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  • Writer's pictureChapman Chen

St. Augustine Believes Animals are for Humans to Kill and Use! By Dr. Chapman Chen

Summary: St. Augustine's attitude towards human-animal power relations is typically anthropocentric. He’s adamant that the human species has been made to the image of God on account of the intellect (Augustine 1991:76). “The irrational animals… are dissociated from us by their want of reason, and are therefore by the just appointment of the Creator subjected to us to kill or keep alive for our own uses” (Augustine 2014: 1.20). (Additionally, animals are regarded by Augustine as an analogy for wild human emotions to be subdued [1991:78-79].) For the same reason, “Thou shalt not kill” does not apply to animals (Augustine 2014: 1.20). In his view, because the human species has been weakened by their sin, they can now be harmed or killed by many wild animals. Nonetheless, if even in  this state of condemnation, “man” can still tame so many animals, then “what ought we to think of that reign of his… once he has been renewed and set free?” (Augustine 1990:77), which outrageously suggests that humans will brutalize other animals even more seriously in the New Heaven and New Earth.

1. Who’s Saint Augustine

Augustine of Hippo (Latin: Aurelius Augustinus Hipponensis; 354 – 430), also known as Saint Augustine, was a theologian and philosopher of Berber origin and the bishop of Hippo Regius in Numidia, Roman North Africa. His writings influenced the development of Western philosophy and Western Christianity, and he is viewed as one of the most important Church Fathers of the Latin Church in the Patristic Period. His many important works include The City of God, On Christian Doctrine, and Confessions.


2. “Man has been Made to the Image of God on Account of Reason”


Following in the footsteps of Aristotle (1985), St. Augustine anthropocentrically believes that not animals but humans were made in the image of God in terms of rationality, which is symbolized by the erect posture of homo sapiens, so that all animals are supposed to be under human control.


When man is said to have been made to the image of God, these words refer to the interior man, where reason and intellect reside…For when God said, “Let us make man to our image and likeness,” he immediately added, “And let him have power over the fish of the sea and the birds of heaven,” and the rest, so that we might understand that man is said to have been made to the image of God, not on account of his body, but on account of that power by which he surpasses the cattle. For all the other animals are subject to man, not by reason of the body, but by reason of the intellect which we have and they do not have. Even our body has been made so that it reveals that we are better than the beasts and, for that reason, like God. For the bodies of all the animals which live either

in the waters or on the earth, or which fly in the air, are turned toward the earth and are not erect as is the body of man. This signifies that our mind ought to be raised up toward

those things above it, that is, to eternal spiritual things. It is especially by reason of the mind that we understand that man was made to the image and likeness of God, as even the erect form of the body testifies. (Augustine 1991:76)

This concept of St. Augustine’s about human-animal relations basically comes from his misunderstanding of the word “dominion” in Genesis 1:28, the phrase “created… in the image of God” in Genesis 1:27, the occurrence of intelligence in nature, and the health implications of an erect posture.

2.1. "Dominion" in Genesis 1:28 Means Servanthood


Many animal flesh eating Christians like St. Augustine have seized upon the word "dominion" in Genesis 1:28 to justify enslavement, exploitation, abuse, rape, and murder of animals. In reality, ירדו (yirdu), the ancient, pre-Masoretic, Hebrew word in consonantal form for "dominion" in Genesis 1:28 connotes both רָדָה (radah) (to tread down, subjugate, rule) and יָרַד (yarad) (to lower oneself, to descend) in Masoretic Hebrew. Rev. Prof. Andrew Linzey argues that "dominion" in Genesis 1:28 means stewardship rather than despotism (Linzey 1995:34), because it is immediately followed by a vegan diet prescribed by God to humans (Genesis 1:29). He even contends that the human species has the unique potential to become "the servant species" able to work with God in liberating animals (Linzey 1995:45, 57). Richard Ritenbaugh (1999) also notes that in Genesis 2:15, humans are particularly assigned to tend (עָבַד/abad) and keep (שָׁמַר/shamar) the garden—i.e., to be a caretaker of it. Thus, "dominion over animals" signifies that God commands humandkind to lower themselves and serve other animals as a servant. To interpret "dominion" as "servanthood" is safer than as "stewardship" and "caretakership" for "servanthood" involves least power and authority (Chen 2024).

