Regarding Lean Days

Posted by: Richenda at Thursday February 22, 2007 in

The Germanic & Celtic peoples (or ‘Barbarian Hordes’ to good Romans) during the dawn of Christianity ate roasted meats, raised cows, and slathered what they could in butter. (Ever wonder why your European Grandfather —if you have one— used to butter his steak? Now you know. It comes from way back when.) The Germanic tribal peoples also drank beer.

The Romans, on the other hand, ate fish, bread and olive oil, drank wine, and slathered what they could in yummy garum (salty rotten fish sauce).

(Note to self: Got to try garum one day. Very curious!)

In addition, Romans were among the first peoples to embrace Christianity. They were also the most successful at imposing (implementing) an administrative system on (for) believers that would allow Christianity flourish. This administrative process also allowed Romans to preserve their culture through overlaying it via the growing administered ‘church.’

Written histories in Greek and Latin tell us that dark age monasteries in Germany were filled with pious, bread and water eating Christians (good), but were surrounded by meat roasting, beer guzzling, cow herding, petty kings with bands of pagan warriors eager for goodies (bad). Maybe the ‘good’ or ‘bad’ evaluation here is true…but one has to consider that the source of the information was from Roman administrators & their secretaries who were interested in justice, yes, but also in perpetuating their own power privileges and world view.

But give credit where credit is due: administration was something the Romans could do. They were awesome at it and we owe two millennia of sustained and sacred Christianity to them. Also, there were many infamously decadent Roman habits which these administrators also addressed—urging their countrymen to
simplicity.

However, human systems are human—and run by powers that be. Local Roman government administrators became Bishops and Archbishops in the church. Even pagan ones, like Sidonius (who was later sainted). But pagan Romans ate bread and water and fish (good) while barbarian Christian kings ate roast beef and butter (bad).

Though the Western ‘Romanesque’ Church came of age in France in the Dark Ages,
by then, early Roman patterns had become the ‘gold standard’ of western Christian piety. The Roman essential diet was the one chosen for sacred occasions, for ‘fasting’ and ‘lean days.’ (One large exception was that beer replaced wine as the primary drink in monasteries in Germany and England.) So to have Roman ideals and cultural habits, then, was to be closer to God.

I have to wonder what would have happened if the Germanic peoples had won this little war of administrative implementation. Early bishops, had they been Teutonic, would perhaps have declared garum & other fish products to be the decadent &
unhealthful ones. Perhaps instead, greasing one’s skin and hair with butter might have taken on contemplative significance.

Yet, regardless of whether Lent would have been different if Clothar had determined issues of Sanctity instead of Augustine, clearly, it is issues of sanctity that early administrators sought to address. The goal (ideally) was to bring the pious closer to God through encouraging healthful, mindful (heartful) actions. And that, I think, is ‘Good.’

*(Note to KFC: I’m thinking in asking the Pope to bless your new Fish Snacker
Sandwich for Lent you have missed the point entirely.)*

Commenting is closed for this article.