In the early centuries of Christianity vegetarianism was the norm according to such authoritative persons as Saint Jerome, Papias, Tertullian, Saint Benedict, Saint Clement of Alexandria, Eusebius, Saint John Chrysostom, Saint Cyprian, Saint Pantaenus, and Saint Basil the Great.
Saint Peter’s words on meat-eating have already been cited in my earlier post
The historian Hegesippus records that Saint James of Jerusalem “did not drink wine nor eat any living thing.”
Saint Clement of Alexandria recorded that Sain Matthew the Evangelist ate nothing but nuts.
In his Church History (Book 2, chapter 17), Eusebius states the Saint Mark told the Christians he converted in Alexandria to always refrain from meat.
Both Saint Epiphanios and Saint Cyril of Jerusalem wrote that originally the Christians abstained from meat. Saint Augustine, Saint Jerome, and the historian Theodoretos said the same thing.
Saint Anthony the Great of Egypt, Patriarch of Christian monks, “very strictly forbade the eating of meat, as the written account of his life demonstrates” says Saint Basil of Poiana Marului.
Saint Jerome, virtually quoting Saint Paul wrote: “It is a good thing not to drink wine and not to eat flesh.”
Commenting on the same statement of Saint Paul, Saint Clement of Alexandria wrote: “It is good, then, neither to eat flesh nor to drink wine, as he [Saint Paul] and the Pythagoreans acknowledged. For this is rather characteristic of a beast; and the fumes arising from them being dense, darken the soul” (The Instructor, Book II, chapter 1). Certainly to the point! Eating flesh is a trait of beasts, not men, and the subtle emanations (“fumes”) of meat that are absorbed into the psychic part of our existence darken our minds and souls. He says a little further on that “Happiness is found in the practice of virtue. Accordingly, the Apostle Matthew partook of seeds, and nuts, and vegetables, without flesh.” That pursuance of a fleshfree diet is a virtue leading to happiness should not surprise us, for happiness is an interior state, and our inner makeup is produced almost exclusively from the food we eat.
In Book VII of the Stromata, Saint Clement further wrote: “If any one of the righteous does not burden his soul by the eating of flesh, he has the advantage of a rational reason. Now Xenocrates, treating by himself of ‘the food derived from animals,’ and Polemon in his work on Life according to Nature, seem clearly to say that animal food is unwholesome, inasmuch as it has already been elaborated and assimilated to the souls of the irrational creatures.” Apparently in ancient Alexandria there were also, as today, the “cute” who would tell vegetarians that “the cow eats the grass, and I eat the cow. So I am a vegetarian too.” Saint Clement was not laughing, for he looked at the esoteric side of things, as did Xenocrates and Polemon, both of whom had been head of the Platonic Academy. Fruits, vegetables and grains have pure, unconditioned life energies. But when those energies are taken into animals they become “elaborated and assimilated” to their souls (psychic bodies), as the authorities cited by Saint Clement affirm, and thus unfit for human consumption.
After citing the earlier writers, Saint Clement discusses the fact that various spiritual traditions have enjoined abstinence from certain kinds of animal flesh because they produced the behavior patterns of those animals in those who ate them. Although many non-Christian athletes ate meat for the strength it supposedly gave them, Saint Clement points out that “to those who devote themselves to the development of the soul it is not so,” but rather is detrimental to their endeavors. Therefore, he says, the wise man “will abstain from the eating of flesh for the sake of training,…. ‘For wine,’ says Androcydes, ‘and gluttonous feeds of flesh make the body strong, but the soul more sluggish.’ Accordingly such food, in order to clear understanding, is to be rejected.”
Saint Basil the Great wrote: “With sober living, well-being increases in the household, animals are in safety, there is no shedding of blood, nor putting animals to death.” Even more strongly: “Whose bones fell in the desert? Was it not the bones of those who sought to eat meat? For as long as these people had been satisfied with manna, they vanquished Egypt and passed through the midst of the sea, but when they remembered meat and the fleshpots, they did not see the promised land.”
In a homily on the Gospel of Matthew, Saint John Chrysostom said: “Flesh meats and wine serve as materials for sensuality and are a source of danger, sorrow, and disease.”
From ancient times in the Church of Iraq no one could be made a bishop whose mother had not been a vegetarian–at least throughout her pregnancy
The Virgin Mary
In the early part of the sixth century a young man named Dositheus went on pilgrimage to Jerusalem. In one of the churches there he saw a fresco of the judgment of the soul, and was very drawn to it. As he stood, studying it, a woman robed in purple (something prohibited to anyone but the Emperor or Empress) came up to him and began to speak to him about spiritual life. In conclusion she told him that if he sought salvation he must never eat meat. She then vanished, and he realized that he had been speaking to the Virgin Mary. He followed Her advice and is remembered as a saint on the nineteenth day of February every year. So there is certainly no doubt as to the value of vegetarianism in his case!