The Life of the Saint and the Animal

Asian Religious Influence in the Medieval Christian West

Authors

  • Joseph A.P. Wilson University of Florida

DOI:

https://doi.org/10.1558/jsrnc.v3i2.169

Keywords:

history of religions, human obligations to living things, Buddhism, Christianity

Abstract

This paper seeks to challenge the notion that European Christianity was untouched by Asian religious influence during much of the Common Era. Rather, I propose that certain Indian ethical tenets were incorporated into Christian ascetic practices as a consequence of interaction with heretical intermediaries. In medieval Europe, the spiritual kinship of animals and humans was widely taken for granted by common folk and heretical clerics. Indic religious doctrines on this subject may have diffused gradually into Western popular religion even while the Church worked systematically through official channels to prevent their transmission. Inspired by the work of Graeme MacQueen, I examine evidence of saint–animal interactions in several medieval hagiographies. These saints’ lives model ethical responsibility toward nonhuman life. I argue that Buddhist Jataka stories provide the prototype for these characters. Ultimately, similar ethical tenets were integrated into orthodox Christian asceticism by Saint Francis of Assisi. Some of Francis’s inspiration may have originated in Asia, later carried to Europe along the Silk Road as doctrines of the Manichees: secretive, syncretistic heretics continuously persecuted by the Church over the better part of a millennium.

Author Biography

Joseph A.P. Wilson, University of Florida

Alumni Fellow (pre-doctoral), cultural anthropology Dept. of Anthropology University of Florida Highest degrees earned: MA - Religion - SOAS 2002 MSc - Archaeology - Michigan Tech 2004

References

Amore, Roy C. 1978. Two Masters, One Message: The Lives and Teachings of Gautama and Jesus (Nashville: Parthenon).

Barnstone, W., and M. Meyer. 2003. The Gnostic Bible (Boston: Shambhala).

Blaut, J.M. 1993. The Colonizer’s Model of the World: Geographical Diffusionism and Eurocentric History (New York: Guilford Press).

Brock, S.P. 2008. ‘Saints in Syriac: A Little-Tapped Resource’, Journal of Early Christian Studies 16.2: 181-96. doi:10.1353/earl.0.0014.

Brown, C.F.W. 1913. ‘St. Hubert’, in C.G. Herbermann (ed.), The Catholic Encyclopedia, VII (New York: Robert Appleton): 507-508.

Bruns, J.E. 1971. The Christian Buddhism of St. John: New Insights into the Fourth Gospel (New York: Paulist Press).

Burr, D. 2001. The Spiritual Franciscans: From Protest to Persecution in the Century after Saint Francis (University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press).

Chakravarty, U. 1993. ‘Women, Men and Beasts: The Jataka as Popular Tradition’, Studies in History 9.1: 43-70. doi:10.1177/025764309300900103.

Cowell, E.B. 1895. The J_taka or Stories of the Buddha’s Former Births, I (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press).

Derrett, J.D.M. 2002. ‘Consolation and a Parable: Two Contacts between Ancient Greece and Buddhists’, Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies 65.3: 518-28. doi:10.1017/S0041977X02000319.

Drees, C.J. 1992. ‘Today’s Heretic, Tomorrow’s Saint’, Skeptic 1.4: 24-33.

Edmunds, A.J. 1908. Buddhist and Christian Gospels: Being Gospel Parallels from the Pali Texts (2 vols.; Philadelphia: Innes & Sons, 4th edn).

Englebert, O. 1951. The Lives of the Saints (New York: Barnes & Noble).

Foltz, R., and M. Saadi-nejad. 2007. ‘Is Zoroastrianism an Ecological Religion?’, Journal for the Study of Religion, Nature and Culture 1.4: 413-30.

Fynes, R.C.C. 1996. ‘Plant Souls in Jainism and Manichaeism: The Case for Cultural Transmission’, East and West 46.1-2: 21-44.

Garbe, R. 1911. ‘Contributions of Buddhism to Christianity’, The Monist 21: 509-70.

Gaster, M. 1894. ‘The Nigrodha-miga-Jataka and the Life of St. Eustathius Placidus’, Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society 1894: 335-40.

Grumett, D. 2007. ‘Vegetarian or Franciscan: Flexible Dietary Choices Past and Present’, Journal for the Study of Religion, Nature and Culture 1.4: 450-67.

Grundmann, H. 2008. ‘Religious Movements in the Middle Ages’, in Halverson 2008: 137-45.

