Church History Forum: eating fish on fridays during lent
eating fish on fridays during lent QUESTION from Dawn Heinen Monday, March 12, 2001 I have been told that the eating fish on fridays became a rule during the 10th century due to the fishing industry banning together because the eating of meat was taking away from their profits. Is this true? How did it come to past? what were the real circumstances, when did it happen? Is there any documented evidence of this anywhere?
Thank you Dawn Heinen
ANSWER by Mrs. Suzanne Fortin, B.A. on Dear Dawn,
I have also heard of this rumour, although in the version I heard, it was in the late Middle Ages. Unfortunately, this involves issues relating to medieval economic history, and my knowledge in that area is somewhat deficient.
I am skeptical of this hypothesis for a couple of reasons. First, meat-eating was a rarity. Only rich people could eat meat on a constant basis; the poor only ate meat, if ever, during feasts. So how could eating meat have affected the profits of fishermen? Secondly, what kind of clout would the fishing industry have to pressure the Vatican? In the later Middle Ages, it might make more sense when fishers discovered the Grand Banks of cod near Newfoundland, and the fishing became easy, but before that, it hardly makes sense to me. How many rich fishermen do you know?
Thirdly, abstinence, that is, the foregoing of meat, was a practice known since the early days of the Church, and Christians have always comemorated Friday as the day the Lord died. The Didache, Tertullian and Clement of Alexandria make mention of it. Pope Nicholas I (858-867) made fasting from meat obligatory for the faithful.
So there are alternative, more plausible explanations for the origin of Friday abstinence.
Thank you for your question.
God Bless, Suzanne Fortin
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