Saint Francis of Assisi and Compassion for Animals
Excerpt from: FOOD YOGA — Nourishing Body, Mind & Soul
There are basically two distinct schools of Christian thought: The Aristotelian-Thomistic school and the Augustinian-Franciscan school.
The Aristotelian-Thomistic school teaches that animals are here for our pleasure — they have no independent purpose. We can eat them; torture them in laboratories — whatever we feel is necessary for our survival. Most modern Christians embrace this form of their religion.
The Augustinian-Franciscan school, however, teaches that all living beings are brothers and sisters under God’s fatherhood. Based largely on the teachings of St. Francis, this platonic worldview fits neatly within the vegetarian perspective.
St. Francis felt a deep kinship with all of creation, addressing it as a “brother” or “sister,” firmly believing that everything came from the same creative Source.
His great compassion and respect for the animal world also manifest in his expression of hospitality during Christmas (1223):
And on Christmas Eve, out of reverence for the Son of God, whom on that night the Virgin Mary placed in a manger between the ox and the ass, anyone having an ox or an ass is to feed it a generous portion of choice fodder. And, on Christmas Day, the rich are to give the poor the finest food in abundance.
Indeed, St. Francis’ respect for creation appeared to have no boundaries. It is said that he once removed worms from a busy road and placed them to the side so they would not be crushed under human traffic.
When mice ran over his table as he took his meals or over his body while he slept, he regarded the disturbance as a “diabolical temptation” which he met with patience and restraint, indicating his compassion towards other living creatures.
The Catholic Encyclopedia comments on his compassion:
St. Francis’ gift of sympathy seems to have been wider even than St. Paul’s, for we find no evidence in the great Apostle of a love for nature or for animals … Francis’ love of creatures was not simply the offspring of a soft sentimental disposition. It arose from that deep and abiding sense of the presence of God. To him all are from one Father and all are real kin … hence, his deep sense of personal responsibility towards fellow creatures: the loving friend of all God’s creatures.
According to St. Francis, a lack of compassion for animals leads to a lack of mercy towards humans. “If you have men who will exclude any of God’s creatures from the shelter of compassion and pity, you will have men who will deal likewise with their fellow men,” he said.
These wise words ring true in a modern world that kills tens of billions of animals annually. It appears that a nonchalant attitude towards animals could indeed be the root cause of an indifference to the fact that nearly one billion humans go hungry every day.
The Reverend Basil Wrighton, who served as Chairman of the Catholic Study Circle for Animal Welfare in London, during the 1960s, called St. Francis “the greatest gentleman that Christianity has produced, in the strictest sense of the word.” Reverend Wrighton himself was a remarkable figure, writing in favor of vegetarianism, against animal experimentation, decades before the contemporary movement for animal rights emerged.
According to the Reverend Alvin Hart, an Episcopal priest in New York:
Many Georgian saints were distinguished by their love for animals. St. John Zedazneli made friends with bears near his hermitage; St. Shio befriended a wolf; St. David of Garesja protected deer and birds from hunters, proclaiming, ‘He whom I believe in and worship looks after and feeds all these creatures, to whom He has given birth.’ Early Celtic saints, too, favored compassion for animals. Saints Wales, Cornwall and Brittany of Ireland in the 5th and 6th centuries AD went to great pains for their animal friends, healing them and praying for them as well.
One of the many anomalies of so-called civilized society is the convenient justification of some people to eat certain socially-acceptable forms of meat while simultaneously working to protect animals. Otoman Zar-Adusht Ha’nish*, said it this way:
It is strange to hear people talk of humanitarianism, who are members of societies for the prevention of cruelty to children and animals, and who claim to be God-loving men and women, but who, nevertheless, encourage by their patronage the killing of animals merely to gratify the cravings of appetite.
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Otoman Zar-Adusht Ha’nish (1844–1936)
was the founder of the religious health movement known as Mazdaznan, which is based on Zoroastrian and Christian ideas with
special focus on breathing exercises, vegetarian diet and body culture.