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  • Writer's pictureChapman Chen

St. Clement of Alexandria's "Medium" Approach to Veganism. By Dr. Chapman Chen

Updated: Jan 3




 

Summary: Clement of Alexandria (150-215) struggles to strike a precarious balance between Jewish Christian veganism, on the one hand, and Paulinism plus misbeliefs about Jesus' life, on the other. Clement basically believes that we should eat for health and strength only, that gluttony, which presumably involving the slaughtering of cattle and sheep, sickens the body and deteriorates the spirit of humans, a sin which will not be forgiven. But he also buys Paul's saying that we may eat whatever is set before us in a feast without and eat whatever is sold in the meat market without questions of conscience. He thus compromisingly asserts that we need not abstain from any meat as long as we do not become obsessed with it. Also, while he is adamant that Apostle Matthew was strictly vegan, he wrongly thinks that Jesus told us that we will not be defiled by whatever enters our mouth and that Jesus ate fish. Consequently, he decides to take a "medium" approach, e.g. a simple pescetarian diet. Although Clement does not advocate animals' right to survival, he supports animal welfare by quoting relevant verses from the Old Testament, a trait rarely found among mainstream theologians of the old days. However, he does so more for restraining the "proneness of man to do wrong to man" than for animal love.


 

1. Who's Clement of Alexandria?

 

Titus Flavius Clemens, also known as Clement of Alexandria (150 – c. 215 AD), was a Christian theologian and philosopher who taught at the Catechetical School of Alexandria. Among his pupils were Origen and Alexander of Jerusalem. According to Epiphanius of Salamis, he was born in Athens, but there is also a tradition of an Alexandrian birth. A convert to Christianity, he was an educated man who was familiar with classical Greek philosophy and literature. Clement is usually regarded as a Church Father. He is venerated as a saint in Coptic Christianity, Eastern Catholicism, Ethiopian Christianity, and Anglicanism. 

 

Three of Clement's major works have survived in full and they are collectively referred to as a trilogy:

 

The Protrepticus (Exhortation) – written c. 195 AD

The Paedagogus (The Instructor) – written c. 198 AD

The Stromata (Miscellanies) – written c. 198 AD–c. 203 AD

 

Most of Clement's ideas on diet and animal sacrifice can be found in The Instructor, Book II, Chapt. I (On Eating/Animal Sacrifice), the rest in The Stromata, Book VII, Chapt. 6. His view about animal welfare is mostly found in The Stromata, Book II, Chapt. 18 (The Mosaic Law).

 

2. Eating is for Health and Strength ONLY


In his second treatise, the Instructor or Tutor, Clement makes it clear that food consumption should be for health and strength only, not for pleasure nor entertainment.

"Some men live that they may eat, as the irrational beings 'whose life is their belly and nothing else.' But the Instructor enjoins us to eat that we may live. For neither is food our business, nor is pleasure our aim. Therefore discrimination is to be used in reference to food : it must be plain, truly simple, suiting precisely simple and artless children — as ministering to life, not to luxury. And the life to which it conduces consists of two things, health and strength : to which plainness of fare is most suitable, being conducive both to digestion and lightness of body, from which come growth, and health, and right strength : not strength that is violent or dangerous, and wretched, as is that of athletes which is produced by artificial feeding."  (The Instructor, Book II, Chapt. I) 

 

3. Gluttony Killing Calves and Sheep is an Unforgivable Sin

 

Clement thinks that gluttony which involves the slaughtering of calves and sheep, etc. is an unforgivable sin which damages both the body and the soul, and that flesh-eating will dampen one's capacity for reasoning:-

 

But the diet which exceeds sufficiency injures a man, deteriorates his spirit, and renders his body prone to disease. Besides, those dainty tastes, which trouble themselves about rich dishes drive to practices of ill-repute, daintiness, gluttony, greed, voracity, insatiability. Appropriate designations of such people as so indulge are flies, weasels, flatterers, gladiators, and the monstrous tribes of parasites—the one class surrendering reason, the other friendship, and the other life, for the gratification of the belly; crawling on their bellies, beasts in human shape after the image of their father, the voracious beast. People first called the abandoned ασωτους, and so appear to me to indicate their end, understanding them as those who are (ασωστους) unsaved, excluding the σ. For those that are absorbed in pots, and exquisitely prepared niceties of condiments, are they not plainly abject, earth-born, leading an ephemeral kind of life, as if they were not to live [hereafter]? Those the Holy Spirit, by Isaiah, denounces as wretched, depriving them tacitly of the name of love (agape), since their feasting was not in accordance with the word. “But they made mirth, killing calves, and sacrificing sheep, saying, Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die.” (Isaiah 22:13) And that He reckons such luxury to be sin, is shown by what He adds, “And your sin shall not be forgiven you till you die,” (Isaiah 22:14) (The Instructor, Book II, Chapt. 1)  