2.2. Animals are at Least Partly Made in the Image of God

There is good reason to question whether Christians should think that only humans bear the image of God (Chen 2023). Animals at least partly manifest God's image because of the following reasons:- Firstly, The Bible never denies that animals are made in the image of God. Secondly, both humanity and other animals were made out of dust by God. Thirdly, God made a covenant with not only humanity but also other animals (Genesis 9:9-11; Hosea 2:18). Fourthly, many verses in the Bible describe how different animals bear different characteristics of God (e.g. Isaiah 31:4; Matthew 23:37; Luke 13:34; John 1:29; Matthew 3:16). Fifthly, not only humans but  other animals are gifted with a "living soul" (נֶ֣פֶשׁ חַיָּ֔ה nephesh chayyah) (Genesis 1:21, 24; Genesis 1:30). It follows that animals are our fellow creatures, that we should go vegan and stop eating and abusing them.

2.3. Animals also Demonstrates Intelligence

It is a scientific fact that a wide range of animals, including pigs, dolphins, bonobos, elephants, and various bird species, have demonstrated a level of intelligence that surpasses previous assumptions. Oord (2015) suggests that if intelligence or rationality are markers of being created in the image of God, then numerous species may also share this divine reflection.

Beyond intelligence, Oord (2015) goes on, the commonalities shared with humans extend to other areas. Experiments have shown that many animals are capable of decision-making. They exhibit creativity, not only in constructing intricate structures from lifeless materials but also in forming elaborate social networks. Emotional expression is not unique to humans either; creatures display a spectrum of feelings, from empathy to fear. Certain advanced species, like wolves, even show signs of having a sense of morality. Communication, too, is a shared trait, with birds and other animals engaging in complex interactions, indicating that this ability is not solely human. In conclusion, characteristics once believed to be exclusive to humans are now recognized in other species, albeit sometimes in varied or lesser degrees. 

A lot of species exhibit a basic level of self-awareness and awareness of their surroundings. Capacities that are often considered uniquely human, like the ability to reason symbolically, may actually vary more in extent rather than in essence. While it's true that not all animals can engage in symbolic thought, many still display considerable mental abilities. See, for instance, Kristin Andrews (2015).

2.4. Can They Suffer? > Can They Reason?

More importantly, as well put by John Bentham (1948), “The question is not, ‘Can they reason?’ nor ‘Can they talk?’ but ‘Can they suffer?’” In treating animals as dirt, St. Augustine seems to have forgotten that God is love (1 John 4:7); God loves the world (John 3:16), including ALL His creation (Psalm 145:9); and Christ is compassion (Matthew 12:6-7).

2.5. An Erect Posture is a Hazard to Health!

St. Augustine, as aforementioned, also suggests that while the physical forms of animals are oriented towards the ground, the upright posture of the human body symbolizes the elevation of their thoughts towards higher, everlasting spiritual realities.  

However, scientific studies have highlighted the negative health implications of the evolution from a quadrupedal to a bipedal posture in humans. Here are some of the key points and studies:

2.51.     Skeletal and Biomechanical Issues: The transition to bipedalism has led to significant changes in the human skeleton, particularly the spine, pelvis, and lower limbs. The S-shaped spine, while helping in balance, also makes humans more prone to spinal disorders like herniated discs and spondylosis due to the increased load-bearing requirements. Additionally, the erect posture places more stress on the knee and hip joints, contributing to osteoarthritis (Anthroholic 2023).

2.5.2.     Health Implications: Lower back pain is a prevalent issue linked to the load-bearing function of the lumbar spine, a direct consequence of bipedalism. Osteoarthritis in the knee and hip joints is another common problem due to the increased pressure from upright walking (Anthroholic 2023).

2.5.3.     Evolutionary Biology Perspective: An overview of the evolution of human erect posture and bipedal mobility discusses various biomechanical challenges, including the increased risk of falls and skeletal issues. The erect posture, while advantageous for freeing the hands and increasing energy efficiency, has led to several health challenges due to the anatomical adjustments required for bipedalism (Kumar 2021).


3. Animals are Subjected by God to Humans to Use and to Kill!


St. Augustine has neither mercy nor care for animals at all!


3.1. An Anthropocentric Misinterpretation of the Commandment


In City of God Volume 1, Augustine (2014), while admitting that animals are able to feel pain, argues that the sixth commandment "Thou shalt not kill" applies only to humans but not to animals for the latter do not have reason and are hence designed by God for humans to use and kill. Like so many modern-day anti-vegans, Augustine satirically questions, "If you will not kill animals, then you should not kill plants either."

"Must we therefore reckon it a breaking of this commandment, 'Thou shalt not kill,' to pull a flower? Are we thus insanely to countenance the foolish error of the Manichæans (Note 1)?" Augustine rhetorically asks (Augustine 2014: 1.20). In rebuttal of Mani, Augustine remarks that the commandment should be applied to neither for plants do not have feelings. As regards animals, he invokes the Stoic doctrine, and insists that lacking reason, animals are not members of our community and are thus assigned by God for exploitation by human beings.

