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  • Writer's pictureChapman Chen

Tertullian Satirizes Paul the Anti-Vegan. By Dr. Chapman Chen

Updated: Dec 27, 2023



Summary: Tertullian (155-220) , "the father of Latin Christianity", advocated vegan xerophagy, which was, however, labeled "heresy" by the mainstream Pauline church then. He stressed that flesh-eating was detrimental to both the body and the soul. Physically, meatism could result in diseases like cholera as in the case of quail-eating by the Israelites in Exodus. Spiritually, it could lead to lasciviousness as in the case of Esau. On the other hand, xerophagy will strengthen us in spiritual wars against the demons. As Tertullian lived before Constantinople adopted Christianity as the State religion and convened the First Nicaean Council in 325 A.D., he still had the liberty to satirize Paul the anti-vegan by remarking that if the "apostle" had given you the key to the meat market, he had not moved the Kingdom of God there, that carnist prophets like Paul were not his (Tertullian's). But concerning veganism, Tertullian had yet to cope with an even more difficult hurdle:- God's "permission" for Noah's clan to eat meat in Genesis 9. Tertullian painstakingly got around this by arguing that if we exercise abstinence even amidst indulgence, we will be able to expiate original sin ever more.

 

1. Background

 

Tertullian (Latin: Quintus Septimius Florens Tertullianus; c. 155 AD – c. 220 AD) was a prolific early Christian author from Carthage in the Roman province of Africa. He was the first Christian author to produce an extensive corpus of Latin Christian literature. Tertullian has been called "the father of Latin Christianity", as well as "the founder of Western theology".

 

Tertullian was an early Christian apologist and a polemicist against heresy. Ironically, the xerophagy that he advocated, as based on Jesus' example, was labeled heresy by the Great (Pauline) Church of his time:-

 

They charge us with keeping fasts of our own.... with observing xerophagies likewise, keeping our food unmoistened by any flesh.... they lay down a prescriptive rule, that either it must be adjudged heresy....or else pronounced pseudo-prophecy. (On Fasting, Chapt. 1)

 

Xerophagy ("dry eating", from Greek ξηρός "dry" and φαγεῖν "eat") is a form of ancient Christian fasting in which a believer fasts until sunset and abstains from meat, alcohol, and water for the one meal that is consumed after sunset; the early Church's Apostolic Constitutions enjoin for the meal eaten after sundown, in which only bread, salt, water, nuts, as well as vegetables cooked with water and salt may be eaten, while meat, fish, milk, cheese, butter, oil, wine, and all seasonings or spices are excluded.

 

2. Meatism is Bad for Both the Body and the Soul

 

Tertullian is adamant that animal flesh eating will damage both the body and the soul.

 

2.1. Quail-eating in Exodus

 

Tertullian cites the tragedy of quail-eating in Exodus to demonstrate that animal flesh eating will lead to physical illnesses like cholera or even a plague:-

 

He, at all events, is the God to whom neither a People incontinent of appetite, nor a priest, nor a prophet, was pleasing. To this day the monuments of concupiscence remain, where the People, greedy of flesh, till, by devouring without digesting the quails, they brought on cholera, were buried.(On Fasting, Chapt. 14)

 

The verses of Exodus concerned are reproduced below:-

10 Moses heard the people of every family wailing at the entrance to their tents. The Lord became exceedingly angry, and Moses .... asked the Lord, “.... 13 Where can I get meat for all these people? They keep wailing to me, ‘Give us meat to eat!’ .....” 16 The Lord said to Moses: ....18 “Tell the people: ‘Consecrate yourselves in preparation for tomorrow, when you will eat meat. The Lord heard you when you wailed, “If only we had meat to eat! We were better off in Egypt!” Now the Lord will give you meat, and you will eat it. 19 You will not eat it for just one day, or two days, or five, ten or twenty days, 20 but for a whole month—until it comes out of your nostrils and you loathe it—because you have rejected the Lord...’”....31 Now a wind went out from the Lord and drove quail in from the sea. It scattered them up to two cubits[b] deep all around the camp.... 32 All that day and night and all the next day the people went out and gathered quail....33 But while the meat was still between their teeth and before it could be consumed, the anger of the Lord burned against the people, and he struck them with a severe plague. 34 Therefore the place was named Kibroth Hattaavah,[d] because there they buried the people who had craved other food. (Numbers 11: 10-34NIV)


