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.

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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.

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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).

Bishop Westcott on Vivisection

N.B. The following text in this blog-post Bishop Westcott on Vivisection is Copyright © 2012 Philip Johnson.

N. B. Westcott’s tracts, that were distributed after 1901, and reproduced below are in the public domain.


Before I refer to Bishop Westcott’s sermon against animal vivisection, it would be prudent to first of all consider the background context out of which his view was formed: namely, the man’s life and faith.

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Brooke Foss Westcott (1825-1901) was an English scholar of the New Testament, and an Anglican clergyman. After studying at Cambridge University, he served for a while as a master at Harrow School. He then served as Regius Professor of Divinity at Cambridge from 1870-1890. In terms of ecclesiastical posts, Westcott was appointed as a Canon at Peterborough Cathedral and then at  Westminster Abbey. In the last decade of his life he served as the Bishop of Durham.

Besides his theological interests, Westcott was wide ranging in his reading of many areas of thought including mathematics, the natural sciences, architecture, and poetry.

He distinguished himself as an accomplished scholar of the New Testament, especially in his collaborative work with Fenton Hort in preparing a critical apparatus of New Testament Greek manuscripts. His contributions on the subject of the textual criticism of the manuscripts of the New Testament remains one of his enormous legacies to present-day scholarship.

He wrote more than twenty books including commentaries on the Gospel of John, the Epistles of John and the Epistle to the Hebrews. Other works looked at the practical application of Christian teachings to life. He upheld a mystical and sacramental understanding in his theology and it is reflected in many of his books.

He supported Christian missions in India, and helped to establish the Cambridge Mission to Delhi. He had four sons who participated in missions work in India.

In his years as a Bishop he participated in the work of the Christian Social Union (CSU), which had many practical works among the poor and pursued issues of social justice. The CSU had theological affinities with the social gospel. Westcott himself acted as a mediator in brokering a solution to a strike taken by the workers at the Durham Collieries and the owners.

Several of his books went through multiple editions including works that examined the formation of the canon of the Bible. Another important book that he revised and had republished several times was The Gospel of the Resurrection.


Unlike many theologians today who down-play or take it for granted, Westcott saw Christ’s resurrection as the lynchpin of faith. He saw the resurrection as undergirding the very principles of Christian ethics, and by inference that must shape any Christian ethical behaviour  about animals.

In my recently published co-written book The Cross Is Not Enough (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2012), I closed our chapter on the resurrection in church history (page 221) by quoting Westcott:

“The message of the Resurrection sums up in one fact the teaching of the Gospel. It is the one central link between the seen and the unseen. We cannot allow our thoughts to be vague or undecided upon it with impunity. We must place it in the very front of our confession, with all that it includes, or we must be prepared to lay aside the Christian name. Even in its ethical aspect Christianity does not offer a system of morality, but a universal principle of morality which springs out of the Resurrection. The elements of dogma and morality are indeed inseparably united in the Resurrection of Christ; for the same fact which reveals the glory of the Lord, reveals at the same time the destiny of man and the permanence of all that goes to make up the fullness of life. If the Resurrection be not true, the basis of Christian morality, no less than the basis of Christian theology, is gone. The issue cannot be stated too broadly. We are not Christians unless we are clear in our confession on this point. To preach the fact of Resurrection was the first function of the Evangelists; to embody the doctrine of the Resurrection is the great office of the Church; to learn the meaning of the Resurrection is the task of not one age only, but of all.” (Brooke Foss Westcott, The Gospel of the Resurrection, London and Cambridge: MacMillan, 1866, pp 6-7).

The centrality of the resurrection is crystal clear in Westcott’s thinking as he values it as the theological lynchpin upon which all else rests.


Although Westcott did not write a work in animal theology, he did make scattered remarks that ought to be remembered. Westcott (1884: 58) took a Christocentric view about the natural world, which by extension he saw as a call to Christians to be reverential, tender, watchful and loving towards all creatures:

Christ as the light opens the secrets of the visible order of Nature. We too on our part by reverence, by tenderness, by patience, by watchful and loving care for all creatures can make it felt about us that we can look for Him and see Him in His works, and know that through them He is still waiting to teach us more of the wonderful things of His law.

Westcott (1897: 375-376) believed that a callous disregard for the life of creatures through the sport of shooting and the practice of vivisection reflected badly on the character of those involved. In Westcott’s view this showed a complete lack of reverence toward the life given by God to all creatures, which stands in sharp contrast to the spirit of tenderness found in Christ:

The flower torn up and thrown upon the ground, the sea-bird shot upon the wing in the wantonness of skill, the dog tortured in vain curiosity show the same temper. And such actions trivial as they may seem, profoundly affect the character of the doer. When we violate the reverence due to God’s creatures we grow insensible to the joy which they can bring. We spoil and waste our heritage. On the other hand the spirit of devotion is strengthened by habitual tenderness.

Another long-forgotten contribution from Westcott came in a sermon he delivered during his time as a Canon at Westminster Abbey. In September 2011, I obtained from a British antiquarian book dealer two small tracts that use excerpts from the sermon that Westcott preached at the Abbey on 18 August, 1889.

One was distributed by the Society United for Prayer for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Especially with regard to the Practice of Vivisection (North Kensington, London). The second was distributed by the National Anti-Vivisection Society (Victoria Street, London).


Arthur Westcott, Life and Letters of Brooke Foss Westcott D.D., D.C.L. Sometime Bishop of Durham, 2 Vols (Vol. 1; Vol. 2; London & New York: MacMillan, 1903).

Brooke Foss Westcott, Christian Aspects of Life (London: Macmillan, 1897).

Brooke Foss Westcott, The Revelation of the Father: Short lectures on the titles of the lord in the Gospel of St. John (London: MacMillan, 1884).

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.


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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.


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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>