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  • Writer's pictureChapman Chen

St. John Chrysostom Thinks Meat-eaters Stink. By Dr. Chapman Chen

Updated: Jan 3

Summary: Saint John Chrysostom (347-407) stresses that the ascetics are connected with neither butchering of animals nor horrible smells of flesh-meat. He points out that gluttony, particularly flesh-eating, causes numerous physical illnesses, corruption of the soul, and gross social injustice, whereas a vegan table is free from fear and its diners enjoy sound health. While animals just follow their instincts as assigned by nature, humans who pursue covetousness are worse than beasts. Although he does admit that God made His covenant with not only humans but animals, to a certain extent Chrysostom is still humanocentric. For example, he says, "Everything was brought into existence for human beings, so once they were removed from the circle, what need would there be of the animals?"

1. Who's Saint John Chrysostom?

John Chrysostom (347 – 407) was an important Early Church Father, a Greek patriarch, who served as archbishop of Constantinople (398-404). He is known for his preaching and public speaking, his denunciation of abuse of authority by both ecclesiastical and political leaders, his Divine Liturgy of Saint John Chrysostom, and his ascetic sensibilities. Chrysostomos, anglicized as Chrysostom, means "golden-mouthed" in Greek and denotes his celebrated eloquence. Chrysostom was among the most prolific authors in the early Christian Church.

At length, his repeated denunciations of the too notorious scandals of the Court and the Church excited the bitter enmity of his brother-prelates, and, by their intrigues at the Imperial Court of Constantinople, he was deposed from his See and exiled to the wildest parts of the Euxine coasts, where, exposed to every sort of privation, he caught a violent fever and died.

He is honoured as a saint in the Eastern Orthodox, Oriental Orthodox, Catholic, Anglican, and Lutheran churches, as well as in some others. Feast day Sept.13 or Nov 13.

2. A Vegan Table Free from Fear

Chrysostom emphasizes that the ascetics are vegan; that their sumptuousness consists of fruits, and that their table is an angel's table free from fear:-

"No streams of blood are amongst them [the ascetics], nor cutting up of flesh, nor heaviness of head, nor dainty cooking, neither are there unpleasing smells of meat amongst them, nor disagreeable smoke, neither runnings and tumults, and disturbances, and wearisome clamors; but bread and water, the latter from a pure fountain, the former from honest labor. But if any time they should be minded to feast more sumptuously, their sumptuousness consists of fruits, and greater is the pleasure there than at royal tables. There is no fear there, or trembling; no ruler accuses, no wife provokes, no child casts into sadness, no disorderly mirth dissipates, no multitude of flatterers puffs up; but the table is an angel’s table free from all such turmoil... This table even angels from heaven beholding are delighted and pleased. For if over one sinner that repenteth they rejoice, over so many just men imitating them, what will they not do? There are not master and slave; all are slaves, all free men." (Homily LXIX on Matthew XXII. 1-14.) (Note 1)

3. A Non-Vegan Diet is the Cause of All Diseases

Chrysostom is adamant that a vegan diet leads to sound physical health and a non-vegan one is the cause of "a thousand of disorders":-

"Neither am I leading you to the lofty peak of total renunciation of possessions [Greek]; but for the present I require you to cut off superfluities, and to desire a sufficiency alone. Now the boundary of sufficiency is the using those things which it is impossible to live without. No one debars you from these, nor forbids you your daily food. I say 'food,' not 'luxury,' [Greek] 'raiment,' nor 'ornament.' Rather this frugality, to speak, correctly, is, in the best sense, luxury. For consider who should we say more truly feasted - he whose diet is herbs, and who is in sound health and suffered no uneasiness, or he who has the table of a Sybarite and is full of a thousand disorders....When we are able to live without a thing, healthfully and respectably, certainly the addition of that thing is a superfluity." (Hom. xix. 2 Cor.) (Note 2)

Chrysostoms also specifically mentions that when we eat dead animals, they will rot inside our body and a foul pestilential humour will be emitted from us:-

"But the dead rot, and are corrupted, you say; and an unwholesome moisture distills from them. So in her that lives in pleasure, may be seen rheums, and phlegm, catarrh, hiccough, vomitings, eructations, and the like, which, as too unseemly, I forbear to name. For such is the dominion of luxury, that it makes one endure things, which we do not even think proper to mention. . . .

Nourish the body, but do not destroy it. Food is called nourishment, to show that its purpose is not to hurt, but to support us. For this reason, perhaps, food passes into excrement that we may not be lovers of luxury. If it were not so - if it were not useless and injurious to the body, we should hardly abstain from devouring one another....The more richly we live, the more noisome are the odours with which we are filled." (Homily on 1 Timothy verse 5) (Note 3)

Chrysostom's claim is supported by modern medical science. In a speech at the St James Ethics Centre and the Wheeler Centre debate on the topic "Animals Should Be Off the Menu" in 2012, former Vice-president of Citibank Philip Wollen asserted that "our Cornell and Harvard say that the optimum amount of meat in a healthy human diet is precisely ZERO."