2.2. Spiritual Consequences of Carnist Eating


Tertullian stresses that carnist gluttonous eating will make us forgetful of God; cost us our salvation as exemplified by Adam, who surrendered more readily to his belly than to God; and lead to self-defeating profaneness as in the case of Esau, who sold his birthright in exchange for a meal:- 

In....Deuteronomy.... He says: Lest, when you shall have eaten — and drunken, and built excellent houses, your sheep and oxen being multiplied, and (your) silver and gold — your heart is elated, and you are forgetful of the Lord your God." (On Fasting, Chapt. 6)

 

2.2.1. Adam Sold his Salvation for Meat

 

Interestingly and importantly, Tertullian implies that the forbidden fruit which Adam ate was animal-flesh:-

 

Adam....yielded more readily to his belly than to God, heeded the meat rather than the mandate, and sold salvation for his gullet! ... so that, even from this early date, animal faith may recognise its own seed, deducing from thence onward its appetite for carnalities and rejection of spiritualities. (On Fasting, Chapt.3)

 

In my submission (Chen 2021), the forbidden fruit of Eden is really animal-flesh. In Genesis, after eating the forbidden "fruit" from "the tree of the knowledge of good and evil", Adam and Eve were expelled from the Garden of Eden and they went from immortal to mortal. What on earth was the forbidden fruit? Was it really an apple as depicted by Renaissance writers? What's so wrong with eating a vegan fruit, be it an apple or a pineapple or a banana? Of course, some theologians argue that it was disobedience of God rather than the content of the disobedience that caused the downfall of the first humans. But who has not disobeyed their parents during childhood? By examining the Hebrew original of the words concerned and their context, this article, inspired by Jeff Popick (2007) and Jane Erwin (2010), argues that the forbidden fruit of Eden is meat; that the original sin is animal-flesh consumption. Because humans are born with less instinct than animals, they need dietary guidance from God in terms of veganism. Diet is the prime issue instead of a triviality in Christianity. "You are what you eat (Der Mensch ist, was er iβt)", German philosopher Ludwig Feuerbach (1863) stated. In the Hebrew original, "the fruit פְּרִי " of "the tree עֵץ of the knowledge דַּעַת of good טוֹב and evil רָע " can mean the offspring of a family group of living creatures who are so self-aware that they covet life (good) and fear death (evil), i.e., the progeny of a den of animals (sentient beings), like piglets or cubs or eggs. When Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit, i.e. meat, and violated God's Sixth Commandment, "Thou shalt not kill", Eden or Paradise, supposed to be all love, all harmony and all peace, was disrupted by fear, violence and evil; death entered the world; and humans lost Paradise. This is corroborated by other Bible verses as well as scientific studies. A Christ-like, vegan lifestyle is the key to return to Eden. Jesus Christ actually died on the cross to wake us up to the evilness, atrocity and sinfulness of our meat diet. The horrifying image of His Crucifixion reminds us of the murder of many an innocent animal in the slaughterhouse. 

 

2.2.2. Esau's Love Shows its Fervour in Sauce-Pans

 

Tertullian also sarcastically compares gluttons to Esau:- 

Old you are....you who are so indulgent to appetite, and justly do you vaunt your priority: always do I recognise the savour of Esau, the hunter of wild beasts: so unlimitedly studious are you of catching fieldfares, so do you come from the field of your most lax discipline, so faint are you in spirit. If I offer you a paltry lentile dyed red with must well boiled down, immediately you will sell all your primacies: with you love shows its fervour in sauce-pans, faith its warmth in kitchens, hope its anchorage in waiters; but of greater account is love, because that is the means whereby your young men sleep with their sisters! Appendages, as we all know, of appetite are lasciviousness and voluptuousness. (On Fasting, Chapt. 17)

 

3. The Good Example Set by Daniel the Vegan

 

With the example of Daniel, Tertullian demonstrates that a vegan diet is conducive to physical and spiritual well-being:-

 

I return to Daniel and his brethren, preferring as they did a diet of vegetables and the beverage of water to the royal dishes and decanters, and being found as they were therefore more handsome (lest any be apprehensive on the score of his paltry body, to boot!), besides being spiritually cultured into the bargain. (On Fasting, Chapt.9)

 

Tertullian asserts that xerophagy will strengthen us in spiritual battles "with the more direful demons" (On Fasting, Chapt. 8) and greatly facilitate our salvation:-

 

