Page:Catholic Encyclopedia, volume 1.djvu/100

This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.
ABSTINENCE
ABSTINENCE
72

during Christmastide, Eastertide, or the octave of Pentecost. This mitigation takes place during the week preceding their Major Lent and on the feasts of the Transfiguration, St. John the Baptist, and Sts. Peter and Paul. Their legislation for monks and nuns is simple and austere. They are forbidden to eat flesh meat under penalty of grievous sin, unless a physician should order it for them in case of illness. When obliged to make long journeys, they must have recourse to the bishop or their own local superior for permission to eat meat during the journey (Vacant, op. cit., I, 269).

Armenians.—Vartan, whom the Armenians regard as the leading: exponent of their ecclesiastical traditions, held that they were bound not only to abide by the legislation framed in the Council of Jerusalem, but also to adhere to the Mosaic law regarding unclean animals (Vacant, op. cit., I, 269). The Council of Florence condemned this rigorism and decided that the decrees enacted in the Council of Jerusalem concerning this matter, as well as the Mosaic regulations regarding unclean animals, have no longer the binding force of law. The Armenians recognize the sixty-eighth canon of the Apostles, which prescribes abstinence on Wednesdays and Fridays, and on all days of Major Lent. The Greek canonists Zonaras and Balsamon liken the abstinence of Wednesdays and Fridays to that of Lent. During Lent nothing save bread, salt, herbs, and wine is allowed the laity. Meat, fish, milk, cheese, butter, eggs, and oil are under the ban. Nevertheless, with time there become visible traces of innovation in this discipline. At present the Armenians observe the law of abstinence on Wednesdays and Fridays, except during the octave of Epiphany and during Eastertide, i.e. from Easter Sunday to Ascension Day. Their Major Lent begins on Monday of Quinquagesima week and terminates on Holy Saturday. From Ash Wednesday until Easter Day they keep xerophagy except on Saturdays and Sundays, when milk diet is allowed. Besides, they devote the week preceding the feasts of the Transfiguration, the Assumption, the Holy Cross, and St. Gregory to abstinence and fasting. They are likewise obliged to abstain for one week during Advent, one week preceding the feast of St. James, and another immediately before the Epiphany. The Armenian monks and nuns never eat meat. With them the law of abstinence is quite rigorous. They may eat fish whenever the laity are allowed to eat meat.

Copts.—Lay people are obliged to abstain from flesh meat, eggs, and milk diet during all the penitential seasons. Such are Major Lent, Mary's Lent, Christmas Lent, and the Apostles' Lent. They are bound by the law of abstinence on all Wednesdays and Fridays, except during the interval between Easter and Pentecost, and whenever Christmas or Epiphany falls on Wednesday or Friday. The law of abstinence extends to Saturdays and Sundays during their penitential seasons. During Major Lent and Holy Week fish is prohibited. At other times its use is lawful. Some time has elapsed since the rigor peculiar to seasons of penance in the Orient was mitigated amongst the Copts. It was then restricted to the observance of abstinence during all seasons except Major Lent. Nevertheless, a goodly number of Copts continue to keep Mary's Lent with pristine rigor. While residing in their monasteries, the Coptic monks and nuns are bound to abstain from meat, eggs, and milk diet throughout the year. Whenever they dwell outside the monastery they may conform to the regulations binding the laity.

Motives of Ecclesiastical Laws Pertaining to Abstinence.—According to the vagaries of the Manicheans, Montanists. and Encratites, flesh meat is intrinsically evil and merits the most rigorous kind of prohibition. Keenly sensible of this heterodoxy, the Church of Christ has not based her ordinances enjoining abstinence on any such unwarranted assumption. As the exponent of revelation, the Church knows and teaches that every creature in the visible universe is equally a work of the divine wisdom, power, and goodness, which defy all limitations. This is why the first pages of the inspired text indicate that the Creator "saw all the things that he had made and they were very good" (Gen., i, 31). St. Paul is, if anything, still more explicit in condemning the folly of those sectaries, though they originated after his day. "Now, the Spirit manifestly says that in the last times some shall depart from the faith, giving heed to spirits of error, and doctrines of devils … forbidding to marry, to abstain from meats which God hath created to be received with thanksgiving by the faithful and by them that know the truth. For, every creature is good, and nothing to be rejected that is received with thanksgiving" (I Tim, iv, 1, 2, 3). Neither is the Church, in her legislation on abstinence, animated by any such gross superstition as influences the adherents of Brahmanism or Buddhism. Moved by their theories regarding the transmigration of souls, they are logically induced to abstain from eating the flesh of animals, lest they should unconsciously consume their parents or friends. In consequence of those notions their diet is vegetarian. So rigorous is the law prescribing this diet that transgressions are visited with social and domestic ostracism. At the same time this ultra conservatism has not been espoused by all who share the doctrine regarding the transmigration of souls. Many of them have not hesitated to temper their belief in this creed with a mitigated form of abstinence from flesh meat.

Eagerness to harmonize her disciplinary regime with the exigencies of the Mosaic legislation did not prompt the Church in shaping the measures which she set before her children in regard to abstinence. Though the Law of Moses embodies a detailed catalogue of forbidden viands, Christ abrogated those prohibitions when the Law was fulfilled. The Apostles, assembled in the Council of Jerusalem, gave definite shape to their convictions concerning the passing of the Old Law, as well as to their divinely founded right to shape and mould the tenor of ecclesiastical legislation so as best to meet the spiritual needs of those entrusted to their charge (Acts, xv, 28, 29). Nevertheless, legislation alone is well-nigh powerless in attempting to change abruptly the current of traditions and prejudices, when they are so deeply rooted in national institutions as to form an important factor in the growth and development of a nation. This was precisely the sort of problem that confronted the missionary enterprises of the Apostles. Their converts were recruited from Paganism and Judaism. Though Jews and Gentiles were doubtless sincere in their conversion to the new religion, previous habits of thought and action had left more than superficial traces in their character. As a consequence, many Jewish converts were unwilling to forego the Mosaic law concerning unclean meats, while Gentile converts could see no reason whatsoever for adopting the tenets of Judaism. This diversity of sentiment paved the way to misunderstanding, and all but open rupture, in various communities of the early Church. This is why St. Paul speaks so unequivocally regarding the lawfulness of all meats, but recommends due consideration for those Christians whose conscience will not brook this liberty (Rom., xiv; Gal., iii, 28; Rom., ii). Centuries of Christian life have so greatly simplified this matter that it is now well-nigh impossible to realize how there could then have been anything more than a passing contro-