now, as for the rest of your post, I was very pleased to read the Holy Father’s comments on Zenit today:

    The Holy Father went on to say Christ’s action in the temple shows that “a new moment in history has been foretold.”

    “The time in which animals were sacrificed to God has ended. Animal sacrifice had always been a miserable substitution, a gesture of nostalgia for the true way of worshiping God. […] The body of Christ, Christ himself, enters to take the place of the bloody sacrifices and the food offerings. Only the ‘love to the end,’ only the love for men for which he gives himself totally to God, this is the true worship, the true sacrifice. Worshipping in spirit and truth means worshiping in communion with him who is truth; worshipping in the communion of his body, in which the Holy Spirit unites us.”

    “The fact that Jesus now chases out the merchants does not only impede abuse, but indicates the new action of God,” the Holy Father continued. “The new temple is formed: Jesus Christ himself, in whom God’s love comes down to men. He, in his life, is the new and living temple. He, who passed through the cross and is risen, is the living space of spirit and life in which the right worship is realized. Thus, the purification of the temple, as the culmination of Jesus’ solemn entry into Jerusalem, is the sign both of the incumbent destruction of the building and the promise of the new temple; the promise of the kingdom of reconciliation and love that, in the communion with Christ, is established beyond every frontier.

    “To the trafficking in animals and the money exchange, Jesus opposes his goodness that makes well again. It is the true purification of the temple. He does not come as a destroyer; he does not come with the sword of the revolutionary.

    “He comes with the gift of healing. He dedicates himself to those who because of their infirmities have been pushed to the end of their life and to the margins of society. Jesus reveals God as he who loves, and his power as the power of love. And thus he says to us what will always be a part of the true worship of God: healing, serving, the goodness that makes well again.”

    Thank you, Holy Father, as always your words inspire me.

    As for my “misty-eyed” views of nature, the Good Book itself says that it is corrupted on account of the sin of man. Nothing misty-eyed about that. I got a wonderful education in the cycles of nature when my Dad and I tramped the outback in our three years in Australia.

    Carnivores kill out of necessity, they have no choice in what they can eat. But have you noticed — the non-carnivores far outnumber the meat eaters? A wonderful system that keeps a healthy balance. And the prey does sometimes get to live another day. The carnivores don’t always get theirs. Now, how does that stack up against the nasty industrial farming system of today, where animals a de-horned, castrated, have their tails docked (all without anesthesia, of course) doped up with growth hormones and shipped in the heat of summer and cold of winter with very little consideration for their suffering (not to mention the high rate of injuries suffered by workers in the industry)? This is pleasing to God who made us the stewards of all that he created? And for a little further enlightenment for you, the National Catholic Rural Life Conference is made up of ordinary folks who are struggling very hard to support family farms against the industrial giants who are swallowing them up. They are supported not only by Catholics but people from many denominational backgrounds.

    The Good News is that all this sordidness will end. When Christ comes again all will be as God intended in the beginning.d

    As this is the beginning of Holy Week I feel the need to fast from the ramblings that blogs so often are (including my ramblings and PE’s usual ramblings), blessed Holy Week to all (and Happy Feast Day to all my Irish brothers and sisters — for once we have good March 17 weather here for the St. Patty’s Day parade!).

  22. Past Elder says:

    Well, as usual, a simple point is nearly impossible to make on this blog unless it in some way supports “The Catholic Church is right”.

    Hitler was known to eat meat from time to time, but was in the main vegetarian from the early 1930s. He was also known to encourage vegetarianism by describing the “horrors” of meat production. The foundation for the greenhouse Martin Bormann built for him to provide an uninterrupted supply of fruit and vegetables are one of the few remaining signs around the old Berchtesgaden hang out.

    Kook, btw, considered vegetarianism an ideal for the Messianic era when Man regained his status before the Fall and, like Adam and Eve, would not eat meat. Maybe the best known Jewish vegetarian, Rabbi Joseph Albo, advocated not eating meat out of a concern that making a living in the production of meat could lead to blunting traits such as kindness and consideration, but considered opposition to eating meat on animal cruelty grounds a moral error.

    God himself allowed eating meat after the Flood, in the Noahide Law (Genesis 9).

    I am truly not sure whether you think I think Jesus did not signal the end of the Temple and its sacrifices, and indeed he becomes the Temple and its sacrifice. I do think he is the full and final Temple and sacrifice, both fulfilling and nullifying all earlier covenants — there is a new Temple, a new priest, a new sacrifice, a new Israel, replacing all that went before it. I would not find anything to argue with in Ratzinger’s quote you offer at all per se. My point simply was, were I to lose faith in that, I would as I did before consider the old covenant still valid and as a Righteous of the Nations pray for the restoration of the Temple and its sacrifices, as well as the coming of the Messiah, and that though one may believe the old covenant to have been fulfilled and have passed, it was nonetheless instituted by God exactly as given in his revealed word in Scipture.

  23. Anonymous says:

    Sigh, because I am so bad at disciplining myself I’ll do this one more time today:

    I quote you back your own words:

    “Oddly enough, Hitler was a devout vegetarian too, but what the hell.”

    Devout vegetarian, said himself. Devout vegetarians don’t eat meat. Ever.

