From Feasting to Fasting, the Evolution of a Sin: Attitudes to Food in Late Antiquity

From Feasting to Fasting, the Evolution of a Sin: Attitudes to Food in Late Antiquity

From Feasting to Fasting, the Evolution of a Sin: Attitudes to Food in Late Antiquity

From Feasting to Fasting, the Evolution of a Sin: Attitudes to Food in Late Antiquity

Synopsis

In this highly original study, Veronika Grimm discusses early Christian texts dealing with food, eating and fasting. Modern day eating disorders often equate food with sin and see fasting as an attempt to regain purity, an attitude which can also be observed in early Christian beliefs in the mortification of the flesh.Describing first the historical and social context of Judaism and the Graeco-Roman world, the author then proceeds to analyse Christian attitudes towards food. Descriptions of food found in the Pauline Epistles, the Acts of the Apostles, Tertullian or Augustine are compared to contemporary Jewish or Graeco-Roman pagan texts. Thus a particular Christian mode of fasting is elaborated which influences us to the present day; ascetic fasting for the suppression of the sexual urges of the body. From Feasting to Fasting is of interest to all students of Early Christianity, and to those searching for historical roots of modern attitudes. Winner of the 1995 Routledge Ancient History Prize

Excerpt

They devoted themselves to the Apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread…. Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts.

(Acts of the Apostles, 2:42, 2:46)

No other matron in Rome could dominate my mind but one who mourned and fasted, who was squalid with dirt, almost blinded by weeping…. The psalms were her music, the Gospels her conversation, continence her luxury, her life a fast. No other could give me pleasure but one whom I never saw eating food.

(Jerome, Epistle 45:3)

Hospitality, loving kindness, and cheerful conviviality on the one hand and on the other contempt for the world, mortification of the flesh, weeping and groaning are held up by the authors of these passages as ideal patterns of Christian behaviour. Approximately three hundred years passed between the writing of these Christian texts and a veritable abyss seems to separate the attitudes expressed in them. The two quotations above roughly bracket the turbulent history of the formation of the Christian Church, from the early appearance of groups of followers of Christ in the Roman Empire outside Palestine, to the closing years of the fourth century when it became, within a few years after the conversion of Constantine (AD 312), the ruling state religion and, even more importantly, the provider of a coherent ideology for the entire Roman Empire.

This period of late antiquity has recently been receiving a great deal of scholarly attention for its importance in the foundation of medieval Europe and in consequence in the development of Western culture. Some scholars identify this period, and especially the rise of Christianity, as critical in the development of even such psychological . . .

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