Halverson, J.L. (ed.). 2008. Contesting Christendom: Readings in Medieval Religion and Culture (Lanham, MD: Rowan & Little_eld).

Hanson, J.M. 2005. ‘Was Jesus a Buddhist?’, Buddhist-Christian Studies 25: 75-89. doi:10.1353/bcs.2005.0050.

Heffernan, T.J. 1975. ‘An Analysis of the Narrative Motifs in the Legend of St. Eustace’, Medievalia et Humanistica NS 6: 63-89.

Hoddinott, R.F. 1963. Early Byzantine Churches in Macedonia and Southern Serbia: A Study in the Origins and Initial Development of East Christian Art (London: Macmillan).

Ikegami, K. 1999. Barlaam and Josaphat: A Transcription of MS Egerton 876 with Notes, Glossary, and Comparative Study of the Middle English and Japanese Versions (New York: AMS Press).

Jonas, H. 1963. The Gnostic Religion: The Message of the Alien God and the Beginnings of Christianity (Boston: Beacon Press, 2nd edn).

Klimkeit, H.-J. 1981. ‘Christians, Buddhists and Manichaeans in Medieval Central Asia’, Buddhist-Christian Studies 1: 46-50. doi:10.2307/1390097.

Kotzé, A. 2001. ‘Reading Psalm 4 to the Manicheans’, Vigiliae Christianae 55.2: 119-36.

Lambert, M. 1998. The Cathars (Oxford: Blackwell).

Lang, D.M. 1967. ‘Introduction’, in G.R. Woodward and H. Mattingly (trans.), Barlaam and Ioasaph (London: William Heinemann): ix-xx.

MacQueen, G. 1998. ‘Changing Master Narratives in Midstream: Barlaam and Josaphat and the Growth of Religious Intolerance in the Buddhalegend’s Westward Journey’, Journal of Buddhist Ethics 5: 144-66.

________. 2002. ‘The Killing Test: The Kinship of Living Beings and the Buddhalegend’s First Journey to the West’, Journal of Buddhist Ethics 9: 109-48.

Obeyesesekere, G. 2003. ‘The Death of the Buddha: A Restorative Interpretation’, in A.M. Blackburn and J. Samuels (eds.), Approaching the Dhamma: Buddhist Texts and Practices in South and Southeast Asia. (Seattle: BPS Pariyatti Editions): 17-45.

Obolensky, D. 1948. The Bogomils: A Study in Balkan Neo-Manichaeism (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press).

Palmer, M. 2001. The Jesus Sutras: Rediscovering the Lost Scrolls of Taoist Christianity (New York: Ballantine).

Polo, M. 1958. The Travels of Marco Polo (trans. R. Latham; London: Penguin Books).

Rawlinson, H.G. 1975. ‘Early Contacts between India and Europe’, in A.L. Basham (ed.), A Cultural History of India (Oxford: Clarendon Press): 425-41.

Rhys-Davids, T.W. 1880. Buddhist Birth-Stories (Jataka Tales) (London: Trübner).

Roach, A.P. 2008. ‘The Devil’s World: Heresy and Society, 1100–1300’, in Halverson 2008: 171-77.

Runciman, S. 1961. The Medieval Manichee: A Study of the Christian Dualist Heresy (New York: Viking Press).

Scott, D. 1995. ‘Buddhist Responses to Manichaeism: Mah_y_na Reaf_rmation of the “Middle Path”?’, History of Religions 35.2: 148-62. doi:10.1086/463418.

Smith, H., and P. Novak. 2004. Buddhism: A Concise Introduction (San Francisco: HarperCollins).

Sugirtharajah, R.S. 1999. Asian Biblical Hermeneutics and Postcolonialism: Contesting the Interpretations (Shef_eld: Shef_eld Academic Press).

de Voragine, J. 1998. The Golden Legend: Selections (trans. C. Stace; London: Penguin Books).

Welburn, A. 1998. Mani, the Angel and the Column of Glory: An Anthology of Manichean Texts (Edinburgh: Floris Books).

Williams D. 2005. ‘Pope Acts to Restrain Franciscans of Assisi: Edict Revoking Monks’ Autonomy Seen as Reaction to Their Interfaith Activism’, Washington Post Foreign Service, 29 November: A18.

Published

2009-07-22

How to Cite

Wilson, J. A. (2009). The Life of the Saint and the Animal: Asian Religious Influence in the Medieval Christian West. Journal for the Study of Religion, Nature and Culture, 3(2), 169–194. https://doi.org/10.1558/jsrnc.v3i2.169