By contrast, "if any one of the righteous does not burden his soul by the eating of flesh, he has the advantage of a rational reason." (The Stromata, Book VII, Chapt. 6)  


4. Paul: Eat whatever Sold in the Market without Guilt


On the other hand, Clement also quotes and buys Saint Paul's saying that we may eat whatsoever available in the meat market without questions of conscience:

Whatsoever is sold in the shambles, that eat, asking no question for conscience sake:... If any of them that believe not bid you to a feast, and ye be disposed to go; whatsoever is set before you, eat, asking no question for conscience sake. (1 Corinthians 10:25-27 KJV)


5. Just Don't Become Obsessed!


To reconcile carnist gluttony as an unforgivable sin with Paul's libertine attitude towards flesh-eating, Clement comes up with the following ambivalent stance:-


We are not, then, to abstain wholly from various kinds of food, but only are not to be taken up [obsessed] about them. We are to partake of what is set before us, as becomes a Christian, out of respect to him who has invited us, by a harmless and moderate participation in the social meeting; regarding the sumptuousness of what is put on the table as a matter of indifference, despising the dainties, as after a little destined to perish. (The Instructor, Book II, Chapt. 1) 


Meanwhile, taking note of Paul's asserting “Let him who eateth, not despise him who eateth not; and let him who eateth not, not judge him who eateth” (Romans 14:3), and “He that eateth, eateth to the Lord, and giveth God thanks; and he that eateth not, to the Lord he eateth not, and giveth God thanks” (Romans 14:4-13), Clement is obliged to make the toned-down comment that "the right food is thanksgiving" when it comes to dainties in a social gathering.


6. Clement: Abstain from Things Sacrificed to Idols!


Again, in The Instructor, Clement urges us to abstain from polluted and abominable dainties:-

"Take no pleasure in abominable delicacies," says Wisdom. At this point, too, we have to advert to what are called things sacrificed to idols, in order to show how we are enjoined to abstain from them. Polluted and abominable those things seem to me, to the blood of which, fly "Souls from Erebus of inanimate corpses." (The Instructor, Book II, Chapt. 1)


7. Paul: Food does NOT Matter!


By contrast, in I Corinthians 8:4-13, Paul argues that eating meat offered to an idol is not immoral, because “an idol is nothing at all” (I Cor. 8:4 NIV). “Food,” he asserts, “does not bring us near to God; we are no worse if we do not eat, and no better if we do” (I Cor. 8:8 NIV). "To the pure, all things are pure" (Titus 1:15 NIV).  

8. It's Unreasonable to Partake of the Tables of Demons

 

As if in rebuttal of Paul, Clement remarks, "But it is inconsistent with reason, for those that have been made worthy to share divine and spiritual food, to partake of the tables of demons."

 

As a matter of fact, Clement believes that sacrifices "were invented by men to be a pretext for eating flesh. But without such idolatry he who wished might have partaken of flesh. (The Stromata, Book VII, Chapt. 6)

 

For the sacrifices of the Law express figuratively the piety which we practice, as the turtle-dove and the pigeon offered for sins point out that the cleansing of the irrational part of the soul is acceptable to God. But if any one of the righteous does not burden his soul by the eating of flesh, he has the advantage of a rational reason, not as Pythagoras and his followers dream of the transmigration of the soul. (The Stromata, Book VII, Chapt. 6)  

 

 

9. Clement: Focus on the Holy Assembly of Love!

 

In order to solve this inconsistency or contradiction, Clement can only quote Paul's saying that "the kingdom of God is not meat and drink but righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost” (Romans 14:14-18), and advises people to focus on "the holy assembly of love" and adopt "a diet light and digestive".

