Were Adam and Eve vegetarians? You may be surprised by this answer.

[This post continues my discussion of why Aquinas holds there was no private property in Paradise. Other topics in the series include in order: 1. No property in Paradise, 2. Life in Paradise, 3. No Labor in Paradise,  4. Sexuality and Procreation in Paradise, 5. The Children of Adam and Eve, 6. Were Adam and Eve Vegetarians?  7. No Equality in Paradise, 8. Subjection and Government in Paradise 9. Private Property, the Result of Sin, 10. Aquinas’s Analogy: Clothing, Slavery and Private Property. Or download the full essay here: No Property in Paradise: How Aquinas Understands the Origin of Private Property]]


We have learned so far that Adam and Eve needed to eat, were expected to have sexual intercourse and offspring, but were not ruled by their sensual appetites and had no need for clothing. Because they had such few needs, humans had a very different relationship to animals in the state of innocence then afterwards.

Later after leaving Paradise, animals would be used for clothing, labor and food. But since humans had no need for clothing or labor and since they could freely eat from the trees of the garden, they had no need for animals in Paradise. “In the state of innocence man would not have had any bodily need of animals—neither for clothing, since then they were naked and not ashamed, there being no inordinate motions of concupiscence—nor for food, since they fed on the trees of paradise—nor to carry him about, his body being strong enough for that purpose.”1)ST IA, 96, i, ad. 3

Why then were there animals in Paradise, and why did God bring the animals to Adam to name them (Gen. 2.19)? As noted earlier, Aquinas sees Adam as analogous to a scientist exploring nature. While Adam didn’t have need of animals for what we think of as traditional purposes today, “man needed animals in order to have experimental knowledge of their natures. This is signified by the fact that God led the animals to man, that he might give them names expressive of their respective natures.”2)ST Ia, 96, i, ad. 3, 2150 Aquinas sees the presence of animals in Paradise as a special dispensation to Adam, which, by the way, is how the serpent managed to get into Paradise in the first place.3)ST Ia, 102, ii

While Adam and Eve didn’t need the animals for any practical purpose, the humans were given mastership or dominion over the creatures (Gen. 1.26-28). It is arguable that Aquinas thinks Eve had dominion over animals as well as Adam. 4)On the question whether Eve as well as Adam had mastership over the animals, see  my discussion here and specifically footnote 2. Aquinas is careful to distinguish human dominion from God’s dominion.5)Elsewhere, I’ve  discussed at length Aquinas’s position on this topic in his consideration of whether it is natural for people to use external things. Human dominion differs from God’s, since God can change the substance of things.

But humans still had a certain kind of dominion over the animals. Aquinas holds that in the state of innocence, dominion meant that all the animals would obey the commands of Adam just like domesticated animals do today. Animals only came to disobey human beings as a punishment for the first parents sins.6)ST Ia, 96, i Aquinas disagrees with those who hold that in Paradise animals were all tame and herbivorous and he notes that only human nature changed as a result of human sin and not the nature of animals. Thus there were carnivorous animals on the earth and brought into the Garden of Eden to see what Adam would name them.7)Ia, 96, i, ad. 2)

Why animals needed to obey Adam and Eve when they had no purposes for them, is not entirely clear. Furthermore, there is an interesting and somewhat puzzling asymmetry in Aquinas’s view of what dominion means with respect to animals, on the one hand, and plants and inanimate things, on the other, even though both types of dominion arise from God’s command in Genesis 1.26-28 and from natural law. As noted previously, Aquinas says that “in the state of innocence man’s mastership over plants and inanimate things consisted not in commanding or in changing them, but in making use of them without hindrance.”8)ST Ia, 96, ii, 2152 But in the state of innocence humans apparently did not eat animals or use them in any way. The desire to eat animals apparently arises only after the flood  when God tells Noah that he and his descendants may eat meat (Gen. 9.3).

Why Adam and Eve Ate Meat

Aquinas is somewhat reticent on the question of why humans came to eat and kill animals. We know that as punishment for their sins, man had to labor for food and animals stopped obeying Adam and Eve. But it appears that the desire for meat was not thought to be a result of sin. As noted above, Aquinas says that  “in the state of innocence man would not have had any bodily need of animals—neither for clothing…nor for food, since they fed on the trees of paradise…”9)ST Ia. 96, I, ad. 3, Aquinas is referencing Genesis 2.19 What is not entirely clear from this statement is whether they chose not to eat meat or were prohibited from eating meat. In another context, Aquinas seems to suggest that meat eating was a human taste or practice that had not yet developed in Paradise. Here is what Aquinas has to say on this point.

