Reverend Arthur Broome Founder of RSPCA (Part One)

N.B. The following text in this blog-post Reverend Arthur Broome Founder of RSPCA (Part One) is Copyright © 2012 Philip Johnson.

One hundred and eighty-eight years ago today (16 June) the RSPCA was established in London. This is a long post of more than 21,000 words and thus requires a time-commitment to concentrate and digest. It will be followed by a separate second post (Part Two), and the latter post will list all the bibliographical sources used in Parts One and Two.

Mummy. Photo Copyright © 2012 Philip Johnson


Contents to Part One:


  • Giving Christians Due Credit
  • “Secular Silence” About Christians
  • Royal Assent to SPCA
  • Clergy and RSPCA
  • Prize-Winning Competition of 1837
  • Darwin and Vivisection
  • 1837 Essay Contestants
  • Australian Examples
  • Christian Women
  • Sir Alfred Stephen
  • RSPCA as a Post-Christian Charity






5. MARRIAGE (The Trollope Family)


On Wednesday 16 June 1824 a meeting was convened in Old Slaughter’s Coffee House in St. Martin’s Lane, London. The meeting had been called by Reverend Arthur Broome (1779-1837) for the purpose of creating what he called a Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA). Present at that meeting were various Christian luminaries including Thomas Fowell Buxton MP, Sir James Mackintosh MP, William Wilberforce MP, Richard Martin MP, and Basil Montagu. Arthur Broome was appointed as the SPCA’s first Secretary, a position that on paper he officially held until 27 February 1828.

At the first meeting on 16 June 1824 there were twenty-two men who formed two different committees within the SPCA. One committee had as its brief the responsibility for arranging the publication of material (including sermons). The publications were meant to persuade the body politic to shift in its attitudes about the abuse of animals. The second committee was concerned with finding ways to monitor the actual conduct of people on the streets, at the London abbatoir, and in professions such as coachmen where animals were used in hard-labour.

Apart from Lewis Gompertz (who was an influential creative Jewish activist and vegetarian), there were twenty-one Christians among the original twenty-two founder members. In that group, alongside Broome were two other members of the Anglican clergy: Reverend George Bonner (St. James Cheltenham) and Reverend George Avery Hatch (Cheapside). It is important to keep in perspective the fact that the impetus for organising the SPCA came from a group of people whose shared values about protecting animals sprang from a monotheistic understanding of life. In order to understand Arthur Broome one must appreciate his worldview, which seems to be a stumbling-block for some current-day writers.


Photo Copyright © 2012 Philip Johnson

Giving Christians Due Credit

Before delving into Broome’s life some preliminary and wider points need to be discussed.

The creation of the SPCA was not undertaken by a band of influential reformers gathered together around Jeremy Bentham’s (1748-1832) utilitarian ethics and motivated by his reflective question that today is over-quoted out-of-context and is only found in a footnote in Bentham’s book (1789: 282), “The question is not, can they reason? nor can they talk? but, can they suffer?” Nor were the founders of the SPCA devotees of other kinds of secular-based Enlightenment-shaped humanitarian values or following the categorical imperative of Immanuel Kant’s humanocentric ethic.

When the story of the SPCA is set to one side, and the wider topic of animal protection in history is discussed, readers should consider how evenly balanced are books that discuss the matter. Do they give balanced and fair coverage to both secular and Christian figures?

“Secular Silence” about Christians

While mass-market readers usually do not bother reading footnotes, graduate students and academics know that the trail of footnote documentation cannot be ignored. It is interesting to follow what academic writers insert in their footnotes. Footnotes do not merely indicate what sources they rely on (though they reveal an author’s selectivity) but also can disclose supplementary points that an author feels is worth mentioning.

Thus, in the early section of one post-graduate dissertation the discussion alludes to the public discourses about animal issues from the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. A footnote is inserted listing representative examples of influential people from those days (O’Sullivan 2007: 6)

“Many influential figures of the early modern period commented on animal issues. Examples include Voltaire (1649-1778), Alexander Pope (1688-1744), Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712-1778), Immanuel Kant (1724-1804), Jeremy Bentham (1742-1832), David Henry Thoreau (1817-1862), John Stuart Mill (1806-1873), D. H. Lawrence (1885-1930) and Gandhi (1869-1948). For further information see Clarke and Linzey (1990).”

Notice that the selected individuals listed here primarily consists of non-Christian philosophers and litterateurs (Alexander Pope, as an exception, was a lay Catholic believer), and it excludes professional theologians, clergy, and Christian political reformers from that era who wrote in opposition to acts of cruelty to animals. O’Sullivan refers to a book which is an anthology of passages about politics and animal ethics (Clarke & Linzey) for more details about the influential figures she listed. Readers who are unfamiliar with the book she mentions should take note that the co-editor is Andrew Linzey the Anglican animal theologian, and that this anthology also includes many passages about animals written by various Christians.

In the main body of the dissertation the discussion that comes immediately after this footnote we read (2007: 7):

“The humanitarian stream of Enlightenment thought that spurred early reformers to enhance the lives of vulnerable groups such as slaves, children, women, animals, and the poor continues to influence contemporary debate. But concern about animals appears to have fallen away.”

Surely it should be stated that both Christian humanitarians and secular humanitarians were active in social reforms in this era. The credit for social reforms and animal campaigns hardly all lays in the lap of secular humanitarians. Many NGOs of that era were started by Christians. So, to be balanced about that era one really has to acknowledge that Christian reformers were not merely active on a broad front of social reforms but that they derived the principal inspiration for their ethical action and social reforms from both biblical and theological sources. While they were undeniably living as part of the Enlightenment era, and often drew on the analytical reasoning tools that characterise that era, these Christians hardly drew inspiration for their ethics from non-theistic discourses by philosophers like Voltaire, Rousseau, and Bentham!

There is no denying that to their great credit some secular-humanitarian thinkers in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries did express concerns about the abuse of animals. Their contributions in highlighting the ethical problems about animal abuse must not be ignored in any broad historical survey, and several historians and many anthologies certainly give due consideration to secular humanitarians such as Bentham, John Stuart Mill and Henry Salt. However, the social conscience about the plight of animals in the modern era did not begin because of the writings of Jeremy Bentham or the socialist beliefs, activism and writings of Henry Salt.

When we shift from the works of professional historians, one has the uncanny impression that some of today’s advocates for animal causes concentrate on praising the efforts of past secular humanitarians such as Henry Salt while under-emphasizing or virtually dismissing as irrelevant the contributions of Christian humanitarians. Those that refer to Broome do acknowledge that he was a clergyman but little else is said about Broome’s theological and ethical motives in creating the SPCA. Reading some present-day animal rights texts you would never know that most of Broome’s co-founding colleagues in the SPCA were also Christians because that fact is often passed over in “silence”.

While this is not a trait in all publications, there are a few books on animal issues that convey to readers such as myself the strong impression that the author almost begrudges giving credit to the efforts of nineteenth century Christian reformers. Sometimes famous individuals like Wilberforce and Buxton are mentioned but without any acknowledgement that they were practicing Christians and that their faith played an important inspirational role in shaping their social ethic and their social activism.

Richard Martin is invariably praised as the champion of the anti-cruelty legislation of 1822 but (his three biographers notwithstanding) there is deafening silence on the fact that Martin was an Irish-born Roman Catholic who was deliberately raised as a Protestant to enable his education and career to advance. Irrespective of the sectarian background and motives of his parents and family, it should surely be noted in animal rights literature that the man was a professing Christian.

Is this a deliberate omission of fact? Is it because some current-day animal rights activists cannot stand the Christian church, and perhaps seek to use “knowledge as power” to marginalise or even suppress in their narratives facts about past Christian contributions? Or is it that some writers just pick up information second and third-hand and are unaware that Christians played an important part in the history of animal protection? These awkward questions do not occupy the centre-stage of the present post. Nevertheless, some candid appraisal of what appears to be an apparent prejudice in the animal rights genre does seem to be warranted.


Royal Assent to SPCA

In 1840, just sixteen years after it was founded (and which was sadly three years after Broome’s death in 1837), Queen Victoria granted official royal patronage to the organisation in England which is known today worldwide as the RSPCA. That patronage, which continues to the present-day, has elevated the RSPCA’s status and helped to ensure that it is the oldest and longest-running animal protection organisation in the world (with its bicentenary approaching on Sunday, 16 June 2024). Queen Victoria, by the way, was crowned on 20 June 1837 a mere four days after Broome’s death.


Clergy and RSPCA

Among the elements of the RSPCA’s early history that many (but not all) Christians have forgotten is that in a meeting convened in June 1832 it was recorded in the Society’s minutes that: “the proceedings of this Society are entirely based on the Christian Faith, and on Christian Principles” (RSPCA Minute Book No. 1, pp. 38, 40-41). There is, of course, a story of internal conflict among the committee members in 1832 that stands behind “why” that minute was entered into the official records, which I need not comment upon at the moment (the conflict involved an attempt to unseat Lewis Gompertz who was the only Jewish member of the committee, and Gompertz did resign and he started his own animal advocacy organisation).

During the nineteenth century in England various clergy preached annual sermons on behalf of the RSPCA. In its earliest days when Broome was its Secretary, small pamphlets containing sermons against cruelty to animals were published.

Prize-Winning Competition of 1837:

In late 1837, through the generosity of a donor, the SPCA sponsored a prize-winning essay competition (one hundred pounds was the prize). Sadly, Broome was not alive either to participate as a potential essay contestant or simply as a witness. The notice for the competition stated (Mushet 1839: xi-xii):

“The Committee for the Society of the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals have the pleasure of announcing to the Public the Donation of a benevolent Friend to the cause of Humanity. This humane individual intends to confer the sum of ONE HUNDRED POUNDS upon the Writer of that Essay which, in the opinion of the arbitrators, to be appointed by the Society, shall combine in the highest degree literary merit, with a judicious treatment of the subject, and the best practical, moral and religious application. The Essay required is one which shall morally illustrate, and religiously enforce, the obligation of man towards the inferior and dependent creatures–their protection and security from abuse, more especially as regards those engaged in the service, and for the use and benefit of mankind–on the sin of cruelty–the infliction of wanton or unnecessary pain, taking the subject under its various denominations–exposing the specious defence of vivisection on the grounds of its being for the interests of science–the supplying the infinite demands on the poor animal in aid of human speculations by exacting extreme labour, and thereby causing excessive suffering–humanity to the brute as harmonious with the spirit and doctrines of Christianity, and the duty of man as a rational and accountable creature.”

Notice that the competition called for essays to address human obligations toward animals in a moral and religious framework. Cruelty to animals was specifically branded as “sin”, which underscored the theological dimension of the task for the essayists. The competition’s brief also clearly linked the sin of cruelty to the practice of vivisection. This stance on opposing vivisection in 1837 in the SPCA’s history is very interesting when contrasted with the later position that the RSPCA officially took in the 1870s to support legislation (Cruelty to Animals Act) that was pushed from outside the RSPCA by both Thomas Huxley (1825-1895) and Charles Darwin (1809-1882) and was passed by Parliament in 1876.

Darwin and Vivisection:

Under the provisions of that 1876 Act animals could be legally experimented upon within specific parameters. Huxley and Darwin were relieved that biologists would not have their hands tied from undertaking experiments on animals. While Darwin was a complicated figure who had affection for animals, he likewise found himself in the contrary role of being scientifically enthused about dissecting animals. In his youth he had been an enthusiast for the sport of hunting, which was something he felt quite differently about as an old man.

In his journey on the HMS Beagle Darwin visited the colony of New South Wales and participated in a shooting expedition of a platypus. Harriet Ritvo (1997:4) draws attention to this incident:

As Charles Darwin wrote of a successful platypus-hunting expedition in New South Wales, “I consider it a great feat to be in at the death of so wonderful an animal.” [Letter from Darwin to Philip Parker King January 21, 1836].

Desmond and Moore (1991:427) in their lengthy biographical study of Darwin mention something of his scientific enthusiasm for dissecting animal corpses:

His letters acquired a ghoulish air: I ‘am watching them outside,’ he said, eyeing his birds, ‘& I then shall skeletonise them & watch their insides.’ It was not only pigeons. Fox showered him with dead ducklings and chicks, and volunteered mastiffs and turkeys. ‘Very many thanks for your offer,’ Darwin responded. ‘I have puppies of Bull-Dogs & Greyhound in salt. – & I have had Carthorse & Race Horse young colts carefully measured.’ Horses, dogs, ducklings – ‘I am getting out of my depth.’ He tried all means of killing his pigeons: chloroform took too long and he squirmed at the sight. Better was potassium cyanide in a bottle; the prussic acid gas it gave off was quick and painless. But however swift, the death of his pigeons affected him; ‘I love them to that extent that I cannot bear to kill & skeletonise them,’ he wailed to Hooker. Seeing his funny gawky chicks lose consciousness was always sad. ‘I have done the black deed & murdered an angelic little Fan-tail & Pouter at 10 days old.’ The corpses mounted, skeletons, measured and unmeasured, lay everywhere; cadavers were arriving by post, boxes crushed and intestines hanging out. Even he admitted it was becoming ‘a chamber of horrors’.

While Darwin did not dissect living animals, Desmond and Moore (1991: 615) remark that in the mid-1870s, “He was master-minding a rear-guard action against the rising anti-vivisectionist movement.”  They go on to say (1991:615):

Darwin was atypically British, an animal lover who loved his colleagues’ autonomy more. ‘Physiology,’ he warned Henrietta, ‘can progress only by experiments on living animals.’ These must be conducted freely, ‘in the search for abstract truth.’ Any abuses should be corrected by ‘the improvement of humanitarian feelings.’

Preece and Fraser (2003:411) quip about Darwin on vivisection: “Animals mattered. Knowledge mattered far more.”

1837 Essay Contestants

While the legislation that permitted vivisection was three decades away, the 1837 essay competition shows that the donor of the SPCA’s prize was in no doubt that vivisection was a form of cruelty, and cruelty to animals was deemed sinful.

In this competition the essayists were required to argue against the pro-vivisection cause. The theological thread continues as essayists were expected to connect their arguments to the spirit and doctrines of Christianity, which also includes the concept of human accountability for their moral actions (in other words theological ethics and the doctrine of the eschatological Last Judgment).

The competition prompted thirty-four contestants to submit essays and a three-man panel consisting of the Earl of Carnavon, Reverend B. W. Noel, and Mr Sergeant Talfourd MP adjudicated (Mushet 1839: xi; Styles 1839: vii-viii). The prize was awarded to the Reverend John Styles’ The Animal Creation; its claims on our Humanity stated and enforced. In 1839 the manuscript was published by Thomas Ward & Co. Styles inscribed the text by way of a dedication to the Queen (Victoria), and he acknowledged that the book was published under the SPCA’s auspices. All proceeds of sales went to the SPCA.

Although Styles won the competition, some of the losing contestants were not entirely discouraged. David Mushet and William Youatt (the RSPCA’s first official veterinarian) released their “essays” as published books in 1839. Thus a fruitful outcome was that several books that were theologically informed on the subject of opposing cruelty to animals were published. The Irish Unitarian preacher William Henry Drummond missed the submission deadline by one day (which he remarked on in the preface) but unperturbed he too arranged for his manuscript to be published in 1838.

I find it a little odd though that the three “official” books that tell the story of England’s RSPCA (Fairholme & Pain 1934; Moss 1961; Brown 1974) never make reference to the 1837 competition nor to the prize-winning author Reverend Styles and his book The Animal Creation. Of the books that came into print as a result of the contest, historians sometimes refer to Youatt and Drummond (but not in reference to their books being part of an essay competition), while Styles is completely overlooked and forgotten.

The same year (1839) that witnessed the publication of the books by Styles, Mushet and Youatt, also saw the release of a different prize-winning work from a post-graduate theological student at the University of Edinburgh. James Macauley’s book Essay on Cruelty to Animals won the prize of “twenty sovereigns” from an endowment by Mrs Gibson of Edinburgh, “for the preaching of Annual Sermons on this subject in several of the principal towns in Scotland” (Macauley 1839: 4). Books grounded in theological ethics about the evils of cruelty to animals  “chugged along” very nicely that year.

During the second-half of the nineteenth century, Christian clergy and lay-believers alike played their part — alongside other generous spirited individuals — in the formation of “sister” organisations in Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the United States of America.

Australian Examples:

Here are brief examples of Christians who were involved in the early history of the state branches of the RSPCA in the Australian colonial states and/or after Federation in 1901:-

Sir William Foster Stawell (1815-1889) was the first president of the Victorian SPCA (1871-1886). Stawell was an agnostic who in 1848 was converted to Christian faith and was thereafter a devout Anglican. Barbara Pertzel’s (2006: 8) “official” history book of Victoria’s RSPCA profiles Stawell but she never once states that he was an active Christian. What makes the exclusion of this information all the more problematic is that Pertzel bases her profile with strong verbal reliance on the biographical article about Stawell in the Australian Dictionary of Biography (and that article is at pains to discuss his religious conversion and faith). Why did she omit to record that Stawell was a Christian and to consider that his faith would have been a strong motivating factor for taking up the cause of animals?

Wallace Budd’s account of the RSPCA in South Australia does give due credit to the many Jewish and Christian citizens in that state who created the SPCA and participated in its development. The chairman who presided at the meeting to create the SPCA in South Australia was John Colton (twice served as SA Premier), and served as Vice-President of the SPCA. His biographical article in the Australian Dictionary of Biography remarks:

“Wesleyan Methodist by profession, Colton sponsored the building in 1850 of the Pirie Street church and parsonage. His generous gift of £100 toward the £600 required for the half-acre (0.2 ha) site was described at the time as ‘an act of great faith in God and in the future of the city of Adelaide’. He was trustee of more than a hundred Wesleyan churches and benefactor of many more throughout the colony. One of the most influential laymen in the church, he served as Sunday school superintendent and lay preacher. He opposed state aid for churches in the 1840s and was a leading figure in the League for the Preservation of Religious Freedom. As a champion of ‘social purity’ he was active in the temperance movement and in parliament sponsored the young persons protection bill. He was the founder of the Stranger’s Friend Society and an executive member of the British and Foreign Bible Society. Zealous in community service he was for many years chairman of the Adelaide Hospital Board, and member of the boards of the Blind, Deaf and Dumb Institution and of the Adelaide Children’s Hospital. He was active in opening the Franklin Street Wesleyan Day School years before free education was introduced in the colony, and later played a leading part in founding Prince Alfred College; the Colton wing now bears testimony to his generous benefactions. Patriarchal in spirit he was fearless in controversy and sought with undoubted sincerity to help those less fortunate than himself whether by his generous gestures or his legislative activities. Admirers described him as broad in his Christian sympathies but narrow in worldly pleasures because of his hatred of gambling and of spirituous liquors and his abstention from theatre-going and dancing; detractors, not without justification, charged him with a lack of humour. His striking appearance on a public platform won tribute from a contemporary: ‘If Sir John were simply to rise, stand in silence for a minute, and produce a hush, stroke his beard, a venerable structure eighteen inches long, and in oracular terms bid his audience good morning, he would produce more effect than many other members could by an hour’s speech’.”

Sir William Francis Drummond Jervois (“Jarvis”) served as the 2nd President of the SPCA South Australia from 1877-1883. In the Australian Dictionary of Biography he is described:

“He was a popular chairman of meetings of the Bible Society, the City Mission and other philanthropic institutions and lectured in aid of funds for the Young Men’s Christian Association.”

Reverend Johannes Heyer served as the Secretary of the Hobart Branch of the RSPCA. Heyer served as a Presbyterian minister in Tasmania and the Australian Dictionary of Biography states:

“An outstanding personality of the Presbyterian Church in Tasmania, Heyer was scholar, theologian, historian, poet, organist and composer. Besides writing poems and hymns, he composed hymn-tunes and music for the Te Deum. He published a booklet, The Lord’s Prayer, its Implications and Confessional Value (undated), and also wrote local church histories. Of greatest and lasting importance is his comprehensive book on the history of Presbyterianism in Tasmania, The Presbyterian Pioneers of Van Diemen’s Land, published in 1935 to commemorate the centenary of the establishment of the Presbytery of Van Diemen’s Land. He was a strong supporter of the Children’s Aid Society and was secretary of the Hobart branch of the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.”

These few examples could be easily multiplied. The emergence of “sister” organisations in Australia, New Zealand and elsewhere witnessed clergy preaching sermons against the inhumane treatment of animals, and even “collection plate” donations gathered from individual congregations on behalf of the RSPCA. “Animal Sunday” services were not an unusual phenomenon in these nations in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

Christian Women

Christian women were also prominent in this much longer story in animal protection campaigns in Australia including Frances Deborah Levvy (see here) and Dame Edith Campbell Walker (see here). The role of Christian women in animal campaigns in England, Canada, New Zealand and the USA likewise cannot be ignored. Most of the women who entered these campaigns were also involved in campaigns on behalf of the poor, prison reforms, child-labour reforms, abolition of slavery, temperance, and sometimes also in the suffragettes.

Sir Alfred Stephen

Sir Alfred Stephen (1802-1894) who served as Chief Justice of NSW, President of the NSW Legislative Council, and as Lieutenant-Governor of NSW, made several attempts to pass animal protection legislation. He was an Anglican and involved in all kinds of charitable activities as the Australian Dictionary of Biography states:

“A prominent Anglican layman, Stephen in the 1840s was a member of the Australian Diocesan Committee and in 1858 was a delegate to the synodical conference. He was vice-patron of the Commercial Reading Rooms and Library and a committee-man of the Temperance Society. From the 1850s he served as president of the Sydney Female Refuge Society and the Sydney Ophthalmic Institution, as a director of the Society for the Relief of Destitute Children, on the committee of the Diocesan Board of Missions, as a vice-president of the Australasian Botanical and Horticultural Society and as an official trustee of the Australian Museum. In 1861 he was a founder and president of the Home Visiting and Relief Society, and in the 1860s a director of the Sydney Eye and Ear Institution and a vice-patron of the Orpheonist Society. … In the Legislative Council Stephen introduced eighteen bills, some of them repeatedly, and many connected with law reform, of which four were enacted. He failed four times with his animals protection bill…”

These examples remind us that being involved in protecting animals does not correlate to an indifference to the plight of humans who suffer. There is a clear Christian heritage in animal protection work that today is largely being “forgotten”, and individual Christians and local church gatherings would do well to ponder that heritage and reflect biblically and theologically about animal ethics in the present.


RSPCA as a Post-Christian Charity

Although for a variety of reasons England’s RSPCA underwent organisational transformation from what the founders started and envisaged, and it is no longer a Christian-run charity, the Society nevertheless has long fostered positive relations with churches in England, particularly in encouraging annual “Animal Sunday” services.

I hope that this post concerning the RSPCA’s founder, Reverend Arthur Broome, will serve to remind Christians about what some of their forebears have contributed to the history of animal protection and welfare. It might also hopefully prod some Christians into reflecting on how animal issues relate to theology and ethics. I also hope that this post might goad others into undertaking renewed efforts to exhaustively research and then compose a much fuller biographical account of the Evangelical Anglican Arthur Broome.



Most people have heard of the RSPCA but the life and work of its founder Arthur Broome (1779-1837) is not as well known. There appears to be a paucity of available evidence, or at least that is the generally received and unquestioned wisdom among writers on the history of animal protection movements.

So, when Broome’s role in establishing the SPCA is mentioned in books and articles, the profile of his life, and any discussion about his Christian beliefs, tends to be very cursory. There are important points in Broome’s life that have not been given sufficient emphasis. Various authors have discussed some points about Broome’s role in the SPCA particularly making comments about his ignominious experience of being in a debtor’s prison. However, even on critical matters like this one other relevant information has sometimes been overlooked. There is also something loosely akin to a “cold case mystery” surrounding Broome’s death.

While I am not composing a proper biographical study here, I am pointing to sources and facts that inexplicably have been overlooked by some authors and scholars alike.

It was the apostle Paul who instructed the Christians living in Rome to render “honour to whom honour” (Romans 13:7) is due. In some respects there has been patchy and inconsistent recognition accorded to Arthur Broome by authors writing about the nineteenth century animal protection movements. Similarly, some clergy and theologians who have turned to the past to find inspiring examples to encourage or even emulate have sadly overlooked or quickly passed over Broome.



In this opening section, I am concentrating attention on authors that I have read who mention Broome (and to identify a few who fail to speak about him), and also to note here and there some of the weaknesses and anomalies in what some authors have written.

1.1 Molly Baer Kramer

Nobody has written a book-length biographical study of Arthur Broome, and the task is a challenge largely because no-one is really sure if there’s enough primary source material available on him to turn into a biography.

Molly Baer Kramer (2004) has contributed a six-hundred word biographical article on Broome in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Although skeletal in form, and missing some details, Kramer’s article at least ensures some permanent recognition for Broome in an important reference work. However, one of Kramer’s glaring errors is stating that Broome was “probably unmarried”. As will be shown below, Broome was married in 1817 and his wife outlived him.

1.2 Popular Works of History

In some popular books about the general history of animal welfare and ethics Broome is briefly profiled because of his role in the RSPCA.

1.21 E. Douglas Hume, Charles Niven & E. S. Turner

E. Douglas Hume (1939: 34) is one of the early chroniclers who spoke of Broome in terms of being “the moving spirit” at the meeting which brought the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals into existence. E. Douglas Hume’s discussion concerning Broome though is limited to just one page.

Charles Niven’s (1967) History of the Humane Movement, does a neat job of discussing the start of the SPCA and across several pages Broome’s role is repeatedly mentioned.

Again, Broome is briefly mentioned three times in the account of the SPCA’s origins in E. S. Turner’s (1965) All Heaven in a Rage. Turner (1965: 129-30) stated that “Broome, vicar of the church now called St Mary’s, Bromley-by-Bow, undertook the secretaryship. At his own expense he had already employed a man named Wheeler to gather evidence of abuses. Although resources were meagre, severely limiting the diffusion of literature, the Society became a force to be reckoned with in the area round Smithfield. In its first year it brought nearly 150 prosecutions.” These details that Turner has jotted down are based on Arthur Moss’ (1961) history of the RSPCA, Valiant Crusade.

1.22 Major C. W. Hume

Major C. W. Hume’s (1957:1) study The Status of Animals in the Christian Religion was not intended to be a work of history. Nevertheless, C. W. Hume did look back at aspects of the Christian tradition noting which theologians contributed helpful and unhelpful understandings about the status of animals. At the start of his book C. W. Hume mentions Broome (the highlighted text relates to the discussion of another author’s “borrowing” of material below):

“The founder and first secretary of the R.S.P.C.A. was an Anglican priest, the Rev. Arthur Broome, who gave up his living in order to reform the treatment of animals. Owing to the apathy of the public he was soon in prison for the Society’s debts, from which discouraging situation he was rescued by the generosity of a Jew and of a jovial Irish duellist and humanitarian, Richard Martin.”

1.23 Gerald Carson 

Gerald Carson’s (1972:53-54) popular chronicle on the history of cruelty and kindness to animals refers to Broome just twice:

“In 1824, then, a small group of persons of good will toward animals, under the leadership of the Reverend Arthur Broome and including “Humanity Dick” Martin, of course, and among others William Wilberforce, the philanthropist who had worked successfully for the abolition of slavery in the British Empire, gathered at Old Slaughter’s Coffee-House in Saint Martin’s Lane, famous then as a resort of painters and sculptors. Out of this assembly came the SPCA, the first organized effort to make the new animal defense law effective and to work for its improvement when experience indicated that changes were needed … The first years were difficult. At one time the Honorable Secretary of the SPCA, the Reverend Broome, was thrown into debtor’s prison because the society could not meet its obligations, which the most recent historian of the RSPCA describes as “a most unfortunate position for a clergyman of the Church of England.”

Carson correctly footnotes his quotation about Broome’s “most unfortunate position” from Arthur Moss (1961:25).

1.24 Lewis Regenstein

Now compare both the extract above from C. W. Hume (1957), and Carson’s quotation (1972) with the short paragraph from the next author, Lewis Regenstein (1991).

Replenish the Earth is subtitled A History of Organized Religion’s Treatment of Animals and Nature–Including the Bible’s Message of Conservation and Kindness toward Animals. The author Lewis Regenstein has been a noted figure in the USA for his activism on animal and ecological issues, and for his interest in fostering inter-faith approaches to these questions.

Regenstein is not a professional historian and his book was written for a mass-market audience. While keeping that fact in mind, it is nonetheless curious that for a book that is concerned with giving an account from both past and present on the attitudes and responses of organised religions to animal questions that he only refers to Broome in this short paragraph (1991:94):

The founder and first secretary of the R.S.P.C.A.–the oldest animal protection organization in existence–was an Anglican priest, the Reverend Arthur Broome. He devoted his full time to helping animals, and, as a result of the public’s apathy, was imprisoned for his and the society’s debts–a singular distinction for a clergyman of the Church of England!”

Notice how verbally similar Regenstein’s remarks are to those of Carson’s quotation from Moss? In that paragraph Regenstein does not supply a footnote but in a subsequent paragraph refers to Gerald Carson and E. S. Turner as his sources on the story of the RSPCA. His comments about Broome’s ignominious plight bear close verbal resemblances to Carson. Similarly there are enough verbal similarities between C. W. Hume’s passage written in 1957 and what Regenstein is passing off as his own words.

At least Carson supplied a reference for his quote. The original comment about Broome’s plight is in Moss (1961:25). By the time Regenstein makes the point about Broome, the information as he presents it is derivative to the point of being third-hand, and the paragraph is undocumented even though he has quite clearly relied on Carson and C. W. Hume.