Putting aside, then, these ravings, if, when we say, Thou shalt not kill, we do not understand this of… the irrational animals that fly, swim, walk, or creep, since they are dissociated from us by their want of reason, and are therefore by the just appointment of the Creator subjected to us to kill or keep alive for our own uses; if so, then it remains that we understand that commandment simply of man. (Augustine 2014: 1.20)

3.2. "Thou shalt not Kill" Refers to Any Kind of Killing!

On the other hand, as put by Reuben Alcalay (1981), one of the greatest contemporary linguists cum author of The Complete Hebrew-English Dictionary, the 6th Commandment "Thou shalt not kill" (Exodus 20:13 KJV; Matthew 19:18 KJV) refers to "any kind of killing whatsoever." The original Hebrew, he points out, is לֹא תִּרְצָח Lo tirtzakh, which requires us to stop ourselves from killing any sentient beings altogether.

3.3.  Kill vs Murder

Admittedly, the Hebrew word for "murder" is רָצַח ratzakh, whereas the word for "kill" is הָרַג haroq. The commandment, in the original Hebrew, indeed states: "Lo tirtzakh" (a form of ratzahh), not "Lo Taharoq." But still we submit that Reuben Alcalay is justified in asserting that tirtzakh means "any kind of killing whatsoever" on two grounds (cf. Chen 2022).

(The primary definitions of "to kill" according to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary are "to deprive of life", "to slaughter an animal for food", "to put an end to", and "to destroy the vital or essential quality of".  "Murder" as a noun, is primarily defined in legal terms by Webster's New Universal Unabridged Dictionary as  "the unlawful and malicious or premeditated killing of one human by another"; as a verb, it is primarily defined as "to kill (a person) unlawfully and with malice." Secondary definitions include "to kill inhumanly and barbarously, as in warfare" or "to destroy; to put an end to.")  

3.4. Jesus Expands on "Thou Shalt not Kill"

Firstly, Luke (18:20), Mark (10:19), and Matthew (5:21-22) all urge adherents to transcend conventional understandings of this prohibition. For instance, Jesus expands on the formal definitions of "Thou shalt not kill" as follows:- “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’  But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother  will be liable to judgment;" (Matthew 5:21-22 ESV)

3.5. Beyond Legalistic Principles

Secondly, the primary definitions of "murder" and "kill" are given by human linguists, mostly meat-eating, and animals who do not enjoy equal rights as humans are naturally omitted from the formal definitions so that it will not be unlawful for humans to take innocent animals' lives. However, provided that we consider murder in a practical manner and look at what it in reality is, beyond just legalistic principles, we are met head-on with the secondary designations of "murder" abovementioned, both of which are for sure applicable to animals (cf. Rosen 2019). As a matter of fact, "He that killeth an ox is as if he slew a man" (Isaiah 66:3 KJV) puts forwards a closer connection betwixt "kill" and "murder".  

The (mis)translation/(mis)interpretation of "Thou shalt not kill" as "Thou shalt not commit homicide", such that non-human animals are excluded, reveals anthropocentrism according to Revd Prof. Andrew Linzey (1995:33-34) and Prof. David Clough (2011:88), or speciesism according to Peter Singer (1975:6), in other words, megalomania, self-aggrandizement, self-worship, and self-deification, on the part of homo sapiens.

3.6. Why should Compassionate Vegans Eat and Kill Plants?


When it comes to killing living beings, one of the most common queries faced by animal-loving vegans nowadays is: Plants also have lives and feelings. If you vegans do not want to cause pain and death to animals, why do you kill and eat plants? In The City of God 1.20, St. Augustine also touches upon this question:-


In the commandment, "Thou shalt not kill," there is no limitation added nor any exception made in favour of any one, and least of all in favour of him on whom the command is laid! And so some attempt to extend this command even to beasts and cattle, as if it forbade us to take life from any creature. But if so, why not extend it also to the plants…Must we therefore reckon it a breaking of this commandment, "Thou shalt not kill," to pull a flower? Are we thus insanely to countenance the foolish error of the Manichæans? Putting aside, then, these ravings, if, when we say, Thou shalt not kill, we do not understand this of the plants, since they have no sensation… (Augustine 2014)


3.7. Plants do NOT have a Central Nervous System


To be fair to St. Augustine, he's right in pointing out that plants do not have feelings. In modern terms, plants, unlike animals, do not have a central nervous system. They may have some sort of response to dangers, but it is not pain that can be acutely felt. Meanwhile, fruits are for spreading seeds and therefore expected by the mother plant herself to be eaten by animals. And if you pluck the leaves of a plant, it normally won't kill it. Contrariwise, if you tear away the limbs of an animal, she will either die or at least suffer immensely (cf. Dekic n.d.).