 

10. Clement: Apostle Matthew was a Vegan

 

While conceding that food is indifferent pursuant to Paulinism, Clement warns people against the Belly-demon:-

 

"those who bend around inflammatory tables, nourishing their own diseases, are ruled by a most lickerish demon, whom I shall not blush to call the Belly-demon, and the worst and most abandoned of demons. It is far better to be happy than to have a demon dwelling with us. And happiness is found in the practice of virtue. Accordingly, the apostle Matthew partook of seeds, and nuts, and vegetables, without flesh." (The Instructor, Book II, Chapt. 1)

 

On the other hand, Clement mistakenly thinks that Jesus confirmed that any food we put into our mouth will not make us unclean and followed a pescatarian diet, that God has cleansed all food as in Peter's vision of a sheet with animals, and that John the Baptist fed upon "locusts and honey." Amongst all these confusions, he ends up with a so-called middle way, a "medium state", a "temperate" solution.

  

 

11. What Enters the Mouth will Never Defile a Person?

 

Clement misinterprets Matthew 15:11 (KJV) -- “Not that which goeth into the mouth defileth a man; but that which cometh out of the mouth, this defileth a man.” -- to mean that Jesus told us that what we put into our mouth as food is not important; and thus deems Paul (1 Cor. 8:7-8 KJV) not unreasonable in claiming that only the weak will be defiled through eating food dedicated to idols.

 

In actuality, the context of Matthew 15:11 is some Pharisees criticizing Jesus' disciples for failing to wash their hands ritualistically before eating bread. The conversation is centered around whether one should hold the tradition of the elders and always wash one's hands before eating. And Jesus' conclusion is: God's command is more significant than men's tradition, and evil thoughts rather than food taken without washing hands defile us. Here, Jesus is not saying that we can eat any kind of unclean food or animal flesh (cf. Beer 2014).

 

 

12. Clement: Flesh-eating Darkens the Soul!


In The Instructor, Clement is positive that flesh-eating darkens the soul, only to be encountered with Paul's rhetorical question, “Have we not power to eat and to drink”? (1 Corinthians 9:4). Clement's warning concerned is as follows:-


“It is good, then, neither to eat flesh nor to drink wine,” [Rom. 14: 21] as both he [Paul] and the Pythagoreans acknowledge. For this is rather characteristic of a beast; and the fumes arising from them being dense, darken the soul." (The Instructor, Book II, Chapt. 1)


15. Jesus' "Temperate" Pescatarian Diet


As before, Clement resorts to a uncontentious solution and recommends a simple, plain, pescatarian diet based on his credulous belief of Luke 24: 39-43 and John 21:1-14 which claim that Jesus, upon resurrection, actually ate fish and helped his disciples to catch fish for breakfast.


"If one partakes of them [the tables of the demons], he does not sin. Only let him partake temperately, not dependent on them, nor gaping after fine fare," advises Clement. 


Clement then illustrates what he means by a diet of simple food with Jesus' "pescatarian" examples:-


For is there not within a temperate simplicity a wholesome variety of eatables? Bulbs, olives, certain herbs, milk, cheese, fruits, all kinds of cooked food without sauces; and if flesh is wanted, let roast rather than boiled be set down. Have you anything to eat here? said the Lord to the disciples after the resurrection; and they, as taught by Him to practise frugality, “gave Him a piece of broiled fish [Luke 24: 39-43];”


And “whether ye eat or drink, do all to the glory of God,” aiming after true frugality, which the Lord also seems to me to have hinted at when He blessed the loaves and the cooked fishes with which He feasted the disciples [John 21:1-14], introducing a beautiful example of simple food. That fish then which, at the command of the Lord, Peter caught, points to digestible and God-given and moderate food. And by those who rise from the water to the bait of righteousness, He admonishes us to take away luxury and avarice, as the coin from the fish. (The Instructor, Book II, Chapt. 1)


15.1 Jesus Eating Fish after Resurrection is Fake News!


In reality, Luke's story of Jesus eating fish to prove to the eleven disciples at evening on the day of his Resurrection that he's no ghost is clearly a forgery, for both the date and the venue contradict Mark and Matthew.