As I will show in a forthcoming separate book review of Replenish the Earth, the quality of Regenstein’s work is at times very poor particularly in the manner in which he interprets and represents some sources that he uses (often being at odds with what the author originally intended). I have noted in another post that he is among a host of people who have failed to investigate original sources with respect to a prayer that is attributed to St Basil of the fourth century but which was actually a prayer written and published by the liberal Baptist theologian Walter Rauschenbusch in 1910.


1.3 Rod Preece’s Scholarship

Rod Preece is Emeritus Professor of Political Science at Wilfred Laurier University, and has been an active leader in the SPCA in Ontario, Canada. The corpus of Preece’s work, which is generally very engaging, is curiously lop-sided in terms of recognising Arthur Broome. Three of Preece’s earliest works (1993;1999; Preece & Fraser 2000) fail to refer to Broome when the discussion alludes to the founding of the SPCA in 1824.

It is particularly peculiar that Preece (1999:144) omits Broome while at the same time he refers quite warmly to “Christian reforming members of the establishment” who spearheaded efforts to oppose cruelty to animals, such as Richard Martin, William Wilberforce and Sir James Mackintosh.

In two other publications Preece (2002: 223; 2008:263) does mention Broome but in each case it is just a passing reference in one sentence. As Preece has often called into question the sweeping negative judgments made against Christianity concerning the status and treatment of animals, I am unsure as to why he has not written more about Broome. Undoubtedly, many readers might expect that as Preece has been intimately involved in a “sister” organisation in Canada, that when writing about the creation of England’s RSPCA that he might have had a lot more to say about its founder.


1.4 Charles Magel’s Bibliographical Research

There is a different kind of problem that sometimes surfaces in other genres of literature concerning animals where Broome is mentioned. The problem is where an author acknowledges Broome was the founder of the SPCA but then incorrectly names someone else as the Society’s first honorary Secretary.

Charles Magel is Emeritus Professor of Philosophy and Ethics at Minnesota State University, Moorhead. During his tenure he taught courses on the philosophy of animal rights and has commendably produced two different bibliographical reference volumes concerned with the subject of animal rights. Magel (1989: ix; 58) twice mentions that Arthur Broome was the founder of the RSPCA. However, Magel (1989:78) makes an incredible factual blunder in describing Lewis Gompertz who was the only Jewish member of the founding committee of the RSPCA. Magel says, “Gompertz, a brilliant inventor, first secretary of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (later became RSPCA), rescued it from financial disaster.” Broome was the first secretary and Gompertz was the second person to occupy the office of the Society’s secretary. [I note parenthetically that Roderick Nash in his The Rights of Nature repeats this same error when citing Gompertz‘ book. Nash states that Gompertz was the first secretary of the RSPCA]. Gompertz deserves to be honoured for his own role in the RSPCA and in animal issues but it is a disservice to both Broome and Gompertz to muddle the facts about who was the SPCA’s first honorary secretary!

It may be noted in passing that Magel (1981) produced an earlier bibliographical reference work on animal rights which included sources from ancient and pre-modern times. His entry for the Old Testament carried reference to just two passages as presumably being the main representative texts for attitudes about animals: Genesis 1:20-31 and Genesis 9:1-3. Given that there are more than 3,000 references to animals in the Bible, what Magel points to is far from helpful for any one trying to ascertain what one can discover about animals in the Old Testament or for that matter the entire Bible. Even just with his two passages listed, it is appalling that he omits to include from the allusion to Genesis 9, verses 8-17 which sets out a divine covenant made with all creation, all living creatures, (reiterated four times in the passage), and it was not just with Noah’s family (i.e. the covenant encompasses all living creatures and was not just for human benefit). Unfortunately, it is precisely these kinds of omissions that accrue in the literature on animal ethics and rights that leads many readers to infer incorrectly that both the Bible and Christianity are largely antipathetic towards animals.


1.5 Popular Christian Texts

There are other kinds of books by Christian authors that deal with various aspects of animal issues in terms of ethics and practical action and are not written primarily as historical narratives. In these kinds of publications though some allusions to the past do crop up.

1.51 Tony Sargent

Tony Sargent is an English clergyman within the Evangelical tradition who is known for being a campaigner against Britain’s live export trade. His book carries an endorsement from the Evangelical theologian J. I. Packer. One might have expected that a fellow Evangelical would provide a decent sketch of Broome. However, in Sargent’s (1996) Animal Rights and Wrongs Broome is fleetingly mentioned in two sentences. Sargent (1996:188) states that Broome was the one who “took the initiative” to call the meeting together that founded the SPCA. Sargent then simply says that Broome had been influenced on animal issues by the late eighteenth century clergyman Humphry Primatt.

1.52 James Thompson

James Thompson is a controversial campaigner who is known in England as the “animal’s padre”. At times Thompson seems to be sawing off the theological limb upon which he is seated, such as in his unnecessarily negative interpretation of the apostle Paul’s theology. It is, after all, Paul who devotes great time in his writings to explaining the meaning and application of the Christ-event (death and resurrection). Paul did have a theology of the creation which included its full redemption and restoration (which encompasses animals) based on his understanding of the cosmic effect of Christ’s resurrection from the dead.

Leaving aside further criticism of this book for a future post, Thompson does draw positive attention to Broome. He refers to Broome as follows (1994:74):

“Meanwhile, within Britain, a group of people concerned for the plight of the animals gathered for an evening meeting in 1824. It was within a fashionable part of London’s west end. Their meeting had been convened by an unobtrusive and humble cleric who had chosen for himself to work in London’s east end! This vicar was the Reverend Arthur Broome, and the outcome of that meeting was the formation of an animal welfare society. It was later to be known worldwide as the RSPCA! Broome was to resign his post as Vicar of St. Mary’s, Bromley so as to give the whole of his life as a spokesman and fighter for the dumb creation. However, debts soon arose for which the poor fellow was thrust into prison. He may well have spent a lengthy stay in a primitive cell but for the intervention of a philanthropic Jew and a humanitarian lawyer who came to his rescue, paying his debts and securing his release.”

By way of clarification, it should be noted that Broome served at the church in Bromley-by-Bow (or Bromley-St. Leonard as it was known) in London’s east end. This church should not be confused with the district of Bromley in Kent (which also has an Anglican church) which is geographically situated to the south-east of central London.

1.53 Matthew Scully

Matthew Scully’s lay Roman Catholic call to take animal ethics seriously just lists Broome’s name in a short roll-call (2002: 15):

When did you last hear any Christian minister caution against cruelty to animals? It comes up about as often as graven images, even though animal welfare actually began, in both the United States and Britain, as the cause of nineteenth-century Christian reformers who founded the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and its American counterpart. Often they were the same people, such as William Wilberforce, Anglican priest Arthur Broome, Cardinal Henry Edward Manning, and Anthony Ashley Cooper, behind the abolition of slavery and child labor.

1.54 Deborah Jones 

In her theological map-work for Roman Catholic theology about animals, Deborah Jones (2009: 118) just mentions Broome in a passing reference to the founding of the RSPCA:

“Cruelty is still prevalent, and the law needs to be monitored, so in 1824 the Anglican clergyman Arthur Broome founds a ‘Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals’ (later to be given royal patronage by a very supportive Queen Victoria).”

1.55 Laura Hobgood-Oster

One could hope that a professor of religion and environment studies, and who is commendably very active as a Christian participant in animal rescue work might refer to Arthur Broome.

Unfortunately, Laura Hobgood-Oster (2010) passes over Broome in complete silence when writing on the establishment of the SPCA. Before she discusses the SPCA, Hobgood-Oster prefaces things with critical comments about the contribution of past Evangelical Christians to the animal protection movement (2010:77):

For a variety of complex historical reasons, Evangelicals in England contributed significantly to the discourse on the humane treatment of animals beginning in the nineteenth century. This is perhaps surprising to some Christians. The conclusions the Evangelicals drew about humanity’s relationship to animals were informed both by classism and, naturally from their perspective, a certainty that Christian culture was the only true and right way to live. As such, it would be an incomplete picture to remove issues of racism, classism, and sexism from these stages of development as a whole. Still, there are points about the situation of animals from their perspective that remain helpful in the ethical and moral consideration of blood sports.

It is unfortunate that in a book which is subtitled Unleashing Christianity’s Compassion for Animals that Hobgood-Oster introduces the contributions of past Evangelicals in a manner that is more likely to drive away today’s Evangelicals rather than endear them to her clarion call for action.

1.551 Evangelicals Caricatured?

One might honestly ask, why should it seem surprising to some Christians that Evangelicals have a heritage in the humane treatment of animals? It is very easy to type-cast the Evangelicals through current-day ideological lenses (and reacting against current media-based impressions of Evangelicals as right-wing political fanatics) without allowing the past Evangelicals to be understood on their own terms and in their own historical context. The US church historian Randall Balmer’s Thy Kingdom Come is one of several publications published since the 1970s up to the present-time that offers a healthy corrective to the reductionist portrait of Evangelicals being some uniform socio-religious block of ultra-conservative supporters of the Republican Party.

The tendency to bracket Evangelicals and interpret their social action primarily in terms of class superiority and efforts to control the masses is not uncommon in the works of some historians. Of course that interpretation has all the hallmarks of Marxist thought. As might be noted in passing, Marxism owes a great debt to Christianity by borrowing and then secularising the biblical “peaceable kingdom” of Isaiah and Paul’s “redeemed creation” in its vision of the classless society. Ironically current-day Marxists like Slavoj Žižek who desperately want to revitalise and inspire the cause after the post-1989 collapse of the Iron Curtain have gone “back to the Bible” to consider the apostle Paul and his belief in the resurrection as a paradigmatic example of a revolutionary counter-cultural thinker in the Roman Empire!

Siobhan O’Sullivan’s (2007:83) doctoral dissertation carries forward in a footnote the class-theory Marxist analysis that earlier writers (e.g. Brian Harrison, Hilda Kean) have propounded:

It also seems clear that in the first half of the nineteenth century the British RSPCA was a quasi-evangelical organisation that viewed animal cruelty as the result of poor education.

While efforts to educate people to behave kindly toward animals was one aspect of the RSPCA’s early literary campaigns, it is rather simplistic and reductionist to typecast the Evangelicals along those lines. Cruelty was understood as arising not specifically from ignorance but from the broken spiritual state of humanity before God (i.e. human sin). Besides various published sermons that equated cruelty with sin, one need simply note the driving force behind the very title of Humphry Primatt’s (1776) Dissertation on the Duty of Mercy and Sin of Cruelty to Brute Animals. Primatt’s book was reissued several times by Arthur Broome between 1822 and 1832. In going back to basics, sin is a spiritual problem of humans existing in fractured relationships with animals, the creation, one another and ultimately alienated from God. The essence of it is our propensity to self-centrism and to take whatever we consider the most “worthy” thing and worship it rather than lovingly worshipping God.

Cruelty to animals was thus viewed as a manifestation of this fundamentally broken spiritual state that affects all human beings.

1.5511 Evangelical Diversity

It should also be recalled that many people who gathered to listen to John Wesley and other itinerant preachers, in both large open air contexts and also in lots of smaller locales, were often socially marginalised, impoverished, mine-workers, manual labourers, and so on. Out of this itinerant preaching there came not just a revitalisation of existing congregations but actual conversions of people to faith who had life-changing experiences for the better.

Many of the nineteenth century Evangelicals on both sides of the Atlantic were active in social reform movements including the abolition of slavery, child-labour, caring for orphans, addressing poverty, increasing literacy and education, prison reforms, temperance, the suffragettes, the formation of trade unions and workplace relations. Many abolitionists were deeply committed to animal issues, spanning anti-cruelty campaigns, anti-vivisection, and developing embryonic forms of animal theology.

If one imagines that today’s American Evangelicals are essentially synonymous with the political conservatism of the “tea-party movement”, that might sustain the “surprise” in the minds of some. However, what might be regarded as the real “surprise” is that so many are easily taken-in by both superficial media impressions and by such a reductionist understanding about the US Evangelical scene. US Evangelicals (and Evangelicals beyond the USA) are by no means that uniform or stereotypical with reference to politics and social ethics.

So that it is unhelpful and misleading to assume that because some Evangelicals are inclined to support the “tea-party agenda” and are unsympathetic toward animal issues, it must therefore be the case that most (if not all) Evangelicals today are like-minded. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Robert Booth Fowler, the political scientist at the University of Wisconsin, demonstrated that even before the Reagan era was in full swing that the US Evangelical world was brimming with political and ethical diversity.

During the mid-1990s, Fowler similarly demonstrated in The Greening of Protestant Thought, that a diversity of ethical stances could be discerned among Protestants and within US Evangelicals concerning the problems of ecology.

Hobgood-Oster’s clarion call to demonstratively care about animals will be lost on the part of Evangelicals who actually do have a passion about ethically relating to animals. Instead of encouraging or wooing Evangelicals to be enlisted in this ethical cause, the negative theory-laden interpretation of past Evangelicals creates an unnecessary stumbling-block.

Like Hilda Kean (see below), Hobgood-Oster is not entirely wrong about noting how some Evangelicals were enmeshed in England’s class-system in Wilberforce’s day. However, many who converted to faith after listening to Evangelical preachers came from the working classes. It is easy to find fault with the Evangelicals of the nineteenth century. However, if we were wearing their moccasins in their day, it is unlikely that any of us would have known any differently or acted very differently given the times and the circumstances.

However, it must also be said that the actions of Evangelicals in the nineteenth century cannot be explained just by noting their role in the British class-system. They do have to be comprehended on a much wider basis, which also means not neglecting the theological content that shaped their actions. Hobgood-Oster’s narrative carries forward a negative tone about them that it creates a very truncated portrait. As Shevelow (2008:219) very fairly observes:

Although they certainly were concerned with social control, the Evangelicals’ efforts against bullbaiting and other forms of cruelty also emerged from genuine concern both about the lives and souls of the poor, and about the great suffering of animals visible everywhere one went. Many Evangelicals genuinely believed in extending Christian charity to beasts for their own sake.

1.5512 Sharpe’s Advice 

Authors like Hobgood-Oster and Siobhan O’Sullivan would have much stronger and more helpful portraits of the past if they considered matters along the lines that Eric Sharpe observed in Understanding Religion.  Sharpe (1983: 16) said that “it cannot have escaped the notice of today’s educationalists that very many students no longer acknowledge the Judaeo-Christian tradition as a positive element in western society.” Sharpe recognised that all too-often people today make instant and dismissive judgments about past epochs that are little understood by those who scornfully dismiss them.

Sharpe insisted that undergraduate students must strive to genuinely understand history and religions on their own terms and in their own contexts before taking any further steps in critical analysis. He illustrated this with the reactions he often encountered among contemporary undergraduate students who had had some personal background in the Christian church:

Even the study of the Judaeo-Christian past does not absolve the student from the exercise of imaginative sympathy. When ordinary Christian students find it almost impossible to enter imaginatively into the Christianity of a hundred years ago, which they dismiss with a phrase such as ‘Victorian smugness’ or ‘imperialistic arrogance’, and decline to study more closely, is it not likely that the same difficulty will present itself magnified a thousandfold when the time comes to examine Christian origins or the Protestant reformation? One suspects in both these cases that what is being studied is less the first or the sixteenth century than the impression which each has left on the mind of the twentieth. (1983: 16-17).

1.552 Precursors to Broome and the Evangelical Animal Protection Movements of the Nineteenth Century: An Excursus

The first crucial point that Hobgood-Oster skips over in the discussion about Evangelicals of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries is that they placed a high emphasis on the Bible’s revelatory authority. Any Evangelicals who injected themselves into animal protection causes of that era took the Bible seriously on the subject of animals.

From the Reformation onwards to the nineteenth century, there were various Protestant Christian authors (many of whom were esteemed by Evangelicals), who recognised that animals matter to God. Some looked at animals in light of the problem of evil and suffering and in light of Christ’s resurrection, others protested at the maltreatment of animals. Those who placed great emphasis on acting ethically and non-cruelly toward animals had biblical and theological reasons as the basis for it. This is just a small selection of some of the precursors to Arthur Broome.

1.5521 Reverend John Bradford (1510-1555)

Very few today seem to recall that the Anglican martyr Reverend John Bradford (1510-1555) upon being informed that he had been condemned to death, wrote to a Christian lady what he called his “swan-song”. Bradford perished along with others under the brief reign of Mary Tudor, and each time one of his cell-mates was hustled away to be burned at the stake he muttered, “there but for the grace of God goes John Bradford.”

Plenty of present-day Christians when observing the lapses and sinful dispositions of others murmur with a sigh “there but for the grace of God go I” without realising the original remark came from Bradford in the context of martyrdom.

A short time before Bradford was condemned to execution, he had been visited in prison by a Christian lady. When she visited she asked Bradford to explain what the apostle meant in Romans 8:19-22. This passage speaks of the entire creation groaning as it awaits the liberation and final redemption of both humans and of the  creation itself. Bradford now realised as he took up pen and ink that he had not properly explained himself to this lady when she had recently visited.

Bradford composed a letter (thirteen pages in its published form) explaining Paul’s teaching in this passage. He began the letter with greetings, and obliquely mentioned that he had been told some disturbing news. He stated that the letter is his swan-song. His message to the lady was along these lines: when God raises humanity from the dead he will also renew the whole creation and resurrect animals from the dead. As the resurrection is Christianity’s theological lynchpin that impacts all aspects of life and thought then what Bradford is doing in his letter is elevating animals to a very high level of importance in his theological reflections.

If, as the common secular chorus goes, Christian thought is largely inimicable to the status of animals, then Bradford’s swan-song clearly contradicts the stereotype. What an amazing letter to write when you’ve just been told that you will be burned at the stake! Just a few years after his martyrdom Bradford was honourably mentioned in Foxe’s Book of Martyrs, and that book was much beloved among Evangelicals of both the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Bradford’s own writings were collected and republished in different editions during the nineteenth century.

If the present-day negative profile that some animal advocates espouse of Christians (past and present) as being speciesist and anthropocentric is accepted at face-value, with the concomitant implication that Christians are not really interested in animals, then what are we to make of John Bradford’s letter written immediately after he is told that he has been sentenced to death? Why would Bradford spend time writing his “swan-song” by expositing the meaning of Romans 8:19-22 and emphasise that animals are included in God’s redemption of the earth?

1.55211 Sir Richard Hill MP (1733-1808)

It is this very same passage in Romans 8 (specifically verse 22) that Bradford reflected on just prior to his martyrdom that would be used two hundred and forty-five years hence when the Evangelical reformer Sir Richard Hill MP (1733-1808) (1800:18) argued in favour of a Bill for the banning of bull-baiting.

While a few historians have taken notice of Hill’s formal speech supporting the Bill in parliament, not many have taken into account Hill’s small book which he published pseudonymously (as an “Old Member of Parliament”). It was an open letter addressed to William Windham MP (the chief naysayer of the anti-bull-baiting Bill).

Besides his appeal to Romans 8:22, Hill (1800:12-13) also appealed to “Solomon’s wisdom” as per Proverbs 12:10:

“I believe it is the first time that ever bull-baiting was recommended in the great assembly of the nation as a suitable recreation after the fatigue of reading a chapter in the Bible, for fear we should become righteous overmuch. But I think any one who has just cast his eye only upon this one single text, ‘the merciful man is merciful to his beast,’ would readily have concluded that Solomon was no great friend to bull-baiting.” (Emphasis is Hill’s)

At the time of the parliamentary debates there were wider social discourses surrounding bull-baiting. Hill’s “forgotten” publication included as an appendix letters from various Christians expressing revulsion at the inhumane treatment of bulls. Hill and his supporters clearly contradict the generalised stereotype that Evangelical Christians uphold speciesism.

1.5522 Reverend Thomas Hodges

It was the text of Proverbs 12:10 that most frequently, if not repetitively, served as the sermonic springboard for ethical reflection: “A righteous man regardeth the life of his beast; but the tender mercies of the wicked are cruel” (KJV). This text was appealed to in a variety of publications in the seventeenth, eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Thus Reverend Thomas Hodges’ twin sermons of 1675 emphasised the goodness of God’s creative work in animals based on the doctrine of creation. He developed some moral boundaries about the humane treatment of animals based on Proverbs 12:10. Hodges also exposited on the resurrection of animals in these sermons. An eschatological perspective about animals clearly has some bearing on present-day human behaviour, and this kind of stream of thought which we saw in Bradford’s swan-song letter is also quite apparent in Hodges‘ sermons.

For additional thoughts on the resurrection and eschatology and the redeemed creation see my co-written The Cross Is Not Enough.

1.5523 Sir Matthew Hale (1609-1676)

Sir Matthew Hale (1609-1676) was one of England’s significant figures in the history of jurisprudence. He served as a barrister, then judge, and as Lord Chief Justice of the King’s bench. He lived and worked during a tumultuous time in the seventeenth century spanning the reign of Charles I, Cromwell’s commonwealth, and the reign of Charles II.

In his young adult life Hale was exposed to Puritan teachings, and something of their morality remained with him throughout his life. In his mature and declining years, Hale held to a theological stance that had strong affinities with the Latitudinarian theology of certain Anglicans.

Hale wrote various works in both jurisprudence and theology. He wrote in an era when English law was understood as having theological roots. Hale is sometimes remembered in animal rights literature as being a benevolent voice concerning animals. This has a lot to do with his paper “The Great Audit, with the account of the Good Steward”.

Hale (1711 [1676]:223) said in the opening section of this essay:

“The Great Lord of the World hath placed the Children of men in this Earth as his Stewards; and according to the parable in Matthew 25. He delivers to every Person, his Talents, a Stock of Advantages or Opportunities: to some he commits more, to some less, to all some. This Stock is committed to every Person under a Trust or Charge.”

Further on Hale (1711:242) describes his attitude towards animals:

“I have always esteemed it as part of my duty, and it hath always been my practice to be merciful to beasts, Prov. 12.10. And upon the same account I have ever esteemed it a breach of trust, and have accordingly declined any cruelty to any of thy creatures, and as much as I might, prevented it in others, as a tyranny, inconsistent with the trust and stewardship that thou hast committed to me.”

Nobody seems to have bothered to reflect on Hale’s choice of vocabulary even though this passage has been cited by numerous authors. Hale’s choice of vocabulary concerning a “trust” should ring special bells for people who understand the legal concept of trusteeship (such as lawyers writing about animal rights). The notion of a trust in the English common law harkens back to the medieval “Statute of Uses”, which in turn came under legal restraint under Henry VIII. It also harkens back to Papal consent granted for the “use” of land by the order of Franciscans who like their founder St. Francis of Assisi had taken vows of poverty (which included no ownership of property like land). Lands assigned for monastic use by the Franciscans involved a form of trusteeship: the land was not theirs by right of ownership but merely there to use on behalf of others. After the reign of Henry VIII trusteeship and equity continued to evolve as aspects of law and much of modern-day economic life and estate-planning in probate revolves around the central concept of trusts and trusteeship.

The basic non-technical point to note here is that in trusteeship a trustee acts without self-interest and in good faith on behalf of another.

As Hale picks up both the words “trust” and “steward”, his understanding about the treatment of animals is firmly placed not just in legal thought but also in the legal metaphors that undergird biblical revelation. The Genesis narratives about creation and “human dominion” are framed in the notion of acting as trustees on behalf of God. Humans must act not in self-interest toward animals but rather in a role of good faith with an ultimate accounting to God for what we have done. Also as Hale’s essay begins with Jesus’ parable about the “Good Steward”, the whole concept of how one is to regard the creation and animals is thoroughly Christocentric. In other words, Christians are called into the path of their Saviour in humble servanthood and not as masters who wield power abusively and lord it over others.

What Hale takes as being the Genesis mandate to tend the earth in “dominion” is not what Peter Singer and Lynn White and animal rights advocates have construed to mean, as if it is carte blanche for humans to do as they please. Hale’s thought about humans as stewards of the earth was not an innovation in the history of Christian thought. It is easily traced back to the Eastern Orthodox father John Chrysostom.

However, Hale’s linking of theology with the legal concept of trusteeship and evoking the old and defunct office of the “steward” who served directly under the King of England does convey notions of moral responsibility and duties. Thus when speaking of stewardship and a moral trust concerning animals Hale is making a very important point in the history of ideas. It is not inconsistent with a tradition of biblical scholarship that interprets Genesis 1 precisely along the lines of a moral trust.

Philip Almond (1999: 34, 35) remarks:

“Sir Matthew Hale saw man as not only viceroy, the viceregent of almight God, but also as steward, bailiff, and farmer of the lower world … Matthew Hale was one seventeenth-century voice which counts against the influential view of Lynn White that the current ecological crisis is, at least in the main, the consequence of Western Christianity’s understanding of the creation, and more specifically ‘that no item in the physical creation had any purpose save to serve man’s purposes.'”

Much more needs to be said about Hale’s view but the above is sufficient for the present purpose of pointing to him as a precursor to Arthur Broome.

1.55231 Lord Erskine and Trusteeship

Hale’s juridical-theological vocabulary about humans looking after animals as trustees and stewards, was echoed in 1809 by Lord Erskine in the House of Lords. Thomas Erskine (1750-1823) was one of England’s most accomplished jurists, served as an MP for Portsmouth, and then held the highest office in England’s legal profession, that of Lord Chancellor.

Erskine was an eccentric animal lover as Hostettler (2010: 204) records:

“The first, a large Newfoundland dog called Phoss, was taught to sit upon a chair in Chambers with his paws placed before him on the table. Erskine would put an open book before him, a wig upon his head and one of his advocate’s bands around his neck. What his clients thought of this exhibition we do not know … He also had a pet goose which followed him about in his grounds, a macaw and a great many other dumb friends. He even had two special leeches which he believed had saved his life when he was ill and which he called his ‘bottle conjurors’. These he kept in a glass and, he said, he gave them fresh water every day and had formed a friendship with them.”

After the failure of the anti-bull-baiting bill of 1800, Erskine worked toward introducing a bill against animal cruelty in the House of Lords. Erskine’s speech in the House of Lords entailed appealing to the Bible as a source of authority on treating animals kindly and mercifully. Erskine’s speech was reproduced as one of the SPCA’s early pamphlets and also appeared in full as an appendix to David Mushet’s 1839 book. Hostettler notes (2010: 197):

“Yet man’s dominion over them was not given by God for their torture but as a moral trust.”

Once again the technical juridical language of trusteeship and equity crops up, and it is infused with a theological framework: humans have a moral trust to care and are held accountable for their actions before God. This is an aspect of legal history concerning animals that few animal rights lawyers today have bothered to recognise or to probe in light of the thought of such legal luminaries as Hale, Blackstone and Erskine. Nor have they realised its strong connection to a positive theology about animals.

1.5524 Bishop Joseph Butler

The Anglican bishop and apologist for faith Bishop Joseph Butler (1692-1752) is well remembered for his apologetic writing against Deism in The Analogy of Religion. It is within that tome that Butler discussed the miracle of the resurrection of Christ, and challenged the scepticism of Deists. As the Deists were open to “natural theology”, Butler sought to engage their thinking about God’s revelation in nature. Like many early church fathers, Butler pointed to analogies from nature about the resurrection (like the caterpillar “dies” and is resurrected as the butterfly). His work involved much more than finding analogies from non-human creation, but also pondered the transformation of the human embryo into an adult. Butler also went beyond symbols and analogies in the case of animals, and did not hesitate to tout their resurrection in the future as an effect of Christ’s resurrection. Given the centrality of Christ’s resurrection it does make a difference then that theologians like Butler understood that animals will be reconciled to God and restored to life on a transformed earth (also see my co-written book The Cross Is Not Enough and the book-blog for more on the theology and practical effects of the resurrection on life in the here and now).

1.5525 James Granger and Charles Daubeny 

During the eighteenth century Anglican clergymen such as James Granger (1772), and Charles Daubeny (1799) published sermons denouncing cruelty to animals. Both Granger and Daubeny used Proverbs 12:10 as the biblical text on which their respective sermons hinged.

Granger expressed his disgust at the degree of abuse of animals in England in terms that are often repeated by later historians but without crediting Granger as the source. Granger (1772:15-16):

“It hath been observed, that there is no country upon the face of the whole earth, that is not totally sunk in barbarism, where this beast is so ill treated, as it is in our own hence England is proverbially called, ‘The Hell of Horses.’ Our humanity hath also, with great appearance of reason, been called into question by foreigners, on account of our barbarous customs of baiting and worrying animals, and especially that cruel and infamous sport still practised among us on Shrove-Tuesday.”

Granger is sometimes remembered in the annals of animal protection literature because his sermon was treated scornfully by parishioners. Granger indicated this in a two-page postscript to the book. It is very fair to critically assess Granger’s sermon as containing class-based rhetoric. He identified brutality toward animals among the lower classes and turned a blind-eye on the fox-hunting recreation of English aristocrats. Nevertheless, Granger’s work did put animal cruelty on the agenda as an ethical blight and despite the scorn heaped upon him by parishioners in two congregations where the sermon was preached, his book enjoyed the luxury of being republished in a second edition in 1772, and a third edition in 1774.

Charles Daubeny was an Anglican cleric who disagreed with the theological beliefs of Sir Richard Hill MP (mentioned above). Nevertheless, they set aside those differences and united in common cause over opposing cruelty to animals. Hill (1800:10) in his open letter to Windham drew attention to Daubeny’s sermon of 1799.

In Daubeny’s estimation unChristian attitudes about the abuse of animals were becoming a lamentable hallmark of the nation. Daubeny (1799:12) considered cruelty to animals to be “a growing evil” that had to be “counteracted.”  Daubeny (1799:12) remarked:

“Indeed a stronger proof of the low state to which Christianity is reduced in any country, cannot be drawn, than from the cruel disposition of its inhabitants. The spiritual man knows and feels this. He considers that all creatures, from man the appointed lord here below down to the meanest reptile that crawleth upon the earth, derive their existence from the same Fountain of Life and that the mercy of the Creator is over all his works. Grateful to his heavenly Father for the comforts, conveniences, and privileges, which fallen man is permitted to enjoy in this world; he considers the government of the creatures that has been committed to him, as a Trust, of which an account must one day be given.”