So much the more, animal farming is a grossly inefficient way of produce food for humans. According to Vaclav Smil (2014), Distinguished Emeritus Professor from the University of Manitoba, it takes 25 kg of feed (mostly corn and soy) to produce 1 kg of beef, 9.4 kg for 1 kg of pork, and 3.3 kg for 1 kg of chicken meat. So if we really want to save plants from unnecessary destruction, we should go vegan all the more. 


4. Animals as an Analogy for Wild Emotions of Humans


St. Augustine not only views animals as beings that humans have the right to physically manipulate, but he also sees them as representing dangerous emotions that must be similarly subdued:-

Power over the Beasts Taken Allegorically

Then God said to them, “Have power over the fish of the sea and the birds of the heaven and all reptiles that creep upon the earth.” Apart from that interpretation according

to which it is clear that man is master of all these animals by reason, we can still understand this verse spiritually in the sense that we should hold in subjection all the affections and emotions of our soul, which are like those animals, and have mastery over them by temperance and modesty…. But when we rule them and hold them in subjection, they become completely tame and live in harmony with us.(Augustine 1991:78-79)


4.1. Animals are at Times More Reasonable than Humans


Actually, animals are at times more reasonable than humans both physically and metaphysically. After all, humans are causing the death of 3 trillion animals on an annual basis. According to Viva! (2023), the total number of land animals killed for food in a year around the world exceeds 78 billion. According to David Clough’s (2020) calculations for On Animals II, 2.5 to 6.8 trillion fish are killed for food every year. By contrast, carnivorous animals only kill for food out of the survival instinct. Other animals like elephants, cows and gorillas do not eat animals at all. And no animals (except for humans) would ever think of blowing up the whole world! Consider this – humanity has waged war against itself twice in history, and it seems likely that it may happen a third time soon.


5. Humans will Have Even More Power over Animals upon the Second Coming!


Worse still, ignoring Revelation 5:13 and Isaiah 11:6, St. Augustine is malicious and arrogant enough to think that humans will enjoy even more power over innocent animals in the New Heaven and Earth:-


Many wild animals and that many birds harm us when we want to avoid them or to capture them, though we often cannot. In what sense then did we receive power over these?” On this point they should first be told that they make a big mistake when they consider man after sin, when he has been condemned to the mortality of this life and has lost that perfection by which he was made to the image of God. But even man’s state of condemnation involves such power that he rules many animals. For though he can be killed by many wild animals on account of the fragility of his body, he can be tamed by

none, although he tames very many and nearly all of them. If, then, this state of man’s condemnation involves such power, what ought we to think of that reign of his, which is promised to him by the word of God, once he has been renewed and set free? (Augustine 1991:77)


5.1 The New Heaven and New Earth is Vegan!


On the other hand, it is envisioned in Revelation 5:13 and Isaiah 11:6 that in the New Heaven and Earth, which must be vegan, animals will live harmoniously with others and with humans in harmony and bliss.

"Then I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and on the sea, and all that is in them, saying: “To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be praise and honor and glory and power, for ever and ever!" (Revelation 5:13 NIV); "The wolf will live with the lamb, the leopard will lie down with the goat, the calf and the lion and the yearling together; and a little child will lead them." (Isaiah 11:6 NIV)


6. Conclusion


St. Augustine was a Christian priest cum theologian whose speciesist prejudice against animals has influenced the Western world for 1600 years. Therefore, his anthropocentrism badly needs to be rectified. Just because most animals are not so intelligent as humans doesn’t mean that we are entitled to enslave, abuse, torture, rape, murder, and consume them. Just because humans were made in the image of God doesn’t mean animals were not. Just because humans have an erect posture doesn’t mean that they are closer to God and more spiritual than other animals. “Dominion” in Genesis 1:28 means servanthood rather than dictatorship. “Thou shalt not kill” (lo tirtzakh) refers to the killing of any sentient being, not just human beings. As God is love and Christ is compassionate, it is unchristian to harm any of His creatures unless in a life or death situation, something which most Pauline Christian theologians like St. Augustine have failed to recognize over the last 2000 years.



1. While living in Carthage, Augustine was involved as a young hearer of the Manichaean sect for nine years. Subsequently he rebelled against the faith and strongly criticized it. The Manichaeans viewed the universe as the scene of a cosmic battle between Good (Light) and Evil (Darkness). Particles of this Light got trapped in matter, like human or animal bodies, or even plants, until their eventual release through the separation of Light from matter. In the Manichaean Church, followers fell into one of two categories, the Elect or the Hearers. Both had to avoid harming Light particles as imprisoned in matter. The Elect in particular abstained from not only killing and eating animals but also plucking and killing plants. Agricultural duties then became the responsibility of the Hearers, who gained forgiveness for their sins since they did so to maintain the health of the Elect.)




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