Luke 24: 39-43 and John 21:1-14 are the only places in the New Testament that mention Jesus eating meat. According to Luke, Jesus ate fish (ἰχθύος/Ichthys) in front of 11 disciples in Jerusalem on the first night of his Resurrection: "Behold my hands and my feet, that it is I myself: handle me, and see; for a spirit hath not flesh and bones... And while they yet believed not for joy, and wondered, he said unto them, Have ye here any meat? And they gave him a piece of a broiled fish, and of an honeycomb. And he took it, and did eat before them." (Luke 24: 39-43 KJV)


However, according to the Gospel of Mark 16: 7 and 14:28, Jesus had long told his disciples that he would go to Galilee upon resurrection. According to Mark 16: 9 -19, Jesus revealed himself thrice after resurrection, the first time to Mary Magdalene; the second time to two disciples on their way to Emmaus; the third time to all the 11 disciples. According to Matthew 28:16, the eleven disciples went up a mountain in Galilee as specified by Jesus, where Jesus met them the first time as well as the last time after He rose from the dead. So the Gospel of Luke's claim that Jesus ate fish in front of the disciples in Jerusalem on the very night of his Resurrection is wrong in terms of both date and venue. Apparently, it is fabricated and not to be believed (cf. Vujicic 2016).


Similarly, the report of John 21 cannot be right and Peter accompanied by several of his fellow disciples could not have been catching fish after Jesus’ rise from death. Jesus did not supply fish to his disciples because that showing up, in accordance with Matthew's and Mark's account, never occurred. (Interestingly, the word in the Greek version for fish as in John 21:13 is  ὀψάριον [opsarion], which could refer to a dried Mediterranean seaweed.) John, in the vein of Luke, alleges that Jesus’ foremost showing up occurred in the evening of the first day, while the door was barred where the disciples were grouped together. John asserts that this was the earliest showing up and that Thomas was absent.

 

Seven days after, Jesus purportedly showed up to his disciples again while Thomas was there, too. This fails to concur even with Luke because he says that all eleven disciples were there when Jesus manifested himself to them in the Holy City (cf. Vujicic 2016).

 

15.2. Fish as a Mystical Symbol

 

Also, fish (Ichthys) was a well known mystical symbol amidst these early Christians for "Jesus Christ, Son of God, Savior" (Akers 1989; Regenstein 1991). Given how the early Christians employed the term, there is therefore good historical evidence for the argument that all of the "fish stories" that managed to get into the gospels were intended to be taken symbolically rather than literally.

 

16. Did God Tell Peter to Kill and Eat?


While Clement thinks those bending around inflammatory tables are possessed by the Belly-demon, he misreads Peter's vision of a sheet with animals as indicating that God has cleansed all foods.


But those who bend around inflammatory tables, nourishing their own diseases, are ruled by a most lickerish demon, whom I shall not blush to call the Belly-demon, and the worst and most abandoned of demons....

Peter abstained from swine; “but a trance fell on him,” as is written in the Acts of the Apostles, “and he saw heaven opened, and a vessel let down on the earth by the four corners, and all the four-footed beasts and creeping things of the earth and the fowls of heaven in it; and there came a voice to him, Rise, and slay, and eat. And Peter said, Not so, Lord, for I have never eaten what is common or unclean. And the voice came again to him the second time, What God hath cleansed, call not thou common.” The use of them is accordingly indifferent to us. (The Instructor, Book II, Chapt. 1)


Based on Acts 10, one day when Apostle Peter was praying on a rooftop, he had a vision in which a large sheet containing four-footed wild beasts, reptiles and fowls was let down from Heaven to him. A voice (God's?) told him to "kill and eat". But Peter declined on the ground that he had never consumed unclean animals. The voice then said thrice, “Do not call anything impure that God has made clean," (Acts 10:14) after which the sheet was taken back to Heaven. Many a Christian thinks that this is God's permission for humans to eat all animals. In reality, this vision has only two demonstrable functions:- First, to test Peter's compassion to animals and his loyalty to God's law (cf. Jeremiah 35); Second, to show Peter that God had cleansed all gentiles and removed the divide between gentiles and Jews, as stated by Peter himself upon entering centurion Cornelius's house later on (note 1).