More easily, it may be, through the strait gate of salvation will slenderer flesh enter....Let Olympic cestus-players and boxers cram themselves to satiety. To them bodily ambition is suitable to whom bodily strength is necessary; and yet they also strengthen themselves by xerophagies. But...we whose wrestling is not against flesh and blood, but against the world's power, against the spiritualities of malice. Against these it is not by robustness of flesh and blood, but of faith and spirit, that it behooves [befits] us to make our antagonistic stand. On the other hand, an over-fed Christian will be more necessary to bears and lions, perchance, than to God... (On Fasting, Chapt.17)

 

4. Constantinople Outlawed Veganism

 

Although Tertullian's promotion of xerophagy was labeled heresy by the mainstream Pauline church, he was able to speak out in rebuttal of Saint Paul's anti-vegan discourse, because he was fortunate enough to live before Emperor Constantinople adopted Christianity as the state religion of the Roman Empire and convened the First Council of Nicaea in 325 A.D., in which "a meat-eating interpretation of the Bible became the official creed of the Roman Empire, and vegetarian Christians had to practice in secret or risk being put to death for heresy. It is said that Constantine used to pour molten lead down the their throats if they were captured" (Rosen 1987).

 

In this connection, Alistair Steward-Sykes writes:-

 

'In a second century context there was no difference between Marcionite and catholic sacred meals; both avoided meat, both employed bread and water, both employed wine, both knew the use of a variety of foods... However, by the time of Epiphanius the boundary around the Eucharist had shifted from participation to presence and the use of water in sacred meals had become a mark of a heretic, for bread and wine were now the unique media of sacred eating and the use of water something to be observed as unusual.. At the same time the old Christian avoidance of meat had, by the fourth century, become a mark of a heretic, and principled vegetarianism thus forbidden to the clergy. By this time, therefore, the Marcionites stood condemned on grounds of heteropraxy when, liturgically at least, they were guilty of no more than anachronism.(See Tyson 2006) 

 

5. Saint Paul's Anti-Vegan Sayings

 

In On Fasting, Tertullian notes and/or paraphrases quite a few anti-vegan sayings of Paul's, for example:-

 

The apostle reprobates likewise such as bid to abstain from meats...: Do not for the sake of food, he says, undo the work of God [Romans 14:20].... One believes that all things may be eaten; but another, being weak, feeds on vegetables. Let not him who eats lightly esteem him who eats not [Romans 14:2-3] (On Fasting, Chapt. 15)

 

the apostle teach that food commends us not to God; since we neither abound if we eat, nor lack if we eat not. [1 Corinthians 8:8] (On Fasting, Chapt. 2)

 

of Jewish ceremonies, of legal solemnities: for those the apostle unteaches, suppressing the continuance of the Old Testament which has been buried in Christ, and establishing that of the New. (On Fasting, Chapt. 14)

 

Here it is noteworthy that whilst Jesus explicitly says, "Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them" (Matthew 5:17 NIV), Paul debases, devalues and degrades Moses' Law, including the prohibition against eating flesh tainted with blood and/or offered to idols, in at least 37 places in the New Testament, e.g.,

 

But there was the introduction to The Written Law that sin would increase, (Romans 5:20 American Bible in Plain English)

 

"sin by the commandment might become exceeding sinful." (Romans 7:13 KJV)

So the former commandment is set aside because it was weak and useless (for the law made nothing perfect) (Hebrews 7:18-19 Berean Study Bible)

 

In that He says, "A new covenant, he hath made the first obsolete. Now that what is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to vanish away (Hebrews 8:13 NKJV)

 

The old way, with laws etched in stone, led to death, though it began with such glory that the people of Israel could not bear to look at Moses’ face. (2 Corinthians 3:7 NLV)

 

Before this faith came, we Jews were perpetual prisoners under the Law, (Galatians 3:23 Weymouth New Testament)

 

Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, (Galatians 3:13 KJV)

Having abolished in His flesh the enmity, that is, the law of commandments contained in ordinances, so as to create in Himself one new man... (Ephesians 2:15 NKJV)

touching the righteousness which is in the law blameless. But what things were gain to me, those I counted loss for Christ...I...do count them but dung, that I may win Christ. (Philippians 3:4-8 KJV). 