Daubeny in this passage reminds his audience that humans are fallen (suffer from the power, penalty and presence of sin in their lives). He insists that all life comes from God, which implies that humans do have moral duties to observe in relationship to animals. Daubeny amplifies this by specifically referring to the relationship that humans have with animals as being one of a “Trust” (which picks up a legal analogy that was used over a century beforehand by the jurist Sir Matthew Hale, and would be re-echoed a few years hence in the House of Lords by the jurist Lord Erskine; see the section above on both Hale and Erskine).

Daubeny links our duties as “trustees” to the divine Last Judgment where all humans will render an account to God for their lives and actions. Secular animal advocates might think this is all “ho-hum”. However Daubeny was actually elevating the issue about the human maltreatment of animals to a very high level of theology. By linking trusteeship to the Last Judgment whereby humans are held accountable for what they have done to God’s creatures, and by harking back to the doctrine of creation where all life is God’s good creative handiwork, Daubeny is delivering in essence a punchline similar to that of this blog: animals matter to God.

1.5526 Richard Dean

In his two volume work, Richard Dean (1767) was concerned with the twin theological problems of animal suffering and the problem of evil (theodicy), and with the resurrection of animals.

1.5527 Augustus Montague Toplady (1740-1778)

The Calvinist-Anglican preacher and hymnist Augustus Montague Toplady (1740-1778)  (author of the hymn “Rock of Ages”), also wrote about animals in several contexts. He wrote at length about the marvellous truths that we can learn from observing animals and the natural world. He also wrote an essay on original sin where he inferred from the book of Genesis that we must never maltreat animals. In another setting, Toplady was invited to a pub to participate in a public debate about cruelty to animals. He called a spade a spade: brutality to animals is sin and we must repent of it. We will face the Last Judgement where God will call us to account for such cruelty. He also asserted that God will raise animals from the dead.

1.5528 John Wesley

It is curious that Hobgood-Oster locates the Evangelical contribution to the humane treatment of animals as arising in the nineteenth century. Historians have customarily identified the trans-national movement of Evangelicals coinciding with revival movements and the “Great Awakening” of the eighteenth century with figures such as George Whitfield, John Wesley and Jonathan Edwards. There is sufficient evidence to show that some eighteenth century Evangelicals were concerned about animals (including the influential bible commentator Matthew Henry).

John Wesley, who was a vegetarian in his diet, was one spearhead figure in tackling the problems associated with animal cruelty and in holding to a theology about animals. His sermon “The Great Deliverance” exposited Romans 8, emphasising the resurrection of animals. Wesley also exposited on the new creation of Revelation 21:5 in which he expected the whole creation to be restored. Wesley also paid attention in his journal to the writings of John Hildrop (1682-1756) who also believed in the resurrection of animals and wrote in 1742 Free Thoughts Upon the Brute Creation.


1.6 Biographies on Richard Martin/Official RSPCA Histories

 One of Broome’s confederates in the founding of the SPCA was the Irish-born lawyer-politician Richard Martin (alias “Humanity Dick”). Martin (1754-1834) was the framer and mover of the 1822 anti-cruelty to cattle Bill that passed into English law, and eventually that law would be amended in later decades as the sphere of concern widened to cover more species. Martin’s life and career has been the subject of two biographies in recent decades: Shevawn Lynam (1989) and Peter Phillips (2003). Lynam mentions Broome four times, and Phillips just twice. A much older and popular biographical account of Martin’s life was written by Wellesley Pain (1925), and Broome is mentioned five times.

Understandably, Broome receives somewhat better recognition in the three books that officially chronicle the history of England’s RSPCAArthur Moss’ (1961) Valiant Crusade, Edward Fairholme and Wellesley Pain (1934) A Century of Work for Animals, and Antony Brown’s (1974) Who Cares For Animals? Yet even these authors have overlooked information that was available to them had they taken the time to delve more deeply.

In his journalistic style Brown (1974:21) attempts to honour Broome by speaking of “his self-effacing efforts” to bring into existence “the first animal protection society in the world.” Brown (1974:17) correctly describes Broome as “the moving spirit among the founders” of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. Here Brown echoes the exact words of E. Douglas Hume (1939: 34) who thirty-five years earlier had described Broome as “the moving spirit.”

“Sister” organisations of England’s RSPCA in New Zealand, the state of South Australia, and the state of Victoria, give passing recognition to Arthur Broome in their respective chronicles about how the RSPCA came to be established. Veronika Thornburrow’s (1993) The Compassionate Years writes the prelude to the history of New Zealand’s RSPCA by referring to its English “ancestor”. Thornburrow (1993:12) briefly mentions Broome’s aborted effort in 1822 to establish an SPCA organisation, and then again of his appointment in 1824 as the first secretary of the SPCA.

Wallace Budd’s (1988) Hear The Other Side chronicles the story of the RSPCA in South Australia. He correctly mentions Broome’s aborted efforts in 1822 to start the SPCA, and then of his success in establishing the SPCA in 1824. Budd (1988:13) describes Broome in very warm terms as being “persistent”, and that he was “well known as an active worker for social reform”, and was also “the most energetic of the founders.”

Barbara Pertzel’s (2006) For All Creatures chronicles in a somewhat tendentious manner the story of the RSPCA in the state of Victoria. In the book’s Introduction (2006:3) she refers to Richard Martin’s 1822 Act, and mentions the founding of the charity in 1824 that is known today as the RSPCA. Yet in referring to the foundation of the organisation in London she never mentions any of the founding figures, and that of course means that Arthur Broome receives no credit from her. This omission, however, might be partly “excused” on the grounds that in the foreword to the book Hugh Wirth does mention Wilberforce, Martin and Broome (2006: v). I have indicated elsewhere that some of Wirth’s paragraphs in the book’s foreword show close literary dependence on Antony Brown’s Who Cares For Animals?


1.6 Academic Writings

Among the scholarly tomes and academic journal essays about the history of animal protection, it is curious that Broome is only twice referred to in Harriet Ritvo’s (1987) very valuable and important historical study The Animal Estate. Chien Hui-Li’s (2000) sympathetic discussion about the Christian tradition and its role in animal defence movements only mentions Broome in a single sentence.

It is very curious that in his important journal essay in the English Historical Review about the RSPCA that the historian Brian Harrison (1973) never once mentioned Broome.

On the other hand, Richard Ryder (1989) devotes three paragraphs to Broome in describing the formation and early years of the RSPCA. Ryder (1989: 90) positively says that Broome “became so important in the SPCA’s history.”

Hilda Kean (1998) only refers to Broome once in the main body of her book, although she does footnote his SPCA Founding Statement several times. Kean’s study was concerned, in part, with analysing the class-system motives behind some of the early animal reformers.

In her discussion of the founding of the SPCA she begins by mentioning that the founders’ meeting convened at Old Slaughter’s Coffee House but states incorrectly (1998:35):

 “The meeting was called by Thomas Fowell Buxton, MP for Weymouth in Dorset. Buxton, who married into the Quaker Gurney family, was a philanthropist who combined religious impulses with those of parliamentary reform.”

Buxton was certainly a founder member and was indeed an MP who was married into the Gurney family. He was a philanthropist, reformer, and an abolitionist. His book that exposed the slave-trade in Africa directly influenced David Livingstone to become a missionary. His sister-in-law was Elizabeth Fry (nee Gurney) who is remembered for her reforming work in prisons.

However, Kean is wrong when she says that Buxton called for the meeting to create the SPCA. It was Arthur Broome who called for the meeting. Buxton was the chairman at the founders’ meeting, and continued to serve as chairman throughout subsequent meetings during 1824 (Fairholme & Pain, 1934: 54-57, 301).

Kean simply says of Broome (1998:36): “Constituting themselves as the new organization’s committee, the group went on to elect the Reverend Arthur Broome, an Anglican clergyman, as its first honorary secretary.”

Clifford Sherry (2009: 84) never mentions Broome at all in his brief paragraph describing the origins of the RSPCA.

Kathryn Shevelow (2008) refers to Broome on several pages in what must be regarded as a very readable and excellent study on the rise of the animal protection movement during the nineteenth century. Shevelow (2008: 268, 281) has given due credit to Broome noting that he “was a hopeful and determined man” and that his “self-sacrificing leadership” in establishing and supervising the embryonic SPCA is inspiring.

1.7 Andrew Linzey

I believe that among contemporary living authors that Andrew Linzey has endeavoured the most in various books and articles to accord Broome something of the recognition that is rightfully his due. In 1990 Linzey was clearly hoping to provide Broome with a suitable and lasting honour as Drew De Silver (1990: 60) makes clear:

“When Linzey is asked about his life’s ambition, he reaches once again into his briefcase and pulls out a prospectus for the Arthur Broome Centre for the Study of Christianity and Animals, a theological research center. Broome, he explains, was an Anglican clergyman who gave up his job as vicar of a London church to become the first–unpaid–secretary of the RSPCA. Broome ended up going to prison for the society’s debts and dying in obscurity. Linzey often refers to Broome to demonstrate that the attitude of Christianity toward animals is not all that bad. It is clear that he feels a certain kinship with the 19th-century priest.”

The institute that Linzey envisaged has come into being albeit with a somewhat different emphasis than just Christianity and Animals, and it is not named after Broome. Instead, it is named The Ferrater Mora Oxford Centre for Animal Ethics.

Linzey (1998) contributed a brief biographical article in the first edition of the Encyclopedia of Animal Rights and Animal Welfare. Elsewhere Linzey mentions Broome’s role in books such as Animal Theology, Animal Gospel, After Noah, Christianity and the Rights of Animals, and Why Animal Suffering Matters.

In Animal Gospel (1998:85) Linzey crisply says of Broome:

We are the descendants not only of a dream but also of a dreamer. It was a Christian minister,  Arthur Broome, who founded the RSPCA. He became its first Secretary. He gave up his London church to work full-time unpaid for the Society. He was the first person to instigate the system of anti-cruelty inspectors — paid for out of his own pocket. He was the first person who went to prison for the Society’s debts. We do well to recognise the value of dreams and the courage of dreamers.

Linzey (1998: 96), in his short biographical article on Broome, is correct in saying that at the very end of his life Broome “died in obscurity”. He died almost out of sight and out of mind, and was not officially remembered by the RSPCA in its minutes of meetings at the time of his death.


I want to point to some details that I have hunted down and that have simply been overlooked in the literature about the history of animal protection where Broome is concerned. Four main points concern: (a) his service as a cleric, (b) his writings, (c) his marriage/family (including money), and (d) the “cold case” concerning Broome’s death.

2.1 Broome’s Clerical career

If one is to have a full-orbed understanding of the man, then Broome’s worldview and his career as a cleric must be explored. Kramer (2004) sketches the following details about Broome’s clerical career:

“Broome was a deacon in 1802 and a priest the following year by the bishop of London. Between 1812 and 1815 he held the curacy at the Kent parishes of Brook and Hinxhill and, from 1816 to 1818, at Cliffe-at-Hoo. In June 1820 he was appointed vicar of St Mary’s-Bromley-St Leonard in Middlesex (later Bromley by Bow), but resigned in 1824, presumably to concentrate on his duties as secretary of the newly formed Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA).”

Kramer unfortunately did not indicate which parish Broome was first appointed to serve as a minister of word and sacrament (it was in Roydon, Essex see below).

2.11 Origins of Broome’s Ethical Passion for Animals

Kramer (2004) also remarks, “It is not known how Broome developed his concern for the treatment of animals.” After stating this Kramer does go on to refer to the SPCA’s first prospectus that Broome wrote in 1824, and also to his annotated version of Humphry Primatt’s book as she attempts to describe Broome’s views about animals. However, her introductory sentence about not knowing how Broome “developed his concern” is a tad weak.

My excursus above citing examples (which are by no means exhaustive) concerning Christian writings about animals spanning the sixteenth to early nineteenth centuries must be taken into consideration. The material provides a theological backdrop and historical context through which one can better appreciate Broome’s own contributions.

Most of the theological and moral discourses of Anglican clergy, the contributions of Puritans, the literary flourishes in the periodical The Idler by Dr Samuel Johnson (1709-1784) the Christian lexicographer opposing vivisection, the reflections of the philosopher John Locke (1632-1704) on opposing cruelty and teaching children at a young age not to be brutal, and the preachment of Evangelists such as John Wesley formed a stream of thought that circulated long before Broome’s student days at Balliol College. In other words, concerns about the abuse of animals, opposition to cock-fights, bull-baiting and so forth, were debated among educated Englishmen both prior to Broome’s life and then during his formative years as a child and adolescent.

[Image source: Bodleian Library]

It is possible that Broome may have observed acts of cruelty, possibly fox-hunts, stag-hunts and so on, during his childhood years which were spent living in Devon. At some point before the end of the eighteenth century, probably during his student-days at Balliol College, Broome started to develop a theologically-informed ethical conscience about the status and abuse of animals. He was a student from 1798 until his graduation in 1801. As a student he had access to the Bodleian library at Oxford University, which includes a substantial collection of theological literature.

It may also be the case that while studying at Balliol College that Broome picked up a nickname which somehow became identified as his “middle” name: Eugenius (“well-born”). Although Broome is described in his social status as being a “gentleman” in the records of Balliol, he was not an aristocrat and so not exactly “well-born” according to the English class-system. If it was his given name at birth or at christening it is remotely possible that the name could evoke Flavius Eugenius who was a Christian usurper of the Emperor Theodosius, the seventh-century Catholic bishop Eugenius I, or even various Popes named Eugenius/Eugene. Or, possibly he shone among his class-mates and in a word-play they dubbed and nicknamed him “you genius’ (Eugenius).

Broome may very well have come across some of the theological literature concerning animals at Oxford, such as Humphry Primatt’s Duty of Mercy and Sin of Cruelty.

It must be recalled that it was in Oxfordshire that James Granger preached his reviled sermon opposing cruelty to animals in 1772. A century earlier Reverend Thomas Hodges had preached at Oxford University in 1675 on animals as being part of God’s good creation and Proverbs 12:10 demarcates as sin brutality to animals. Let it be recalled that Reverend Charles Daubeny’s sermon opposing cruelty to animals was preached and published in Bath in 1799. Perhaps Broome was also familiar with Daubeny’s sermon.

The end-of-the-century year of 1800 witnessed the first parliamentary debates over opposing bull-baiting. The effort to push through a Bill preventing bull-baiting was not restricted to a few political speeches in the House of Commons. Richard Hill’s (1800:22) open letter to Windham mentions signed petitions from the public supporting the anti-bull-baiting Bill.

The highly public discourses from both sides over bull-baiting could scarcely have escaped Broome’s attention, especially as both newspapers and periodicals carried articles and correspondence on the topic.

2.12 Broome’s First Animal Sermon

Broome’s first published foray into the ethical arena on behalf of animals occurred in 1801 with the anonymous publication of his short sermon, Unjustifiableness of Cruelty to the Brute Creation. It is highly probable that Broome produced his sermon in the wake of the failed anti-bull-baiting Bill.

Broome expanded and re-release the sermon in 1824 (for the later version click here). The text of the 1801 version of the sermon reads:

The wise man calls upon us to “open our mouths.”  The “dumb,” in whose cause we are required to do this, are the unhappy victims of their lawless cruelty and oppression; wretches, who have no kind advocate to plead in behalf of their invaded rights; no helping hand to procure for them redress from their furious assailants; no friend to truth, ready, or willing, to expose the cunning devices wherewith they have been entrapped.—Well may they be called “dumb,” since their tongues can be of no avail to them, when silenced by the imperiousness of wealth, the dread of irritating, by a vain appeal to justice, those under whose hands they have already groaned, to still further acts of violence, and their utter inability to baffle the false gloss with which the vile schemes of their adversaries have deluded them.

What they have it not in their power to utter for themselves, justice is ever ready to proclaim for them. By acts of cruelty, or an unfeeling inattention to the relief of their wants and distresses, we violate that branch of it which is distinguished by the endearing title of Mercy and Compassion; we debase our nature by betraying a savageness of disposition, that sinks us below a level with the placid and gentle race over which we unwarrantably tyrannise.

But, can we conceive it to be allowable for us wantonly to sacrifice quiet and harmless reptiles, merely because the shape and figure which it has pleased the God of Nature to stamp upon them, are loathsome in our eyes? The “bloated toad,” the “slimy snail,” and “unsightly beetle,” have not all these, their feelings, as we have ours? Are they not the work of the same Almighty hand by which we likewise were framed? And are not their lives entitled to preservation, and freedom from misery, equally with our own?

Let us “open our mouths” for those “dumb,” but significant and friendly clients: let us make up, by every plea which we can urge in their favour, what their own tongues are unable to express: let the wailings and moans, with which they implore our assistance, operate as the strongest arguments on our feeling, commiserating minds. Oh! let us not be “dumb” ourselves, but loud in their defence.

2.121 Theology of the Sermon

The sermon contains some interesting kernels of theology for a newly graduated student aged about twenty-two. As is to be expected in a sermon, the launching point is the Bible. Broome begins by drawing on Proverbs 31:8 which in the KJV reads, “Open thy mouth for the dumb in the cause of all such as are appointed to destruction.”  As the biblical text refers to those who are unable to speak on their own behalf, Broome makes the link from the text to the pressing ethical need in his day to speak up on behalf of animals who obviously cannot plead their own cause.

Broome sees the maltreatment of animals ensuing as a matter beyond the control of the legal system. In other words, there was no legal remedy or restraints on such unbridled behaviour. As the doctrine of creation meant that humans were to be living in harmonious interdependent relationships and not autonomous without God or one another, acts of brutality toward animals represents a spiritual perversion of truth and is a manifestation of sin and alienation from God, each other and from the whole creation.

It is interesting that Broome saw fit to circumvent criticisms about caring for even seemingly insignificant creatures that might appear anything but physically winsome. Broome cuts out the ground underneath the attitude that would disregard creatures that seem ugly by stressing in his rhetorical questions that even these creatures are sentient and just like us are the handiwork of the one God: “Are they not the work of the same Almighty hand by which we likewise were framed? And are not their lives entitled to preservation, and freedom from misery, equally with our own?” For Broome the doctrine of creation provides solidarity for animals and humans to co-exist, and the “rights” of both the Creator and the creature trump any notion that one is free to whimsically rid the world of insignificant or ugly looking creatures.

Humans who relish in brutality in effect become in the economy of Broome’s theology less-than-human: “we debase our nature by betraying a savageness of disposition.” Broome also sees the loss of mercy and compassion in thoughtless acts of neglect (such as attending to an animal’s needs, presumably water, food and rest). The very notions of mercy and compassion are rooted in the very nature and character of God, and exemplified in the life and teaching of Jesus Christ. Thus to be bereft of mercy and compassion a human ceases to resemble the very Creator who gave life to all.

Notice that Broome also refers to animals as being bereft of any “advocate” who will speak up on their behalf. He appeals therefore for people to rise up and speak out as advocates for animals. There is a double-allusion here in Broome’s chosen vocabulary. A lawyer in court is an advocate or pleader on behalf of the defendant, and so Broome is using a legal analogy to appeal to Christians to become advocates on behalf of animals. What is also alluded to here is an important biblical reminder for Christians who heard or read Broome’s sermon: namely that Jesus Christ as Saviour of the world is also our “advocate” before God: “My little children, these things write I unto you, that ye sin not. And if any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous” (1 John 2:1 KJV).

2.122 Theology and Rights

Broome carries forward the legal analogy of the advocate by saying that the animals have no “advocate to plead in behalf of their invaded rights“. Here Broome use the vocabulary of “rights” and specifically links acts of cruelty to a human disregard for the animal’s “rights”. It might be thought by some that Broome’s use of the vocabulary of “rights” must necessarily reflect dependence upon secular political thinking of the sceptic Thomas Paine, the philosophes of the French Revolution of 1789, and of the utilitarian lawyer Jeremy Bentham. While the vocabulary of “rights” was assuredly in common currency by the end of the eighteenth century, the notion of rights preceded these secular thinkers.

2.1221 Natural Rights/Natural Law Tradition

There is the “natural rights” tradition which was expressed by Stoics such as the Roman lawyer Cicero. The Justinian Code, which took shape in the sixth century, gave some expression to the natural law tradition and reframed within a Christianised ethos. The scholastic theologian Thomas Aquinas saw the natural law as grounded in the creation, and to a limited extent both Luther and Calvin acknowledged there were some universal principles of morality written on the human heart. (It might be noted in passing that Jeremy Bentham rejected natural rights and supplanted that with the idea of rights conferred by the state. Bentham of course mistakenly assumed that his own conservative English social values correlated to rights and to what could be calculated as utilitarian “good”).

2.12211 Magna Carta and Theology

The notion of civil rights in the English and Commonwealth common-law system harkens back to the Magna Carta of 1215. John C. H. Wu (1959: 69-70), who once served as the chief justice in Shanghai, remarked about the theological influence on the Magna Carta:

“I cannot dismiss the Magna Carta without mention of Cardinal Stephen Langton, Archbishop of Canterbury, who was actually the soul of the whole movement. To me it is not without significance that the father of the Magna Carta was also the author of the magnificent hymn to the Holy Ghost, Veni Sancte Spiritus. The same Spirit that inspired that hymn motivated and energeised on a lower plane, the movement which was crowned by the Magna Carta; and I think that the same Spirit has enlivened the common law by breathing into it the liberalizing influence of natural justice and equity.”

2.12111 John Locke 

Another source for thinking about rights within a theological framework is the philosopher John Locke (1632-1704). Locke was raised by Puritan parents in the seventeenth century and thus had a strong grounding in biblical thought. He took three degrees at Oxford (one was in medicine), and is well remembered for his philosophical work on social contract theory, philosophy of limited government, empiricist epistemology, and the theory of mind.

Locke also wrote a work of apologetics as the Deist controversy began to rumble, The Reasonableness of Christianity. His understanding of the doctrine of Christ did shift from a strictly orthodox position during his later life. Nevertheless, his thinking was profoundly shaped by theology as much as by being an empirical philosopher. His work on inalienable rights represents an outworking of his faith.

John Locke spoke of inalienable rights to “life, liberty and property”, which would metamorphose a century later in the American Declaration of Independence to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness”. Locke’s understanding of limited government and of inalienable rights grows out of a theological cradle.

Although Locke (1889 [1693]: 100-101) did not speak about “animal rights”, however in his view of the theory of education he did remark about cruelty and compassion:

One thing I have frequently observed in Children, that when they have got Possession of any poor Creature, they are apt to use it ill: They often torment and treat very roughly young Birds, Butterflies, and such other poor Animals which fall into their hands, and that with a seeming kind of Pleasure. This, I think, should be watched in them, and if they incline to any such Cruelty, they should be taught the contray Usage. For the Custom of tormenting and killing of Beasts, will, by Degrees,  harden their Minds even towards Men; and they who delight in the Suffering and Destruction of inferior Creatures, will not be apt to be very compassionate or benign to those of their own kind. Our Practice takes notice of this in the Exclusion of Butchers from Juries of Life and Death.  Children should from the beginning be bred up in an Abhorrence of killing or tormenting  any living Creature; and be taught not to spoil or destroy anything, unless it be for the Preservation or Advantage of some other that is nobler. (Emphasis is Locke’s).

2.121111 Blackstone on Wild Animals’ “Rights” To “Property”

Most law-students and lawyers will nod their heads when the name Sir William Blackstone (1723-1780) is mentioned. However, apart from occasional quoted excerpts found in secondary sources, there are very few today who seem to have read his book Commentaries on the Laws of England. In that work Blackstone sought to correlate the common law tradition with biblical foundations.

Some animal rights advocates will more likely to have read about Blackstone on the grape-vine, most probably as filtered through the unsympathetic lens of Peter Singer’s books, the legal textbooks of American lawyers Steven Wise and Gary Francione, or via Jeremy Bentham’s critique of Blackstone.

As Dorothy Sayers once remarked in another context, “any stigma will do to beat a dogma.” (Dorothy Sayers, Creed or Chaos? and other Essays in Popular Theology, London: Religious Book Club, 1947, p 21). It is possible then that something in Blackstone has been overlooked by his later critics.

While I am not here to defend every word of Blackstone, there is room for calling into question the overly negative view that abounds about him by those who haven’t even read his book. As animals are regarded in the common law (and in other legal systems worldwide) as property, Blackstone’s arguments about property rights and human dominion over the earth are seen as the ideological entrenchment for the oppression of animals. The first passage which slips off the radar screen concerns Blackstone’s (1851 Book 2: 3) analogy of how ancient humans made claims to owning a space that they inhabited by looking at the behaviour of undomesticated animals:

In the case of habitations in particular, it was natural to observe, that even the brute creation, to whom everything else was in common, maintained a kind of permanent property in their dwellings, especially for the protection of their young; that the birds of the air had nests, and the beasts of the field had caverns, the invasion of which they esteemed a very flagrant injustice, and would sacrifice their lives to preserve them.

In this passage Blackstone intimates that undomesticated animals have a vested ownership in habitats, which if he had reflected on further had intriguing possibilities for the common law tradition to have acknowledged that animals have “rights” to “own property” and that their vested interests in sharing in the use of natural resources is something that could be codified in statutes to compel humans to respect those interests or “rights”.

The other passage is where Blackstone (337) describes the role of stewards as being a “species of servants, if they may be so called, being rather in a superior, a ministerial, capacity.” A steward stands in the place of another person without seeking personal gain or privilege but serves another. It is this notion of a steward who exercises a form of trusteeship that is found in Sir Matthew Hale’s writings and echoed by Lord Erskine. This very notion of stewardship is grounded in the notion of Christ as servant, and correlates to the trust vested in humans in the Book of Genesis to tend the creation and to look after animals. It also echoes Jesus’ parable about the “Good Steward”.

These notions that undomesticated creatures might have “natural rights” over a habitation, and the notion of a steward or Christ-like servant stand in the theological background in which Broome lived and thought.

2.2 Broome as Parish Priest

In 1801, Broome was not yet officially ordained to the Anglican ministry but would have been in the processes of being reviewed as a candidate for ordination. Nevertheless he published a sermon that he must have delivered before being ordained as a deacon. His attention to the animal cause would have been further invigorated later that decade in 1809-1810 with the legislative efforts of Lord Erskine to pass an anti-cruelty Bill.

Broome was ordained as a deacon by the Bishop of London Beilby Porteous on 21 November 1802. This coincided with his first official parish appointment at St Peter’s church in the village of Roydon in Essex. He was then ordained as a priest on 18 December 1803 again by Bishop Porteous. It is not altogether clear how long Broome served as a priest in Roydon. However, living there he would doubtless have been cognisant of the fact that stag-hunting was an aristocratic past-time (see Styles 1839: 36-37 for his excerpt of an account from 1832 about “Essex Stag Hounds”. Notice also here that Styles’ prize-winning book pointed the finger at aristocrats on hunting).

While Broome obviously thought deeply about a theological ethic for animals, he was also a shepherd of human souls in the parishes in which he served.

[St. Peter’s church Roydon Essex. Image source:]

The next trace of Broome serving in a parish takes us to the year 1812. For a period of three years Broome served as the curate at St. Mary’s church in the village of Brook, Kent and also at St. Mary’s church in the hamlet of Hinxhill, Kent. It is possibly during this period that he studied for his MA (or possibly that happened in between his time at Roydon and then in Kent).

On 6 March 1816 he was appointed as curate at Cliffe at Hoo in Kent on a stipend of one hundred pounds per annum. At this time William Howley was the Bishop of London. Broome served as the curate at St. Helen’s church, Cliffe-at-Hoo, Kent until 1818.

On 23 April 1819 Broome was initially appointed as a stipendiary curate at Bromley-St Leonard on just eighty pounds. Broome was then was appointed perpetual curate of that church on 6 June 1820. At this church, situated in what is London’s east end, Broome evidently worked very hard to serve the parishioners. This brought him into contact with the warehouse workers employed by the East India Company. Margaret Makepeace (2010:75), the archivist for the India Office Records at the British Library, has noted:

“The Reverend Arthur Broome of the parish of Bromley St Leonard, Middlesex wrote to the Court in December 1822 asking for help in funding a third divine service on Sundays. An extra service was needed because of an increase in the local population which included many Company labourers. The Court expressed interest in this ‘laudable’ plan, believing that it would be of benefit to a considerable number of Company warehouse employees.”

When Makepeace refers to the “court” she means the court of directors of the company. The need to have a third parish service sponsored surely speaks of Broome as an assiduous priest dedicated to being a shepherd of souls, particularly those in the working classes where he was situated.

[Image source:]

2.3 Broome as Author

Nothing seems to have been said about his book (1815; 2d ed 1817) concerning two controversial Anglican churchmen of the seventeenth century Thomas Fuller and Robert South. Nor has anyone joined the dots from that book over to the fellow founding figure of the SPCA Basil Montagu. As an author Basil Montagu also wrote about Thomas Fuller. Thus Broome and Montagu shared parallel interests in aspects of English church history, as well as being fellow-travellers in establishing the SPCA in 1824.

Although the website Animal Rights History has reproduced the text of Broome’s 1801 short sermon about opposing animal cruelty nobody seems to have bothered to discuss it, or in its subsequent reprinted version in 1824.

2.4 Broome’s Marriage in 1817

I have yet to come across any discussion of the fact that Broome was married, and was the father of a daughter. Nobody appears to have taken notice of the fact that Broome’s wife was Anna Barne Trollope, a direct descendant of the third baronet Trollope and thus an older cousin to England’s famous novelist Anthony Trollope.