 

 

17. John the Baptist did not Eat Honey-combs!


Clement even illustrates what he means by acceptable dainties with John the Baptist's raw diet:-


And in addition to these, it is not to be overlooked that those who feed according to the Word are not debarred from dainties in the shape of honey-combs. For of articles of food, those are the most suitable which are fit for immediate use without fire, since they are readiest; and second to these are those which are simplest. (The Instructor, Book II, Chapt. 1)


"Those who feed according to the Word are not debarred from dainties in the shape of honey-combs" must refer to John the Baptist feeding on "locusts and honey" in Matthew 3:4 and Mark 1:6. Clement himself mentions in The Instructor that "John, who carried temperance to the extreme, 'ate locusts and wild honey.'" However, what John the Baptist actually ate was not locusts and honey, but locust beans and dates! For "in ancient texts the references to 'honey' in antiquity can refer equally to honey produced by bees, or to any number of other sweet substances, including dates, figs, pods, or sap/gum from carob or other trees." ("John the Baptist’s Wild Honey and Honey in Antiquity", by James A. Kelhoffer). Moreover, The confusion probably originated from the fact that the Greek word for cakes or bread made from the flour of the carob bean, aka locust bean, is ‘egkrides’ and the Greek word for locust the insect is ‘akrides’ (cf. Bart Ehrman 2013, "Locusts or Pancakes?").


18. The "Medium State" as a Master-key Solution

 

Struggling to reconcile all the contradictions above, Clement comes to the master-key conclusion that the medium state is good and our meals are to be taken with love, evading the question whether a vegan diet is in line with love for God's creatures and if flesh-eating is its sinful opposite:-

 

“And herbs, with love, are better than a calf with fraud.” (Prov. xv. 17) This well reminds us of what was said above, that herbs are not love, but that our meals are to be taken with love; and in these the medium state is good. In all things, indeed, this is the case, and not least in the preparation made for feasting, since the extremes are dangerous, and middle courses good. (The Instructor, Book II, Chapt. 1)

 

19. Clementine Anthropocentrism

 

While Clement advises that our meals be "taken with love," it is probably not love for non-human animals. Clement's attitude towards animals and foods is basically anthropocentric. He is persuaded by Paul but there are hidden incongruities between the two. 

 

19.1. For what Kind of Love is the Supper Made?


No doubt, Clement says, "the supper is made for love, but the supper is not love (agape); only a proof of mutual and reciprocal kindly feeling" and "love (agape) is in truth celestial food, the banquet of reason" (The Instructor, Book II, Chapt. 1). However, the "love" here refers to "mutual and reciprocal kindly feeling" amongst human neighbours and between humans and God, not to love for non-human, sentient creatures of God. This is because of two reasons. Firstly, Clement proclaims, "But if 'thou shalt love the Lord thy God and thy neighbour,' this is the celestial festival in the heavens." (The Instructor, Book II, Chapt. 1). Secondly, Clement agrees that "the animals were assigned to men.... yet it was not entirely for food. Nor was it all animals, but such as do not work" (The Stromata, Book VII, Chapt. 6).   

19.2. Whose Conscience is at Stake in Abstinence from Viands?  

 

From the point of view of Clement, gluttony which involves the slaughtering of calves and sheep, etc. is to be condemned and avoided because it harms the human body and the human soul, not because it harms innocent animals. Influenced by Paul, Clement also asserts that for the sake of our conscience, out of loathing for the demons, and in order to protect weak believers from defilement, we must renounce dainties:-


“For I would not that ye should have fellowship with demons,” says the apostle [Paul]; since the food of those who are saved and those who perish is separate. We must therefore abstain from these viands not for fear (because there is no power in them); but on account of our conscience, which is holy, and out of detestation of the demons to which they are dedicated, are we to loathe them; and further, on account of the instability of those who regard many things in a way that makes them prone to fall, “whose conscience, being weak, is defiled: for meat commendeth us not to God. (1 Cor. 8:7-8)” (The Instructor, Book II, Chapt. 1)  


