From The Vegetarian Messenger and Health Review of October, 1946:
"In this article I propose to disclose some of the views held on dietics by eminent Catholics in different ages. There will be nothing controversial or theological about it. It will, nevertheless, I hope, contain something of interest and benefit to all.
Fasting and abstinence is the duty of all Catholics. The saints or heroes of the Church, practically one and all, did more than they were actually bound to do in this regard. Those very early saints, the Fathers of the Desert, were nearly all centenarians: this was chiefly due to their dietary. "Medical science," says Abbe Gaume, "explains these astonishing facts. It discloses that temperance is the mother of health, prevents all those diseases which are the result of weak digestion, renders external injuries less dangerous, soothes incurable evils, calms the passions, preserves the senses in their integrity, maintains the strength of the mind and the clearness of the memory." I think the good Abbe would have said "Nature Cure," or "Natural Living," instead of "Medical Science," if he had known it; he would certainly have been nearer the mark.
The principal fast of the Church takes place during Lent, though the Church has relaxed this at present owing to the difficulties of the times. She states in her liturgy that this fast was "ordained as a salutary remedy both for our souls and our bodies."
St. Alphonous Ligouri (1698-1787) wrote: "It is certain that excess in eating is the cause of almost all the diseases of the body: but the effects upon the soul are even more disastrous."
St. Francis de Sales (1567-1622) wrote: "Continual moderation is better than fits of abstinence interspersed with occasional excesses."
Blessed Anthony Grassi: "A few ounces of privation is an excellent recipe for any ailment."
St. Thomas Aquinas (1225-74) says that "irrational feeding darkens the soul and renders it unfit for spiritual experiences,"
St. Bonaventure (1221-74): "Food ought to be a refection to the body and not a burden."
St. Dominic (1170?-1221), we are told, was very fond of apples and turnips, and that his diet was very carefully regulated.
In The Splendour of the Saints by the Rev. Aloysius Roche we find some very interesting facts, namely: that the vast majority of Catholic saints were vegetarians, the flight from animal food being an almost uniform feature of their lives: that they were faddists about food in the best sense of the word, that they were well acquainted with the subtle connection between the soul and the body, and that the primitive authorities regarded it as very imperfect to eat cooked food. This latter point is rather interesting when we consider it in the light of what has been said by an eminent modern exponent of Nature Cure:
"Since it has been proved that the processes of cooking, preserving, etc., destroys or changes many of the necessary elements contained in natural food, it will be seen that the first essential of a rational diet, and one that will maintain the health, is to eat foods as produced by nature, unspoiled and unprocessed. It is, in fact, my definite conviction that the whole diet question hinges on the point of eating only natural foods in their natural state. When we obey that dietic rule we obey the rule that really matters in regard to the food that should comprise our daily meals.
There are, of course, other rules with regard to the quantity, mastication, food combinations and so on, but all these would be greatly simplified if the one fundamental rule were followed, as I shall try to show."
Diet Reform Simplified by Stanley Lief.
Now this rule was in fact followed by many a Catholic saint. "St. Anthony the hermit ate herbs, honey and dates, and when after long years of fasting and abstinence he emerged from his cave the assembled monks were amazed to find, instead of an emaciated corpse, a fresh and vigorous young-looking man."
The most learned and philosophic of the Early Fathers (220A.D.), Titus Flavius Clemens, says that "those who use the most frugal fare are the strongest and the healthiest and the noblest." He speaks highly of those who have not "buried the mind beneath food" and do not "feed themselves up for death." He laments the fact "that cooks are held in higher esteem than the tillers of the ground."
But most beautiful of all is this complete quotation from one of his works:-
"We must guard against those sorts of food which persuade us to eat when we are not hungry, bewitching the appetite. For is there not within a temperate simplicity, a wholesome variety of eatables - vegetables, roots, olives, herbs, milk, cheese, fruits, and all kinds of dry food? For sorts of food those are the most proper which are fit for immediate use without fire, since they are readiest: the second to these are those which are simplest as we said before. But those who bend around inflammatory tables, nourishing their own diseases, are ruled by a most licentious disease, which I shall venture to call the demon of the belly: and the worst and most vile of demons. It is far better to be happy than have a devil dwelling within us: and happiness is found only in the practice of virtue. Accordingly, the Apostle Matthew lived upon seeds and nuts and vegetables without the use of flesh."
The author of Ethics of Diet states that "during the first three or four centuries, the most esteemed of the Christian heroes or saints were not only non-flesh-eaters but vegetarians of the extremist kind (even surpassing if we give any credit to the accounts we have of them of the most frugal of modern abstainers) is well known to everyone at all acquainted with ecclesiastical and especially, eremitical history - and it is unnecessary further to insist upon a notorious fact."
Throughout the whole of Catholic history we find saints championing the use of natural food in its natural state for health and holiness and I feel forced to join with Fr. Roche in the opinion that -
"A rational diet is a Catholic diet. The penitential discipline of the Church has a genuine hygienic foundation, as indeed the Church herself proclaims in her Lenten office. According to this declaration she did not consider it beneath her dignity to have regard to bodily health when instituting Lent. Certainly the spirit of Catholicism is more favourable to vegetarianism than otherwise, and it is clear from history that the ecclesiastical laws regarding fasting and abstinence were inspired to a great extent by cultural and civilizing considerations. Our Anglo-Saxon forefathers, for example, had to be weaned from their over-fondness for meat by drastic penalties. Altogether Catholics ought to be in the very vanguard of the Food-Reform movement whose line of advance is after all in the direction of our Catholic tradition and the example of the saints."
Reproduced with kind permission of The Vegetarian Society. #