Authors have not only forgotten to do their genealogical homework but have also neglected to investigate probate cases that involved Anna Barne Broome (nee Trollope) after her husband’s death. Within the wider Trollope family there were several men who had served as clergy, including Anna Barne Broome’s grandfather the Rev. John Trollope, and the London-based curate Rev. Arthur Trollope who served in Cheapside and died 12 September 1848 (Cheapside is where SPCA co-founder Reverend George Avery Hatch served). One might reasonably infer that Arthur Broome and his wife Anna would have had social contact with the wider Trollope family.

There appears to be an uncharted trail waiting for an historian to track through, particularly to see if within the wider networks of descendants of the Trollopes there are any relevant documents or anecdotes concerning Broome and his wife and daughter.

2.5 “Cold Case” About Broome’s Death in 1837

There is something akin to a “cold case” surrounding Broome’s death. The “cold case” is not in terms of an unsolved crime a la CSI: Miami. However some mystery surrounds the circumstances in which Broome found himself at the time of his death.

Excerpt from Broome’s Death Certificate

It does appear that at the time of his death, that Broome’s wife and daughter were not living with him. The name of the informant of Broome’s death was Thomas Suffolk of 44 Bull Street, Birmingham (occupation: Victualler).

There are probably two major reasons why they were not by his side. The immediate problem was that his health was impaired by what was then an incurable and contagious disease: tuberculosis (or as his death certificate states, “consumption”). When Broome was alive approximately one in four people died in England from “consumption”. It would have affected his respiration, involved weight-loss, considerable aggravated coughing, night-sweats, chills and fever. How long he suffered from tuberculosis before he died is not known but it probably lasted for several months (or possibly longer).

The other major factor is that through a chain of events spanning the last thirteen years of his life, Arthur Broome went from being a clergyman to becoming the first secretary of the SPCA in 1824, and then by 1826 was a debtor incarcerated in the King’s Bench prison (as he was the guarantor of the SPCA’s unpaid debts). There is clearly an untold story here spanning the years from 1826-1837, which ends with his death as a pauper.

As will be noted below, Broome’s zealous commitment to the ethical cause on behalf of animals inadvertently brought severe financial burdens on himself and his family that eventually led to his dire circumstances of poverty. In some respects then it seems that Broome may have been estranged from his wife and daughter. Broome’s wife outlived him and sadly monies due to her from the estate of her deceased father and mother were forfeited to creditors.

Thus, Arthur Broome was very probably alone on 16 July 1837 when he succumbed to tuberculosis. It was exactly thirteen years and one month to the day when his brain-child the SPCA had been founded. Broome was living in such reduced circumstances that he was buried in an unmarked pauper’s grave in the church grounds of Birmingham Cathedral. Kraemer’s biographical article in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography does helpfully indicate that she checked the church’s parish records concerning his burial.

2.51 Why was Broome in Birmingham?

However, there are further lines of inquiry that should be pursued. The first line of inquiry concerns “why” Broome was living in Birmingham in 1837 when he died. Besides the medical problem of Broome’s tuberculosis which may have necessitated his moving away from large urban centres like London, there may be other factors at work.

Broome may have sought some solace and assistance from people in Birmingham who knew him. By this time some of the founder members of the SPCA had predeceased him: Richard Martin (6 January 1834), Sir James Mackintosh (30 May 1832), William Wilberforce (29 July 1833), and Reverend George Avery Hatch (15 June 1837). It appears that after 1832 until his death in 1837 that the memory of Broome was receding among those who carried on the work of the SPCA.

One immediate and unanswered question is this: What kinds of impediments may have prevented Broome from resuming full-time pastoral duties as a stipendiary or perpetual curate after he ceased being the SPCA secretary in February 1828?

2.511 Did Broome Know the Cadburys?

So, perhaps Broome knew people in the Anglican churches near Birmingham? Given Broome’s career as a cleric and animal campaigner, and that among the co-founders of the SPCA was Thomas Fowell Buxton, it is remotely possible that Broome may also have been known to the Cadbury family (or other Quakers) of Birmingham.

Buxton, it will be recalled, had married into the Gurney family and they were Quakers. The Cadbury family of chocolate-making fame were Quakers (the Rowntree family of York and the Fry family of Bristol were also Quakers and chocolate-making entrepreneurs). The Cadbury’s some years after Broome’s life set up the village of Bourneville (nowadays part of the city of Birmingham) where their employees lived and where their factory was developed. Quakers such as the Cadburys, Rowntrees and Fry families were prominent in a range of social reforms, were noted for their involvement in the abolitionist cause, temperance movement, and in animal issues. It is by no means certain but there is a possibility that Broome may have had some contact with the Cadbury family in Birmingham.

2.52 Mystery of the Burial Certificate

Broome’s death had some bearing on later legal proceedings, which adds to the aura of mystery of it being like a “cold case” for researchers today. Nobody has bothered to explore where the following advertisment leads to in terms of any cases in probate. This notice appeared in The Law Times on 26 December 1848:

“Certificate of Burial of Rev. Arthur Broome, who died in July 1838, in the country, and who, a few months before his death was a minister to a chapel of ease, in some parish, probably distant from London. A Reward.”

Although this notice gives the wrong year for Broome’s death (1838, should be 1837), it leaves a few clues. According to this notice Broome was believed to be providing some pastoral care in a chapel of ease. A “chapel of ease” refers to a place where people could gather for a church service which was located in a parish but was not an actual church building. Such a chapel could serve people living in scattered hamlets or villages where access to the main parish church was not convenient. If Broome was indeed involved in some kind of pastoral ministry along those lines, he would not have had a stipend. He possibly subsisted day-by-day via donations from parishioners in return for his pastoral services. This suggests that further lines of inquiry ought to be pursued through the Church of England’s archives regarding any records about non-stipendiary clergy serving in chapels of ease during the 1830s.

The above advertisement specifically sought a burial certificate, which suggests that formal proof of both his interrment and death were required in a matter of probate. The offer of a reward for the certificate is also intriguing, possibly having something to do with creditors seeking disbursements for unpaid debts. It may have arisen directly out of deliberations made in the High Court of Chancery in November 1847 in the case of Trollope v. Routledge. Among the parties involved in this case was Anna Barne Broome (nee Trollope) the widow of Arthur Broome, Anna’s daughter, and Anna’s unmarried sister Frances Trollope (who subsequently died in Caen, France on 29 February 1872).

2.6 Simple Reflection about Research

I have been able to pinpoint some of these forgotten or omitted details without travelling 10,000 miles from Australia to England to investigate various library archives. I am surprised that authors, who have the tremendous advantage over me of living in England where archival materials are almost at their fingertips, have just not bothered to look and see if anything more can be said about Broome’s life and career.


As I have noted above from some selected publications, Broome is not completely forgotten. He is mentioned in passing because of his role as the founder and first Secretary of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (later the RSPCA). Broome’s imprisonment for unpaid debts in 1826 is also usually noted.

3.1 E. Douglas Hume

E. Douglas Hume (1939: 34) spoke of Broome in terms of being “the moving spirit” at the meeting which brought the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals into existence. He seems, however, to be a bit on thin ice when he says that in order for the Society to operate that “Arthur Broome found himself forced to resign his living and consecrate his life to humane work” (1939: 34).

The chronological details indicate that on 13 February 1824 that Broome formally resigned as the “perpetual curate” at St. Mary’s church Bromley by Bow, and vacated the church on 27 February 1824. In the absence of any surviving correspondence from Broome to his diocesan bishop notifying and/or explaining his resignation, and likewise in the absence of any diaries or other family papers, it is an inference on Hume’s part that Broome was “forced to resign” by circumstances.

Now, when Broome resigned in February 1824, he had already started organising on an informal basis for an inspector to check out instances of animal cruelty at the nearby abbatoir. It is known, for example, that Broome paid a man out of his own purse to act as an inspector before the SPCA came into existence.

However, there is insufficient direct evidence to show that Broome “found himself forced to resign his living.” It was four months after his formal resignation as a curate that the meeting in Old Slaughter’s Coffee House convened on 16 June 1824 to create the SPCA.

3.2 James Turner

The American historian James Turner (1980:40) indicates that the efforts to organise the Society came from “the guiding hand of an obscure Anglican clergyman named Arthur Broome.” Turner notes that Broome became the Society’s first “honorary secretary”. However as Turner threads together a short narrative of events he describes Broome in critical and less than unflattering terms that (1980:40-41):

“the optimistic Broome resigned his living to devote full time to the work. This was not to be the last exhibition of his financial ineptitude; by early 1826 the Society was hopelessly in debt. In May the governing Committee eased Broome out.”

As with E. Douglas Hume’s comments so also with Turner, the chronology surrounding Broome’s resignation as a curate and the formation of the SPCA need to be kept in clear view. It may well be true that Broome let his heart runaway from his head in terms of the SPCA’s income and liabilities from June 1824 until early 1826. However, there are two facts about Broome and money that both Hume and Turner have evidently not been unaware of or not taken into consideration.

The first point concerns Broome’s edited and reissued version of Humphry Primatt’s book The Duty of Mercy. Primatt’s book was originally released in 1776. In 1822 Broome issued an abridged and annotated edition of Primatt’s book. It was indicated in the front-matter of this edition that proceeds of sales would go towards supporting an SPCA (even though the organisation had not been formally established). It will be recalled that 1822 is the year when Martin’s anti-cruelty to cattle Bill was passed in Parliament. There was also an abortive attempt on Broome’s part in 1822 to create the SPCA. Broome’s annotated version of Primatt’s book would go through several reprints in the 1820s and early 1830s. While book sales alone would have hardly justified Broome resigning as a curate, there must have been some income flowing through which Broome used for SPCA activities.

The second point is that Broome and his wife Anna had entered into a formal written agreement concerning funds that Anna was entitled to from the deceased estate of her father Thomas Trollope. On 1 October 1819 Ann Trollope (the widow of Thomas and the mother of Anna) signed an indenture of appointment that involved both “the Rev. Arthur Eugenius Broome and Anna Barne Broome, his wife” (De Gex and Smale, 1849: 662). Under this indenture, “Ann Trollope, being desirous of making some provision for her daughter, Anna Barne Broome, had, at the request of Arthur Eugenius Broome and Anna Barne Broome, determined and agreed, in exercise and execution of the power and authority to her given by the settlement, to give and appoint the sum of 1184l. 3s. 4d.” (De Gex and Smale, 1849: 663).

From a case heard in the High Court of Chancery Trollope v. Routledge 1847, it is evident that the above sum of money amounting to just over 1,184 pounds was set aside for Anna Barne Broome and Arthur Broome. It is evident from the court report of this case that although the funds were available, the Broomes did not take the funds out of the account where they were held. These funds that derived from the estate of Thomas Trollope and to which Anna was entitled were later applied to creditors in 1847.

Arthur Broome  had a fixed income as a curate in the Bromley-by-Bow parish some five months before he and his wife entered into the legal arrangement over the monies in Thomas Trollope’s estate. At the very least, Arthur Broome and his wife had access to over one thousand pounds from October 1819 onwards. The need for these funds early on in their marriage may have coincided with (a) the birth of their daughter and (b) the reduction in his stipend at Bromley (just 80 pounds per annum as compared to 100 pounds per annum in his curacy in Kent). It is possible that Broome may have intended to draw on the income generated by these invested funds to help support the work of the SPCA. This is surely a factor that Turner was unaware of when he made the critical comment that Broome had exhibited “financial ineptitude” upon resigning as a curate.

3.3. Moss, Fairholme and Pain

According to Arthur Moss (1961: 33) “Although the Rev. Arthur Broome was the founder of the Society, we know regrettably little about him. All that we have of him that is authentic is his very beautiful handwriting in the Minutes.”

Moss echoes the same point about limited sources that was made decades earlier by Edward Fairholme and Wellesley Pain (1934:50) in their centenary history of the RSPCA:

“Unfortunately, little but the bare records of his life can be discovered.”

In both the books by Moss and Fairholme and Pain, there is an outline of the “bare bones” of his interest in campaigning against cruelty to animals. However not much else is said about his career, his books or the fact that he was married and had a daughter.

However, after comparing the various short accounts of Arthur Broome’s life, I have found that there are discrepancies, and also some very curious omissions of detail. What has been overlooked by previous writers needs to be incorporated into a much broader and deeper understanding of the life and career of Arthur Broome, particularly when contemplating the question “why” he took a theological and ethical interest in animals. In effect, his Christian worldview cannot be divorced from any account of his advocacy for the ethical cause on behalf of animals.


According to Kramer (2004) Arthur Broome was born on 18 February 1779. He was the son of Thomas and Frances Broom, and at the age of six was christened on 28 August 1785 in Sidbury, Devon.

Foster (1888:169) carries an entry for Arthur Broom, son of Thomas, of Sidmouth, Devon, gentleman. Balliol College, matriculated 31 March 1798, aged 18; BA 1801. His age at matriculation suggests the year 1780 as his birth year but minor discrepancies like these concerning dates are not uncommon.His death certificate in July 1837 indicates that he was aged 58, which would tally with 1779 as the year of his birth.

Similarly the discrepancy between “Broome” and “Broom” is not an uncommon feature in these kinds of records.

It appears from the entry immediately following Arthur Broom, that he had an older brother named Thomas who was a graduate of Wadham College in 1799 aged 34.

During the second decade of the nineteenth century, Arthur Broome also obtained a Master of Arts degree. According to the Clergy of the Church of England Database  Broome held the MA at the time he was appointed (23 April 1819) as a Stipendiary Curate at Bromley by Bow St. Mary’s church in London’s East End district. However this database does not record from which University Broome graduated nor the year his degree was awarded.

Another confirmation of his degree is found in The Royal Kalendar: and Court and City Register for England, Scotland, Ireland, and the Colonies for the year 1822 (page 268).

4.1 Broome on Thomas Fuller & Robert South

There is a strong possibility that Arthur Broome obtained his master’s degree around 1815, and he may have been awarded the degree from Balliol College, Oxford.

The reason why he may have obtained the master’s degree at this time is that Broome had a book published in 1815: Selections from the Writings of Fuller and South, with Life and Character of Fuller (London 1815).

The book may very well have been based on a written dissertation for the master’s degree. A further clue to support this point comes from the description of the author as “Rev. Arthur Broome, late of Balliol College, Oxford.”

Broome’s book was concerned with two seventeenth century clergymen: Thomas Fuller (1608-1661) and Robert South (1634-1716).

Broome’s book evidently sold out and was of sufficient interest to warrant a revised and expanded edition being published two years later. As Broome was to be married in mid-1817, any income generated by the book’s re-release would have been an added boon.

The second edition bore the title, Selections from the Works of Fuller and South, with some account of the Lives and Writings of those Eminent Divines (London: Lackington & Co, 1817). It is one of the little curiosities of history that on the very day that Broome was married, the periodical New Monthly Magazine (Vol. VII, no. 40, May 1 , 1817, page 347) carried a brief notice about his book:

“Wit and wisdom, humour and piety, were never more happily united than in the genius and writings of the two great ornaments of the Church of England, whose works have contributed to the formation of this excellent manual. The ‘Holy State’ by Fuller, is a scarce folio, and the Sermons of South are not only very voluminous, but unequal in merit; we therefore think that the editor has acted judiciously in extracting from those valuable productions the principal beauties both for entertainment and edification. the selection is made with taste and judgment; and the biographical sketches prefixed have great merit.”

Similarly, the Gentleman’s Magazine (Vol. 87, May 1817, pages 436-437) also carried a review of Broome’s book. The reviewer stated that, “these ‘Selections’ from the Works of Fuller and South are well calculated to instruct by sound precept, and convince by powerful argument–at the same time that they amuse and delight by continual sallies of humour and wit.”

4.2 Lapses in Present-day Research Standards 

It is curious that both historians of the RSPCA and of animal issues of the Nineteenth century, as well as authors of biographical sketches on Broome never draw attention to the fact that he held an MA or that he was the author of the aforementioned book.

The text is specifically mentioned in bibliographical reference works such as William Thomas Lowndes, The Bibliographer’s Manual of English Literature (London: William Pickering, 1834; page 757), and in S. Austin Allibone, A Critical Dictionary of English Literature, and British and American Authors Living and Deceased from the earliest accounts to the Middle of the Nineteenth Century (Vol. 1; Philadelphia: Childs & Peterson, 1858).

It is one of the problems associated with present-day information retrieval standards among many (not all) authors writing about animal ethics and animals in history that the classic bibliographical tools (the librarian’s tools of trade) are forgotten. As there is an over-reliance by non-academics in surfing Google (and the “belief” that “everything exists on the worldwide web”), it is not surprising that bibliographical research standards are far from lofty in the genre of popular works about animals.

5. MARRIAGE (The Trollope Family)

One peculiarity of several of the short biographical sketches about Arthur Broome is the absence of any mention of his wife. For example, in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Kraemer (2004) states “He died, probably unmarried.” Kraemer’s statement about Broome’s marital status is incorrect.

I established via a search of the database England & Wales Marriages, 1538-1940, [available to subscribers at], that on 1 May 1817 Arthur Broome married Anna Barne Trollope at St. Margaret’s Church of England, Rochester, Kent. [Also refer to the International Genealogical Index M165123]. One assumes that Broome met Anna Trollope in some social and/or pastoral context in Kent.

This detail receives further confirmation from an entry announcing marriages in The Monthly Magazine; or British Register, Volume 43 (Part 1, 1817), June 1, 1817 listing marriages (page 479):

At Rochester, the Rev. Arthur Broome to Miss Anna Barne Trollope.

The surname of Broome’s spouse “Trollope” ought to ring bells loud and clear. It points in the direction of further research horizons where, perhaps, more information might be uncovered concerning Arthur Broome’s family life.

5.1 Who Was Anna Barne Trollope?

Anna Barne Trollope was the daughter of Thomas Trollope (1757-1805) and Anna Steel (1771-1845). She was born on 6 August 1790 and christened on 23 September 1790 according to the parish registers for All Saints and St. John’s Church in Huntingdon. (England & Wales Christening Records, 1530-1906, available to subscribers at

She was the eldest child out of eight born in that marriage, and aside from her sister Frances Trollope (1791-1872) most of the others perished before attaining adulthood.

5.2 Baronet Trollope

Anna Barne Trollope is a descendant of the third baronet Trollope.

Around 1641 a Baronetcy was created in Casewick in the county of Lincoln with the first Baron being named Sir Thomas Trollope (1595-c.1655). The third Baronet of Casewick was Sir Thomas Trollope (1667-1729) and with his wife Susannah Trollope (nee Clobery) there were four children of the marriage:

  • Anne Trollope
  • Elizabeth Trollope
  • Sir Thomas Trollope 4th baronet (1691-1784)
  • Henry Trollope (1693-1763)

Henry Trollope (1693-1763) married Elizabeth Barne (1694-1761). One of their children was Reverend John Trollope (1728-1794) and he married Anne Guyon (died 1759). John and Anne had a son named Thomas Trollope (1757-1805). Thomas married Ann Steel and their first child was Anna Barne Trollope.

5.3 Cousin of Anthony Trollope

In light of the above notes about her ancestry, it is interesting to note that Anna Barne Trollope was a cousin of Anthony Trollope (1815-1882) the novelist (Chronicles of Barsetshire, Phineas Finn etc). Anthony Trollope was the son of Thomas Anthony Trollope (1774-1835) and Frances Milton. Thomas Anthony Trollope was the son of Reverend Anthony Trollope (1737-1806). Reverend Trollope was the son of Sir Thomas Trollope the fourth baronet.

5.4 Anna Barne Trollope’s Father

Anna’s father Thomas Trollope (1757-1805) served in the Royal Marines. At the time of her birth he held the rank of Captain, and by the time of his death he had attained the rank of Lieutenant-Colonel.

On 29 September 1790 Thomas Trollope made his Last Will and Testament (available from the Public Record Office, The National Archives, reference: prob 11/1437). Notice that he made his Will six days after his daughter Anna was christened.

In the Will, Trollope made provision for his wife and for any children of his living at the time of his death (probate granted to his wife Ann Trollope [nee Steel] on 10 January 1806 at the Prerogative Court of Canterbury). The provision for a life estate for his wife with the remainder being disbursed between any adult children is part of the untold story involving Arthur Broome. When Broome’s mother-in-law died in 1845 she was a resident in St. Dinan France, which was a small town that many English people found amenable to settle in. It is quite likely that Anna Broome’s unmarried sister Frances Trollope may have joined her mother in France. When Frances Trollope died in 1872 she was a resident in Caen in Normandy.

It is also worth noting in passing that Thomas Adolphus Trollope (the older brother of the novelist Anthony Trollope) wrote a memoir-travelogue called A Summer in Brittany, which was published in 1840, and which includes a chapter about his stay in the town of Dinan which he described as an “English colony”. One may conjecture (although the book itself is silent) that he had contact with his cousin by marriage  Ann Trollope (nee Steel) the widow of Lieutenant-Colonel Trollope [the parents of Anna Barne Broome (nee Trollope)].

There is more to be said about Broome, which will be reserved and held over for Part Two.


Goldfinch: Symbol for Resurrection

N.B. The following text in this blog-post Goldfinch: Symbol for Resurrection is Copyright © 2012 Philip Johnson.


In his original study of the Goldfinch in European art, the ornithologist Herbert Friedmann (1946:7-9) wrote that this bird has several symbolic meanings ascribed to it. The four principal symbolic meanings all link up to important biblical things including: the soul, sacrifice, death, and Resurrection. Another symbol that the Goldfinch stood for was recovery from illness, and the raising up of a person out of their sick-bed was another kind of symbolic Resurrection.

Image Source:

Photo by Nigel Blake

It was during the Renaissance, that the European Goldfinch (Genus: Carduelis; species Carduelis carduelis) became associated in paintings with important theological symbols such as the Passion of Christ and the Resurrection.How that came about involves a retrospective kind of tale about the Goldfinch  and the Passion of Christ. The legend endeavours to explain both the distinctive red markings on the Goldfinch’s head, and its diet of eating thistle and thorns.

A Passion Legend

A post-biblical legend developed about the goldfinch being a witness to the humiliating march of Jesus carrying the cross to Golgotha. A goldfinch flew above the staggering figure of Jesus and was distressed by the crown of thorns on his head. As the legend tells it, the goldfinch flew down and tried to pluck off the thorns. As the bird plucked at thorns some of Jesus’ blood dripped onto the goldfinch’s head. Hence the origin of the red feathers on its head is explained as originating from this event.

Its natural diet of consuming thorns and thistles is also enlisted in the details of the tale, to emphasise that in the tragedy of Jesus’ torture and execution that even animals bore witness.

George Ferguson (1961:19) remarks:

The goldfinch is fond of eating thistles and thorns, and since al thorny plants have been accepted as an allusion to Christ’s crown of thorns, the goldfinch has become an accepted symbol of the Passion of christ. In this sense, it frequently appears with the Christ Child, showing the close connection between the Incarnation and Passion.

Image Source:

Painting: Madonna of the Goldfinch by Raphael (c.1505-06).

These two points about plucking the thorns and being stained in red blood became of interest to Renaissance painters.

Friedmann (1946) discussed some four hundred and eighty-six paintings that feature the Goldfinch. Some two hundred and fifty-four artists used the Goldfinch in Christian devotional paintings. Among the notable painters are Leonardo da Vinci (Madonna Litta, 1490–1491), Raphael (Solly Madonna, 1502, and Madonna of the Goldfinch, 1506), Zurbarán (Madonna and Child with the Infant St John, 1658) and Tiepolo (Madonna of the Goldfinch, 1760).


On the Goldfinch as a symbol of the Resurrection, Friedmann (1946:7-8) states:

The goldfinch symbolizes Resurrection. This meaning is perhaps more intimately connected with the barn swallow than with any other single species of bird but is shared in by the goldfinch, the linnet, and by other forms as well. In the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries when interest in the apocryphal books of the Bible flourished so greatly, artists were quick to seize upon the aesthetic possibilities involved in the various legends thereby made known. One of these, the “Pseudo-Matthew Legend”, was that of the Christ Child playing with toy or clay birds which His companions brought to Him, and which He miraculously brought to life. This bringing to life quickly came to stand for the idea of Resurrection. The swallow, long considered as a sign of spring, of the rebirth of the year, was assumed to hibernate in the mud through the winter and then become revitalized with the advent of warm weather. The similarity between the idea of the dormant mud-encrusted swallow and the clay bird is obvious. Its connection with the Resurrection theme (and thereby with Christ) led to its being called in parts of Germany the “Madonna Bird”.

Sheridan Germann and Richard Rephanna (1995: 29) remark that the manufacture of the musical instrument the harpsichord in seventeenth century Holland involved it being decorated with symbols of the resurrection. This included the Goldfinch:

The goldfinch, often found as a resurrection symbol in vanitas still-life paintings occurred frequently on soundboards. Resurrection symbolism may have seemed particularly appropriate on musical instruments since the wood of the dead tree finds new life and voice in music. A motto sometimes found on musical instruments gave voice to this thought in the words ‘Dum vixi tacui, mortua dulce cano’ (in life I was silent; in death I sweetly sing).

As I will discuss in a future post, the symbolism of animals as signs of the Resurrection need to be seen as part of a wider stream of thought involving the future redemption and resurrection of animals (includes desert fathers and medieval saints signifying the peaceable kingdom in their contact with wild animals; reports of saints raising animals from the dead; and the fulfilment of prophecy concerning the new earth).


George Ferguson (1961). Signs and Symbols in Christian Art (London & Oxford:Oxford University Press).

Herbert Friedmann (1946). The Symbolic Goldfinch: Its History and Significance in European Devotional Art (The Bollingen Series VII. Washington DC: Pantheon Books).

Sheridan Germann & Richard Rephann (1995). The Historical Harpsichord: Harpsichord Decoration and the Yale Taskin (Hillsdale, New York: Pendragon).

Animals in Johannes Kepler’s Thought

N.B. The following text in this blog-post Animals in Johannes Kepler’s Thought is Copyright © 2012 Philip Johnson.


Image source:


Johannes Kepler (1571-1630) was a German born mathematician and astronomer. Among his many contributions to astronomy, Kepler is well-known for formulating “three laws” of planetary motion, which gave crucial validation to the Copernican theory about the Sun as the centre of the solar system.

Kepler was also a devout Lutheran, and although his scientific labours were in mathematics and astronomy, he made some remarks about animals that deserve mention.


The rise of the current social protest movement concerning animal rights pretty much takes as its springboard the works of Richard Ryder and Peter Singer. A strong criticism has been levelled against Christianity that its teaching and practices are largely infused with an anthropocentric (i.e. almost exclusively human-centred) outlook. It is also alleged that Christianity is guilty of propagating speciesism (i.e. discriminates by favouring human interests over those of other animals).

The charge about speciesism has some validity but it does have to be modified somewhat in light of a lot of ignored evidence from church history. The other sweeping charge that Christianity is anthropocentric is always going to be susceptible to critical rebuttal because critics who are in a hurry to make a point can readily forget a fundamental point about theology: Christian teaching is theocentric.

Consider, from the Lutheran side of the Reformation, the theocentric perspective that shaped the scientific labours of Johannes Kepler. Richard Westfall (1986: 219-220) remarks:

 in Kepler’s religious thought Christianity remained intact, harmoniously interwoven with his science and scarcely altered by it. His personal piety furnished the background to his work, forcing itself as it were into the printed page, as though he were unable to contain it.

This theocentric outlook of Kepler’s is very apparent in his many writings.

Kepler concluded his book on astronomy Harmonies of the World (1995: 240) with a prayer:

O Thou Who dost by the light of nature promote in us the desire for the light of grace, that by its means Thou mayest transport us into the light of glory, I give thanks to Thee, O Lord Creator, Who hast delighted me with Thy makings and in the works of Thy hand have I exulted. Behold! now, I have completed the work of my profession, having employed as much power of mind as Thou didst give to me; to the men who are going to read those demonstrations I have made manifest the glory of Thy works, as much of its infinity as the narrows of my intellect could apprehend … If I have been allured into rashness by the wonderful beauty of Thy works, or if I have loved my own glory among men, while I am advancing in the work destined for Thy glory, be gentle and merciful and pardon me; and finally deign graciously to effect that these demonstrations give way to Thy glory and the salvation of souls and nowhere be an obstacle to that.

This passage is theocentric in emphasis namely that all of creation is centred in God not man, and that creation in all facets reflects divine glory and is intended to glorify God. It also points to Kepler’s humility, his gratitude to God, and his valuing the essential priority of the gospel above even his research.


Kepler added a speculative epilogue to his book Harmonies of the World concerning a hymn about the sun that was composed by the Platonic philosopher Proclus. Kepler seeks theological meaning in the harmonious geometrical relations he discerns between the sun and planets that orbit it. He notes in passing how his own teacher and colleague Tycho Brahe (a Danish Lutheran astronomer) pondered the possibility that other worlds are inhabited. Kepler speculates that as the earth is inhabited there may similarly be creatures inhabiting the other planets in the solar system. If there are other creatures inhabiting the planets then the implication of what Kepler wrote is that they do not exist for man’s use. Kepler (1995:244-245) seeks a parallel on earth for what might be true on other worlds:

For He Who created the species which should inhabit the waters, beneath which however there is no room for the air which living things draw in; Who sent birds supported on wings into the wilderness of the air; Who gave white bears and white wolves to the snowy regions of the North, and as food for the bears the whale, and for the wolves, birds’ eggs; Who gave lions to the deserts of burning Libya and camels to the wide-spread plains of Syria, and to the lions an endurance of hunger, and to the camels an endurance of thirst: did He use up every art in the globe of the Earth so that He was unable, every goodness so that he did not wish, to adorn the other globes too with their fitting creatures, as either the long or short revolutions, or the  nearness or removal of the sun, or the variety of eccentricities or the shine or darkness of the bodies, or the properties of the figures wherewith any region is supported persuaded?