Note that Paul, as aforementioned, argues that eating meat offered to an idol is no big deal, because “an idol is nothing at all” (I Cor. 8:4 NIV), hence Clement's remark that "there is no power in" those viands. The "conscience" as in "on account of our conscience" probably refers  not to our sense of guilt towards the animals we slaughter and devour, but to a moral stance that emphasizes the pursuit of spiritual perfection, the importance of ethical integrity, and the rejection of behaviors or practices that could lead to moral compromise or spiritual downfall. The possessive pronoun in "our conscience", however, contradicts Paul's concept of conscience in relation to food offered to idols, for Paul stressed that what is at stake here is not your own conscience but that of the other, i.e., the vegan Christian next to you who may be offended by your liberally consumption of animal flesh and find it necessary to leave the non-vegan Pauline church:-


But if any man say unto you, this is offered in sacrifice unto idols, eat not for his sake that shewed it, and for conscience sake: for the earth is the Lord's, and the fulness thereof: Conscience, I say, not thine own, but of the other: for why is my liberty judged of another man's conscience? (1 Corinthians 10:18-33 KJV)


19.3. Lusts vs Becoming a Stumbling Block to the weak


"The instability of those who regard many things in a way that makes them prone to fall" comes from (1 Cor. 8:9-13 NIV), besides (1 Cor. 8:7-8). The former reads:- 


Be careful, however, that the exercise of your rights does not become a stumbling block to the weak. For if someone with a weak conscience sees you, with all your knowledge, eating in an idol’s temple, won’t that person be emboldened to eat what is sacrificed to idols? So this weak brother or sister, for whom Christ died, is destroyed by your knowledge. When you sin against them in this way and wound their weak conscience, you sin against Christ. Therefore, if what I eat causes my brother or sister to fall into sin, I will never eat meat again, so that I will not cause them to fall. (1 Cor. 8:9-13 NIV)


Here, we had better bear in mind that Paul's actual stance towards meatism was that Christians may eat anything sold in the meat market without guilt. However, as the vegan Jewish Jerusalem Council was still in power before the fall of Jerusalem in 70 A.D., Paul found it necessary to diplomatically proclaiming that if it should offend vegan followers of Christ, he (Paul) and his followers had better stay away from meat.


In this connection, Clement also says, "But by keeping pleasures under command we prevent lusts. See, then, that this power (to eat and drink) of yours never 'become a stumbling-block to the weak'” (The Instructor, Book II, Chapt.1). Here, Clement is somewhat confused and torn between his own moral stance and Paul's diplomacy, for "lusts", that tend to injure the body and soul, and "becoming a stumbling-block to the weak" or offending those "hypersensitive" vegan Christians are two different matters.


20. Clement Supports Animal Welfare 


Although Clement does not advocate animals' right to survival and to be treated as persons rather than properties, he supports animal welfare by quoting relevant verses from the Old Testament, a trait rarely found among mainstream theologians of the old days. However, he does so more for restraining the "proneness of man to do wrong to man" than for animal love. Like Pythagoras, Clement derives "his mildness towards irrational creatures from the law [the Mosaic Law]" (The Stromata, Book II, Chapt. 18).


For instance, he interdicted the immediate use of the young in the flocks of sheep, and goats, and herds of cattle, on the instant of their birth; not even on the pretext of sacrifice allowing it, both on account of the young ones and of the mothers; training man to gentleness by what is beneath him, by means of the irrational creatures. Resign accordingly, he says, the young one to its dam for even the first seven days. For if nothing takes place without a cause, and milk comes in a shower to animals in parturition for the sustenance of the progeny, he that tears that, which has been brought forth, away from the supply of the milk, dishonours nature.... long ago and prophetically, the law, in the above-mentioned commandment, threw a check in the way of their cruelty. For if it prohibits the progeny of the irrational creatures to be separated from the dam before sucking, much more in the case of men does it provide beforehand a cure for cruelty and savageness of disposition....


For the man who did not desire to beget children had no right to marry at first; certainly not to have become, through licentious indulgence, the murderer of his children. Again, the humane law forbids slaying the offspring and the dam together on the same day. Thence also the Romans, in the case of a pregnant woman being condemned to death, do not allow her to undergo punishment till she is delivered. The law too, expressly prohibits the slaying of such animals as are pregnant till they have brought forth, remotely restraining the proneness of man to do wrong to man. Thus also it has extended its clemency to the irrational creatures; that from the exercise of humanity in the case of creatures of different species, we might practice among those of the same species a large abundance of it. Those, too, that kick the bellies of certain animals before parturition, in order to feast on flesh mixed with milk, make the womb created for the birth of the fœtus its grave, though the law expressly commands, But neither shall you seethe a lamb in its mother's milk. For the nourishment of the living animal, it is meant, may not become sauce for that which has been deprived of life; and that, which is the cause of life, may not co-operate in the consumption of the body. And the same law commands not to muzzle the ox which treads out the grain: for the labourer must be reckoned worthy of his food. Deuteronomy 25:41 Timothy 5:18


