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The Ethics of Diet - A Catena
by Howard Williams M.A., 1883

Jacques-Bénigne Bossuet, Hyacinthe Rigaud, Louvre

Jacques-Bénigne BOSSUET 1627-1704
(text from the 1st edition, 1883 - extracts)

[follows an article on John Milton] Very different, in other respects, from those of the author of the History of the Reformation of England the sentiments of his celebrated contemporary Bossuet, whose eloquence gained for him the distinguishing title of "Eagle of Méaux," as to the degrading character of the prevalent human nourishment in the Western world, are sufficiently remarkable to deserve some notice. The Oraisons Funêbres and, particularly, his Discours sur L'Histoire Universelle have entitled him to a high rank in French literature. But a single passage in the last work, we shall readily admit, does more credit to his heart than his most eloquent efforts in oratory and literature do to his intellect. That, in common with other theologians, Catholic and Protestant, he has thought it necessary to assume the intervention of the Deity to sanction the sustenance of human life by the destruction of other innocent life, does not affect the weight of intrinsic evidence derivable from the natural feeling as to the debasing influence of the Slaughter House. It is thus that he, impliedly at least, condemns the barbarous practice :-

"Before the time of the Deluge the nourishment which without violence men derived from the fruits which fell from the trees of themselves, and from the herbs which also ripened with equal ease, was, without doubt, some relic of the first innocence and of the gentleness (douceur) for which we were formed. Now to get food we have to shed blood in spite of the horror which it naturally inspires in us; and all the refinements of which we avail ourselves, in covering our tables, hardly suffices to disguise for us the bloody corpses which we have to devour to support life. But this is but the least part of our misery. Life, already shortened, is still further abridged by the savage violences which ar introduced into the life of the human species. Man, whom in the first ages we have seen spare the life of other animals, is accustomed henceforward to spare the life not even of his fellow-men. It is in vain that God forbade, immediately after the Deluge, the shedding of human blood; in vain, in order to save some vestiges of the mildness of our nature, while permitting the feeding on flesh did he prohibit consumption of the blood. Human murders multiplied beyond all calculation."

Bossuet, a few pages later, arrives at the necessary and natural consequence of the murder of other animals, when he records that "the brutalised human race could no longer rise to the true contemplation of intellectual things." (1)



    1. Le sang humain abruli ne pouvait plus s'eléver aux choses intellectuelles. See Discours sur L'Histoire Universelle, a historical sketch which, though necessarily infected by the theological prejudices of the bishop, is, for the rest, considering the period in which it was written, a meritorious production as one of the earliest attempts at a sort of "philosophy of history."

Howard Williams, The Ethics of Diet - index