Vegetarianism: A History Colin Spencer

Humans were not kings or lords of everything that moved. The very concept of metempsychosis implies that all creatures are equal.

There can be little doubt then that Pythagorean vegetarianism, through its Orphic influences, also has its roots deep in Ancient Egypt itself.

Certainly Pythagoras’ abstention from meat was stimulated by Zoroaster as well as by the Egyptians.

We know that the Pythagorean diet is ultimately the most healthy one, while the Pythagorean maxim, `know yourself’ has become the foundation stone of modern psychotherapy. There is a case for re-evaluating Pythagoras as the father of western philosphy. […] Much of what we regard as Platonism we find, upon analysis, to be in essence Pythagorean.

Though the desert fathers were undoubtedly vegetarian it was again only because of the struggle of the early Christians for pre-eminence over their own flesh, and not out of any respect for other creatures.

Clement 1)↓, of course, did not believe in the transmigration of souls, so his abstention from meat is based on ascetic rationalism, on the linking of flesh-eating with the stimulation of passion which would disrupt the stability of Christian commitment: `If any righteous man does not burden his soul by the eating of flesh, he has the advantage of a rational motive. `Pythagoras seems to me to have derived his mildness towards irrational animals from the Law’

God’s law required Jew and Christian alike to eat some meat as part of the holy scheme of things. Vegetarian Christians like Clement could only get away with their behaviour on the grounds of pure asceticism. The ethics of non-violence towards animals or metaphysical doctrinesvegetarianism on animal souls were never given as reasons for a vegetarian mode of life. To eat a taboo creature was to break the Mosaic law, to sunder all ties with the one living God; hence how much more heinous a crime would it have been for an orthodox Jew to be a vegetarian and refuse to consume any meat from either list. The very act of being vegetarian suggests that Mosaic law is entirely irrelevant, that the vegetarian lives in a state of greater purity and is therefore closer to God than the orthodox Jew by representing the era before the Fall was an heretical idea. The Christian vegetarian was also breaking with these traditions, that holy sanction whereby God provides for humankind out of his munificence. For Christians, it was only acceptable to renounce meat-eating if you called it asceticism and, better still, went off into the desert to practise it.

In Manicheanism…
In Manicheanism, for the first time, we see a new and quite different reason for the abstention from meat. Compared to the Pythagorean dogma which entails respect for another living creature because it contains a living soul, the Manichean and the dualist reason is a negative one based on fear, suspicion and distrust. Matter is bad, matter is evil, all flesh derives from the realm of darkness and the partaking of flesh will weigh the spirit down, so that it can no longer fly to God. Eat meat and you will trap the spirit in more flesh.

Timothy, Patriarch of Alexandria from AD 380 to 385, was so alarmed by the spread of Manicheanism that he instituted food tests among his clergy and monks; those who refused to eat meat would then be interrogated.

Yet again, a vegetarian group 2)↓ was isolated, placed on the fringes of society, not because of the abstention from meat itself, but because of the ideology that led to such abstention.

In eating flesh, in drinking intoxicating liquors and in carnal intercourse there is no sin, for such enjoyments are natural; but abstention from them produces great reward.

Cow worship and vegetarianism are both subsequent to this idea of transmigration and rebirth, the central doctrine of India’s religion.

Tryon in advocating ascetism and self-discipline in diet and life was only in fact reflecting the hard-work ethic 3)↓.

Cowherd based his vegetarianism on Swedenborg’s vision of meat-eating as symbol of the Fall, like Mani, the Cathars and many others before him. Meat-eating blocked the spirit’s aspirations, stopped individuals experiencing the full power of their vision.

[for more look Colin Spencer tag, and „The Bloodless Revolution” by Tristram Stuart]

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1. Aleksandryjski -przyp. Amin
2. Manicheans
3. Thomas Tryon [1634-1703]

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