Testimony of the Early Christian Church 
to the Universal Abstinence From Flesh Diet and Strong Drink

WHEN St. John Chrysostom (D. 407), in his homily on Matthew xxii, 1-14, tells us that "flesh-meats and wine serve as materials for sensuality, and are a source of danger, sorrow, and disease," he does not stand alone.

Writing, in confutation of Jovinian, a monk of Milan, who abandoned asceticism, St. Jerome (D. A.V. 440) holds up vegetarianism as the Christian ideal and the restoration of the primeval rule of life. The passage may be rendered :--" As to his argument that in God's Second Blessing permission was given to eat flesh- a permission not given in the first Blessing- let him know that just as permission to put away a wife was, according to the words of the Saviour, not given from the beginning, but was granted to the human race by Moses because of the hardness of our hearts. So also in like manner the eating of flesh was unknown until the flood, but after the Flood, just as quails were given to the people when they murmured in the desert, so have sinews and the offensiveness of flesh been given to our teeth. The Apostle, writing to the Ephesians, teaches us that God had purposed that in the fullness of time he would restore all things, and would draw to their beginning, even to Christ Jesus, all things that are in heaven or that are on earth. Whence also, the Saviour Himself, in the Apocalypse of John, says, ' I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end.'  From the beginning of human nature, we neither fed upon flesh nor did we put away our wives, nor were our foreskins taken away from us for a sign. We kept on in this course until we arrived at the Flood. But after the Flood, together with the giving of the Law, which no man could fulfill, the eating of flesh was brought in; and the putting away of wives was conceded to hardness of heart; and the knife of circumcision is brought into use; as if the hand of God had created in us more than is necessary. But now that Christ has come in the end of time, and has turned, back Omega to Alpha, and drawn back the end to the beginning, neither is it permitted to us to put away our wives, nor are we circumcised, nor do we eat flesh; hence the Apostolic saying, ' It is a good, thing not to drink wine, and not to eat flesh.' For wine also, together with flesh, began to be used after the Flood."

Not less striking is the testimony of St. Basil (D. 379) : " With sober living," he says, " well-being increases in the household, animals are in safety, there is no shedding of blood, nor putting animals to death. The knife of the cook is needless; for the table is spread only with the fruits that Nature gives, and with them they are content. John the Baptist, he continues, "had neither bed, nor table, nor inheritance, nor ox, nor grain, nor baker, nor other things regarded as the necessaries of life; and yet it was to him that the Son of God gave the eulogy that he was the greatest of the children of men."

The Gospel according to the Hebrews was that which was in use amongst the first Christians of Jerusalem, and the Gospel according to the Egyptians is thought to have been in close relation to it. It has been said that there are traces of it in the Talmud before A.D. 130., It has even been conjectured that it was the Hebrew source from which the present Gospel according to Matthew was derived. This Gospel, according to the Nazarenes, was widely. circulated in the early Church, and was held in high esteem by the Jewish Christians.

Hegesippus gives a remarkable account of James, the brother of the Lord, and the first ruler of the Christian Church in Jerusalem. James, we are told was Holy from birth. He drank no wine nor strong liquor, nor ate he any living thing. A razor never went upon his head, and neither used the bath nor anointing with oil. Even his clothes were free from any taint of death for he wore no woolen but linen garments only., " It is a remarkable fact that Instead of being represented as a sectary at the head of a new school of religious thought antagonistic to the ancient Hebrew faith, we are told that he, and he alone, was permitted to enter the sanctuary.

That the physical puritanism of abstainence from intoxicants and flesh-meats was not an ideal foreign to Judaism we know from the examples of the Rechabites, the Nazarites, the Nazarenes, and the Essenes. The accounts that have come down to us of the last named sect are very interesting and suggestive. They lived in a brotherly community, they cultivated the land, they observed the Sabbath strictly, they refused to swear, they abstained from intoxicants and flesh.

There are striking parallelisms between Essenism and Christianity. Seek first the kingdom of God was the aim of the Essenes (Matt, vi, 33, Luke, xii, 31). Sell your possessions and give to the poor (Matt vi, 33)., They despised riches (Matt vi, 19-21). The brotherly spirit amongst them was a wonder to the Jewish people, and a test of Christianity is "we know that we have passed from death to life because we love the brethren" (I John iii, 14). The Essenes and the Christians in Jerusalem lived in communities where each man had a share in the common. No wonder that De Quincey with his love of paradox should declare the Essenes to be "neither more or less than the new-born brotherhood of Christians.

The writer of these few extracts makes acknowledgment the same to  E. A.' Axon, LL.D., F.R.S.L.

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