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Unclean Meats

Early Church Fathers Quotes on Unclean Meats

Epistle of Barnabas 

Moses then issued three doctrines concerning meats with a spiritual significance; but they received them according to fleshly desire, as if he had merely spoken of [literal] meats. David, however, comprehends the knowledge of the three doctrines, and speaks in like manner: “Blessed is the man who hath not walked in the counsel of the ungodly,” even as the fishes [referred to] go in darkness to the depths [of the sea]; “and hath not stood in the way of sinners,” even as those who profess to fear the Lord, but go astray like swine; “and hath not sat in the seat of scorners,” even as those birds that lie in wait for prey. Take a full and firm grasp of this spiritual knowledge – Epistle of Barnabas

Letter to Diognetus 

But as to their scrupulosity concerning meats, and their superstition as respects the Sabbaths, and their boasting about circumcision, and their fancies about fasting and the new moons, which are utterly ridiculous and unworthy of notice,–I do not think that you require to learn anything from me. For, to accept some of those things which have been formed by God for the use of men as properly formed, and to reject others as useless and redundant,–how can this be lawful? And to speak falsely of God, as if He forbade us to do what is good on the Sabbath-days,–how is not this impious? –The Epistle of Mathetes to Diognetus

Justin Martyr 

“Moreover, you were commanded to abstain from certain kinds of food, in order that you might keep God before your eyes while you ate and drank, seeing that you were prone and very ready to depart from His knowledge, as Moses also affirms: ‘The people ate and drank, and rose up to play.’ And again: ‘Jacob ate, and was satisfied, and waxed fat; and he who was beloved kicked: he waxed fat, he grew thick, he was enlarged, and he forsook God who had made him.’ For it was told you by Moses in the book of Genesis, that God granted to Noah, being a just man, to eat of every animal, but not of flesh with the blood, which is dead.” And as he was ready to say, “as the green herbs,” I anticipated him: “Why do you not receive this statement, ‘as the green herbs,’ in the sense in which it was given by God, to wit, that just as God has granted the herbs for sustenance to man, even so has He given the animals for the diet of flesh? But, you say, a distinction was laid down thereafter to Noah, because we do not eat certain herbs. As you interpret it, the thing is incredible. And first I shall not occupy myself with this, though able to say and to hold that every vegetable is food, and fit to be eaten. But although we discriminate between green herbs, not eating all, we refrain from eating some, not because they are common or unclean, but because they are bitter, or deadly, or thorny. But we lay hands on and take of all herbs which are sweet, very nourishing and good, whether they are marine or land plants. Thus also God by the mouth of Moses commanded you to abstain from unclean and improper and violent animals: when, moreover, though you were eating manna in the desert, and were seeing all those wondrous acts wrought for you by God, you made and worshipped the golden calf. Hence he cries continually, and justly, ‘They are foolish children, in whom is no faith.’ – Dialogue with Trypho

Origen

But neither do the Jews pride themselves upon abstaining from swine’s flesh, as if it were some great thing; but upon their having ascertained the nature of clean and unclean animals, and the cause of the distinction, and of swine being classed among the unclean. And these distinctions were signs of certain things until the advent of Jesus; after whose coming it was said to His disciple, who did not yet comprehend the doctrine concerning these matters, but who said, “Nothing that is common or unclean hath entered into my mouth,” “What God hath cleansed, call not thou common.” It therefore in no way affects either the Jews or us that the Egyptian priests abstain not only from the flesh of swine, but also from that of goats, and sheep, and oxen, and fish. But since it is not that “which entereth into the mouth that defiles a man,” and since “meat does not commend us to God,” we do not set great store on refraining from eating, nor yet are we induced to eat from a gluttonous appetite. – Contra Celsus, Book V

For that in fishes the roughness of scales is regarded as constituting their cleanness; rough, and rugged, and unpolished, and substantial, and grave manners are approved in men; while those that are without scales are unclean; because trifling, and fickle, and faithless, and effeminate manners are disapproved. Moreover, what does the law mean when it says, You shall not eat the camel? — except that by the example of that animal it condemns a life nerveless and crooked with crimes. Or when it forbids the swine to be taken for food? It assuredly reproves a life filthy and dirty, and delighting in the garbage of vice, placing its supreme good not in generosity of mind, but in the flesh alone. Or when it forbids the hare? It rebukes men deformed into women. And who would use the body of the weasel for food? But in this case it reproves theft. Who would eat the lizard? But it hates an aimless waywardness of life. Who the eft? But it execrates mental stains. Who would eat the hawk, who the kite, who the eagle? But it hates plunderers and violent people who live by crime. Who the vulture? But it holds accursed those who seek for booty by the death of others. Or who the raven? But it holds accused crafty wills. Moreover, when it forbids the sparrow, it condemns intemperance; when the owl, it hates those who fly from the light of truth; when the swan, the proud with high neck; when the sea-mew, too talkative an intemperance of tongue; when the bat, those who seek the darkness of night as well as of error. These things, then, and the like to these, the law holds accursed in animals, which in them indeed are not blame-worthy, because they are born in this condition; in man they are blamed, because they are sought for contrary to his nature, not by his creation, but by his error. – Novatian, On Jewish Meats

Pre-Christian Hebrew Sources:

For you must not fall into the degrading idea that it was out of regard to mice and weasels and other such things that Moses drew up his laws with such exceeding care. All these ordinances were made for the sake of righteousness to aid the quest for virtue and 145 the perfecting of character. For all the birds that we use are tame and distinguished by their cleanliness, feeding on various kinds of grain and pulse, such as for instance pigeons, turtle-doves, 146 locusts, partridges, geese also, and all other birds of this class. But the birds which are forbidden you will find to be wild and carnivorous, tyrannizing over the others by the strength which they possess, and cruelly obtaining food by preying on the tame birds enumerated above and not only so, but 147 they seize lambs and kids, and injure human beings too, whether dead or alive, and so by naming them unclean, he gave a sign by means of them that those, for whom the legislation was ordained, must practice righteousness in their hearts and not tyrannize over any one in reliance upon their own strength nor rob them of anything, but steer their course of life in accordance with justice, just as the tame birds, already mentioned, consume the different kinds of pulse that grow upon the earth 148 and do not tyrannize to the destruction of their own kindred. Our legislator taught us therefore that it is by such methods as these that indications are given to the wise, that they must be just and effect nothing by violence, and refrain from tyrannizing over others in reliance upon their own 149 strength. For since it is considered unseemly even to touch such unclean animals, as have been mentioned, on account of their particular habits, ought we not to take every precaution lest our own 150 characters should be destroyed to the same extent? Wherefore all the rules which he has laid down with regard to what is permitted in the case of these birds and other animals, he has enacted with the object of teaching us a moral lesson. For the division of the hoof and the separation of the claws are intended to teach us that we must discriminate between our individual actions with a view 151 to the practice of virtue. For the strength of our whole body and its activity depend upon our shoulders and limbs. Therefore he compels us to recognize that we must perform all our actions with discrimination according to the standard of righteousness – more especially because we have 152 been distinctly separated from the rest of mankind. – The Letter Of Aristeas

See Also the Writings of Philo of Alexandria

 

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