Kepler (1995: 245) breaks off his conjectures by citing the Psalms and reinforces the theocentric perspective of praising God as creator “for out of Him and through Him and in Him are all things … To Him be praise, honour, and glory, world without end. Amen.”


Scottish theologian John Baillie (1951:35-36) made these sagely remarks concerning modern attitudes towards the natural world:

When nature is believed to have no preordained meaning or purpose in itself, the speculative interest in it fails, and the remaining concern is only to subdue its inherent purposelessness to our own chosen ends. Yet if, in their turn, these ends of ours are not themselves informed by faith, if they are merely chosen and not prescribed, if they represent only human preferences dictated by interest instead of solemn obligations emanating from a source beyond ourselves, then science becomes a desperately dangerous tool to put in men’s hands.

Baillie’s words should give us pause for thought about some of the sweeping claims that are made by some critics who blame Christianity for being the principal ideological fountainhead that has spurred on the exploitation of animals, and the degradation of eco-systems.


John Baillie (1951). Natural Science and the Spiritual Life (London: Oxford University Press).

Johannes Kepler (1995). Harmonies of the World, Book 5 in Epitome of Copernican Astronomy and Harmonies of the World, trans. Charles Glenn Wallis (Amherst, New York: Prometheus).

Richard S. Westfall (1986). “The Rise of Science and the Decline of Orthodox Christianity: A Study of Kepler, Descartes, and Newton.” in God & Nature: Historical Essays on the Encounter between Christianity and Science, David C. Lindberg and Ronald L. Numbers Eds. (Berkeley: University of California Press).

The Advocate or The Hour of the Pig

N.B. The following text in this blog-post The Advocate or The Hour of the Pig is Copyright © 2012 Philip Johnson.

This is a long post of more than 5,000 words and thus requires a time-commitment to concentrate and digest.


 In 1993 a motion-picture starring Colin Firth, Ian Holm, Donald Pleasence, Jim Carter, Michael Gough, Nicol Williamson, and Amina Annabi was released called The Hour of the Pig.  It was a joint British-French production from BBC-CIBY 2000. It was also released by Miramax in the USA in an edited and shorter version under a different title, The Advocate. The screenplay writer and director of the film is Leslie Megahey.

I have had the benefit of viewing both versions of this film. Various “adult” scenes were censored, which accounts for some of the differences between The Hour of the Pig and The Advocate. A summary of The Hour of the Pig’s plot can also be accessed here.

It is a period-piece set in fifteenth century France, with a mixture of bawdiness, interpersonal drama, racial prejudice, criminal mystery, and social intrigue. It tells the story of a lawyer who defends a pig accused of murdering a child. Does that sound weird to you? Perhaps it does simply because most of us do not know a lot about medieval and Renaissance European history. So, it is not uncommon for people today to express incredulity when they hear that animals were once prosecuted in Europe for crimes in both civil and ecclesiastical court cases. The feeling is probably expressed with words like, “the law is an ass” or “how could they have been so stupid to put animals on trial?”

However, as English historian Darren Oldridge reminds us in Strange Histories (2007: 4), “when we have little understanding of the beliefs of another society, many of the acts that routinely occur within it may strike us as absurd.”

Our present-day incredulity really is a reflection on how ignorant and prejudiced most of us happen to be about the Middle Ages, than it reflects any deep understanding about the era of the animal law trials.

It is one thing for us today to pose the moral question, “should animals have ever been prosecuted for crimes”? It is entirely another matter to take a superficial glance at the past and then pour scorn on an era that one does not even begin to properly understand.


The Advocate/The Hour of the Pig is set in AD 1452 in a rural village named Abbéville, in the feudal county of Ponthieu, in northwestern France. The central character is a lawyer named Richard Courtois (played by Colin Firth) who has departed from Paris accompanied by his law-clerk named Mathieu (played by Jim Carter). Courtois was disillusioned by corruption and decadence in Paris but is also bouyant due to the Renaissance’s humanist impact on learning. He relocates to Abbéville with hopes for an idyllic life, of dispelling superstition, and of representing rural people who need justice.

After arriving in Abbéville, Courtois becomes busily engaged in representing people from a backlog of law-suits.

He is successful in his first case in obtaining an acquittal for a farmer accused of murder.

Image Source: Photo by Marc ROUSSEL

1.1 Trial of a Witch

Courtois’ next case involves defending a villager named Jeannine Martin (played by Harriet Walter) who is accused of witchcraft. Courtois seems confident of securing an acquittal. In this witchcraft case the film plucks out a line of defence used in a real-life sixteenth century animal law suit.

1.11 Bartholomew Chassenée & Rats in Court

There was a case heard in 1522 before the ecclesiastical court in Autun, in the region of Burgundy, France where Bartholomew Chassenée (1480-1540) acted as counsel for rats charged with destroying the local barley-crop. Ecclesiastical courts heard cases involving undomesticated or wild animals that caused harm to communities.

There were complex theological ideas associated with the role and influence of undomesticated animals on communities. Prosecutors and advocates alike would argue the toss about possible divine or malevolent supernatural acts using animals as instruments. In the “logic” of medieval and Renaissance thought it was taken as a “given” that animals were created by God (Genesis 1). Thus when the biblical narrative was taken into account it was understood that animals had a right to exist alongside humans. There was a nascent recognition that undomesticated animals had certain kinds of “rights” conferred on them by God as creator, so the theological underpinning was based in the doctrine of creation. From the standpoint of an ecclesiastical court, animals could not be arbitrarily eradicated because the doctrine of creation had considerable bearing on the problem.

Animals, like the rats who ate the barley-crop, may have been sent by God as agents of punishment for human sinfulness. Then again, as demonology was taken as a serious reality, animals might also be unwittingly influenced by the power of the Devil for malicious and mischievous attacks. The ecclesiastical courts had to adjudicate on cases to determine if the hand of divine judgment was evident or if spiritual malevolence was apparent. It is worth noting in passing that not all ecclesiastical trials ended up in condemnatory judgments against animals. Accused species were sometimes acquitted. Much more can be said on this juridical and theological subject but that task is set aside for a different post.

Chassenée used a legal manoeuvre to explain why all rats in the afflicted diocese would need to be summoned to appear in court but then as proceedings developed he explained that their failure to answer the summons was on the grounds that a court summons is supposed to ensure the accused have a safe journey to court. The rats, he argued, had declined to attend court owing to the fact no safe passage was available due to fear of the local cat population.

1.2 Courtois Loses the Case

Courtois uses a similar manoeuvre to that of Chassenée and argues for a dismissal of charges against Jeannine bewitching mice. The court is persuaded by Courtois’ legal gambit and dismisses the specific charges involving bewitched mice.

Nevertheless, much to Courtois’ horror his client is still condemned as being guilty of witchcraft. Courtois evidently imagined that his argument concerning the summons for mice would yield a complete acquittal for Jeannine. Courtois’ blunder prompts his legal opponent, the prosecutor Pincheon (played by Donald Pleasence), to politely point out that he has much to learn about the provincial legal code which differs from the Parisian civil law code that he had been trained in.

At Jeannine’s execution she prophesies that a knight will come one day to the village and recompense all evil. Her prophecy is fulfilled at the very end of the story when a knight arrives, collapses, and when his armour is removed his body is carrying a contagious plague.

1.3 Trial of the Pig

Image Source: Frontispiece to E. P. Evans, The Criminal Prosecution and Capital Punishment of Animals (London: Heinemann, 1906).

The main law suit that occupies the rest of the story concerns a pig accused of murdering and eating a Jewish boy. It is loosely based on a trial of a sow and six piglets in 1457 at Lavegny that were accused of murdering and eating a five year old boy named Jehan Martin (note the similarity of the boy’s name with that of the woman in the film who is accused of witchcraft).

A number of sub-plots conjoin as the trial of the pig comes to the forefront. At the outset, Courtois declines to represent the pig’s owners, a brother and sister who are Moors (typecast as despised persons much like Gypsies). As intrigue swirls around the dead child and the accused pig, Courtois harbours suspicions that point to the vested interests of the local feudal power-broker the Seigneur Jehan d’Auferre (played by Nicol Williamson). The Seigneur has a daughter and a son both of whom show clear signs of mental instability. For example, the adult son derives pleasure from torturing birds.

Through a chain of events Courtois discovers there is another child corpse, and he comes to believe that there is a serial killer in the district. Courtois is convinced that the Seigneur’s son is the culprit and confronts the Seigneur. The Seigneur, who appears to be enmeshed in a cultic network of underground believers in the Gnostic Cathar heresy, acknowledges that his son is a murderer but has already dispatched him to live abroad. At the trial, the pig is exonerated as being falsely accused because a farmer (Courtois’ first client) gives testimony that it was another pig and not the one on trial.

At different times in the story, Courtois has conversations or brief encounters with Albertus the priest (Ian Holm) and with the prosecutor Pincheon (played by Donald Pleasence). Albertus maintains the surface appearance of being a pious priest but he is sceptical about village ignorance and church-based superstition, and is not averse to flouting his vows on celibacy. Pincheon is an older man who sees something of himself in Courtois. He tells Courtois that it would be better if he went back to work in Paris. Pincheon had come many years earlier holding to similar ideals as those of Courtois but has realised that the village is far from idyllic.

After the trial of the pig is dismissed, the film draws to an end with Courtois and his clerk Mathieu in a horse-drawn carriage leaving Abbéville. The plague-infected knight arrives in the village thus fulfilling the prophecy of the condemned witch Jeannine Martin.

The overall direction given to the actors has yielded, as might be expected, some strong character acting from Colin Firth, Ian Holm, Donald Pleasance, Nicol Wiliamson, Harriet Walters, and Michael Gough, and other cast members. Courtois has a keen mind accompanied by an arrogant attitude towards people of lower class standing and lesser intelligence. There is incipient corruption in the institutions of the village and dreadful ethical compromises made by the characters when forced into the horns of a dilemma. There is some good attention to the period costumes, the music, and creating an atmosphere that brims with brutality, intrigue, obvious poor hygiene, and sheer bawdy humour. The story is unlikely to have an enduring broad appeal although fans of particular actors will doubtless enjoy their performances, and it will be of interest for those who have a vested interest in historical period-pieces and in animal rights issues. Nevertheless, some discernment is needed about modern attitudes of incredulity toward the period of the film and of the story’s accuracy concerning technical points about the trials.


Image Source:

An effort has been made by the screenplay writer to name characters that fits the period in which the film is set. Mathieu (Jim Carter’s character) is the French name for Matthew. Other names point us to or remind us of some well-known figures in different periods of medieval history. Mention has already been made of the accused witch Jeannine Martin and the real-life case in 1457 of the boy Jehan Martin who was killed by the sow.

The magistrate is named Boniface which reminds us of the Wessex-born eighth century missionary to the Germans, St. Boniface (c. 680-754). The priest played by Ian Holm is named Albertus, and the thirteenth century teacher of the medieval theologian Thomas Aquinas was St. Albertus Magnus (Albert the Great) (c.1206-1280).


In both versions, the film’s pre-credit opens with the villagers gathered together to witness the hanging of a man and an ass that have been prosecuted and condemned for bestiality. On the scaffold stands the condemned man named Roger Landrier and the ass, the executioner, Albertus the priest (Ian Holm), and Magistrate Boniface (Michael Gough). Boniface reads out the criminal sentence of the civil court.

Just before the execution occurs a monk rushes forward calling for a stay of proceedings and hands a written petition to Boniface. The petitioners’ plea is that the ass was an innocent and unwilling victim. Boniface reads the petition, and then announces that the ass is not guilty and may be released. The villagers applaud. The priest Albertus gives the last rites and the condemned man Landrier is hung. Perhaps some viewers of the film interpret this scene as gallows humour that presumably is meant to typify the remainder of the story.

The pre-credit village scene may reflect a trial (but not the same outcome) at Montpellier in 1565 that involved a man and mule condemned for bestiality.


After this scene there is a slight difference between the two versions of the movie. In The Hour of the Pig  there is a brief written caption for the British and European audiences that simply states:

In medieval France animals were subject to the same legal processes as human beings, including trial in a court of law. This story is based on real life cases.

This succinct text is less susceptible to conveying immediate prejudicial impressions to the viewing audience about the historical period in which the story is told. Perhaps this points to film-production strategies about how the modern European audience would respond to The Hour of the Pig. Perhaps some Europeans are much more in touch with their continental history, or the concise statements simply do not require elaboration once the word “medieval” is used.

It is certainly in great contrast to the extended text contained in The Advocate which was distributed by Miramax for audiences in the United States of America. The Advocate presents a scrolling text:

France – 15th Century, the dark ages …

The people were still gripped by ignorance and superstition, mortally afraid of the power of Satan, expecting God’s punishment – the plague that was sweeping Europe.

In such uncertain times the Church, the State and the Law should have been the guiding lights, but the Church was some-times as corrupt as the State.

The local Lords, the Seigneurs, ruled with cruel self-interest and justice was reciprocated by a somewhat confused legal profession.

Each region had its own laws, but all had one extraordinary provision …

Animals were subject to the same civil laws as human beings. They could be prosecuted and tried in a court of law.

Unbelievable as it may seem, all cases shown in this film are based on historical fact.


4.1 Factual Text or Propaganda?

The longer pre-credit text in The Advocate ostensibly explains to the viewing audience the historical backdrop to the story. Even though the story is a piece of historical fiction the film-maker nevertheless says that the animal law cases are “based on historical fact”.

Elements from some historical cases of the prosecution of animals have assuredly been used to tell the story. However, The Advocate’s pre-credit text, coupled with several other incidental elements of the story, contain historical anachronisms.

A few moments of reflection will enable us to see that the message conveyed in the pre-credit text is not a straight-forward piece of information. It sets up negative impressions for the audience to prejudge the era even before the fictitious story has been told. We do not simply have an entertaining story or even a reflective story that encourages viewers to discover a moral message learned from history.

The text carries forward to the audience an implied train of thought contrasting between “us” (today) and “them” (the fifteenth century).

Modern incredulity is embedded in the text but surfaces particularly in the last sentence of the pre-credit, “Unbelievable as it may seem, all cases shown in this film are based on historical fact.” Why should it seem “unbelievable” that animals were once prosecuted in European history, unless one is already being a tad scornful, or tacitly admitting considerable ignorance about a past era?

Moreover, it should be noted that punishment of animals via legal proceedings did not originate in the Church or in medieval Europe. Medieval and Renaissance Europe was not the only cultural context in which such trials have happened. Earlier precedents can be found in classical Greece, and other examples are found in various non-European cultures such as the ancient Near Eastern world, colonial America, India, the Congo, the Malacca of Malaysia, and the Maori of New Zealand.

Of course, most people forming the audience of the film The Advocate at the time of its release in the cinema would have had no prior historical knowledge about animals being prosecuted. So it undoubtedly would seem “unbelievable” to a largely uninformed audience.

How the audience responds to that message prompt and then to the story is another thing. Some probably share the prejudice that people in medieval times were prone to believing in all kinds of “nonsense”. There are customer video reviews on some websites where questions about the prosecution of animals are raised.

Others, it seems, have simply had a jolly old laugh by construing the motion-picture as being primarily an example of “black comedy“, that it is a form of gallows humour. Some of the bawdy elements of the story probably help to reinforce that impression of a black comedy. One can see this in comments of some customer reviews at Amazon and at the popular film-review site Rotten Tomatoes.

4.2 Edward Payson Evans’ Influence

Then there is a second layer to the incredulity that a smaller segment of the audience would mutually agree upon. Some members of the legal profession and other non-lawyer participants in animal rights causes are aware that animals were once prosecuted.

In English-speaking contexts most seem to have formed an understanding on this subject after reading the work of Edward Payson Evans (1831-1917). Evans initially wrote two articles about the phenomenon of animal law suits and these were published in the Atlantic Monthly in August and September 1884. Both articles formed the basis of two chapters in his subsequent book released in 1906, The Criminal Prosecution and Capital Punishment of Animals.

Evans’ book is clearly one of the major sources standing behind the screenplay of The Advocate.

In recent decades, animal rights lawyers, and some scholars in other disciplines, have written academic journal articles about animal law trials. As might be expected, Evans’ book is regarded as an authoritative text that they invariably turn to. Piers Bierne (1994: 28) says of the book’s status that it “occupies a pivotal role in the small English-language literature devoted to the subject.”

Evans was of Welsh extraction raised in a Presbyterian household in nineteenth century USA. He seems to have embraced some of the intellectual scepticism of his day, particularly regarding the historiography of the medieval period. For example, he translated into English the two-volume work The Life and Works of Lessing.

Evans’ critical attitude on medieval animal law suits is reflected in his vocabulary (1906:12):

The judicial prosecution of animals, resulting in their excommunication by the Church or their execution by the hangman, had its origin in the common superstition of the age.

Evans speaks of “the common superstition of the age”, and that remark is the colour filter through which the medieval world and animal trials are then interpreted.

While not all current scholarship necessarily follows all of Evans’ theoretical explanations about “why” animals were prosecuted, nevertheless his late nineteenth century sceptical incredulity endures.

4.21 Lawyers & Scholars since Evans

In the years following the release of The Advocate, legal scholarship persists with the theme that animal law suits are bizarre. Paul Schiff Berman (1994: 290) notes the “weirdness” but also tempers this with some wise caution:

It would be impossible to discover with any certainty the reasons for this seemingly irrational custom. No doubt the motivations–psychological, economic, religious–varied from community to community, and from one social class to another. Nevertheless, it would be unwise to dismiss the animal trials as the unenlightened custom of a bygone era.

Another much more recent example is in Katie Sykes’ (2011:274) essay when she introduces the subject by saying:

It is about a historical practice that seems like far-fetched fiction.

Melodie Slabbert (2004: 160) picks up the impression of the “strangeness” of animal law trials:

What appears to have been acceptable acts in these times are today seen as puzzling and bizarre. It is strange that in the case of these animal trials, guilt (both in a moral and juridical sense) appears to have been attributed to these animals … It is indeed strange that intellectuals in late medieval and early modern Europe regarded acts such as filing a suit against mice, or officially punishing pigs by the hangmen of local towns, as perfectly reasonable.

Just like Sykes’ brief comment, Slabbert’s introductory remarks in her essay points to the “strangeness” of medieval intellectuals who had deemed it “reasonable” to prosecute animals. Embedded in these quotations are thoughts that illustrate the problem raised by the historian Darren Oldridge. Animal law suits only seem “strange” to us largely because we today are hopelessly unfamiliar with the “logic” of medieval thought and society. To which it might be added that sadly fewer and fewer undergraduate students in law enrol in elective courses on jurisprudence or devote much time to the study of legal history.

4.3 The Book of Days

It seems to be a “forgotten truth” that in the second half of the nineteenth century The Book of Days was a popular two-volume compendium of older cultural curiosities. It was compiled by Robert Chambers (1802-1871), first published in 1863 and reprinted many times.

In volume one, the entry for January 17 includes an article, “St Anthony and the Pigs: Legal Prosecutions of the Lower Animals” (pp 126-129). Chambers pointed out that animals came under different legal jurisdictions depending on whether they were domesticated or wild:

On the Continent, down to a comparatively late period, the lower animals were in all respects considered amenable to the laws. Domestic animals were tried in the common criminal courts, and their punishment on conviction was death; wild animals fell under the jurisdiction of the ecclesiastical courts, and their punishment was banishment and death by exorcism and excommunication. (p 126)

Book of Days 1869 edition p 128.

Chambers also drew attention to Chassenée’s rat case (pp 127-128), and also to the trial of the pig in 1457. Chambers had an artist draw a scene about the pig’s trial which appears on page 128. Chambers remarks: “Our artist has endeavoured to represent this scene; but we fear that his sense of the ludicrous has incapacitated him for giving it with the due solemnity” (p 128).

As The Book of Days (1863) enjoyed wide circulation as a popular compendium, it can be inferred that some general knowledge about animal law suits was within the public domain of Britain more than two decades before Evans had his articles published in the Atlantic Monthly (1884), and over forty years before Evan’s full-length investigation was published in 1906. Evans’ scholastic scorn about the prosecution of animals in earlier times was clearly matched beforehand in the wider public domain.

It is worth keeping The Book of Days in mind in light of the sub-title of Hampton Carson’s essay in 1917: “A little known chapter of Medieval Jurisprudence”; and again Bierne’s essay abstract (1994:27), “I address a little-known chapter in the lengthy history of crimes against (nonhuman) animals.” From 1917 to 1994 we have the same point echoed that the animal law trials are “little-known”. How out-of-touch it seems both writers are with The Book of Days, a popular nineteenth century source that recounted some animal trials! Needless to say there is greater remoteness on the part of people writing today from the primary sources written in Latin from the medieval and Renaissance eras on the subject.

4.4 Latin, Anyone?

Everyone writing today about animal trials relies on what Evans has written. Evans was an accomplished linguist and he quite rightly referred to earlier French and Latin sources. Nevertheless, I have yet to see a present-day legal scholar going back directly to the sources that Evans’ consulted. Instead current day legal discussions about the animal trials come to us mediated through the filter of Evans’ book. The lack of modern critical editions of these French and Latin primary sources being translated into English is a telling point. Thus Chassenée’s own work (A Treatise on the Excommunication of Insects; published thrice during the sixteenth century) remains to this day untranslated from the Latin.

 4.5 Trial numbers

It should also be kept in mind that the number of the known recorded law suits involving animals is about two hundred or so in total. This spans a very lengthy period stretching from the Middle Ages (A. D. 824 ecclesiastical court in Aosta Valley, northern Italy) right up to 1906 (civil court in Switzerland).

The figure needs to be kept in mind to avoid creating exaggerated perceptions that possibly many thousands of animals were executed by the Church in medieval times. To which it must also be kept in mind that law suits against individual animals still took place in the civil (not ecclesiastical) courts in parts of Europe in  the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, and as noted right up to 1906 in Switzerland.


To the minds of almost everyone living in the centuries when animal law trials were held there was a clear societal, theological, metaphysical, and jurisprudential “logic” operating that made the trials “normative” for the times.

Of course it can be pointed out that there were a few critical eyebrows raised about prosecuting animals, one of which was the thirteenth century Dominican priest and theologian Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274).

Here we encounter Oldridge’s fundamental point that “when we have little understanding of the beliefs of another society, many of the acts that routinely occur within it may strike us as absurd.” The era of fifteenth century France is deliberately typecast in the pre-credit text as a time when people were generally superstitious and ignorant. They were “unenlightened” which stands in contrast to how “enlightened” we must be today.


The longer pre-credit text for The Advocate presents selected morsels of information about the broad period known as the Middle Ages. However, the vocabulary used employs rhetoric to express late-twentieth century incredulity about the Middle Ages.

6.1 Dark Ages an Anachronism

The first problem in The Advocate’s pre-credit text is describing fifteenth century France as the “dark ages.”

The term “dark ages” probably conjures up at a popular level today images of an era characterised by superstition and ignorance and a lack of scientific knowledge. The term might reinforce a smugness on our part when comparing our “sophisticated” time with the “ignorance” and “superstition” of an earlier age.

The expression was originally coined by the Italian Cardinal Caesar Baronius in 1602 to refer to patterns of events discerned in the tenth and eleventh centuries.

Later, it became common to refer to the period spanning from the collapse of the Roman Empire until the rise of the Italian Renaissance as the “dark ages.” In other words that long era in European history spanning from the sixth century to the thirteenth century.

In terms of historiography, the “dark ages” once signified that the surviving written sources from the early Middle Ages were limited and scant. Among professional historians today, however, the term “dark ages” has been discarded, especially as a much greater depth of understanding now exists about the medieval world.

So The Advocate’s pre-credit uses a term that is (a) anachronistic (b) discredited and (c) fallen out of usage among professional historians because it is not a helpful descriptive term for understanding the medieval period.

The medieval world is not allowed to speak for itself on its own terms and within its own social “logic” but rather is filtered to us through the prejudices of the film-maker. A value-judgment is made at the start of the film about the period in which the story is set, and the pre-credit message seeks to both impart and to reinforce a negative impression to the audience.

6.2 Plague as an Anachronism

The second problem in The Advocate’s pre-credit concerns the plague. The pre-credit message also alludes to the fear of divine retribution via “plague”. At the close of the film a plague-infected knight arrives in the village. One could allow some leeway in that there was good reason to be fearful about outbreaks of plague, and people did interpret the plague as a sign of divine punishment.

The drawback with the pre-credit text and with the diseased knight in the story is that the year is 1452 (fifteenth century). However, the “Black Death” plague that decimated the population of Europe actually occurred one hundred years earlier in the fourteenth century and hit its peak in the years 1348-1350. Other kinds of plague broke out in different parts of Europe in the seventeenth century. Abbéville does not appear to have been affected by any known outbreaks of plague during the mid-fifteenth century.

6.3 Creative Licence & Muddled Law-Suits

According to the extra chapters on the DVD of The Advocate, the fictional lawyer Richard Courtois is based on the French jurist Bartholomew Chassenée. However, it needs to be kept clearly in mind that Chassenée was born in 1480 almost thirty years later than the story in The Advocate. Chassenée’s role as an advocate for animals involved cases heard before the ecclesiastical courts in France from 1500-1530.Aside from that anachronism, the film muddies the waters at a technical level concerning the law suits. The real case about the rats and the fictional case about Jeannine’s witchcraft were dealing with very different crimes. In other words, Chassenée’s case defending the rats was not about a law suit involving people charged with witchcraft.

Chassenée’s case was argued in an ecclesiastical court. Courtois argues cases in a civil or secular court. The film takes two different categories of historical crimes, and merges cases from two different jurisdictions (ecclesiastical and civil courts). Some creative licence is allowable for a film but we must recall that the story filters information. We are entitled to be mildly sceptical about the film’s pre-credit claim that all the cases told are “based on historical fact.” Yes, there are historical elements but the trial of Jeannine Martin is not a strictly accurate adaptation of one particular animal law trial.


Eric Sharpe observed in Understanding Religion (1983: 16) that “it cannot have escaped the notice of today’s educationalists that very many students no longer acknowledge the Judaeo-Christian tradition as a positive element in western society.” Sharpe recognised that all too-often people today make instant and dismissive judgments about past epochs that are little understood by those who scornfully dismiss them.

Sharpe insisted that undergraduate students must strive to genuinely understand history and religions on their own terms and in their own contexts before taking any further steps in critical analysis. He illustrated this with the reactions he often encountered among contemporary undergraduate students who had had some personal background in the Christian church:

Even the study of the Judaeo-Christian past does not absolve the student from the exercise of imaginative sympathy. When ordinary Christian students find it almost impossible to enter imaginatively into the Christianity of a hundred years ago, which they dismiss with a phrase such as ‘Victorian smugness’ or ‘imperialistic arrogance’, and decline to study more closely, is it not likely that the same difficulty will present itself magnified a thousandfold when the time comes to examine Christian origins or the Protestant reformation? One suspects in both these cases that what is being studied is less the first or the sixteenth century than the impression which each has left on the mind of the twentieth. (1983: 16-17).

Sharpe’s remarks could equally apply to the way in which today’s film-makers, lawyers and law-students should exercise great care in examining the history and the jurisprudence of Europe’s animal law trials.


Paul Schiff Berman (1994). “Rats, Pigs and Statues on Trial: The Creation of Cultural Narratives in the Prosecution of Animals and Inanimate Objects,” New York University Law Review 69: 288-326.

Piers Bierne (1994). “The Law Is An Ass: Reading E. P. Evans’ The Medieval Prosecution and Capital Punishment of Animals.Society and Animals 2: 27-46.

Robert Chambers ed. (1869). The Book of Days. A Miscellany of Popular Antiquities in connection with The Calendar, 2 Vols. (London and Edinburgh: W & R. Chambers).

Darren Oldridge (2007). Strange Histories: The trial of the pig, the walking dead, and other matters of fact from the medieval and Renaissance worlds (London and New York: Routledge).

Eric J. Sharpe (1983). Understanding Religion (London: Duckworth).

Melodie Slabbert (2004). “Prosecuting Animals in Medieval Europe: Possible Explanations.” Fundamina: A Journal of Legal History 10: 159-179.

Katie Sykes (2011). “Human Drama, Animal Trials: What The Medieval Animal Trials Can Teach Us About Justice For Animals.”   Animal Law 17: 273-311.


Paul Schiff Berman, “Rats, Pigs and Statues on Trial: The Creation of Cultural Narratives in the Prosecution of Animals and Inanimate Objects,” New York University Law Review 69 (1994): 288-326.

Paul Schiff Berman, “An Observation and a Strange but True ‘Tale’: What Might the Historical Trials of Animals Tell Us About the Transformative Potential of Law in American Culture?” Hastings Law Review 52 (2000): 123-178.

Piers Bierne, “The Law Is An Ass: Reading E. P. Evans’ The Medieval Prosecution and Capital Punishment of Animals,” Society and Animals 2 (1994): 27-46.

Gerald Carlson, Men, Beasts, and Gods: A History of Cruelty and Kindness to Animals (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1972).

Hampton L. Carson, “The Trial of Animals and Insects. A Little Known Chapter of Medieval Jurisprudence,” Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society 56 (1971): 410-415.

Esther Cohen, “Law, Folklore and Animal Lore,” Past and Present 110 (1986): 6-37.

Peter Dinzelbacher, “Animal Trials: A Multidisciplinary Approach,” Journal of Interdisciplinary History 22 (2002): 405-421.

Edward Payson Evans, “Bugs and Beasts before The Law,” The Atlantic Monthly, Vol. 54 (August 1884): 235-246.

Edward Payson Evans, “Mediaeval and Modern Punishment,” The Atlantic Monthly Vol. 54 (September 1884): 302-308.