For when I tried to keep the law, it condemned me. So I died to the law—I stopped trying to meet all its requirements— (Galatians 2:19 NLT)

 

6. Tertullian Boldly Ridicules Saint Paul 

 

In response to the obvious indulgence of Paul, Tertullian satirically remarks, "And if he has delivered you the keys of the meat-market, permitting the eating of all things with a view to establishing the exception of things offered to idols; still he has not included the kingdom of God in the meat-market." (On Fasting, Chapt. 15)

 

Tertullian also ridicules Saint Paul for doubly honouring meat-eating and wine-drinking elders of the church:-

 

To the indictment of your appetite pertains (the charge) that double honour is with you assigned to your presiding (elders) by double shares (of meat and drink); whereas the apostle has given them double honour as being both brethren and officers. (On Fasting, Chapt. 17)

 

Here, Tertullian must be referring to the following verses:-

 

The elders who direct the affairs of the church well are worthy of double honor, especially those whose work is preaching and teaching. 18 For Scripture says, “Do not muzzle an ox while it is treading out the grain,” and “The worker deserves his wages. (1 Timothy 5:17-18 NIV)

 

Tertullian goes so far as to imply that Paul the flesh-gourmet is not qualified to be his prophet:-

 

"Who, among you, is superior in holiness, except him who is more frequent in banqueting, more sumptuous in catering, more learned in cups? Men of soul and flesh alone as you are, justly do you reject things spiritual. If the prophets were pleasing to such, my (prophets) they were not." (On Fasting, Chapt. 17)

 

Tertullian even unflinchingly suggests that Saint Paul is a thief shouting "Stop! Thief!", someone who, in opposition to the Vegan Christ, has abolished the Mosaic Law, and denounced those abiding by it as human Antichrists:-

 

It is the spirit of the devil, you say, O Psychic. And how is it that he enjoins duties which belong to our God, and enjoins them to be offered to none other than our God? Either contend that the devil works with our God, or else let the Paraclete [the Holy Spirit as advocate or counsellor] be held to be Satan. But you affirm it is a human Antichrist: for by this name heretics are called in John [He who smelt it dealt it]. And how is it that, whoever he is, he has in (the name of) our Christ directed these duties toward our Lord; whereas withal antichrists have (ever) gone forth (professedly teaching) towards God, (but) in opposition to our Christ? ... But you again set up boundary-posts to God.... so that our observances are supposed to have ceased.... because.... the Law and the prophets (were) until John. It remains for you to banish Him wholly.... (On Fasting, Chapt. 11)

 

In my submission (Chen 2023b), Paul does appear to meet Jesus' prophesy about false prophets. “Be careful,” Jesus said to them. “Be on your guard against the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees” (Matthew 16:6 NIV) . In Matthew 7:15 KJV, Jesus warns, "Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves"! Here, Jesus is alluding to Genesis 49:27, "Benjamin is a ravenous wolf; in the morning he devours the prey, in the evening he divided the plunder" (Genesis 49:27 NIV). Matthew 7:21-22 seems to indicate that the false prophets are Christian, rather than Jewish. Now, Paul was a self-admitted Benjamite (Romans 11:1). [In fact, the first king of Israel, also named Saul, was a Benjamite who badly persecuted David (I Samuel 18-19)]. Paul, as confessed by himself, had atrociously persecuted vegan Jewish Christians, thus "devouring the prey." Subsequently, he "divided the plunder"and split Christianity:- he was responsible for preaching to the Gentiles whereas the 12 apostles of Jesus were responsible for preaching to the Jews only (Gal. 2:6-9). Moreover, Paul admitted that after his conversion, he remained a Pharisee (Acts 23:6). In the entire New Testament, the only person that embodies the three identities of a Benjaminite, a wolf in Christian sheep's clothing, and a Pharisee is none other than Paul.

 

7. How about God's Permission for Noah's Clan to Eat Flesh?


Nonetheless, concerning veganism, Tertullian still has to deal with a hurdle even more formidable than Paul's epistles:- God's "permission" for Noah's clan to eat meat in Genesis 9, despite the vegan prescription in Genesis 1:29. Tertullian painstakingly got around this, in a somewhat stretched and convolute way, by arguing that if we exercise abstinence even amidst indulgence, we will be able to atone for more "primordial sin" than ever:-

