The dietary requirements of Christians
The Christian community of the origins was immediately divided on the respect of the Jewish dietary rules. When the Apostle Peter, born into a Jewish family, accepted the invitation to dinner of Cornelius, a Roman centurion, some Christians did not hesitate to reproach him.
While the first Christians of Jewish origin continued to observe the dietary requirements of the Bible of Israel, the conversion of the Gentiles to Christianity prompted the apostles to set aside those prohibitions. Again from Acts we learn a vision of Peter.
At the time of the first Council held by the apostles in Jerusalem, more or less in 50 A.D., the decision was taken to limit as much as possible the distinction between lawful and forbidden animals, pure and unclean food. It is worth pointing out that in the same Council the obligation of circumcision was removed for Christians, a very important seal of identity for Jews who were forbidden to attend, to have relations and even to greet the uncircumcised.
With those decisions the early Church came out of the ethnic-religious borders of Jerusalem and Judaism. Not with the sense and purpose of an act of rebellion against Israelite fundamentalism, but as a functional instrument for a non-discriminatory preaching, in all fields, aimed at spreading the Gospel of Christ, which was not yet written.
But not everything builds. No one looks for one’s own usefulness, but that of others. All that is for sale in the marketplace, eat it without inquiring for reasons of conscience, for the Lord is the earth and all that it contains. If someone who does not believe invites you and you want to go, eat everything that is placed before you, without asking questions for reasons of conscience. But if someone says to you.
One believes he can eat anything, while the other, who is weak, eats only legumes. He who eats does not despise those who do not eat; he who does not eat, do not misjudge those who eat, because God has welcomed them. Now if your brother is upset about your food, you are no longer acting according to charity. Beware, therefore, of ruining with your food one for whom Christ died! Don’t make it a reason to blame the good you enjoy.
The prohibition to consume the blood, nowadays no more so ironic, has been long respected by the Christians, as confirmed by Tertullian of Carthage, apologist, polemicist, theologian and moralist, who demonstrates the absurdity of the accusations against the Christians, and how massacres and calumnies obtain the opposite effect. His is the famous phrase sanguis semen Christian rum.
Christians, that we do not consider the blood of animals even as food allowed in lunches, and for this reason we abstain from animals killed by suffocation or dead naturally, so as not to be in any way contaminated by blood, even if it lies buried in the bowels. Expressly forbids the consumption of any food containing blood, and establishes excommunication for the people who contravene the veto and dismissal for priests.
Some dietary requirements appear from time to time in the history of Christianity. Muslim expansionism and Pope Gregory III put an end to the consumption of horse meat with an epistle: the quadrupeds were too valuable to be trivially slaughtered.
The pagan sacrifice thus becomes the real reason for the food ban. Traces of this aversion to horse meat still remain in many Christian areas that consider the horse “impure” or “abominable” from a religious point of view, in this unconsciously in agreement with Islam and Judaism.
Abstinence and fasting
Scripture does not command Christians to fast or abstain from eating meat. But at the same time, the Bible presents fasting as something good, profitable and expected. Centuries of Christian spiritual tradition had preserved the practices of abstinence and fasting as a necessary memorial. Today the Catholic Church proposes (does not oblige) abstinence from the flesh only on Lenten Fridays, allowing this practice to be replaced by other works on Fridays throughout the rest of the year.
The Orthodox churches, on the other hand, maintain a very precise legislation regarding abstinence from certain foods and the faithful adhere to it with extreme seriousness. It remains difficult to understand why they should abstain from meat and instead be able to eat meat… fish meat, which today is more sought after and more expensive than meat itself.
The new course of ecclesial morality imposed itself to stigmatize the fat cuisine of the Middle Ages by preaching abstinence from meat on Fridays and throughout Lent. Herrings and dried or salted cod were one of the main trades of the time: inexpensive, protein-rich, easily transportable and preservable foods allowed the faithful to save their souls by filling their stomachs.
However, today the religious presupposition (which is not forbidden) has slowly slipped towards the dietary norm: people abstain from certain foods more to safeguard the food they eat.
A few exceptions
Some Christian religious groups continue to observe the food precepts of the Bible. This is the case of Adventists and they recommend an ovo-milk-vegetarian diet and respect for biblical prohibitions on animals. And it is believed that “the distinction between pure and impure animals was made at the time of Noah, long before the existence of Israel.
And they also recommend refraining from smoking and drinking alcohol, and coffee. For this reason in Eucharistic celebrations they use grape juice instead of wine. Adventists abstain from the consumption of blood but do not oppose therapeutic transfusion as is customary for Jehovah’s Witnesses.
For the latter the dietary rules of the Bible are not binding (blood excluded) and have no preclusion on the consumption of wine and alcohol but consider smoking as a disobedience to St. Paul’s dictation “let us purify ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit”. Mormons do not observe the dietary requirements of the Bible regarding animals but recommend not to eat blood. They refrain from smoking, alcohol, tea and coffee.
Although these three groups are opposed to the consumption of blood, none of them require special ritual practices for the slaughter of animals, such as those of Jews. They also ignore the biblical norm that prohibits mixing meat with milk.
It can therefore be concluded that Christians, with the exception of a few minor groups, do not know or practice forms of food deprivation-exclusion for religious purposes. And if today the Christians of the West do not eat mice or dogs, this is ascribable only to culinary customs and practices and not to religious prohibitions.