And it prohibits an ox and ass to be yoked in the plough together; Deuteronomy 22:10 pointing perhaps to the want of agreement in the case of the animals; and at the same time teaching not to wrong any one belonging to another race, and bring him under the yoke, when there is no other cause to allege than difference of race, which is no cause at all, being neither wickedness nor the effect of wickedness. To me the allegory also seems to signify that the husbandry of the Word is not to be assigned equally to the clean and the unclean, the believer and the unbeliever; for the ox is clean, but the ass has been reckoned among the unclean animals. (The Stromata, Book II, Chapt. 18) 


21. Conclusion


Caught between original vegan Christianity and Pauline meatism, and confused by misbeliefs about Jesus' acts in the four canons, Clement of Alexandria can only adopt a medium approach which involves a plain pescatarian diet with minimum cooking or use of sauce. This kind of abstinence, in Clement's mind, is based on love for God and for our human neighbours. Even Clement's support for animal welfare (not animal rights) with reference to the Mosaic Law primarily aims at cultivating human empathy for other humans rather than other animals. Clement, however, forgot that God is love (1 John 4:7 NIV); that God loves the world (John 3:16), including ALL His creation (Psalm 145:9); that God made His Covenant with not only humans but also other animals; that Christ is compassion (Matthew 12:6-7); and that Jesus died for animal liberation (note 2).

 

Notes

1. In Jeremiah 35, Prophet Jeremiah followed God's instruction, went to the house of the Rechabites and gave them wine to drink. But they declined, on the ground that "Jonadab the son of Rechab, our father, commanded us, saying, 'You shall drink no wine, you nor your sons, forever'" (Jeremiah 35:6 NKJV). God then contrasted the Rechabites against the people of Judah: "Surely the sons of Jonadab the son of Rechab have performed the commandment of their father, which he commanded them, but this people has not obeyed Me" (Jeremiah 35:16 NKJV). God thus said, “Behold, I will bring on Judah and on all the inhabitants of Jerusalem all the doom that I have pronounced against them; because I have spoken to them but they have not heard, and I have called to them but they have not answered" (Jeremiah 35:17 NKJV).

 

Similarly, Peter's vision of the animals in the sheet was God's test of Peter's compassion to animals, adherence to the Levitical laws forbidding the consumption of Treif (non-Kosher), as well as his wisdom to comprehend the real meaning of the vision -- putting the Gentiles on the same par as the Jews. The Rechabites passed the test; so did Peter.

 

Note that both during and after the vision, Peter never killed nor ate any animals. Indeed, according to Homily XII, Peter thinks that "The unnatural eating of flesh meats is as polluting as the heathen worship of devils, with its sacrifices and its impure feasts, through participation in it a man becomes a fellow eater with devils". (Clementine Homilies is a second-century work based on the teachings of St. Peter.)

 

The causal relationship of Peter's vision to the annihilation of the Gentile-Jew divide is first indicated by Cornelius's invitation of Peter to his house happening right after the vision, while Peter was still wondering about its significance (Acts 10:17).

 

Now, as aforementioned, the Gentile-Jew divide was the norm for the Jews in those days.

According to F.F. Bruce's (1984) The New International Commentary on the New Testament, "A God-fearer [gentile] had no objection to the society of the Jews, but even a moderately orthodox Jew would not willingly enter the dwelling of a Gentile, God-fearer though he were. No doubt some of Peter's inherited prejudices were wearing thin by this time, but a special revelation was necessary to make him consent to visit a Gentile."

Nonetheless, when Peter entered the house of Cornelius, he frankly told Cornelius and his folk how he had just overcome the Jewish prejudices against the gentiles, “You are well aware that it is against our law for a Jew to associate with or visit a Gentile. But God has shown me that I should not call anyone impure or unclean" (Acts 10:28-29 NIV). Note that this is not our interpretation of the vision but Peter's own interpretation of it.