Edward Payson Evans, The Criminal Prosecution and Capital Punishment of Animals (New York: E. P. Dutton, 1906/London: William Heinemann, 1906).

Jacob J. Finkelstein, “The Goring Ox: Some Historical Perspectives on Deodands, Forfeitures, Wrongful Death and the Western Notion of Sovereignty,” Temple Law Quarterly 46 (Winter 1973): 169-290.

Jacob J. Finkelstein, The Ox That Gored, Transactions of the American Philosophical Society 71 Part 2 (1981) (Philadelphia: American Philosophical Society).

Jen Girgen, “The Historical and Contemporary Prosecution and Punishment of Animals,” Animal Law 9 (2003): 97-103.

Bernard S. Jackson, “The Goring Ox,” in Essays in Jewish and Comparative Legal History, vol. 10, Studies in Judaism in Late Antiquity, ed. Jacob Neusner (Leiden: Brill, 1975), 108-152.

Bernard S. Jackson, “Liability For Animals in Scottish Legal Literature: From The Auld Lawes to the Sixteenth Century,” The Irish Jurist 10 NS (1975): 334-351.

Bernard S. Jackson, “Liability For Animals in Roman Law: An Historical Sketch,” Cambridge Law Journal 37 (1978): 122-143.

Philip Jamieson, “Animal Liability in Early Law,” The Cambrian Law Review 19 (1988): 45-68.

Geoffrey MacCormack, “On Thing-Liability (Sachhaftung) in Early Law,” The Irish Jurist 19 (NS) (1984): 322-349.

Melodie Slabbert, “Prosecuting Animals in Medieval Europe: Possible ExplanationsFundamina: A Journal of Legal History 10 (2004): 159-179.

Katie Sykes, “Human Drama, Animal Trials: What The Medieval Animal Trials Can Teach Us About Justice For Animals,”   Animal Law 17 (2011): 273-311.

Animals and Prophecy: The Forgotten Contributions of G. H. Pember and George N. H. Peters (Part One)

N.B. The following text in this blog-post Animals and Prophecy: The Forgotten Contributions of G. H. Pember and George N. H. Peters (Part One) is Copyright © 2012 Philip Johnson.




The fulfilment of biblical prophecy about the new earth (Isaiah 65:17-25; 2 Peter 3:13; Revelation 21-22) is a theological subject that does concern animals. In different epochs of church history there have been theologians who have had no hesitation in affirming that animals are indeed redeemed and resurrected and included in the new earth.

Among the pre-twentieth century voices who affirmed some kind of restoration to life for animals we find Irenaeus (c.130-202), Tertullian (c.160-225), John Bradford (1510-1555), Richard Overton (1599-1664), Thomas Draxe (died 1618), Matthew Henry (1662-1714), John Hildrop (1682-1756), Thomas Hodges (died 1688), Bishop Joseph Butler (1692-1752), John Wesley (1703-1791), Augustus Montague Toplady (1740-1778), Richard Dean (1726-1778), William Paley (1743-1805), Francis Orpen Morris (1810-1893), Sabine Baring-Gould (1834-1924), and George MacDonald (1824-1905).

In light of this distinguished “hall of fame” of theologians, philosophers, clergy and Christian apologists, Joseph Hamilton (1877: x-xi) stated:

Some of the ablest apologists for the Christian religion, have in many instances mooted, and in others confidently advocated, the future life of animals.

However, this topic is often treated in an uneven fashion in some contemporary theological works about animals. Similarly, some historians have either overlooked or under-emphasized this aspect of theology in their narratives about past Christian attitudes toward animals.

I propose to look at the forgotten contributions of two nineteenth century theologians who were contemporaries of each other: George Hawkins Pember (Brethren, England: 1836-1910) and George N. H. Peters (Lutheran, USA: 1825-1909). Before I look at their contributions I feel that a number of background points about the Bible, theology and church history should be made.


A comprehensive theology about animals needs to go beyond the doctrine of creation, and certain aspects of Christology — such as the crucifixion of Christ as a theodicy for animal suffering and also as a cosmic atonement. Some theologians also refer to the place of animals in the final consummation of all things (i.e. eschatology). Those who take up eschatology explore to what extent animals may be redeemed via the atonement. Some propose that animal redemption occurs as a form of divine compensation for the suffering that animals endure in this life. Others do not accept the divine compensation perspective but rather see the redemption of animals as arising out of an effect of the atonement.

David Clough’s On Animals: Volume One: Systematic Theology (London: T & T Clark, 2012) offers interesting food for thought. Clough develops an argument by exploring animals through the theological categories of creation, incarnation, atonement and redemption. His remarks about redemption reflects a positive and encouraging conviction about animals being resurrected. He also discusses the perspectives taken by John Hildrop and John Wesley regarding animal redemption. However, I will refrain from reviewing his book here and shall reserve that task for a separate post.

For the purpose of this post though I merely note that he has not referred to either Pember or Peters.

The “Great Omission”: Christ’s Resurrection

It can be legitimately argued that animal theology is a fairly recent and distinct category for serious and extensive reflection. As the horizons are wide and the discipline is in its infancy, theologians might be graciously excused for any omissions in their work to date. I am willing to accept that the discipline is in a pioneering phase and that colleagues in theology face a huge task in developing and deepening the field.

However, even allowing the pioneering theologians some “grace”, I perceive a serious and conspicuous “omission” in animal theology. The “great omission” is that the resurrection of Christ is either under-emphasized or not even mentioned. I believe this omission mirrors the paucity of works about resurrection theology generally.

I. Howard Marshall (2008: 244) observes:

It is a remarkable fact that there are many monographs on the theology of the death of Christ but very few by comparison on the theology of his resurrection.

The extent to which contemporary theologians in general take the resurrection for granted and fail to bring it to the foreground has drawn the critical ire of the Australian Roman Catholic theologian Anthony Kelly (2008: ix-x):

Our present hope in the face of all the challenges of life, suffering and death, is an effect of the resurrection. Unless that had happened, hope would be at best be a repressive optimism, or an accomodation to routine despair. But the effect of the resurrection is to see the world and to live in it otherwise … In fact it is so taken for granted that the originality of the resurrection’s effect on the life of faith can be forgotten. What originally made all the difference gradually becomes a remote presupposition, only vaguely affecting the way we understand God, ourselves and the world itself.

Centrality of Resurrection

The resurrection is the central theme in all of the apostolic sermons included in the Acts of the Apostles. The message reiterated in Acts again and again is about the transformative power of the risen Christ. Atonement theology does not exist in the Acts sermons. When the Atonement and Justification are reflected on theologically, this occurs via the prism of Christ’s resurrection. So, the apostles’ interpretation is that the power and meaning of the cross derives from the resurrection.

Without the resurrection there would be no gospel message. It is the blunt point made by Paul: unless Christ has been raised then there is no forgiveness for sin (1 Corinthians 15: 12-19). If Christ’s story ends at the cross then this is mere religious martyrdom and there is no atonement.

It is curious that the place of the resurrection in its connection to the cross and atonement is not always given proper consideration. It is evident in Paul’s thinking that justification involves a seamless reality of cross and resurrection: hence he wrote that Christ was raised for our justification (Romans 4:25).

Resurrection as the Axle for Animal Theology

The redemption of creation and animals comes through that same prism of the centrality of Christ’s resurrection. Theology for animals simply must have Christ’s resurrection as its central axis.

The resurrection supplies theologians with the vantage point from which to view everything — looking backwards to Genesis and forwards to the new earth.

Animal theology is incomplete without Christ’s resurrection because both the meaning and hope of creation’s redemption and the resurrection of animals are encompassed by it.

Some contemporary theologians pick up the theme of the redemption of animals in eschatology but oddly enough very few seem to discuss in any detail its theological lynchpin: Christ’s resurrection from the dead. Eschatology presupposes Christ’s resurrection but it is curious that very few theologians writing about animals make much of a link from eschatology back to Christ’s resurrection.

Christ being raised from the dead is described by the apostle Paul as the “first-fruits” of a future harvest (1 Corinthians 15: 20-23). Unless one is able to affirm the centrality of Christ’s resurrection in animal theology, then it is difficult to see how one can meaningfully sustain a theology about eschatology (let alone the inclusion of animals within that eschatology).

One of the transforming effects of Christ’s resurrection is that the creation will indeed be renewed. Christ’s resurrection is the theological lynchpin that guarantees the final transformation of creation. The redemption and resurrection of animals hinges on the centrality, reality and cosmic effects of Christ’s resurrection.

For more discussion on resurrection theology see Ross Clifford & Philip Johnson, The Cross Is Not Enough: Living as Witnesses to the Resurrection (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2012) and co-authors’ related book-blog.

A transformed earth

Biblical passages that specifically foreshadow a renewed world when the reign of God is fully realised at the end of time include: the wolf and lamb are at peace with each other (Isaiah 11:6-9; Isaiah 65:17-25); the glorified city of Jerusalem “will be like villages without walls because of the multitude of people and animals in it” (Zechariah 2:4); the transformation of the groaning creation (Romans 8:17-22) involves the liberation of both righteous believers and all creatures; the New Jersualem is on a new earth and it is where God dwells forever with his people in a healed creation (Revelation 21-22).

Paul’s passage about the deliverance of the creation (Romans 8:17-22) is interwoven with his theology of the resurrection. Paul uses apocalyptic language even though the epistle is not written in the genre of apocalyptic writings. The apocalyptic language should remind readers of the centrality of the resurrection. As N. T. Wright (2003: 241) has remarked:

Romans is suffused with resurrection. Squeeze this letter at any point, and resurrection spills out; hold it up to the light, and you can see Easter sparkling all the way through.


The release of creation from its bondage into a transformed creation hinges on Christ’s resurrection. Hiding in the general background out of which Paul wrote this passage was a whole tradition of extra-biblical Jewish thought about Noah and the Flood story. Proper discussion of Paul’s teaching though must be reserved for another post.

I will continue this discussion in some further posts and that will include examining animals and prophecy through the forgotten contributions of Pember and Peters.

Quoted sources:

Joseph Hamilton (1877). Animal Futurity: A Plea For the Immortality of the Brutes (Belfast: C. Aitchison. London: Simpkin, Marshall & Co. Edinburgh: John Menzies).

Anthony J. Kelly (2008). The Resurrection Effect: Transforming Christian Life and Thought (Maryknoll: Orbis, 2008).

I. Howard Marshall (2008). “Raised for our Justification: The Saving Significance of the Resurrection of Christ,” in Tough-Minded Christianity: Honoring the Legacy of John Warwick Montgomery, ed. William Dembski & Thomas Schirrmacher (Nashville: B & H Academic).

N. T. Wright (2003). The Resurrection of the Son of God (Minneapolis: Fortress).

St. Basil’s “Animal Prayers” are a “Hoax” (Part Seven)

St. Basil’s “Animal Prayers” are a “Hoax” (Part Seven).

Icon of St. Basil

Image source:

To read the earlier portions of this work see Part One (here), Part Two (here), Part Three (here), Part Four (here), Part Five (here), and Part Six (here).

N.B. The following text in this blog-post St. Basil’s “Animal Prayers” are a “Hoax” Part Seven is Copyright © 2012 Philip Johnson.


This series of seven posts has looked at the claim that two prayers for animals were composed by St. Basil the Great. The claim has been made in many books that advocate a generous spirit and good ethical consideration of animals. The Internet is chock-a-block full of websites and blogs reproducing the prayers and attributing them to St. Basil.

The truth is that neither prayer originates with St. Basil or from the liturgies of the Eastern Orthodox Churches. As I pointed out in Part Six, one prayer was actually published in 1910 and was written by the liberal Baptist theologian Walter Rauschenbusch. The other prayer surfaced during World War One as part of a wider litany in services held on the battle fronts of Europe.

How could academics — Christian and non-Christian alike — and (not overlooking mass-market authors too) be so easily swept up in making claims about these two prayers coming from St. Basil when the evidence contradicts the claims?

I would like to wrap up this series with some reflections and lessons that we can all take to heart. I would also acknowledge here that some of my findings parallel the 2010 forum discussion among some Eastern Orthodox believers on checking the sources of the St. Basil prayers (click here).

Tessa (1999-present). Photo Copyright © 2012 Philip Johnson.


I am not calling for a boycott on using either prayer. What I have pointed out is that the reputation of the positive ethical case for animals is marred when a literary house of cards is used to advance the cause. Further to this, we dishonour the memory of St. Basil, and we inadvertently bear-false witness about him when we misattribute the prayers to his authorship. The mundane truth is that both prayers were composed during the second decade of the twentieth-century.


As I have stated in previous posts, too many authors have been engaged in a circular process of cross-quoting each other for the texts of the prayers and failed to check if the prayers are in any primary sources.  This rather dubious and very lazy habit reflects poor information-retrieval work. It is a problem abounding in mass-market publications, academic books and journals, and has also gone unchecked by examiners of doctoral dissertations.The net effect is that a literary house of cards has been erected because nobody has bothered to check the claims about the authenticity of both prayers by reading the known works of St. Basil and checking the various versions of the Liturgy of St Basil.

[Left: Title page from a “forgotten” author on animals and the afterlife: Peter Buchan, Scriptural & Philosophical Arguments; or, Cogent Proofs from Reason and Revelation that Brutes have Souls and that their Souls are Immortal, London, 1824].


Some Christians have argued that these prayers of St. Basil demonstrate that the early church had a very generous and kind ethic toward animals. This constitutes part of a counter-criticism that Christians have occasionally used in reply to the negative criticisms that have come in the late 1960s from the late medieval professor Lynn Townsend White, and in the 1970s from the utilitarian ethicist Peter Singer .

Others who have echoed to varying degrees some of these criticisms of Christianity include animal rights lawyers such as Steven J. Bartlett and Steven Wise, the English journalist Antony Brown, and past-president of RSPCA Australia Dr Hugh Wirth.

Peter Singer stands at the harsh end of the spectrum in his criticisms of the Bible:

Here is a myth to make human beings feel their supremacy and their power. Man alone is made in the image of God. Man alone is given dominion over all the animals and told to subdue the earth. (Peter Singer, “Prologue: Ethics and the New Animal Liberation Movement” In Defence of Animals ed. Peter Singer Oxford: Blackwell, 1985, pp 2-3.)

At the softer end of the spectrum the journalist Antony Brown poses the rhetorical question, “For had not God, in the Book of Genesis, ordained that man should have mastery of all creation?” (Antony Brown, Who Cares for Animals? 150 Years of the RSPCA London: William Heinemann, 1974, p 4.)

Hugh Wirth mimics Brown’s point, “the Old Testament Book of Genesis proclaims that humans have dominion over all creation.” (Hugh J. Wirth, “Foreword” in For All Creatures: A History of RSPCA Victoria, Barbara Pertzel, Burwood, Vic: RSCPA Victoria, 2006, p v.) I note parenthetically that parts of Wirth’s foreword shows an unacknowledged yet very strong verbal dependence on Brown’s book.


In broad brushstrokes, Christianity has been typecast as playing the role in history of an ideological Darth Vader toward the earth and animals. A further brief hint of this is embedded beneath the surface of the remarks of Canadian academic Jodey Castricano (“The Question of the Animal: Why Now?” Topia 21 Spring 2009: 186):

Twenty centuries of excluding from the ethical domain members of species other than our own has served to reify speciesism and to naturalize the disconnect between merely acknowledging our obligations “in theory” and being really willing to redress animal cruelty as a whole, by action or by law.

Although Castricano does not name the Church, it is the influence of Christianity over the past twenty centuries that is implied. In her generalisation one cannot help but see a stigma applied as if it is a foregone conclusion as a fact. Why just twenty centuries? Was the ancient Near Eastern and Mediterranean world more ethical and considerate toward animals before the birth of Christianity? What is the evidence that the annals of church history shows no ethical or even spiritual regard for animals?

In light of Castricano’s cultural context, it is interesting to draw to recollection just in Canada’s history the publication of Rev. John Moffatt, The French Exhibition of Horrors: A Sermon on the Sin of Torturing Animals, Toronto Canada, 1879. Moffatt’s work is one small signal that ethical and spiritual considerations about the treatment of animals was something that some clergy took seriously before the twentieth century

Do we need to be reminded once again that the principal supporters of the earliest anti-cruelty to animal laws were Christian political figures such as Thomas Fowell Buxton, William Wilberforce and Richard Martin? That the founder of England’s SPCA (later RSPCA) was the Anglican clergyman Rev. Arthur Broome?

Why is it that when Sir William Foster Stawell (1815-1889) is described as the first president of the Victorian Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (For All Creatures: A History of RSPCA Victoria page 8), that there is no mention whatsoever of him being an active member of the Anglican Church and a participant in Synod work? Is it because some current writers may have imbibed on the mistaken view that religion is private and has no connection to a social ethic and then read that back into history?

Christian teaching, based on the Book of Genesis chapter one concerning both human dominion and humans created in God’s image, is often identified as the ideological engine that has shaped and/or justified destructive human attitudes. In effect, it is alleged that the Bible in its passages about human dominion, stands in the background as the ideological root for our rapacious consumption of the earth’s natural resources. It is also the same source that has justified the exploitation and cruel subjugation of animals across the centuries. I will not sift through that argument here.

As Dorothy Sayers once remarked in another context, “any stigma will do to beat a dogma.” (Dorothy Sayers, Creed or Chaos? and other Essays in Popular Theology, London: Religious Book Club, 1947, p 21).

It seems to me that much of the contemporary theological discussion about ecological and animal ethics has been expressed in partial reaction to, or is implicitly shaped by, the negative criticisms of White, Singer and others. There is definitely a valid place for replying to those criticisms particularly when a straw-man portrait of Christianity has been erected as a piece of propaganda.

However I find it is quite curious that some contemporary Christians have tended to develop a theology-on-the-run or in reaction to critics. A theology and ethic about the earth and about animals ought to start with primary consideration of Scripture, then the tradition and history of the church, before engaging with the socio-ethical contexts of our era. I will not pursue that problem in this present post but will reserve it for future discussion.

The prayers of St. Basil serve as a strong reminder for all writers in the genre of animal ethics and theology that when it comes to documenting quotes and presenting a powerful case: always check your sources!


Mario Baghos, “St Basil’s Eschatological Vision: Aspects of the Recapitulation of History And The ‘Eighth Day’,” Phronema 25 (2010): 85-103.

George S. Bebis, “Introduction to the Liturgical Theology of St. Basil the Great,” Greek Orthodox Theological Review 42, 3-4 (1997): 273-285.

Doru Castache, “Christian Worldview: Understandings From St Basil the Great,” Phronema 25 (2010): 21-56.

Peter Karavites, “Saint Basil and Byzantine Hymnology,” Greek Orthodox Theological Review  37, 3-4 (1992): 203-214.

Annemarie C. Mayer, “Ecclesial Communion: The Letters of St Basil the Great Revisited,” International Journal for the Study of the Christian Church 5, 3 (October 2005): 226-241.

Leonel L. Mitchell, “The Alexandrian Anaphora of St. Basil of Caesarea: Ancient Source of ‘A Common Eucharistic Prayer’,” Anglican Theological Review 58 (1976): 194-206.

Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, second series, Volume 8, St Basil: Letters and Select Works, ed. Philip Schaff & Henry Wace (reprint. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1978).

Saint Basil Letters, Volume 1, translated by Sister Agnes Clare Way in The Fathers of the Church: A New Translation, Volume 13, ed. Roy Joseph Defferrari (Washington DC: Catholic University of America Press, 1951).

Liturgy of St Basil:

Thomas Brett, A Collection of the Principal Liturgies: used in the Christian Church in the Celebration of the Holy Eucharist (London: Rivington, 1838).

John Brownlie, Hymns of the Early Church, translated from Greek and Latin Sources (London: Morgan & Scott, 1913).

John Brownlie, Hymns of the Holy Eastern Church: Translated from the Service Books (Paisley: Alexander Gardner, 1902).

John Brownlie, Hymns of the Russian Church (London: Oxford University Press, 1920).

The Coptic Liturgy According to St Basil (Copt Net Archives).

The Coptic Liturgy of St Basil, 4th ed. (Arncliffe: Coptic Orthodox Sunday School NSW, 1998). [Via TheAlphaOrg]

Marcos Daoud, Liturgy of the Ethiopian Church, revised by H. E. Blatta Marsie Hazen (1959. reprinted Ethiopian Orthodox Church, Kingston, Jamaica, 1991). [Via]

The Divine Liturgy of our Father Among the Saints Basil the Great: Ruthenian Recension A Study Text [Slavonic text translated into English. Draft edition, 2011].

Divine Liturgy of St Basil the Great [Greek version translated Saint Luke Orthodox Church]

Divine Liturgy of St Basil English with parts in Slavonic

George Mastrantonis, Introduction to the Divine Liturgy [Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America).

The Prayers of the Liturgy of St Basil (

Fr. Abraam D. Sleman ed. St Basil Liturgy: Reference Book (

St. Basil’s “Animal Prayers” are a “Hoax” (Part Six)

St. Basil’s “Animal Prayers” are a “Hoax” (Part Six).

Icon of St. Basil

Image source:

To read the earlier portions of this work see Part One (here), Part Two (here), Part Three (here), Part Four (here), and Part Five (here).

N.B. The following text in this blog-post St. Basil’s “Animal Prayers” are a “Hoax” Part Six is Copyright © 2012 Philip Johnson.


In the preceding five parts of this blog-post I have been examining claims made by both academic and mass-market writers concerning two prayers attributed to St. Basil. The previous posts go into deliberate detail on a case-by-case basis to demonstrate that:

  • The general claim has been that both prayers are from the fourth-century monk and bishop St. Basil, and that the prayers appear in either his collected writings or are in The Liturgy of St. Basil. The prayers however are not found in the Liturgy or in the collected writings of St. Basil.
  • Too many authors have been engaged in a circular process of cross-quoting each other for the texts of the prayers and failed to check if the prayers are in any primary sources. The net effect is that a literary house of cards has been erected because the known works of St. Basil do not contain either prayer.
  • The texts of the two prayers have been published in several books, magazine articles and blogs but the actual texts contain significant verbal variations. It is difficult to ascertain “which version” is the original. In effect, the more the prayers are transcribed the more prone they are to being edited and changed without any primary source manuscripts to justify such verbal alterations.
  • Both prayers contain ideas and vocabulary that are anomalous for writings from the fourth century AD, and instead contain enough verbal clues to indicate they are of modern-day origin.
  • The top-heavy pile of quotations of both prayers ends up as another example of how easy it is for a literary “hoax”, or modern-day apocryphal writing, to circulate and be accepted as genuine at face-value.

It is now time to identify the sources for these prayers, and to point out that they emerged not from the fourth century but during the second decade of the twentieth century.

Nelson and toy. Photo Copyright © 2012 Philip Johnson.

As there are two prayers with different origins, I will discuss them separately. The conclusions reached here are tentative and may be open to revision in light of any further relevant evidence. However, there is enough data to hand to confirm that the prayers are not from the fourth century Church.


The Claims of Charles Niven & C.W. Hume

So far as I have been able to determine, the claim that the Liturgy of St. Basil contains the prayer “Our Brothers the Animals” began to circulate in the early 1960s.

Charles D. Niven (1897-1968) wrote a very popular chronicle History of the Humane Movement (New York: Transatlantic Arts, 1967). Niven was a physicist and a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada, and was involved in organising the Eastern Ontario SPCA. His epitaph on his grave states “I know that my redeemer liveth.” His father, also named Charles Niven (1845-1923), served as Professor of Natural Philosophy at the University of Aberdeen.

Niven wrote (page 27):

Living round about the time of St. Chrysostom or slightly earlier was St. Basil, the great Bishop of Caesarea in Cappadocia (326-80). The Reverend C. G. Early, Andrha Pradesh, India, found this prayer in the Liturgy of St. Basil: ‘The Earth is the Lord’s and the fulness thereof. O God, enlarge within us the sense of fellowship with all living things, our brothers the animals to whom thou hast given the earth as their home in common with us. We remember with shame that in the past we have exercised the high dominion of man with ruthless cruelty, so that the voice of the earth, which should have gone up to Thee in song, has been a groan of travail. May we realise that they live, not for us alone, but for themselves and for Thee, and that they love the sweetness of life.’

Niven’s source is: UFAW Theological Bulletin, No. 2 (1962), p. 3.

Arwen. Photo Copyright © 2012 Philip Johnson.

Niven brought to his book the commendable energy generated out of his background knowledge in science, his Christian faith, and his practical activism in the SPCA. His book, which was one of several popular chronicles about the history of human attitudes toward animals produced in the 1960s, had a wide reading audience as it circulated on both sides of the Atlantic.

Niven’s remarks point us in the direction of where the original claim about the prayer and the Liturgy of St. Basil comes from. Niven prefaces the quotation by saying, “The Reverend C. G. Early, Andrha Pradesh, India, found this prayer in the Liturgy of St. Basil”. Niven drew this information from an article by C. W. Hume published in 1962.

Penelope, Nelson and new-found friend. Photo Copyright © 2012 Philip Johnson.

Charles Westley Hume also known as Major C. W. Hume was an important figure in British twentieth century thought about animal welfare. He was also a professing Christian in the Anglican Church, and wrote works on animals and Christian thought (The Status of Animals in the Christian Religion [1956], Man and Beast [1962]), and also argued in other books the case for the humane use of animals in scientific experiments.  Richard Haynes remarks about Hume’s influence that (page 7):

“Major C. W. Hume should be credited  as the father of the animal welfare movement. He was instrumental in founding the University of London Animal Welfare Society (ULAWS) in 1926, which subsequently became the Universities Federation of Animal Welfare (UFAW).”

Richard P. Haynes, Animal Welfare: Competing Conceptions and Their Ethical Implications (Springer, Dordrecht, Heidelberg, London, New York: Springer Science and Business Media B. V. 2010).

It is an article by Hume that appears to be the initial publication to claim that “Our Brothers the Animals” is found in the Liturgy of St. Basil. I have, so far, not been able to obtain access to Hume’s article to check it first-hand (UFAW Theological Bulletin, No. 2 (1962), p. 3). However, the article in question is cited by at least four authors: Charles D. Niven (as just noted above), Rod Preece, Richard Ryder, Helena Röcklinsberg (the latter three have been discussed in previous posts).

Of these four authors it is only Niven who provides readers with the clue as to who first called attention to the prayer and the Liturgy of St. Basil. The key figure, whom Hume undoubtedly relied on, is Reverend C. G. Early. I surmise that either a well-meaning friend passed on Early’s claim to Hume or that Hume had contact with Early. Either way (if my reading of Niven’s passage is right), Hume seems to have accepted the claim at face-value.

At the present time, I have not been able to locate any original writing by Rev Early. What I can report is that Rev. Early served as a Methodist missionary-pastor in Andrha Pradesh state in India during the mid-twentieth century. How he came to claim that the prayer is found in the Liturgy remains a mystery. Though it is quite likely that it came to him as a printed excerpt that was disconnected from the original source which is Walter Rauschenbusch.

Penelope (1992-2007). Photo Copyright © 2012 Philip Johnson.


Walter Rauschenbusch (1861-1918) was born in Rochester, New York the son of a German Lutheran missionary who joined the Baptists. During the mid-1880s Rauschenbusch served as the pastor of a German-Baptist congregation in an impoverished part of New York city. He also became a lecturer at Rochester Theological Seminary. Rauschenbusch is best remembered for being a pivotal figure in the liberal theological movement called the “Social Gospel”. Via his daughter Winifred, Rauschenbusch is the maternal grandfather of the philosopher Richard Rorty.

One thing that has become “forgotten” about Rauschenbusch is that he composed a book of his own prayers, Prayers of the Social Awakening (Boston & Chicago: Pilgrim Press, 1910) [now available to read via the Internet Archive, click here].

Rauschenbusch stated in the book’s preface that he had composed many of the prayers as pieces in the American Magazine. The clamour for them led him to gather the prayers together as a book. He closed his preface with these remarks, which in hindsight may have helped in letting the cat out of the bag for others to republish, decontextualise, and attribute to someone else (page 13):

Permission is gladly given to reprint single prayers in newspapers, church programs, and similar publications, provided no change is made in the wording except by omission or abbreviation. I should be glad if proper acknowledgement were made in every case so that the attention of others may be called to this little book and its usefulness increased.

Nelson. Photo Copyright © 2012 Philip Johnson.

So, here is the real text that stands behind “Our Brothers the Animals”, which so many people have come to believe was written by St. Basil the Great in the fourth century. It is by Walter Rauschenbusch, published in Prayers of the Social Awakening, and the prayer is called “For this World”. It is reproduced below in its entirety (comprising three paragraphs on pages 47-48):

” O God , we thank thee for this universe, our great home; for its vastness and its riches, and for the manifoldness of the life which teems upon it and of which we are part. We praise thee for the arching sky and the blessed winds, for the driving clouds and the constellations on high. We praise thee for the salt sea and the running water, for the everlasting hills, for the trees, for the grass under our feet. We thank thee for our senses by which we can see the splendor of the morning, and hear the jubilant songs of love, and smell the breath of springtime. Grant us, we pray thee, a heart wide open to all this joy and beauty, and save our souls from being so steeped in care or so darkened by passion that we pass heedless and unseeing when even the thornbush by the wayside is aflame with the glory of God.

Enlarge within us the sense of fellowship with all the living things, our little brothers, to whom thou hast given the earth as their home in common with us. We remember with shame that in the past we have exercised the high dominion of man with ruthless cruelty, so that the voice of the Earth, which should have gone up to thee in song, has been a groan of travail. May we realize that they live, not for us alone, but for themselves and for thee, and that they love the sweetness of life even as we, and serve thee in their place better than we in ours.