Men were wont to eat plants and other products of the soil even before the deluge: but the eating of flesh seems to have been introduced [by humans? God?] after the deluge; for it is written (Gn. 9:3): “Even as the green herbs have I delivered . . . all” flesh “to you.” The reason for this was that the eating of the products of the soil savors rather of a simple life; whereas the eating of flesh savors of delicate and over-careful living [i.e., more advanced cultivated culture]. For the soil gives birth to the herb of its own accord; and such like products of the earth may be had in great quantities with very little effort: whereas no small trouble is necessary either to rear or to catch an animal. 10)ST I-II 102, vi, ad. 2

This passage, too, is a bit ambiguous and one can interpret it in more than one way. It is possible to understand this passage as implying that meat eating was simply a human preference that developed over time, and not a special dispensation to human beings after the flood. If so, this statement could be understood to imply that Aquinas thought meat eating was permissible in Paradise, even though humans didn’t develop that taste or practice until later when civilization had changed and could invest in the labor to catch or rear animals. How then does Aquinas understand God telling Noah he can eat meat (Gen. 9.3)?  God would not be giving permission here but instead validating a human practice that was about to arise or had arisen and always been permissible by natural law.

On this interpretation, meat eating would be different than clothing which is also a postlapsarian development that arises only because humans sinned and became aware of their nakedness. Meat eating, by contrast, did not arise because of sin but is simply an acquired human taste that was always permissible. One might conclude from this statement that meat eating could have arisen in Paradise too, if human civilization developed there, though Aquinas does not say this explicitly.

The assumption that meat eating was permissible in Paradise would help make sense of Aquinas’s statement in his discussion of theft and murder that eating meat is natural. Following Aristotle, Aquinas argues that meat eating is implied as part of the hierarchy of nature. For convenience I quote this passage again from Aquinas:

I answer that, There is no sin in using a thing for the purpose for which it is. Now the order of things is such that the imperfect are for the perfect, even as in the process of generation nature proceeds from imperfection to perfection. Hence it is that just as in the generation of a man there is first a living thing, then an animal, and lastly a man, so too things, like the plants, which merely have life, are all alike for animals, and all animals are for man. Wherefore it is not unlawful if man use plants for the good of animals, and animals for the good of man, as the Philosopher states (Polit. i, 3). Now the most necessary use would seem to consist in the fact that animals use plants, and men use animals, for food, and this cannot be done unless these be deprived of life: wherefore it is lawful both to take life from plants for the use of animals, and from animals for the use of men. In fact this is in keeping with the commandment of God Himself: for it is written (Gn. 1:29, 30): “Behold I have given you every herb . . . and all trees . . . to be your meat, and to all beasts of the earth”: and again (Gn. 9:3): “Everything that moveth and liveth shall be meat to you.”((ST II-II, 63,ii

This passage appears in Aquinas’s discussion of theft and robbery and not in his analysis of the creation story. From this context, therefore, we cannot be certain whether he assumes that meat eating is natural in Paradise itself. Here, he proves meat eating is permissible by appealing to the hierarchy in nature and by citing the same verse from Genesis (9.3) in which God tells Noah that he may eat animals. Thus, this passage also is a bit ambiguous on the question of whether meat eating was permissible in Paradise, though it is clear Aquinas regards meat eating as natural.

There  are two ways to make everything consistent. I lean towards understanding Aquinas the first way: assuming that Aquinas considers meat eating permissible in Paradise, since it is natural, even though humans had not yet developed the taste or practice. Another way to make everything consistent is to understand meat eating as a practice and taste that developed in response to the changing nature of human beings after sin and Paradise and to understand Aquinas’s sense of “what’s natural” as referring to the human condition after sin.

What we’ve learned so far

Let me recapitulate what we have learned so far. We have seen that in Paradise, Adam and Eve were naked and needed no clothing. They ate from the trees in the garden and didn’t need to labor for food. While they had dominion over the animals, they didn’t need for animals for clothing, labor or food and did not yet have a desire to eat meat, though it seems meat eating was permissible. Thus, in Paradise the animals had no purpose except to satisfy intellectual curiosity of Adam, who was like a scientist or botanist classifying and understanding the natural world.

In most ways humans were in a natural state except for two: they were immortal and their sensual appetites obeyed their reason. These exemptions were special gifts from God that overrode what otherwise was natural about having corruptible bodies. After their sins, God removes these special gifts and the human condition reverts to the full natural condition of  bodies: they become subject to mortality and their sensual appetites become rebellious against their reason. Though they did not have unruly appetites in Paradise, they did have a mandate to procreate and to produce more individuals. Had the first parents not sinned, the human population in Paradise would have expanded and grown and we might all be living there now.

What would the human condition have been like in that case? As the human population grew, would the condition of scarcity have arisen and would private property have been needed? And if not, what changed about human nature that made private property acceptable and necessary in the post-Paradise situation and not before? Is private property like clothing, which was a human response to sin, or was it more like meat eating, which was always permissible but not yet an acquired taste? It is to these questions that we now turn.