The first study (Campbell 2006) was conducted by researchers from Cornell University and published in 1990. It was based on the China-Cornell-Oxford Project, a comprehensive survey of dietary, lifestyle and disease characteristics of rural Chinese populations. The study found that populations that consumed more animal-based foods had higher rates of cancer, heart disease, diabetes and other chronic diseases than those that consumed more plant-based foods.

The second study (Song 2016) was conducted by researchers from Harvard University and published in 2016. It was based on data from two large cohort studies that followed more than 200,000 health professionals in the US for up to 32 years. The study found that replacing animal protein with plant protein was associated with lower mortality, especially from cardiovascular disease.

4. Gluttony Hampers the Soul

To Chrysostom, non-vegan gluttony hampers not only the body but also the soul:-

"A man who lives in pleasure [i.e.,in selfish luxury] is dead whilst he lives, for he lives only to his belly. In his other senses he lives not. He sees not what he ought to see; he hears not what he ought to hear; he speaks not what he ought to speak. . . . For look not at the cheerful and merry countenance, but examine the interior, and you will see it full of deep dejection. If it were possible to bring the soul into view, and to behold it with our bodily eyes, that of the luxurious would seem depressed, mournful, miserable, and wasted with leanness; for the more the body grows sleek and gross, the more lean and weakly is the soul; and the more one is pampered, the more is the other hampered. As, when the pupil of the eye has the external coats over it too thick, it cannot put forth the power of vision, and look out, because the light is excluded by the thick covering, and darkness often ensues; so when the body is constantly full fed, the soul must be invested with grossness. But the dead rot, and are corrupted, you say; and an unwholesome moisture distills from them.. . . (Homily on 1 Timothy verse 5) (Note 4)

Note that "the dead rot, and are corrupted, you say; and an unwholesome moisture distills from them" can refer to spiritual corruption apart from physical corruption (see the last section).

5. Meatism Leads to Social Injustice

St. John Chrysostom believes that gluttony/meatism will result in not only personal illnesses but also polarization of the rich and the poor, which, in turn, will lead to endless wars and battles.

" 'She that lives in pleasure is dead while she lives.' Hear this, ye women (5) who pass your time in revels and intemperance, and who neglect the poor, pining and perishing with hunger, whilst you are destroying yourselves with continual luxury. Thus you are the cause of two deaths - of those who are dying of want and of your own, both through ill-measure. If, out of your fulness, you tempered their want, you would save two lives. Why do you thus gorge your own body with excess, and waste that of the poor with want? Consider what comes of food - into what it is changed. Are you not disgusted at its being named? Why, then, be eager for such accumulations? The increase of luxury is but the multiplication of filth. For Nature has her limits, and what is beyond these is not nourishment, but injury and the increase of ordure...

If the belly received as much as it pleased, digested it, and conveyed it to the body, we should see battles and wars innumerable. Even as it is, when part of our food passes into ordure (feces), part into blood, part into spurious and useless phlegm, we are, nevertheless, so addicted to luxury that we spend, perhaps, whole estates on a meal." (Homily on 1 Timothy verse 5) (Note 5)

This is actually a rather modern concept. As pointed out by Philip Wollen (2012), "It takes 50,000 litres of precious drinking water to make one kilo of beef. Today one billion people are hungry. 20 million people will die from malnutrition. Cutting meat by only 10% will feed 100 million people. And eliminating meat will end starvation forever. If everyone ate a western diet, we would need two planet earths to feed us. We've only got one and she is dying."

Moreover, 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.

And according to Raj Patel (2008), "The amount of grains fed to US livestock would be enough to feed 840 million people on a plant-based diet. The number of food-insecure people in the world in 2006 was, incidentally, 854 million. Of course, this isn't simply an American phenomenon - in aggregate, rich countries feed about 60 per cent of their grain to livestock."

6. Chrysostom's Humanocentrism

Although Chrysostom does admit that God made His covenant with not only humans but also animals, to a certain extent he is still humanocentric, i.e. he still thinks that God created animals solely for the sake of humanity.

7.1. God Made His Covenant with the Animals, too!

Commenting on God's covenant with Noah (Genesis 9:8-11), Chrysostom asks us to "notice how He [God] once again extends His generosity to the animals and wild beasts, and rightly so." (Homilies on Genesis XXVIII.3-5) (Note 6) This point is neglected or ignored by many theologians.