When our use of this world is over and we make room for others, may we not leave anything ravished by our greed or spoiled by our ignorance, but may we hand on our common heritage fairer and sweeter through our use of it, undiminished in fertility and joy, that so our bodies may return in peace to the great mother who nourished them and our spirits may round the circle of a perfect life in thee.”

It is the second paragraph of Rauschenbusch’s prayer that has been uplifted, decontextualized, and refashioned into the variant versions of the prayer called “Our Brothers the Animals”. The Emperor’s New Clothes of literary claims about this prayer has now been exposed as being a twentieth century prayer. It is high time then that the credit for the prayer be given to its original author Walter Rauschenbusch. Activists, ethicists, philosophers and theologians alike must call to a halt the juggernaut of claims that the prayer is from St. Basil.

Scamp the papillion aged 9 months.Photo Copyright © 2012 Philip Johnson.


The text of the prayer “Their Guileless Lives” has also been attributed to St. Basil, with some authors claiming that it comes from the Liturgy of St. Basil. In Part Four I quoted lay Catholic theologian Deborah Jones’ The School of Compassion (Gracewing 2009) where she claimed that this prayer is found in Orthodox liturgy (page 61):

His Liturgy still in use today in the Orthodox Tradition, contains another prayer which speaks of God having saved both man and beast, ‘We pray thee, O Lord, for the humble beasts … and for the wild animals, whom thou hast made, strong and beautiful; we supplicate for them thy great tenderness of heart, for thou hast promised to save both man and beast …’

I also noted that there are at least five differently worded versions:

And for these also, O Lord, the humble beasts, who with us bear the burden and heat of the day, we entreat Thy great kindness of heart, for Thou hast promised to save both man and beast, and great is thy loving-kindness, O Master.

For those, O Lord, the humble beasts, that bear with us the burden and heat of day, and offer their guileless lives for the well-being of mankind; and for the wild creatures, whom Thou hast made wise, strong, and beautiful, we supplicate for them Thy great tenderness of heart, for Thou hast promised to save both man and beast, and great is Thy loving kindness, O Master, Saviour of the world.

We pray thee, O Lord, for the humble beasts who bear with us the burden and heat of the day, giving their lives for the well-being of their countries; and for the wild creatures, whom thou hast made wise, strong and beautiful; We supplicate for them thy great tenderness of heart, for thou hast promised to save both man and beast, and great is thy loving-kindness, O Master, thou Saviour of the world.

For those, O Lord, the humble beasts, that bear with us the burden and heat of the day, and offer their guileless lives for the well-being of humankind; and for the wild creatures whom Thou hast made wise, strong, and beautiful we supplicate for them Thy great tenderness of heart for Thou hast promised to save both man and beast and great is Thy loving kindness, O Master, Saviour of the world.

For those, O Lord, the humble beasts, that bear with us the burden and heat of the day, and offer their guileless lives for the well-being of humankind; and for the wild creatures, whom Thou hast made wise, strong, and beautiful, we supplicate for them Thy great tenderness of heart, for Thou hast promised to save both man and beast, and great is Thy loving kindness, O Master, Saviour of the world.

One of the striking differences is that one prayer says they offer their lives “for their countries”, another “for the well-being of humankind”, and another for “mankind”.

The prayer which uses the words “for their countries” provides a strong textual hint that points to a modern-day source rather than to St. Basil.

Arwen on the beach. Photo Copyright © 2012 Philip Johnson.

World War One & The Animal Litany

This prayer about “their guileless lives” takes us back to World War One. The “original” English-language source appears to be in Guy Vernon Smith, The Bishop of London’s Visit to the Front (London: Longmans and Green, 1915). The book profiles how Bishop Arthur Foley Winnington Ingram visited the western front in Easter week in 1915. The Bishop did not write the book but wrote a preface for it.

Guy Vernon Smith, the book’s author who accompanied him on his tour, explains that the Bishop devised a service that was tailored to the circumstances of the war rather than using a typical Anglican liturgy for military-based church services (page 12):

The Bishop felt that the special character of his Mission would be emphasised if a different form of service were used to that which is customary at church parades, and he selected from among the many beautiful prayers which are suitable for use in time of war a Litany adapted from the Russian Liturgy. These prayers were very much appreciated by the soldiers, not only for their own sake, but because they seemed to serve as a link to bind us more closely to our Allies in the East.

In an appendix to the book Smith reproduces in full (pages 91-94) a pamphlet entitled “Good Friday and Easter Day: Thoughts and Prayers for Soldiers at the Front by the Bishop of London”. A further heading is supplied: “From the Liturgy of the Russian Church. Adapted by H.M.M.H”.

The litany consists of 16 invocatory prayers that the bishop or priest or Anglican military chaplain would say followed by congregational responses. The litany in context calls for God to be on the side of the King, Navy and Army (i.e. Britain), and also to show mercy to the Russians, French and Belgians in their campaigns. It is the twelfth invocation which reads (page 93):

And for those also O Lord the humble beasts, who bear with us the burden and heat of the day, and whose guileless lives are offered for the well-being of their countries, we supplicate Thy great tenderness of heart, for Thou Lord, shalt save both man and beast, and great is Thy loving-kindness, O Master, Saviour of the world.

Lord have mercy.

Notice that the prayers in the litany are “adapted” from what is vaguely called the Russian Liturgy. It not stated that the prayers come from the Liturgy of St. Basil as used in the Russian Orthodox Church.

Arwen wading in the water. Photo Copyright © 2012 Philip Johnson.

Smith also explains how the Bishop’s prayers were distributed as booklets to the troops (page 13):

The largest package of all contained the “souvenirs”, although we never thought of them by that name at first. The Bishop had written earlier in the year some short prayers and meditations for use by soldiers at the front during Holy Week and Easter.  When it was decided that he should go out in person he felt it to be very suitable that he should give them to the men. Some friends very kindly gave the Bishop ten thousand copies, and we could easily have disposed of more than twice as many, so popular were the little booklets and so eagerly were they sought for by the men who attended the services. There was always a demand for them … these booklets were immediately christened “The Bishop’s Souvenirs”.

Smith goes on to say that many soldiers posted the booklets home to their families. The circulation of those booklets in England and in other nations (Canada, Australia, New Zealand etc) may very well have given added impetus for the animal invocation being uplifted and recirculated out of context in later years.


In 1915 Alan Lethbridge had his book published, The New Russia: From the White Sea to the Siberian Steppe (New York: E. P. Dutton, 1915). Lethbridge describes how he arrived at Tcherdin and says (page 155):

In the immediate foreground lay the river and a wide green plain with countless cattle and a shrine, emblem perhaps of the Russian belief that these dumb creatures are not forgotten by their Creator. For of all Christian nations the Russians are alone in their conviction, that the Almighty cares, not only for men and women, but also for the birds and beasts of the field. In their Litany they evidence it. What could be more pathetic or show a deeper tenderness than the following words: “And for those, also, O Lord, the humble beasts who bear with us the burden and heat of the day and offer their guileless lives for the well-being of their country, we supplicate Thy great tenderness of heart, for Thou, Lord, shalt save both man and beast, and great is Thy loving-kindness, O Master, Saviour of the world.”

Lethbridge supplies a footnote: “Vide English translation of Russian Litany, issued by the O. A. B. G., Bristol.” Lethbridge’s footnote source tallies with that in Guy Vernon Smith’s book.


Scamp performing. Photo Copyright © 2012 Philip Johnson

The war-time litany devised by the Bishop of London was soon to be decontextualised and subjected to myth-making by various periodicals and newspapers.Edward E. Slossen, “A Number of Things: An Occasional Page” wrote a regular column in the periodical The Independent, Vol. 88 (October-December) December 11, 1916, p 472:

St. Francis of Assisi must still live in Russia, for surely from him comes that prayer for the horses in the war liturgy:

‘And for those also, O Lord, the humble beasts, who bear with us the burden and the heat of the day, and offer their guileless lives for the well-being of their countries we supplicate Thy great tenderness of heart. For Thou hast promised to save both man and beast and great is Thy loving kindness. Lord have mercy!’

The Humane Advocate Vol. 12 August 1917, p 173: (published by The Illinois Humane Society)

A Prayerful Plea

A plea for the animals which serve us in war—the horses which are sacrificed in such great numbers—the following is a petition taken from an old Russian Litany specially composed for war time:


‘And for those also, O Lord, the humble beasts, who with us bear the burden and heat of the day and give their guileless lives for the well-being of their countries, we supplicate Thy great tenderness of heart, for Thou hast promised to save both man and beast, and great is Thy loving kindness, O Master, Saviour of the World. Amen.’

St. Andrew’s Cross Vol. 32 (1917): 214:

A Russian Prayer for Horses

From the Church News of Pittsburgh, we reprint this fine prayer for horses translated from the Russian:

“For these also, O Lord, the humble beasts, who bear with us the burden and the heat of the day, and offer their guileless lives for the well-being of their countries we supplicate Thy great tenderness of heart.

Notice that the material found in Smith’s and Lethbridge’s respective books undergoes a shift in the periodicals. There is firstly the curious association of St. Francis with Russia in the minds of the writers in the periodicals. When the periodicals were published  the Russian Orthodox Church was the official church of Tsarist Russia (until being toppled by the 1917 Revolution). St Francis of course is a Roman Catholic saint. Presumably, for the journalists and other writers in the periodicals the Russian Orthodox Church was a “terra incognito” — an unknown land. For St. Francis to be a great influence in Tsarist Russia was probably presupposed without any reflection whatsoever.

St Francis of Assisi & St. Basil the Great Romantically Reimagined

Why did the authors think the prayer must originate with St. Francis? It is worth noting that St. Francis of Assisi had largely been forgotten (even among the Franciscans) until a late nineteenth century renaissance began. The renaissance of St. Francis owes an enormous (although not exclusive) debt to the work of the French Huguenot pastor (i.e. a Protestant) Charles Paul Marie Sabatier (1858-1928).

Sabatier’s book Life of St. Francis of Assisi (first published in French in 1893), reinterpreted and reimagined the saint’s life in a romantic nostalgic way that suited the late nineteenth century mindset. Thus St. Francis’ experience of the stigmata and some of his miracles disappear off the surface or become relegated to the context of the “fantastic” (hence not able to be believed as something that happened). Sabatier offered a message about having a compassionate practical theology and repositioned Francis’ sanctity into a palatable form that would suit both Protestants (with St. Francis turned into a quasi-Protestant opposed to Rome) and the modern sceptical mindset about miracles.

Ever since Sabatier wrote, subsequent portraits of St. Francis reinterpret him in all manner of speaking — as a nature-lover (almost unique in the annals of church history, some might say), as a liberal democrat, as a secular saint, as an evangelical Protestant role model, and so on.

[For more discussion about the modern romantic portraits of St. Francis see Eric Sharpe, “The Secularization of Sanctity: the Case and Example of Francis of Assisi” in The World of Religions: Essays on Historical and Contemporary Issues, ed. Garry W. Trompf & Gildas Hamel (Delhi: ISPCK, 2001), pp. 287-308; also Roger D. Sorrell, St. Francis of Assisi and Nature: Tradition and Innovation in Western Christian Attitudes toward the Environment (New York & Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1988)].

In a smaller way, the romanticised ascribing of these animal prayers to St. Basil and to the fourth century Eastern Orthodox Church liturgy has some uncanny resemblances to the processes in which St. Francis has been reimagined in modern times. St. Basil did have a theological view of animals but these prayers are not connected to it.

Christians Cowering Before Their Critics

Instead of letting St. Francis be who he is, and St. Basil to be who is, our current anxieties about nature and animals plays a big part in looking hither and yon for examples from earlier times to inspire us. To grant an ancient pedigree to the prayers probably says a lot about how “captive” Christians have become today to the polemical agenda set in the late 1960s by Lynn Townsend White about ecology and then in the 1970s by Peter Singer and Richard Ryder about animal ethics.

The impressions that White and Singer have formed about what they read into the history of Christianity may tell us more about the attitudes of these men than that their words actually explains what Christians said and did in the past. Too much has been conceded by some Christians to their critics who allege the Church is the fountainhead for many negative attitudes toward animals and the natural world.

Likewise, instead of developing an ethic and theology that is robustly conceived and shaped within a rich biblical, historical and theological framework, there are too many Christians with unnecessarily bowed and chastened heads standing in the presence of these critics. The history of Christianity concerning animals (as in other topics also) is complex and not reducible down to an old cowboy film with good guys wearing white hats riding white horses and bad guys wearing black hats riding black horses.

Even with several scholarly writings about animals and history in the Christian era not all of the sources that are found within Christianity have been “recovered” and incorporated into the historian’s narratives. Some of the material casts doubt on the negative stereotype erected in the polemics of some critics.

Besides the ignored evidence, one must also have a dose of honesty about our present agendas versus an investigation of the past. An issue that seems patently obvious to us in today’s times would not necessarily have been the case in past epochs. Like it or not, we cannot interrogate the past with the expectation that people in prior epochs should have thought like us or even that some of them actually did think like us about animals. Our industrialised abuse of animals is a peculiar phenomenon of increasing intensity ever since the mid-eighteenth century bore witness to the start of the Industrial Revolution. Our context culturally and technologically is so vastly different from the circumstances of the Renaissance, the Middle Ages, the early Church, Roman Imperial civilisation and so forth. We cannot compel the past to always answer our questions if the questions were not even posed let alone answered by people who lived in past historical and different cultural settings where, for example, battery-hen farms did not even exist.

The other point about the prayer is that in the periodical the Russian Litany then becomes rebranded as “A Russian Prayer for Horses”. There had been other prayers for horses that emerged in the nineteenth century because of their visibility and the pains that they endured in horse-drawn carriages. The focus on the plight of the horse intensified through the story Black Beauty that was written by the Quaker-born invalided novelist Anna Sewell (1820-1878). So it is perhaps not surprising that the Litany was thought to be about prayers for horses.

Nevertheless, while the Cossack soldiers assuredly rode horses into battle, the First World War also saw many other animals drawn into service: homing-pigeons, dogs, donkeys, pigs, sheep, and cattle. On this latter point see the work of the Presbyterian Historian and Librarian John M. Kistler, Animals in the Military: from Hannibal’s Elephants to the Dolphins of the US Navy (Santa Barbara: ABC-CLIO, 2011).

The prayer though is clearly not from St. Basil, and has a distinct context for use which was devised in the midst of the First World War.

I will conclude with one further post (Part Seven) summing up some lessons and reflections.

<end of Part Six; see next post for continuation of this discussion>

St. Basil’s “Animal Prayers” are a “Hoax” (Part Five)

St. Basil’s “Animal Prayers” are a “Hoax” (Part Five).

Icon of St. Basil

Image source:

To read the earlier portions of this work see Part One (here), Part Two (here), Part Three (here), and Part Four (here).

N.B. The following text in this blog-post St. Basil’s “Animal Prayers” are a “Hoax” Part Five is Copyright © 2012 Philip Johnson.


In the last post I highlighted how Roman Catholic writers have echoed the claims made by Evangelicals (see Part Three) that these prayers for animals — “Their Guileless Lives” and “Our Brothers the Animals” — are supposed to be found in the writings of St. Basil or in the Liturgy of St. Basil. This post will continue the thread by looking at how Eastern Orthodox, Episcopal, and Protestants and other Christian writers have also made similar claims.

As with the previous instalments this is a long post that painstakingly sets out the details for the benefit of serious readers and qualified researchers. The writers identified here are not intended to be the object of scathing criticism.


The Trio: Penelope, Nelson and Arwen. Photo Copyright © 2012 Philip Johnson.


A few communicant members of churches in the Eastern Orthodox traditions have also made claims about the St. Basil prayers for animals.

(C). Eastern Orthodox

Frederick Krueger

Frederick W. Krueger is known in the United States of America as an advocate for environmental ethics particularly in his ecumenical role as Executive Director of the National Religious Coalition on Creation Care. He is also Executive Director of the Orthodox Fellowship of the Transfiguration which centres attention on the mission of the Orthodox Church in its ecological proclamation of Christ as reconciler of all things.

He refers in passing to St. Basil in this published essay, “Are Strong Protections of Private Property Rights Necessary for Species Preservation?” Journal of Markets & Morality, Vol 3 (2000): 239-246.

On page 241, Krueger remarks that “the best of theology has always perceived the inherent worth of animals.” He then provides excerpted quotations from various Christians to illustrate the point. Among these he includes (p 241):

St. Basil writes, ” O God, enlarge within us the sense of fellowship with all living things, even our brothers, the animals, to whom Thou gavest the earth as their home in common with us. We remember with shame that in the past we have exercised the high dominion of man with ruthless cruelty so that the voice of the earth, which should have gone up to Thee in song, has been a groan of pain. May we realize that they live, not for us alone, but for themselves and for Thee, and that they love the sweetness of life.”

Krueger’s footnote (p 245) for this quotation reads:

Excerpted from The Liturgy of Saint Basil.

Two observations are worth making about Krueger’s quotation and his literary evidence.

The first is that in Krueger’s version of the prayer there are minor textual variations, which are marked above in red font. The most widely published version of the prayer reads “our brothers the animals” whereas Krueger’s version inexplicably adds both a new emphasis and new punctuation: “even our brothers, the animals.”

Again, there is a word subtitution. In Krueger’s version the word “pain” has replaced the word “travail” used in the other versions. As the prayer is published with variant readings, it is legitimate to ponder which is the “true” version. It seems that the more the prayer is published the more it seems to undergo editorial changes in books and blogs.

The other observation is that Krueger refers to the Liturgy but provides no bibliographical reference to a translation or original language version of it.

Arwen, Penelope & Nelson. Photo Copyright © 2012 Philip Johnson.

“Orthodoxy and Animals”

There is a personal webpage called “Orthodoxy and Animals”, where a professing member of an Eastern Orthodox church has assembled some prayers to encourage pet-owners. Both prayers, “Their Guileless Lives” and “Our Brothers the Animals”, are reproduced on the page “Prayer for the Animals”:

Attributed to St. Basil the Great are two beautiful prayers for Animals:The earth is the Lord’s and the fulness thereof. O God, enlarge within us the sense of fellowship with all living things, our brothers the animals to whom Thou gavest the earth as their home in common with us. We remember with shame that in the past we have exercised the high dominion of man with ruthless cruelty so that the voice of the earth, which should have gone up to Thee in song has been a groan of travail. May we realize that they live not for us alone, but for themselves and for Thee and that they love the sweetness of life even as we, and serve Thee better in their place than we in ours.

For those, O Lord, the humble beasts, that bear with us the burden and heat of day, and offer their guileless lives for the well-being of mankind; and for the wild creatures, whom Thou hast made wise, strong, and beautiful, we supplicate for them Thy great tenderness of heart, for Thou hast promised to save both man and beast, and great is Thy loving kindness, O Master, Saviour of the world.

Notice that “well-being of mankind” is in the above text, which differs from “humankind” and from “their countries” in other versions. The webpage owner does give two references for these quotations:

Bless All Thy Creatures, Lord: Prayers for Animals, edited by Richard Newman, Macmillan Publishing Co. ’88.

Animals and Man: A State of Blessedness, by Joanne Stefanatos D.V.M., ’92, Light and Life Publishing Co.

I have not had access to the book by Joanne Stefanatos although it can be mentioned that she is an American veterinarian who practices holistic or complementary techniques of medicine in her vet clinic. Light & Life Publishing is a supplier of books to the Orthodox Community.


There is a curious point for general reflection for any communicant members of Eastern Orthodox churches who might be tempted to claim that St. Basil’s prayers are found in the Liturgy. As I have noted previously, The Liturgy of St. Basilis used on no more than ten occasions during the liturgical year. If these two prayers are indeed part of the Liturgy then on which holy day of the year are these prayers sung or chanted by the priest or deacon?

If they are not part of the liturgy, then there is a curious and inexplicable “disconnect” between the rich cycle of liturgical experiences that are celebrated in Eastern Orthodox services, and the claim by those who attend Orthodox churches that the prayers are in the liturgy. Put another way, when was the last time that anyone actually heard these prayers chanted in an Eastern Orthodox, or Coptic or Ethiopian church service?

Mitten. Photo Copyright © 2012 Philip Johnson.


In this section I will briefly draw attention to other Christian writers who quote the prayers.

Episcopalians: Laura Yordy

Laura Yordy is  a lecturer in the Philosophy and Religion department at Bridgewater College, Virginia. She is an Episcopalian and the author of Green Witness: Ecology, Ethics and the Kingdom of God.

Yordy is also a contributor to the book Diversity and Dominion: Dialogues in Ecology, Ethics and Theology, ed. Kyle S. van Houtan and Michael S. Northcott (Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 2010). In her chapter, “Biodiversity and the Kingdom of God”  (page 180) she reproduces the prayer “Our Brothers the Animals”. Her source for the prayer is Jon Wynne-Tyson, The Extended Circle (see Part Two of this blog for my critical comments on Wynne-Tyson’s documentation).

Arwen in the garden. Photo Copyright © 2012 Philip Johnson.

Georgia Episcopal Church (USA) has produced a small booklet for “animal blessings“, and reproduces this prayer:


Blessed God, Creator of All:

Enlarge within us the sense of fellowship

with all living things,

our brothers the animals to whom you gave the earth

as their home in common with us.

We remember with shame that in the past

we have exercised the high dominion of humans

with ruthless cruelty,

so that the voice of the earth

which should have gone up to you in song

has been a groan of travail.

May we realize that they live, not for us alone,

but for themselves, and for you,

and that they love the sweetness of life.

We pray through our Savior Jesus Christ

who lifts up and redeems us all. Amen.

The text in red font differs from the other versions I have referred to in Parts One to Four of this blog.

Mummy belly-rub. Photo Copyright © 2012 Philip Johnson.

United Church of Christ Environmental and Energy Task Force

The United Church of Christ has an Environmental and Energy Task Force. In October 2007 the Task Force prepared a brief document “Theological Discussion Points on Environment and Energy“. On page 6 of the document we read:

“O God, enlarge within us the sense of fellowship with all living things, our brothers the animals [and

all creatures] to whom thou gavest the earth as their home in common with us. We remember with

shame that in the past we have exercised the high dominion of humans with ruthless cruelty; so that

the voice of the earth, which should have gone up to Thee in song, has been a groan of travail. May

we realize that all creatures live not for us alone but for themselves and for Thee, and that they love the

sweetness of life.”

Attributed to St. Basil the Great.

No bibliographical source is supplied for this quotation. The use of inclusive language is also evident in this version of the prayer (as marked in red font).

Nelson & Arwen neighbourhood sticky-beaks. Photo Copyright © 2012 Philip Johnson.

Calvinists: Ron Lutjens, Michael Williams and Matthew C. Halteman

Ron Lutjens is a pastor in the Presbyterian Church of America in St. Louis. In the web-zine By Faith (Issue 16. August 2007) Lutjens reproduces the prayer “Our Brothers the Animals”:

O God, enlarge within us the sense of fellowship with all living things, our brothers the animals to whom thou gavest the earth as their home in common with us.

We remember with shame that in the past we have exercised the high dominion of man with ruthless cruelty so that the voice of the earth, which should have gone up to thee in song, has been a groan of travail. May we realize that they live not for us alone but for themselves and for thee, and that they love the sweetness of life.

“Her Majesty Arwen”. Photo Copyright © 2012 Philip Johnson.

Michael Williams is professor of systematic theology at Covenant Theological Seminary. In By Faith (Issue 17, October 2007) Williams also reproduces the same prayer:

O God, enlarge within us the sense of fellowship with all living things, our brothers the animals to whom thou gavest the earth as their home in common with us.

We remember with shame that in the past we have exercised the high dominion of man with ruthless cruelty so that the voice of the earth, which should have gone up to thee in song, has been a groan of travail. May we realize that they live not for us alone but for themselves and for thee, and that they love the sweetness of life.

Matthew Halteman is assistant professor of philosophy at Calvin College, Grand Rapids Michigan. He has prepared a twenty-five page booklet called Compassionate Eating as Care of Creation and this is distributed by the Humane Society of the United States. On page 6 Halteman reproduces “Our Brothers the Animals” but with no source reference supplied.

Nelson & Arwen garden frolic. Photo Copyright © 2012 Philip Johnson.

Alexander Roman

Dr Alexander Roman is a member of the Ukrainian Catholic Church who contributes articles to the website Ukrainian Orthodoxy. In responding to a submitted question in 2010 about ‘are dogs and cats mentioned in the Bible’, Dr Roman includes in his reply the following remarks:

St Basil the Great  wrote a prayer in which he asked God to:  “…enlarge within us the  sense of fellowship with all living things, our brothers the animals to whom  You gave the earth as their home in common with us.  We remember with  shame that in the past we have exercised the high dominion of humans with  ruthless cruelty so that the voice of the earth which should have gone up to  you in song, has been a groan of travail.  May we realize that they live  not for us alone but for themselves and for You, and that they love the  sweetness of life.”

Dr Roman did not list any books or other published sources in his reply. It is of passing interest though that his version of “Our Brothers the Animals” contains a word-substitution so that “the high dominion of man” has been changed to “the high dominion of humans”.

Arwen and rope-toy. Photo Copyright © 2012 Philip Johnson.

Antonia Lee Gorman was a doctoral candidate at Drew University. In her unpublished dissertation “The Blood of Goats and Bulls: An Eco-Spiritual Response to the Sacrifice of Creation” (May 2008) she stated (page 169):

And St. Basil (330? CE – 379? CE) , the bishop of Caesarea and founder of monastic institutions, had the following prayer within his liturgy.

She then reproduces “Our Brothers the Animals” and her bibliographical source is Lewis Regenstein, Replenish the Earth: A History of Organized Religion’s Treatment of Animals and Nature (NY: Crossroad 1991), p 58. Regenstein’s source is Charles D. Niven. Niven is mentioned in Part Four and again in Part Six of my blog-post.


I will simply list here other publications that include the “Our Brothers the Animals” prayer and who all fail to supply a direct and unambiguous primary source:

Debra Farrington, All God’s Creatures: The Blessing of Animal Companions (Brewster, Massachusetts: Paraclete Press, 2006), p.6

Lewis Regenstein, Replenish the Earth: A History of Organized Religion’s Treatment of Animals and Nature (NY: Crossroad 1991), p 58.

Michael W. Fox, The Boundless Circle: Caring for Creatures and Creation, (Wheaton: Quest Books, 1996), pp 50-51

Judy Carman, Peace to all Beings: Veggie Soup for the Chicken’s Soul (New York: Lantern, 2003), page 190

Judith Fitzgerald and Michael Oren Fitzgerald,The Sermon of All Creation: Christians on Nature (Bloomington: World Wisdom, 2005), page 76

Linda Seger, Jesus Rode a Donkey: Why Republicans Don’t Have the Corner on Christ (Avon, Mass: Adams Media, 2006), 103.

Others who quote “Their Guileless Lives” include:

Bronislaw Szerszynski, Nature, Technology and the Sacred (Oxford: Blackwell, 2005), pp 96-97 (relies on John Passmore).

Robin Attfield, “Christianity” [pp 96-110] in Dale Jamieson ed. A Companion to Environmental Philosophy (Malden & Oxford: Blackwell, 2003), page 101. Attfield’s source is Passmore’s 1975 essay “The Treatment of Animals” (see Part Two for further comments on Attfield and Passmore).


The Internet is bulging with blogs and websites that quote the St. Basil prayers. Below are listed just a small sample of sites that unfortunately fail to furnish any primary source evidence that the prayers are genuinely by St. Basil:

Sentient Beings

Herman of Alaska

Circle of Compassion

Passion For Justice


Earth Ministry

Not One Sparrow

Why Think Differently About Sheep

Web of Creation

Jon M. Sweeney

Gospel centred Musings


In The Currach

Cheyenne and friends

Animal Liberation Front

Abbey of the Arts

Vegetarian/Vegan Society of Queensland

Gathering In Light

Cruelty-free Christianity

Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

Wahsega Valley Farm

Kendra Langdon Juskus, “A Call to Compassion from our Brothers the Animals,” Prism magazine July-Aug 2011 p 19.

The real sources for these two prayers, which are of twentieth-century vintage, will be discussed in Part Six.

<end of Part Five; see next post for continuation of this discussion>

St. Basil’s “Animal Prayers” are a “Hoax” (Part Four)

St. Basil’s “Animal Prayers” are a “Hoax” (Part Four).

Icon of St. Basil.

Image Source:

To read the earlier portions of this work see Part One (here), Part Two (here) and Part Three (here).

N.B. The following text in this blog-post St. Basil’s “Animal Prayers” are a “Hoax” Part Four is Copyright © 2012 Philip Johnson.

Tessa (1999-present). Photo Copyright © 2012 Philip Johnson.


The subject of this series of posts concerns the claim that two prayers called “Their Guileless Lives” and “Our Brothers the Animals” come from St. Basil the Great, the fourth century Eastern Orthodox church father. In particular, it is often claimed that one or both prayers come from the Liturgy of St. Basil (see English language translations of the Greek Orthodox version here and here and also here; the Slavonic-Russian version here; the Coptic Church Liturgy here; the Ethiopian Church Liturgy here).

In the first post I reproduced both prayers as they appear in Richard Newman’s anthology Bless All Thy Creatures, Lord. I pointed out that after searching through the different versions — Greek, Russian and Coptic versions of the Liturgy of St. Basil that no such prayers exist. I also had a negative result in finding either prayer in St. Basil’s writings.

I demonstrated in Parts Two and Three that many authors both academic and popular have failed to provide an unambiguous and direct citation from any of St. Basil’s works or from the Liturgy bearing his name. Instead a somewhat circular trail of foootnotes exists where authors cross-quote each other. This rather dubious and very lazy habit reflects poor information-retrieval work.