Next up: No Equality in Paradise

References   [ + ]

1.ST IA, 96, i, ad. 3
2.ST Ia, 96, i, ad. 3, 2150
3.ST Ia, 102, ii
4.On the question whether Eve as well as Adam had mastership over the animals, see  my discussion here and specifically footnote 2.
5.Elsewhere, I’ve  discussed at length Aquinas’s position on this topic in his consideration of whether it is natural for people to use external things.
6.ST Ia, 96, i
7.Ia, 96, i, ad. 2)

Why animals needed to obey Adam and Eve when they had no purposes for them, is not entirely clear. Furthermore, there is an interesting and somewhat puzzling asymmetry in Aquinas’s view of what dominion means with respect to animals, on the one hand, and plants and inanimate things, on the other, even though both types of dominion arise from God’s command in Genesis 1.26-28 and from natural law. As noted previously, Aquinas says that “in the state of innocence man’s mastership over plants and inanimate things consisted not in commanding or in changing them, but in making use of them without hindrance.”((ST Ia, 96, ii, 2152

8.ST Ia, 96, ii, 2152 But in the state of innocence humans apparently did not eat animals or use them in any way. The desire to eat animals apparently arises only after the flood  when God tells Noah that he and his descendants may eat meat (Gen. 9.3).

Why Adam and Eve Ate Meat

Aquinas is somewhat reticent on the question of why humans came to eat and kill animals. We know that as punishment for their sins, man had to labor for food and animals stopped obeying Adam and Eve. But it appears that the desire for meat was not thought to be a result of sin. As noted above, Aquinas says that  “in the state of innocence man would not have had any bodily need of animals—neither for clothing…nor for food, since they fed on the trees of paradise…”((ST Ia. 96, I, ad. 3, Aquinas is referencing Genesis 2.19

9.ST Ia. 96, I, ad. 3, Aquinas is referencing Genesis 2.19 What is not entirely clear from this statement is whether they chose not to eat meat or were prohibited from eating meat. In another context, Aquinas seems to suggest that meat eating was a human taste or practice that had not yet developed in Paradise. Here is what Aquinas has to say on this point.

Men were wont to eat plants and other products of the soil even before the deluge: but the eating of flesh seems to have been introduced [by humans? God?] after the deluge; for it is written (Gn. 9:3): “Even as the green herbs have I delivered . . . all” flesh “to you.” The reason for this was that the eating of the products of the soil savors rather of a simple life; whereas the eating of flesh savors of delicate and over-careful living [i.e., more advanced cultivated culture]. For the soil gives birth to the herb of its own accord; and such like products of the earth may be had in great quantities with very little effort: whereas no small trouble is necessary either to rear or to catch an animal. ((ST I-II 102, vi, ad. 2

10.ST I-II 102, vi, ad. 2

This passage, too, is a bit ambiguous and one can interpret it in more than one way. It is possible to understand this passage as implying that meat eating was simply a human preference that developed over time, and not a special dispensation to human beings after the flood. If so, this statement could be understood to imply that Aquinas thought meat eating was permissible in Paradise, even though humans didn’t develop that taste or practice until later when civilization had changed and could invest in the labor to catch or rear animals. How then does Aquinas understand God telling Noah he can eat meat (Gen. 9.3)?  God would not be giving permission here but instead validating a human practice that was about to arise or had arisen and always been permissible by natural law.

On this interpretation, meat eating would be different than clothing which is also a postlapsarian development that arises only because humans sinned and became aware of their nakedness. Meat eating, by contrast, did not arise because of sin but is simply an acquired human taste that was always permissible. One might conclude from this statement that meat eating could have arisen in Paradise too, if human civilization developed there, though Aquinas does not say this explicitly.

The assumption that meat eating was permissible in Paradise would help make sense of Aquinas’s statement in his discussion of theft and murder that eating meat is natural. Following Aristotle, Aquinas argues that meat eating is implied as part of the hierarchy of nature. For convenience I quote this passage again from Aquinas:

I answer that, There is no sin in using a thing for the purpose for which it is. Now the order of things is such that the imperfect are for the perfect, even as in the process of generation nature proceeds from imperfection to perfection. Hence it is that just as in the generation of a man there is first a living thing, then an animal, and lastly a man, so too things, like the plants, which merely have life, are all alike for animals, and all animals are for man. Wherefore it is not unlawful if man use plants for the good of animals, and animals for the good of man, as the Philosopher states (Polit. i, 3). Now the most necessary use would seem to consist in the fact that animals use plants, and men use animals, for food, and this cannot be done unless these be deprived of life: wherefore it is lawful both to take life from plants for the use of animals, and from animals for the use of men. In fact this is in keeping with the commandment of God Himself: for it is written (Gn. 1:29, 30): “Behold I have given you every herb . . . and all trees . . . to be your meat, and to all beasts of the earth”: and again (Gn. 9:3): “Everything that moveth and liveth shall be meat to you.”((ST II-II, 63,ii

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