Chrysostom also says something similar about the Saints' love for the animals:-

For the souls of the Saints are very gentle and, loving unto man, both in regard to their own, and to strangers. And even to the unreasoning creatures they extend their gentleness. (Commentary on the Epistle to the Romans Homily XXIX: Rom. 15.14-24)(Note 7)

However, the word "extends" here reveals Chrysostom's anthropocentrism for it implies "love me, love my dog," and the word "unreasoning" his prejudice against animals.

7.2. Commentary on the Death of the Animals in the Flood

On the other hand, commenting on “I will wipe off the face of the earth the human being I have made, everything from human being to cattle.” [Genesis 6:7], Chrysostom rhetorically asks:

"Why is it that when human beings decline into evil, the wild animals endure the same punishment? Everything was brought into existence for human beings, so once they were removed from the circle, what need would there be of the animals? Hence they also share the punishment so that you may learn the degree of God’s anger." (Homilies on Genesis, Homily 22:17, Chapter 6, Ver. 7) (Note 8)

7.3. Animal Nature in Humanity Debased

So much the more, Chrysostom relates our failures to animal nature in humanity; he regularly compares sins to the manners of a wide range of animals. He sees repentance as turning away from behaving solely in accordance with our animal nature by mindfully taking charge of our passions and appetites. Then in the Church by way of baptism those who live according to animal nature are transformed into human beings who live by reason (cf. Bobosh 2018). From Chrysostom's point of view, reason is God’s gift to humans which distinguishes humanity from, and places them above, all other animals:-

Sacred Scripture assigns the names of wild beasts to human beings, rational creatures that they should be, in the event of their lapsing into evil and falling prey to irrational passions; listen for example to its words, "They turned into rutting horses."14 See how it gives them the animal's name on account of their unbridled lust. Elsewhere, on the other hand, it says, "Poison of serpents on their lips;"l" here it highlights their resemblance to the animal's trickery and duplicity.

Again, it calls them dumb dogs. And again, "Like a deaf adder that blocks its ears,"17 referring to their stopping their ears against instruction in virtue. You would find many other names imposed by Sacred Scripture on people seduced by their indifference into bestial passions. You can see this not only in the Old Testament but also in the New; 18 listen to John the Baptist addressing the Jews, "Brood of vipers, who has shown you how to flee from the wrath to come?"19 So do you see how here also by naming the animal it implied the duplicity of their intent?...

Do you see which people Sacred Scripture is prepared to call human beings? Hence, when even from the outset the Creator of all saw the creature he had made, he said, "'Let us make a human being in our image and likeness'' 'that is to say, to have control both of all visible things and the passions arising within him; to have control, not to be controlled.(Homilies on Genesis 23: 96-97, 98) (Note 9)

7.4. Science Proves that Reason is NOT Unique to Humans

Chrysostom holds that made in God's image, only humans have reason and all other animals are unreasoning and thus inferior. Yet, God never denied that non-human animals are also made in His image (Chen 2023). Equally importantly, modern scientific studies have found that reason is not unique to humanity, Many animals, e.g., pigs, dolphins, bonobos, elephants, and many species of birds, are intelligent, far more intelligent than formerly thought. "If being intelligent or using reason identifies one as bearing God’s image, many creatures must be made in the image of God," according to Oord (2015). Below, please find a few examples:-

Dr. Kelly Jaakkola (2005), senior research scientist at the DolphinResearch Center in Grassy Key, Fla and her colleagues have demonstrated that dolphins understand the concept of numerosity.

A 2015 study by researchers from the University of Cambridge and Queen Mary University of London found that New Caledonian crows can reason about hidden causal agents, such as a human or another crow, based on the movement of a stick that they cannot see (Taylor et. al. 2015).

A 2017 study by researchers from the University of Oxford and the University of Vienna found that African grey parrots can reason by exclusion, which is the ability to choose an option by eliminating other alternatives, even when they have no prior knowledge of the items involved (Mikolasch et. al. 2017)

A 2017 study by researchers from the University of Lincoln and the University of Nottingham found that pigs can use a mirror to find hidden food, which is a sign of self-awareness and spatial reasoning (Briefer et. al. 2017).