Why, in that case, did not God immediately institute some definite restriction upon food? Nay, rather, why did He withal enlarge His permission? For, at the beginning indeed, it had only been the food of herbs and trees which He had assigned to man: 'Behold, I have given you all grass fit for sowing, seeding seed, which is upon the earth; and every tree which has in itself the fruit of seed fit for sowing shall be to you for food.' [Genesis 1:29]. Afterwards, however, after enumerating to Noah the subjection (to him) of 'all beasts of the earth, and fowls of the heaven, and things moving on earth, and the fish of the sea, and every creeping thing,' He says, 'They shall be to you for food: just like grassy vegetables have I given (them) you universally: but flesh in the blood of its own soul shall you not eat.' For even by this very fact, that He exempts from eating that flesh only the 'soul' of which is not out-shed through 'blood,' it is manifest that He has conceded the use of all other flesh. To this we reply.... For the Lord had already shown His judgment through the deluge; had, moreover, likewise issued a comminatory warning through the requisition of blood from the hand of a brother, and from the hand of every beast. And thus, preministering the justice of judgment, He issued the materials of liberty; preparing through allowance an undergrowth of discipline; permitting all things, with a view to take some away; meaning to exact more if He had committed more; to command abstinence since He had foresent indulgence: in order that (as we have said) the primordial sin might be the more expiated by the operation of a greater abstinence in the (midst of the) opportunity of a greater licence. (On Fasting, Chapt. 4)

 

In my submission (Chen 2023a), God never permitted Noah's clan to kill and eat Animals. Soon after Noah emerged from the Ark, God said to him, "Every moving thing that liveth shall be meat for you; even as the green herb have I given you all things" (Genesis 9:3 KJV). Many flesh-eaters seize upon this verse to claim that God thereby gave humans permission to kill and eat any animals they fancy. However, judging from its context, this verse is much more likely to be a descriptive preview of what atrocities humans were going to do to the animals on earth (cf. Wescoe 2017), a visualization of what horror Noah and his offspring were going to inflict on the inhabitants of the world, than an authorization to abuse animals. Also, in view of the scarcity of plant-food ensuing the Deluge, the compromise could well be an expedient measure, a provisional, permission for Noah's people to eat the bodies for drowned animals.   


8. The Entire Creation Prays to God

Although Tertullian never explicitly says that he advocates xerophagy for love of God's innocent creatures, he does fondly describes the entire creation praying to God:

 

"Cattle and wild beasts pray, and bend their knees, and in coming forth from their stalls and lairs look up to heaven. Moreover the birds taking flight lift themselves up to heaven and instead of hands, spread out the cross of their wings, while saying something which may be supposed to be a prayer." (On Prayer)  

 

9. Conclusion

 

Tertullian is probably the most prominent theologian after Saint Peter to speak out against Saint Paul the anti-vegan so-called "apostle" in defense of veganism -- albeit disguised as xerophagy. Although his reason for upholding xerophagy -- spiritual and physical well-being -- does not include love for God's innocent creatures, he does affectionately depicts them praying to heaven. Last but not the least, it is a pity that his attempt to rationalize God's "permission" for humans to eat meat after the Deluge is a little bit convoluted and forced; he fails to recognize that it was a provisional, expedient measure.   

 

References

 

Chen, Chapman (2023a). "God Never Permitted Noah's Clan to Kill and Eat Animals."  HKBNews, Sept. 24

 

Chen, Chapman (2023b). "Acts of the Anti-Vegan Paul." HKBNews, Jul. 15. https://www.hkbnews.net/post/acts-of-the-anti-vegan-paul-by-dr-chapman-chen

 

Chen, Chapman (2021). "The Forbidden Fruit of Eden is Meat." HKBNews, Aug. 18  https://www.hkbnews.net/post/the-forbidden-fruit-of-eden-is-meat-go-vegan-by-chapman-chen-hkbnews    

 

Erwin, Jane (2010). "The Real Forbidden Fruit is Meat". Ogden: Sunstone 2011 Utah Symposium and Workshops, August 6. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7EBfPhSJFXE&t=2750s)

 

 

Feuerbach, Ludwig (1863). "Concerning Spiritualism and Materialism".

 

Popick, Jeff (2007). The Real Forbidden Fruit -- How Meat Destroys Paradise and How Veganism Can Get it Back. Marco Island: VeganWorld Building.

 

Rosen, Steven (1987). Food for the Spirit. Gaborone: Bala Books.

 

Tertullian (1885). On Fasting -- In Opposition to the Psychics. Trans. S. Thelwall. From Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. 4. 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/0408.htm>.

 

Tertullian (n.d.). On Prayer. Prep. Pontifical University Saint Thomas Aquinas.

 

Tyson, Joseph B. (2006). Marcion and Luke-Acts: A Defining Struggle. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press.

 

 


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