Mar. 16th, 2007
A reader writes:
I got hit by the old line that eating fish was related to boosting the fishing industry. The sad thing was the guy said he heard if from a seminarian. I went to EWTN and looked at some posts but wasn’t real happy with what I saw there.
Do you have (at Catholic Answers) or on some simple but documented history of eating fish?
This is one of those things that is hard to verify because of how backwards the situation is. Every year people claim that eating fish on Fridays was introduced to help the Italian fishing industry, but nobody ever comes up with primary source documents to estabish this.
It seems to me that the burden of proof is on the people making this claim. Unless they can produce an original source document saying this, it isn't worth giving any credence to.
I say the burden of proof is on them because I don't believe the claim (I think it's a myth), and the burden of proof is always on the person you disagree with.
It seems to me that the following is far more likely to account for the situation:
- Church law is written in Latin.
- In Latin the thing we are forbidden to eat on (today certain) Fridays is carnis.
- In Latin, carnis means the flesh of warm-blooded, land-dwelling animals.
- Since people couldn't eat carnis, they looked for things similar to carnis to eat on Fridays.
- Tofu burgers not having been introduced in the West, people started eating fish.
- The practice of eating fish became widespread.
- People who didn't know Latin started looking for an explanation of why fish is eaten but not the flesh of land animals.
- The sinful streak in human nature made them want to attribute some kind of self-interested motive to the Church in allowing fish.
- Somebody noticed that forbidding meat on Fridays would have the effect of economically benefitting the fishing industry.
- Somebody attributed the allowance of fish to an attempt by the pope to economically benefit the finishing industry.
- The rumor spread far and wide because people still have a sinful streak whereby they want to attribute selfish motives to others and, in particular, to the pope.
If there were a requirement that people eat fish on Friday (there ain't) then one would have a better case for the fishing-industry story, but in the absence of a requirement or any primary source document to the contrary, the above seems to me to be the more likely way to account for the matter.