Peter thus preached to the house of Cornelius about Jesus Christ's good news. Peter particularly emphasized that God's salvation and forgiveness of sins was available to not only the Jews but also all Gentile nations and individuals who feared God and believed in Christ (Acts 10:35, 42 NIV). Subsequently, as a confirmation of God's Grace for the Gentiles, Peter baptized Cornelius and his people with the Holy Spirit, who descended on them and enabled them to speak tongues (Acts 10:44-46 NIV).

 

And as if this were not enough proof of the true meaning of the vision, when Peter returned to his home town Joppa, upon being confronted by his Jewish colleagues about the legitimacy of his entering the house of a Gentile, Peter retold them his animal-sheet vision and convinced them about its true meaning. Henceforth, Peter and the other ministers spread Jesus Christ's good news to gentiles all over the world without any discrimination or reservation (Acts 11:1-21 NIV).

 

In conclusion, "the vision had nothing to do with food, but only about the salvation of the Gentiles", to borrow the words of Hoffman (2017). As put by Hoffman (2017), "The vision was only to attract Peter's attention. Peter knew that he was not to kill and eat the animals that were upon the sheet. He knew that God was only testing him...God was not cleansing unclean animals and making them clean. He was showing Peter that he was about to cleanse the hearts of the people whom the Jews considered to be unclean." Tyler (2013), too, points out that "The purpose of Acts 10 was clearly not to encourage Christians to eat meat, and never in Scripture is it implied that it was."  

 

2. From a vegan perspective, prior to the Last Supper, Jesus, in emptying the Temple of animals about to be slaughtered for sacrifice, and in calling the Temple-turned-butcher-shop "a den of thieves", debunked the business fraud of animal sacrifice and disrupted the chief priests' and scribes' lucrative revenue stream, who immediately afterwards conspired to destroy Him (Mark 11:15-18), eventually leading to His arrest, trial, crucifixion, and resurrection on Easter. In this sense, Jesus was a pioneer and martyr for animal liberation (cf. Akers 2020).

 

References


Akers, Keith (2020). The Lost Religion of Jesus. NY: Lantern Publishing & Media/ Woodstock & Brooklyn.

Beer, JM de (2014). "Did Jesus Really Declare All Food Clean?" (https://www.academia.edu/38821408/DID_JESUS_REALLY_DECLARE_ALL_FOOD_CLEAN)

 

Chen, Chapman (2021). "Did God Really Want Peter to Kill and Eat Animals?" HKBNews, July 27. https://www.hkbnews.net/post/did-god-really-want-peter-to-kill-and-eat-animals-go-vegan-by-chapman-chen-hkbnews

 

Chen, Chapman (2023). "Follow the Vegan Christ and Celebrate Easter without Taking Life!" HKBNews, Mar 28. https://www.hkbnews.net/post/follow-the-vegan-christ-and-celebrate-easter-without-taking-life%EF%BC%81by-dr-chapman-chen

 

Clement of Alexandria (1895). The Instructor, Book II, Chapt. 1. Trans. William Wilson. Edinburgh: T & T Clar.  

 

Clement of Alexandria (1885). The Stromata, Book VII, Chapter 6. Trans. William Wilson. From Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. 2. Ed. Alexander Roberts, James Donaldson, and A. Cleveland Coxe.  Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Publishing Co. Revised and edited for New Advent by Kevin Knight. 

 

Clement of Alexandria (1885). The Stromata, Book II, Chapter 18. Trans. William Wilson. From Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. 2. Ed. Alexander Roberts, James Donaldson, and A. Cleveland Coxe.  Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Publishing Co. Revised and edited for New Advent by Kevin Knight. http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/02102.htm

 

Ehrman, Bart (2013). "Locusts or Pancakes?" Ehrman Blog, Sept. 12. https://ehrmanblog.org/locusts-pancakes-members/

Hoffman, Frank L. (2017). "Acts 10:1-11:18 - The True Meaning of the Vision of the Animals in the Sheet". All-Creatures. org (https://www.all-creatures.org/discuss/svtacts10.1-11.18-flh.html)

 

John, Tyler (2013). "Towards a Theologically-motivated Veganism." https://www.academia.edu/6504500/Toward_a_Theologically_motivated_Vegetarianism

 

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