Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Heresy → vegetarianism → pale complexion → execution?

The biography written by Anselm of Liège in a previous post ("Should Heretics be Tolerated Part 5") has some additional information about the context in which Wazo of Liège wrote. After Anselm discusses Wazo’s arguments against the execution of heretics (using the Wheat and Weeds parable), he then commends the example of Martin, the bishop of Tours (ca. 371-97), who refused communion to bishops who had consented to the execution of heretics by the Emperor Maximin.

Anselm also informs his readers that some people in Roger’s diocese (the person who wrote Wazo for advice about heretics) were identified as heretics simply because they had a pale complexion (!), since it was assumed that vegetarianism both was an indication of heresy and caused a more pale complexion. Anselm concludes that this is an example of the wheat being uprooted with the tares/cockles: “Thus, through error coupled with cruelty, many truly Catholic persons had been killed in the past” (Wakefield and Evans 1991: 89-96, 670).

A more general observation not directly connected to Wazo and Aquinas: Reading about the association between food/diet and piety is fascinating, especially in ancient and medieval texts. The connection between spiritual discipline and discipline in one’s diet is found not only in discussions of gluttony—one of the seven deadly sins—but in other themes as well.

Just one example that I included in my James Through the Centuries book (pp. 166-7): Peter Chrysologus has two sermons on Fasting (Sermon 41 and 42) that encourage his hearers to win the “battles of the flesh,” such as a battle against an “overindulgence in food” which “robs one of vitality, sickens the stomach, poisons the blood, infects the body’s fluids, stirs up bile, and creates the high temperature of a fever . . .”

This “sick” person can indeed “ruin his mind”; carried away by desires, he rejects what is medicinal, seeks the harmful, and flees from treatment. The answer, Chrysologus says, is an abstinence that heals “what gluttony had made flare up” (Sermon 41; 2005: 163). In a similar way, “moderate fasting” can help exercise control over the body, regulate the mind, and clear one’s intellect with sobriety: “Just as whirlwinds disturb the elements, so do heaps of food cause agitation” (164). Fasting therefore can heal the wounds of sins, but the scars caused by those sins cannot be cleansed without mercy:

May the one who knows that he stands unsteadily in this life, who understands that he slips as he passes through the way of the flesh, and who realizes that he is subject to attacks from ignorance and to accidents from negligence, may he keep his fast in such a way that he does not omit mercy. Fasting opens heaven for us, and fasting admits us to God; but unless mercy then attends us as the patroness of our cause, since we are unable to remain steadfast in innocence, we shall not be secure about forgiveness, as the Lord says: “Without mercy will judgment be rendered on the one who has shown no mercy” (166).

Using a farming illustration somewhat similar to the Wheat and Weeds parable, Chrysologus then argues that the one who gives bread to the hungry gives the kingdom to himself. The one who denies water to the thirsty denies himself the fountain of life. As he continues this theme in Sermon 42, Chrysologus declares that the one who fasts without compassion is like a “field tilled without seeds” (169). The field can be cleared of weeds and all other matters that would disturb the crop, but without seeds, the field will still remain sterile; no matter how often one tills, without seeds, the land will not yield a good crop.

In a similar way, fasting “cultivates the soul, it prunes away vices, it eradicates offenses, it tills the mind, it tones the body; but without mercy it does not yield the fruit of life, it does not attain to the reward of salvation” (169). So the one who does not show mercy takes it away from himself (he quotes James 2:13), and the one who wants to receive mercy from God must show mercy especially to the poor: “The one who sows mercy on the person in need will reap mercy for himself ” (170).

I should close with a positive connection between vegetarianism and piety to balance things out: The traditions found in Jerome’s Lives of Illustrious Men, for example, connect the holiness/piety of James of Jerusalem with his diet (Chapter 2). Jerome here quotes Hegesippus:

After the apostles, James the brother of the Lord surnamed the Just was made head of the Church at Jerusalem. Many indeed are called James. This one was holy from his mother’s womb. He drank neither wine nor strong drink, ate no flesh, never shaved or anointed himself with ointment or bathed. He alone had the privilege of entering the Holy of Holies, since indeed he did not use woolen vestments but linen and went alone into the temple and prayed in behalf of the people, insomuch that his knees were reputed to have acquired the hardness of camels’ knees.


I discuss this and other aspects of James of Jerusalem in chapter 1 of James Through the Centuries, but for a more extensive discussion, I highly recommend John Painter’s Just James (the 2004 second edition).

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