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Side Effect of the Incarnation: An Elevation and Balanced View of Animal Welfare

In the days leading up to Christmas I will be posting a series on some of the good works and wonderful blessings to mankind that are a “side effect” of Jesus’ birth. (See the introductory post here.) This series is inspired by “What if Jesus Had Never Been Born” by the late Dr. D. James Kennedy.

“A righteous [man] regardeth the life of his beast: but the tender mercies of the wicked [are] cruel.” –Proverbs 12:10
An improvement of respect for animal life is an often overlooked side effect of the birth of Jesus Christ. But I could not refrain from discussing it since it touches my own profession as a veterinarian so closely (and indeed is a major motivation in what I do for a living). Christians through the ages have written and worked against animal cruelty, because they a) respected life made by their Savior and b) took to heart Scriptures which speak of God’s concern for animals (Psalm 147:9, Psalm 36:6b, Isaiah 43:20, Matthew 6:25) and c) saw themselves correctly at stewards of God’s creation (Genesis 2:15).
  • Early veterinarians in Christian Byzantium pioneered the preservation and advancement of animal medicine and care (particularly in regard to horses) by their work and writings through the Middle Ages. These included Apsyrtos, Hierokles, Flavius Renatus Vegetius, and Demetrios Pepagomenos.
  • Some of the earliest veterinary “schools” were founded in Christian countries throughout the Middle Ages and Renaissance. The Benedictine Monastery at Salerno (which produced a major treatise on internal medicine and a formulary that still survive today) and the cities of Montpelier, Paris, Bologna, and Padua are examples. The trend to study veterinary medicine and pursue animal welfare continued to flourish among Christian countries in the 18thcentury with the establishment of the first official veterinary schools in Lyons, Alfort, Budapest, Italy, Hannover, Coppenhagen, and London.
  • Bishop Theodoric of Cervia (1250-c.1296) helped to develop pre-surgical analgesia (pain medication) for horses.
  • Thomas Wentworth (1593-1641) a Protestant lawyer in Ireland, worked to pass a law against the cruel practice of attaching plows to the horse’s tail or pulling the wool (as opposed to shearing it) off of sheep. This is considered by many to be the first legislation against animal cruelty.
  • Nathaniel Ward (1578-1652) was a Puritan clergyman in Massachusetts Colony who wrote a treatise, “Off the Bruite Creature,” that resulted in a law against animal cruelty passed in 1641.
  • The Society for the Prevential of Cruelty to Animals was established by concerned Christians in Britain in 1824. William Wilberforce (a devout Christian who worked to end the British slave trade as well) and Reverend Arthur Broome were prominent among the initial founders.

And, while we’re on the subject, I would argue that Christ’s influence over the years (through His followers) has done much to temper and prevent excess in this area of animal welfare. I cannot write about this unique ability of Christian natural philosophy to maintain a sane “middle road” between animal cruelty and animal worship, with any greater perspicuity than G.K. Chesterton. So I will simply reproduce a long quote from him here….
“Darwinism can be used to back up two mad moralities, but it cannot be used to back up a single sane one. The kinship and competition of all living creatures can be used as a reason for being insanely cruel or insanely sentimental; but not for a healthy love of animals … That you and a tiger are one may be a reason for being tender to a tiger. Or it may be a reason for being cruel as the tiger. It is one way to train the tiger to imitate you, it is a shorter way to imitate the tiger. But in neither case does evolution tell you how to treat a tiger reasonably, that is, to admire his stripes while avoiding his claws.
“If you want to treat a tiger reasonably, you must go back to the garden of Eden. For the obstinate reminder continues to recur: only the supernaturalist has taken a sane view of Nature. The essence of all pantheism, evolutionism and modern cosmic religion is really in this proposition: that Nature is our mother. Unfortunately, if you regard Nature as a mother, you discover that she is a stepmother. The main point of Christianity was this: that Nature is not our mother: Nature is our sister. We can be proud of her beauty, since we have the same father; but she has no authority over us; we have to admire, but not to imitate.” -G.K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy (John Lane, London, pp. 204–205, 1927.)

And there you have it! A few more reasons you should think of the birth of Christ as tidings of great comfort and joy!
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