“Desire for food gave birth to disobedience and a sweet taste expelled from paradise… An empty stomach prepares one for keeping vigil in prayer, whereas a full one leads to deep slumber.” – Evagrio Pontico
Eating, not eating, what to eat, and what not to eat are issues that have emerged over the entire history of Christianity (and beyond). Fasting and abstinence are practices that free the spirit from bodily appetites and bring us closer to God. Popes, cardinals, bishops, theologians and experts in canon law have written, preached and ruled on eating, but often in a contradictory way, because the very concept of food changes over time and space. Forgoing meat? Good… but is iguana meat or fish? How about the viper? Is watermelon a food, and therefore forbidden during a fast, or is it a drink? What about chocolate? Are we allowed to enjoy the aroma of meat being cooked? Amidst this confusion, believers have behaved according to necessity, moral sense and appetite. The story of fasting deserves to be appreciated, especially in contemporary society, in which the commandment of fasting and abstinence is more crucial than ever before, albeit no longer for religious reasons.
Claudio Ferlan conducts research at the Bruno Kessler Foundation’s Italian-German Historical Institute in Trento.