This habit of cross-quoting each other lends itself to the creation of a top-heavy literary house of cards when the original source is not what the writers have come to believe in. It marrs the quality and cogency of publications about animal ethics and theology. In the case of the two prayers I am examining this cross-quoting signals to me that perhaps very few have any idea when and where the prayers were originally composed.

This is another long post that carries forward points made in the previous post. It is a demonstration of the weak evidence presented by various Christian authors in the Roman Catholic tradition.

Mummy sunning herself on the window sill. Photo Copyright © 2012 Philip Johnson.


In the last post I began discussing various Christian authors within the Evangelical tradition. Now in this post the focus turns to Christian authors from the Roman Catholic Church. Once again, as stated in previous posts, I am not attacking any of the authors but underscoring two things: (a) the problem of not checking quotes, and (b) documenting the absence of any primary source evidence that the prayers come from St. Basil.


(B). Roman Catholics

Matthew Scully

Matthew Scully is a Roman Catholic lay-believer and is also a prominent behind-the-scenes figure in conservative politics in the United States of America. He served, for a while, as the speechwriter for President George W. Bush, and had a brief association as a speechwriter with the 2008 Republican Vice-Presidential candidate Sarah Palin.

Scully’s book Dominion: The Power of Man, the Suffering of Animals, and the Call to Mercy (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2002), is a very readable work by a Roman Catholic layman who expresses a deep and genuine concern about animal suffering. His book is well-worth reading.

Scully’s ethical stance on vegetarian diet and the treatment of animals puts him at odds with people who might otherwise have affinities with his political values. His ethic runs counter to those who support industrial farming, the allied meat and poultry industries, and the hunting-gun lobbies.

In regards to St. Basil, he states on page 13:

I was amazed to come upon this prayer from Saint Basil, the bishop of Caesarea, circa A.D. 375.

Scully then quotes “Our Brothers the Animals”, although his version lacks the opening line from Psalm 24:1 (as in Newman’s version), and lacks the last thirty-eight words found in Newman’s version.

Scully jots down in his footnote that the prayer is found in volume 8 of The Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers. What might go unnoticed by some readers is that Scully does not give any page reference for Basil’s collected writings in The Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers. As I pointed out in Part One of this post, neither “Their Guileless Lives” or “Our Brothers the Animals” can be found in The Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers.

Nelson barks at neighbour’s flock of homing-pigeons in full flight. Photo Copyright © 2012 Philip Johnson.

Scully’s footnote conveys to me at least two impressions (but I am also being mindful of the point: who can tell if he intended to make these impressions?).

The first impression is that the footnote might have been hurriedly inserted because Scully had mislaid or forgotten where he had originally read the prayer. So we have a documented source made “on the run” as he was out of time in the publishing schedule to find the true source.

The absence of a specific page reference is interesting. It might deflect a reader’s attention to detail so that Scully’s footnote is accepted at face-value. However, when one checks volume 8 in The Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers it is very hard to avoid the conclusion that Scully has not read St. Basil’s works that are collected in that volume. One might infer then that Scully does not really know where the prayer comes from.

The second impression, which could equally apply to several other authors previously mentioned, is that this is a bibliographic equivalent of the children’s tale “The Emperor’s New Clothes”. The majority of writers realise that the Emperor is naked (i.e. the prayer is not really from St. Basil) but nobody is willing to openly admit that he is naked (i.e. we know deep down there is no early church source but because we love the prayer and want to maintain a cherished view about early Christians expressing concern for sentient animal life that we don’t want to have to openly admit that the prayer isn’t found in the Liturgy of St. Basil).

Deborah Jones

Deborah Jones is the general secretary of the Catholic Concern for Animals. She holds a doctoral degree in theology for her dissertation on developing a Roman Catholic theology for animals. In 2009 her book that is based on her doctoral work was published as The School of Compassion: A Roman Catholic Theology of Animals (Leominster, Herefordshire: Gracewing, 2009). Her book represents a highly commendable attempt at exploring existing and diverse Roman Catholic attitudes toward animals, as well proposing the development of a substantial Catholic theology of animals. I propose to review her book in a future separate post.

Similarly, her more popular writings in the Catholic periodical The Ark are to be commended. Her role in Catholic Concern for Animals is admirable and inspiring for other Christians. So my criticism below needs to be understood in light of these preliminary comments.

For the purpose of this blog-post I merely wish to refer to what she has written about St. Basil’s prayers (The School of Compassion, p 61):

But he goes far beyond Augustine in his empathetic appreciation of the animal creation — predating St Francis of Assisi in his language of kinship with animals — as is demonstrated in this prayer from the Russian liturgy, ‘for a deeper sense of fellowship with all living things’, the first recorded expression of shame for human cruelty to animals:

The Earth is the Lord’s and the fulness thereof. O God, enlarge within us the sense of fellowship with all living things, our brothers the animals to whom thou hast given the earth as their home in common with us. We remember with shame that in the past we have exercised the high dominion of man with ruthless cruelty, so that the voice of the earth, which should have gone up to thee in song, has been a groan of travail. May we realize that they live, not for us alone, but for themselves and for thee, and that they have the sweetness of life.

His Liturgy still in use today in the Orthodox Tradition, contains another prayer which speaks of God having saved both man and beast, ‘We pray thee, O Lord, for the humble beasts … and for the wild animals, whom thou hast made, strong and beautiful; we supplicate for them thy great tenderness of heart, for thou hast promised to save both man and beast …’

Jones continues her discussion beyond what I have quoted and refers to yet another prayer which she claims is found in the Liturgy. I will not pursue that particular claim here.

Nelson reclines. Photo Copyright © 2012 Philip Johnson.

Weak Chain-Link in Footnotes

In the above paragraphs Jones has three footnotes (numbered 42-44, p 88) which appear as follows:

St Basil, Liturgy; cited in Charles D. Niven, History of the Humane Movement (New York: Transatlantic Arts, 1967), p. 27.

See Psalm 36:6, ‘Man and beast thou savest, O Lord’ (RSV).

Liturgy, cited in Linzey and Cohn-Sherbok, After Noah (1997), p. 84; also Sorabji, Animal Minds and Human Morals (1993), p. 202.

Arwen (1997-2010) & Mitten (1999-present). Photo Copyright © 2012 Philip Johnson.

Although she states that both prayers come from the Liturgy, as used in the Russian Orthodox Church, she does not give a direct reference to a published translation of the Russian text of the Liturgy. In other words, there is no way that a reader who relies on her footnotes can easily cross-check her quote with the primary source.

In anticipation of Part Six, the literary evidence does not take us back to St. Basil in the fourth century, nor even to the Liturgy that bears his name. “Our Brothers the Animals” does not have the “exotic” origins of coming out of the Russian Liturgy. The prayer has been uplifted out of context and circulated by many writers. It comprises the second paragraph of a three-paragraph prayer published in 1910  and that was actually authored by the liberal Baptist, Walter Rauschenbusch. While “Their Guileless Lives” emerged into print around 1915, and it was merely one litany in a sixteen-part set of litanies used by the Bishop of London Arthur Foley Winnington Ingram for an Easter service held on the Western Front during the First World War. It is this latter prayer which was ascribed to being part of a Russian Litany, and arose at best in the context of World War One.

The basic issue is that her actual quotes for the prayers are derivative being drawn from Niven’s book, and Linzey & Cohn-Sherbok, and with an added allusion to Sorabji. Critical remarks have already been made about Sorabji in Part Two, which need not be repeated here. All that needs to be noted is that when Jones directs attention to Sorabji she does not strengthen but weakens her literary evidence.

Using Niven, Linzey & Cohn-Sherbok

If Jones’ reliance on Sorabji represents a weak chain-link, then is her case improved by using Charles Niven’s History of the Humane Movement (New York: Transatlantic Arts, 1967)? I will be discussing Niven’s book in Part Six. However, it can be noted here that Niven does not provide a direct quote from a translated text of the Liturgy of St. Basil. The version that Niven quotes lacks the last thirty-eight words found in Newman’s version. He specifically takes his quote of the prayer “Our Brothers the Animals” from C. W. Hume who in turn (as will be discussed in Part Six) relies on yet another source. In other words, by the time Niven reproduces the prayer the chain-link is already third-hand. Thus, when Jones reproduces what Niven has quoted, her chain-link to the sources via Niven is at best fourth-hand.

Mitten (1999-present) concentrating on arm-chair. Photo Copyright © 2012 Philip Johnson.

Jones’ other source is the jointly authored theological text After Noah: Animals and the Liberation of Theology by Andrew Linzey [Anglican] and Dan Cohn-Sherbok [Jewish Rabbi] (London: Mowbray, 1997).

Chapter four of After Noah is entitled “The Christian Tradition: Christ and the stories of Christ-like compassion.” Within this chapter Linzey and Cohn-Sherbok discuss stories about Christ and animals in apocryphal writings, and selected stories and acts of various monks and saints. In a section “A sacramental world” the authors discuss a sacramental understanding of God’s creation in relation to the Trinity. That section discusses Teilhard de Chardin, Sebastian Brock, Ephrem the Syrian and St. Basil the Great. In that section St. Basil’s book on the Holy Spirit is quoted and discussed but there is no reference to The Liturgy of St. Basil.

In the final section of chapter four called “The goal of redemption”, Linzey and Cohn-Sherbok discuss the renewal and redemption of creation. After referring to the Pauline hope of the redemption of all things (Romans 8), the authors then direct attention to Psalm 36:6 “Man and beast thou savest, O Lord”. They go on to say that the thought expressed in Psalm 36:6 is one “that provided the inspiration for the famous prayer attributed to St. Basil the Great” (p 84):

We pray thee, O Lord, for the humble beasts who bear with us the burden and heat of the day, giving their lives for the well-being of their countries; and for the wild creatures, whom thou hast made wise, strong and beautiful; We supplicate for them thy great tenderness of heart, for thou hast promised to save both man and beast, and great is thy loving-kindness, O Master, thou Saviour of the world.

The bibliographical reference that Linzey and Cohn-Sherbok supply makes no mention at all of The Liturgy of St. Basil. Instead their reference reads (footnote 106 on page 90 but numbered footnote 105 on p 84):

St Basil the Great, cited in Eric Milner-White and G. W. Briggs (eds) Daily Prayer (London: Oxford University Press, 1946), p. 79 .

The only mention that the authors make of St. Basil’s Liturgy occurs in chapter five and this does not entail quoting either of the two prayers “Their Guileless Lives” and “Our Brothers the Animals”. They write (p 95):

… and the liturgy of St Basil speaks of the limitless majesty of God ‘holy in all your works’.

Their footnote (number 16) for this quote reads:

Eucharist of St. Basil; in Bouyer, op.cit., p. 288.

The full reference for this book that they are using is Louis Bouyer, Eucharist: Theology and Spirituality of the Eucharistic Prayer, ed. and trans. C. U. Quinn (London & Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 1968).

Mummy & Mitten lounging around. Photo Copyright © 2012 Philip Johnson.

Jones vs. Linzey & Cohn-Sherbok’s Caution

The passages in chapter four of After Noah when read in context take a different direction from the bibliographical inference drawn by Deborah Jones. In chapter four they do not make any reference to the Liturgy. Instead the prayer they quote comes from the 1946 anthology Daily Prayer. Linzey and Cohn-Sherbok say that the prayer is “attributed to Saint Basil the Great” but they do not claim in the passage that it is definitely a prayer by him.

Contrast this with Jones’ footnote (number 44):

Liturgy, cited in Linzey and Cohn-Sherbok, After Noah (1997), p. 84.

One other textual point for comparison is to note that the version of “Their Guileless Lives” that Linzey and Cohn-Sherbok quote contains an important verbal difference from other versions I have referred to in these posts (including Newman’s version in Part One and the version found in the Linzey & Regan anthology Love the Animals see Part Two). Notice this clause, “giving their lives for the well-being of their countries”.  The allusion to “their countries” should spark off a reflection: is it likely that a fourth century monk and bishop would offer a prayer about animal lives being sacrificed “for the well-being of their countries”? The language is decidedly modern, and as I will show in a subsequent post that is because the prayer comes from World War One and not the fourth century.

Arwen (1997-2010). Photo Copyright © 2012 Philip Johnson.

Lastly, if one reads the periodical The Ark (no 112, Spring 2009) one will find that Jones has reused some of her material on St Basil and adapted it for that popular format. Obviously no documentation in the magazine article is supplied for her quotes from the Liturgy of St Basil.

Messenger of Saint Anthony

The Messenger of Saint Anthony is a popular Roman Catholic periodical that honours the Franciscan St Anthony of Padua (1195-1231). From time to time the magazine features articles about animal issues. The November 2011 edition carried as its cover story “Cruel Beauty: Cosmetic Testing on Animals” (pp 16-19). Within that article the lay Catholic author Ellen Teague remarks (p 19):

On the whole, few in the Church extend its vision of social justice to the total Earth community. This is rather surprising since a tradition of creation-centred theology has been present within the Church over the centuries. For St Francis of Assisi, every creature in the world was a mirror of God’s presence. St Basil prayed that God “enlarge within us the sense of fellowship will all living things.” Hildegarde of Bingen spoke of the entire world being “embraced” by the kiss of the Creator.

While one does not expect bibliographical references in a popular periodical, Ellen Teague’s article is one example of how the St Basil prayers are accepted as genuine at face-value and kept in constant circulation.

Another example is found in Victor Parachin’s article “Paws That Heal”, which appeared in an earlier edition of the Messenger of Saint Anthony. Parachin quotes an “ancient prayer from St. Basil” and reproduces a shorter version of “Our Brothers the Animals”. Again, no reference to the source of the prayer is given.

Jesuit Missionaries: Roland Lesseps and Peter Henriot

Penelope and Nelson on the beach. Photo Copyright © 2012 Philip Johnson.

Roland Lesseps is a Jesuit scientist serving at Kasisi Agricultural Training Centre, Lusaka Zambia. Peter Henriot is Director of the Jesuit Centre for Theological Reflection, Lusaka Zambia. In 2003 they presented a co-authored paper Church’s Social Teaching and the Ethics of GMOs at a seminar convened by The Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace (November 10-11, 2003) on the theme GMOs: Threat or Hope?

In their paper Lesseps and Henriot remark (page 3):

An example of this same appreciation of creatures,  coming from an early Father of the Church, is this surprisingly modern prayer of St. Basil: “O God, enlarge within us a sense of fellowship with all living things, our brothers and sisters the animals, to whom you gave the earth as their home in common with us. We remember with shame that in the past we have exercised high dominion with ruthless cruelty, so that the voice of the earth, which should have gone up to you in song, has been a groan of travail. May we realize that they live not for us alone but for themselves and for you, and that they love the sweetness of life.”

Lesseps and Henriot do not supply any footnote or bibliographical citation as the source for this prayer. However, a few points emerge from their paper. The first is that they seem to harbour some suspicion about the authenticity of the prayer. They express amazement that it is a “surprisingly modern prayer.”

The next point is that the vocabulary has been modernised with words being changed like “thee” and “thou” into “you”. The text has been adjusted for inclusive language. The more widespread version of the prayer says “our brothers the animals”, whereas in this text they are now called “our brothers and sisters”. The clause “we have exercised the high dominion of man with ruthless cruelty” has been altered  so that “of man” drops out and the text becomes “we have exercised high dominion with ruthless cruelty”.

The last comment I wish to make is that given their suspicion that this prayer reads like a “modern prayer,” why did Lessep and Henriot not confer first of all with a Catholic expert in Patristics to check on the prayer’s authenticity before choosing to quote it at this seminar?

The paper by Lessep and Henriot has been published as chapter five in Siphiwe F. Mkhize, Towards Hope and Challenge: Agricultural Biotechnology and The Catholic Social Teachings (Arcadia, South Africa: MaVovo kaKaKa Publishers, 2004). The prayer appears on page 47, and again there is no bibliographical reference supplied.

For more discussion see Part Five.

<end of Part Four; see next post for continuation of this discussion>

St. Basil’s “Animal Prayers” are a “Hoax” (Part Three)

St. Basil’s “Animal Prayers” are a “Hoax” (Part Three)

Icon of St. Basil.

Image source:

To read the earlier portions of this work see Part One (here), and Part Two (here).

N.B. The following text in this blog-post St. Basil’s “Animal Prayers” are a “Hoax” Part Three is Copyright © 2012 Philip Johnson.


In my previous post (Part Two) I pointed to various examples of mostly academic writers who quote the prayers attributed to St. Basil “Their Guileless Lives” and “Our Brothers the Animals”. I noted how each author has failed to provide a direct citation from St. Basil’s writings or from a translated text of the Liturgy of St. Basil. In this present post I will provide further examples of the same problem by concentrating primarily on what Christian authors have published. This is also a long post and the subject will carry forward to further posts.

Torben (2010-present). Photo Copyright © 2012 Philip Johnson.


As I stated in my previous post (Part Two), I will continue to identify authors who claim that the prayers are from St. Basil. I am underscoring the point that a serious error is perpetuated in the genre of animal ethics and theology because of a lapse in maintaining rigorous and high standards of documentation.

One should expect that particularly in the case of an early church figure like St. Basil that modern-day authors would be at pains to provide an unambiguous and direct citation of the prayers from St. Basil’s works. The issue is not trivial particularly when it turns out that the prayers do not come from St. Basil or from the liturgies of the Eastern Orthodox churches. However, let me emphasise once again that I am not picking on the authors named.


St. Basil’s  “Our Brothers the Animals” is regarded as a genuine prayer in a recently published reference work. The Encyclopedia of Applied Animal Behaviour and Welfare, ed. Daniel S. Mills (Wallingford, Oxfordshire & Cambridge, Massachusetts: CAB International, 2010) contains an article on “Christianity” (pp 102-103). The author is Dr Helena Röcklinsberg. She is a Swedish scholar who worked for seven years at the Centre for Theology and Religious Studies, Lund University, and having completed her doctorate in animal ethics (2001) in the theology department at Uppsala University. She now holds a post as lecturer in animal ethics in the Department of Animal Environment and Health at the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, Uppsala.

She states on page 103:

St. Basil of Caesarea (also 4th century) goes one step further by emphasizing human interdependence and interaction with the rest of the creation: “O God, enlarge within us the sense of fellowship with all living things, our brothers the animals to whom Thou gavest the earth as their home in common with us.” (Hume, 1962). In St. Basil’s Liturgy Christians ask for forgiveness for being cruel towards animals — without a second thought for eternal life.  Rather, his prayers are a very early expression of animals seen as valuable in themselves. St. Basil’s position has strongly influenced Eastern Christendom, and there is a direct connection to today’s Orthodox liturgy. Expressing his holistic perspective blessing of creation and creatures is still part of a service.

Röcklinsberg uses as her source for the prayer C. W. Hume (for more discussion on Hume see Part Six), and does not provide a direct bibliographical reference to a published translation of St. Basil’s Liturgy.

In the absence of any specific bibliographical texts concerning Eastern Orthodox liturgy or St. Basil, her comments about that tradition should be investigated further. It is very true, as Röcklinsberg says, that Orthodoxy liturgies do include occasions for the blessing of creation. Likewise, St. Basil’s Liturgy is normally celebrated on ten selected occasions during the liturgical year: January 1 (St. Basil’s feast), the five Sundays in Lent, on Christmas Eve, and Theophany. However, in this article Röcklinsberg seems to overstate the prominence of St. Basil’s Liturgy because it is not the only liturgical text used in Eastern Orthodox churches.

The very awkward fact though is that the prayer “Our Brothers the Animals” is not in St. Basil’s Liturgy or for that matter in any other liturgical text used in the Eastern Orthodox community of churches.

Nelson 1996-2010. Photo Copyright © 2012 Philip Johnson.


Several Christian theologians, clergy, and church-based animal activists in English-speaking nations have published books and articles that include one or both of the prayers attributed to St. Basil. As it will become clear below, very few have raised any cautionary comments about the authenticity of these prayers.

(A). Evangelicals

Several authors within the various niches of the North American evangelical traditions have commendably written books concerning animal ethics and theology. Some evangelicals have referred to St. Basil’s prayers in both academic and mass-market publications.

David Graham Henderson

David Graham Henderson is a contributor to the recently released book Taking Christian Moral Thought Seriously:The Legitimacy of Religious Beliefs in the Marketplace of Ideas, ed. Jeremy A. Evans (Nashville: B & H Publishing, 2011). This book is part of an academic series B & H Studies in Christian Ethics released by the Baptist publishing firm Broadman & Holman (or B & H).

Henderson is described as “assistant professor in the Philosophy and Religion Department at Western Carolina University” (p ix). In this book Henderson has contributed a chapter “Creation Care”. He begins his chapter (p 177) with an epigraph quotation which is the prayer, “Our Brothers the Animals”. Henderson’s source is Richard Ryder, Animal Revolution: Changing Attitudes towards Speciesism (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1989), p. 34.

In Part Two I indicated that Ryder relied on C. W. Hume as his source for the prayer. So the literary chain-link here is at least fourth-hand: Henderson to Ryder to Hume to another source.

It can also be noted in passing that Henderson previously quoted the same prayer in his unpublished doctoral dissertation “Wilderness: The History, Significance and Promise of An American Value”. The dissertation was submitted in August 2008 to the Office of Graduate Studies at Texas A & M University.  He prefaced the prayer by stating on page 16:

While not addressing wilderness per se, consider the biocentric outlook revealed in St. Basil’s prayer.

His bibliographical source was Matthew Scully’s book Dominion: The Power of Man, the Suffering of Animals, and the Call to Mercy (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2002), p. 13. Scully’s book is discussed in more detail in Part Four, and a few comments also appear in discussing the next author Craig Bartholomew.

Craig Bartholomew

Craig Bartholomew is Professor of Philosophy and Religion & Theology at the liberal arts Redeemer University College, Ontario Canada. He is a prolific author. One of his recent books is Where Mortals Dwell: A Christian View of Place for Today (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2011). As readers may be aware, my recent co-written book The Cross Is Not Enough, is published by Baker. I will refrain from reviewing Where Mortals Dwell in this post but want to note in passing Bartholomew writes on page 18:

As early as AD 375 Basil of Caesarea could pray, “Oh, God, enlarge within us the sense of fellowship with all living things, our brothers the animals to whom Thou gavest the earth in common with us. We remember with shame that in the past we have exercised the high dominion of man with ruthless cruelty so that the voice of the earth , which should have gone up to Thee in song, has been a groan of travail.”

One is struck by Bartholomew’s confident assertion that evidence of benevolence toward animals among Christians is found in St. Basil in the year A.D. 375. The date supplied suggests that the prayer “Our Brothers the Animals” can be pin-pointed to that year. Bartholomew’s source is Matthew Scully, Dominion: The Power of Man, the Suffering of Animals, and the Call to Mercy (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2002), p. 13.

Bartholomew’s rhetorical emphasis on the prayer’s date appears to rely on the words that Matthew Scully used to introduce the same prayer. Scully indicates that he found the prayer which comes “from Saint Basil, the bishop of Caesarea, circa A. D. 375”. The problem though is that Scully’s bibliographical citation gives no clear clue as to how one could demonstrate that the text of the prayer can be dated to around A. D. 375. Scully is a lay Roman Catholic author and not a professional church historian or professional theologian. It is curious that a scholar of Bartholomew’s rank and reputation has selected Scully as his source rather than heading directly to the primary sources.

I will discuss Scully separately in Part Four. Right now it is sufficient to note that Scully’s bibliographical source is Basil’s writings collected in volume 8 of The Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers. In Part One of this post I noted that neither “Their Guileless Lives” or “Our Brothers the Animals” is found in The Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers.

Bartholomew’s literary chain-link for the prayer leads to a dead-end: Bartholomew to Scully to The Nicene Fathers (and the prayer is not in that text).

Richard Alan Young

Richard Alan Young writes from within the Baptist tradition and is commendably an enthusiastic advocate of a vegetarian diet and lifestyle. On page 140 of his book Is God a Vegetarian? Christianity, Vegetarianism, and Animal Rights (Chicago & LaSalle, Illinois: Open Court, 1999), Young reproduces “Our Brothers the Animals”. His source is The Complete Book of Christian Prayer (see Part Two for analysis of that book). His documentary chain-link for the prayer is very weak: Young quotes Complete Book, which in turn does not seem to have an unambiguous source listed for its quote of the prayer.

Robert Wennberg

The late Robert Wennberg (1935-2010) taught philosophy at the evangelical liberal arts  Westmont College in Santa Barbara, California. Wennberg wrote two books concerning right-to-life questions, and also God, Humans, and Animals: An Invitation to Enlarge Our Moral Universe (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2003). Wennberg refers to St. Basil (pp 303-304):

Basil of Caesarea (c.329-379), also known as Basil the Great, insisted “that animals live not for us alone, but for themselves and for God.’ Indeed, Basil could pray,

For those, O Lord, the humble beasts, that bear with us the burden and heat of the day, and offer their guileless lives for the well-being of humankind; and for the wild creatures whom Thou hast made wise, strong, and beautiful we supplicate for them Thy great tenderness of heart for Thou hast promised to save both man and beast and great is Thy loving kindness, O Master, Saviour of the world.

Basil thus prays for both domesticated and wild animals, commending them, along with their needs, to a compassion that extends to all creatures.

Wennberg inserts two footnotes regarding his two quotes. The first is Sorabji’s Animal Minds and Human Morals, pages 199-200; while the second is from Linzey & Regan’s anthology, Love the Animals.

As I noted in Part Two, Sorabji says “Basil of Caesarea insists that animals live not for us alone, but for themselves and for God.” and he immediately gives as his only bibliographic reference “Basil Liturgy”. Sorabji failed to provide a direct reference to a published version of the Liturgy. Thus Wennberg’s documentary chain-link is very weak.

Similarly, Wennberg’s quotation of “Their Guileless Lives” is at best fourth-hand: Wennberg to Linzey & Regan to Newman to an unknown source.

Randall Balmer

Randall Balmer has distinguished himself as an astute historian of American evangelicalism. In Thy Kingdom Come: How the Religious Right Distorts the Faith and Threatens America (New York: Basic Books, 2006), Balmer discusses the problems of the environment. His fifth chapter begins (p 143) with an epigraph quote, which consists of St. Basil’s “Our Brothers the Animals”. Unfortunately, there is no bibliographical reference for the quote.

Fred Van Dyke

Fred Van Dyke is Professor of Field Biology at Wheaton College, Illinois. He has written a number of articles, contributed chapters to books, and authored two books, many of which are concerned about developing a distinctly Christian attitude and ethic about the environment. In Between Heaven and Earth: Christian Perspectives on Environmental Protection (Santa Barbara, California: ABC-CLIO, 2010), Van Dyke cites on page 75 both “Their Guileless Lives” and “Our Brothers the Animals”. He obtained both quotes from the Roman Catholic Irish Columban missionary Sean McDonagh, The Greening of the Church (Maryknoll: Orbis 1990). However, Van Dyke does not supply any page references from McDonagh’s book.

Peter Illyn (Restoring Eden)

Over a decade ago I co-founded an e-journal called Sacred Tribes Journal. I helped co-edit the first few editions (from Volume 1 to Volume 2), and then editorial responsibilities were assumed by other colleagues. Much to my chagrin, I find that one guest contributor to the journal has added to the top-heavy pile of unsourced quotes concerning St. Basil’s prayer “Our Brothers the Animals”.

A themed edition of Sacred Tribes Journal was devoted to discussing Bron Taylor’s book Dark Green Religion which was published as Volume 6, number 1 (Spring 2011). One of the articles (pp 47-65) was by Peter Illyn, “Belly-Button Christianity: Tribal Christians Speak to Today’s Church. An Interaction With “Dark Green Religion.”

On page 55, Illyn states:

Contrast the grossly utilitarian worldview of Ann Coulter with that of St. Basil, the Bishop of Caesarea around 375 AD, who wrote “Oh, God, enlarge within us the sense of fellowship with all living things, our brothers the animals to whom you gave the earth in common with us. We remember with shame that in the past we have exercised the high dominion of man with ruthless cruelty so that the voice of the earth, which should have gone up to you in song, has been a groan of travail.”

There is no bibliographical reference given in his essay but on the face of it one can surmise that Illyn obtained this quote from Scully’s Dominion.

I might add parenthetically that elsewhere in his essay (page 64) Illyn also makes use of material obtained from the Philokalia (Volume1), which he says that was written by St. Anthony the Great. Unfortunately, Illyn does not alert his readers to the fact that the  editors expressly state in a preface to the work attributed to St Antony that they do not believe it is a genuine work. They go further to disclaim that it is even a Christian text:

For these reasons, the Editors of the English translation do not regard the work On the Character of Men and on the Virtuous Life as a Christian writing, and have therefore placed it in an appendix.

The Philokalia, Volume 1, translated and edited by G. E. H. Palmer, Philip Sherrard and Kallistos Ware (London: Faber, 1979), p 328.

Ben Lowe

Ben Lowe is a younger evangelical author writing for the mass-market. His book Green Revolution: Coming Together to Care for Creation (Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 2009) tells stories to inspire evangelicals to become active in practicising a lifestyle ethic that preserves the creation. On page 155 he reproduces “Our Brothers the Animals” but does not supply any bibliographical reference.

Janet Regina Hyland

The late J. R. Hyland (1933-2007) began her spiritual life as a Roman Catholic but subsequently participated in the Assemblies of God (AOG) churches and was ordained a home missionary in the AOG. She was a strong advocate for animal rights and for adopting a vegetarian diet, and established in Florida her para-church organisation Viatoris Ministries. Hyland wrote God’s Covenant with Animals: A Biblical Basis for the Humane Treatment of All Creatures (New York: Lantern, 2000). On page xi she reproduces an abbreviated version of “Our Brothers the Animals” but did not supply any reference for the quote. She also incorrectly dated St. Basil to “A.D. 275”.

<end of Part Three; see next post for continuation of this discussion>