    If I recall correctly Hitler’s mother had cancer which he had a morbid fear of contracting and suspected might be caused by meat eating, but even if that was not the case please don’t by any stretch of the imagination try to imply that Hitler even MIGHT have been vegetarian for ethical reasons or his so-called love for animals. Remember what he did to his “beloved” German Shepherd?

    Yes, of course God allowed eating meat after the flood but it was a concession to sinful human nature. Remember what God did to the Israelites when they complained about the manna He fed them in the desert? Bread from heaven? It wasn’t good enough after awhile, they craved “flesh”. He gave them so much quail it made them sick!

    There are many folks from numerous traditions (or none) that are vegetarians for ethical reasons. One of the most well known in the Jewish community is Professor Richard Schwartz.

    I’m not a big fan of the NY Times but they have a very astute article on these issues at

    Not sure if the link will work, but Rod Dreher, an Orthodox Christian comments on the article on his “Crunchy Con” blog:

    Absolutely I’m going to do that with meat. I have been accustomed all my life to thinking that a meal without meat is not really a meal. It’s not true, but thinking of meat-eating as a necessity, and allowing only one’s appetite to restrict one’s intake of meat, leads to what Mark Bittman identifies as some rather destructive consequences in the wider world. Bittman gives several good reasons to reduce your meat consumption. My Lenten experience so far proves to me that it can be done.

    Amen, Rod.

    The Bible doesn’t address these issues simply because many of them didn’t exist then (there were no “factory farms”) and the rain forests had not been destroyed. But it has plenty to say about the kind of “dominion” we’ve been given over creation and these days we are falling woefully short.

    Now, back to my fast from blogging.

  24. Anonymous says:

    Nuts, I just can’t seem to get away from this — forgot one more addendum — Hitler’s “horror” regarding meat production was used against the Jews in trying to portray them as pitiless killers because kosher slaughter is so bloody. And he certainly had no qualms about stringing people up on meathooks even if he never did so himsef.

    Again, you’ve missed the context.


  25. Christine says:

    Adding, in great humility, her name.

  26. Past Elder says:

    Funny, the verse about allowing meat after the Flood being a concession to human nature is missing from my Bible, in which he allows it.

    Hitler’s mother did die of cancer (breast, I think) and he did have a great fear of getting cancer himself, but I do not know that this has been concusively demonstrated to be his motivation for vegetarianism.

    And for the “when did I ever say” this time, when did I ever say Hitler’s motive was ethical or humanitarian for his espousal of vegetarianism. I know “Catholic” “theology” depends upon taking inference and deduction for actual stated points, but blog conversations?

    If you’re all concerned about family farms, so was Jesse James, who defended landowners against railroad greed. But I’m sure he was just an outlaw to you.

    Ain’t it great we’ve got the Catholic bishops to point out how liberal politics is the Gospel of Jesus Christ where the Bible didn’t. Ever strike you as strange that those of the world who agree with the Church’s new social sins disagree with the Church’s old personal ones?

    I’m not against vegetarianism. I’m against making it essential or at least more true to the Gospel, or the Law for that matter.

    I suppose this means you don’t want an order from Omaha Steaks for Christmas.

  27. Christine says:

    And for the “when did I ever say” this time, when did I ever say Hitler’s motive was ethical or humanitarian for his espousal of vegetarianism.

    Very clever, PE!! But I’ve heard the charge leveled against vegetarians too many times that Hitler was a vegetarian and look at what a #@55++!** he was.

    Frankly, it’s a moot point. If we don’t turn back much of the pollution and environmental destruction our western beefmania is producing the decision may be made for us.

    And, thanks but no thanks (bowing ever so politely) on the Omaha steaks. I like cattle with their parts intact — but a heaping potful of vegetable lo mein (with sesame seeds, if you please!) would be ever so appreciated!!

    Blessed Easter, my brother in Christ!

  28. Past Elder says:

    Well ain’t that the dingest dangest thing!

    It appears we are having a Holy Week miracle here, Christine and I are actually coming to an amicable conclusion.

    For the record, adopting a vegetarian diet is IMHO a decision a reasonable person could defensibly make, though it would not be my decision, and I would in no case (as I would, for example, with a decision to join the Roman Catholic Church!) consider it “wrong” nor consider its opposite something to which such a person should be persuaded to come.

    What’s clever about saying you didn’t say what you didn’t say?

    The whole Hitler thing, on my part, was not to attack vegetarianism per se — Hitler was avidly anti-smoking too, which does not make smoking therefore a good idea, even a broken watch has the right time twice a day, unless set to 24 hour time, then it’s once a day — but to juxtapose that against the citations of Kook et al that vegetarianism is essentially or more truly Jewish, and to oppose the making of such stands a moral or legislative imperative for society at large. That’s what I find Hitlerian, as I would making meat eating a command too.

    If we’re going to eat Chinese, can we also agree to use chopsticks and not metal shovels aka Western utensils? Now there’s revisionism of the highest order, right up there with the novus ordo or the Catechism of the Catholic Church! I mean who would go into an Outback (our US “Australian” steak house chain) and ask for chopsticks to eat a steak, so who would go to The Golden Palace, literally or figuratively, and eat with knife, fork and spoon? Might as well order a bloody hamburger!

    Y felices pascuas a usted tambien.

    (That’s a change up for the blog’s readership who may find our bantering with its occasional lapses into German amusing — and I’ve never understood why in Spanish we say “Happy Easter” in the plural!)

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