A 2018 study by researchers from the University of Wyoming and the University of California, Davis found that horses can reason about the location of food based on the emotional expressions of humans, such as happy or angry faces (Proops et. al. 2018)

A 2019 study by researchers from the University of St Andrews and the University of Veterinary Medicine, Vienna found that dogs can reason about the content of human communication, such as pointing gestures or verbal commands, based on the reliability and relevance of the information provided (Kundey et. al. 2019)

7.5. Carnist Humans are Worse than Animals

Nonetheless, Chrysostom is still somewhat fair to animals in conceding that carnist humans are worse than carnivorous animals on the ground that the latter just follow their instinct as assigned by nature while, the former forsake their God-given reason and pursue avariciousness:-

Wherein therefore are we different from ants, when compared with them? For like as they care for the things of the body, so also do we; and would it were for these alone: but now it is even for things far worse. For not for necessary things only do we care like them, but also for things superfluous. For those insects pursue a business free from all blame, but we follow after all covetousness, and not even the ways of ants do we imitate, but the ways of wolves, but the ways of leopards, or rather we are even worse than these. For to them nature has assigned that they should be thus fed, but us God hath honored with speech, and a sense of equity, and we are become worse than the wild beasts. (Homily LXIX on Matthew XXII. 1-14) (Note 10)

8. Conclusion

Although Saint John Chrysostom is humanocentric in contending that everything was created for human beings, and that only humans but not animals have reason -- which contradicts science -- he is still fair enough to animals to admit that avaricious humans are worse than animals, who just follow their instincts as assigned by God. Meanwhile, Chrysostom vividly describes the grave physical, spiritual and social consequences of flesh-eating in a way which is not un-modern.







6. Homilies on Genesis XXVIII.3-5, Gen. 9:8-11, in Fathers of the Church, Vol. 82, CUA Press,1990, pp. 184-186.

7. Commentary on the Epistle to the Romans Homily XXIX: Rom. 15.14-24, in Nicene and Post-Nicene Father of the Christian Church, Vol. XI, p. 546. Ed. Philip Shcaff. Erdmans, 1979.

8. Homilies on Genesis, Homily 22:17, Chapter 6, Ver. 7, in Fathers of the Early Church, Vol. 82, CUA Press, 1990, p. 81.

9. Homilies on Genesis 23: 96-97, 98.

10. Homily LXIX on Matthew XXII. 1-14.


Bobosh, T. "To be Human is to be Like God." Fraternized, Nov. 9.

Briefer, E. F., Tettamanti, F., & McElligott, A. G. (2017). Domestic pigs (Sus scrofa domesticus) use a mirror to find hidden food. Animal cognition, 20(2), 237-247. doi:10.1007/s10071-016-1046-8

Campbell, TC, Campbell, TM. (2006). The China Study: The Most Comprehensive Study of Nutrition Ever Conducted and the Startling Implications for Diet, Weight Loss and Long-Term Health. Texas: Benbella Books.

Chen, Chapman (2023). "Animals are at Least Partly Made in the Image of God." HKBNews, Jan 25

Chrysostom, John Saint (1889). Homilies on Second Corinthians. Trans. Talbot W. Chambers. From Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, First Series, Vol. 12. Ed. Philip Schaff. Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Publishing Co. Revised and edited for New Advent by Kevin Knight.

Kundey, S. M., De Los Reyes, A., Royer, E., Molina, S., Monnier, B., German, R., & Cogsdill, A. (2019). Domestic dogs (Canis familiaris) use human communication to locate hidden food, but not to avoid foods that make them sick. Animal cognition, 22(6), 949-959. doi:10.1007/s10071-019-01291-4

Jaakkola, Kelly,Fellner, Wendi,Erb, Linda,Rodriguez, Mandy,Guarino, Emily (2005). Understanding of the concept of numerically "less" by bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops truncatus). Journal of Comparative Psychology, Vol 119(3), Aug 2005, 296-303

McLeman, Morven A. et. al. (2005). Discrimination of conspecifics by juvenile domestic pigs, Sus scrofa. Animal Behaviour, Volume 70, Issue 2, 451-461.

Mendl, Michael et. al. (2002). Young female pigs can discriminate individual differences in odours from conspecific urine. Animal Behaviour, Volume 64, Issue 1, 97-101.

Mikolasch, S., Kotrschal, K., & Schloegl, C. (2017). African grey parrots (Psittacus erithacus) use inference by exclusion to find hidden food. Animal cognition, 20(6), 1063-1068. doi:10.1007/s10071-017-1125-0

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Patel, Raj (2008). "Is Meat off the Menu?" The Guardian, Jun. 22

Smil, Vaclav (2014). "Eating meat: Constants and changes." Global Food Security, June 19.

Proops, L., Grounds, K., Smith, A. V., & McComb, K. (2018). Animals remember previous facial expressions that specific humans have exhibited. Current Biology, 28(9), 1428-1432. doi:10.1016/j.cub.2018.03.035

Song M, Fung TT, Hu FB, et al. Association of Animal and Plant Protein Intake With All-Cause and Cause-Specific Mortality. JAMA Intern Med. 2016;176(10):1453–1463. doi:10.1001/jamainternmed.2016.4182

Taylor, A. H., Miller, R., & Gray, R. D. (2015). New Caledonian crows reason about hidden causal agents. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 112(13), 4194-4199. doi:10.1073/pnas.1418712112

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