Humans and animals have in common bodies subject to growth, injury, bleeding, and putrefaction. I have argued that the human domination of animals is the central act in making a human. Meat-eating is surely the most overt act of human dominion over animals, but, because digestion assimilates consumed animal bodies to human bodies, the meat-eating that helps create the human has a side effect: a body, because made of flesh, much like the one consumed. Given my flesh, what can be the difference between the steak I eat and the steak I am except perhaps my (temporary) mobility? Worse yet, because mainstream medieval Christianity demanded that the entire human body be resurrected, animals, joined to us by digestion, might be resurrected too; or, if animal carnivores killed and ate us, our bodies might join theirs, at least until they died, at which point our corpses, mingled with their carcasses, might remain inert dust forever; even worse still, anthropophagous animals, transformed by their partially human diet, might be resurrected into a Paradise thronged with zooanthropomorphic hybrids, an Eternal City of Dr. Moreau.
A man was passing through a wood and a wolf came from the wild forest; the wolf was indeed large and strong, and it ate all the flesh of the man, and then it left, going on its way. A lion came searching for its prey, and found no other animal [but the wolf]. It took the wolf by the head and strangled it to death. It ate the wolf entirely, leaving nothing behind. The lion died soon afterwards. The carcass lay on the ground and entirely rotted and turned to earth: where could the man be found in here?Bonjour, Adrien, ed. Dialogue de Saint-Julien et son disciple: poéme anglo-normand du XIIIe siècle, Anglo-Norman Texts Series 8. Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1949, ll. 1768-81.
Also, the meats [carnes] of animals and fish that are fit for the table of humans turn into the flesh [in carne] of the eater. All the flesh of humans will resurrect, therefore the flesh of these animals, having been made human, will resurrect. Also, the flesh of humans crosses over into the flesh of a wolf [that has eaten humans] and thus the flesh of the wolf will resurrect since the flesh of humans, which has crossed over into the wolf, will resurrect.Treatise by Master Martin, perhaps Martinus de Fugeriis From Richard Heinzmann, Die Unsterblichkeit der Seele und die Auferstehung des Leibe, Münster: Aschendorff, 1965, 181.
For they say that it is impossible that pig flesh will be purified on the Day of Judgment and should possess the Kingdom of God. The notion they believe is resolved: for [mainstream Christianity says] that pork even now is not pork but is transformed into human substance to be resurrected, and so will not be unsuitable, just as the mud of the earth is not simply mud, but, having been transfigured into the human form, will arise with Adam.On the Last Things (12th century), from Odon Lottin, Psychologie et morale aux XIIe et XIIIe siècles. 6 vols. Louvain: Abbaye du Mont César, 1942., Vol. V, 396.
But it is opposed that man, in eating beast flesh, turns it into his own flesh and that conversely a beast eating human flesh turns it into its own flesh, and thus the flesh of a beast having been converted into human flesh or having been made human will resurrect. I respond that neither human flesh turns into that of a wild beast or the other way around, but that one nourishes the other and makes it grow . . . Or, if it is allowed that one is converted into another, it is not however converted into the truth of human nature or the other way around. Or, however, if they are converted the Lord will know one from another and in the resurrection will separate them.An anonymous 12th-century Summa. Heinzmann, Immortality Doctrine, 211
While some theologians worried about whether or not bread would arise in the resurrection, most anxieties of food found their voice in worries, like those above, about meat. Whatever the responses to the anxiety (which were multiple, as Philip Lyndon Reynolds showed in Food and the Body: Some Peculiar Questions in High Medieval Theology (Brill, 1999)), each response declared that only what should resurrect would resurrect. Resurrection, in a way, was therefore less a reconstitution than a recognition of something that had never ceased to be, the human, the sole worldly thing destined for postmortem continuity.
Animals must suffer violence to be made meat (indeed, the penitentials proscribed the meat of animals dead from disease or accident); humans too must suffer violence to be made meat (notably, resurrection anxieties center around wolves and lions (and cannibals: more soon), not the worms of the De Contemptu tradition). In the eschatological systems of digestion and meat, animal violence must always give way to the perdurability of the human. Human violence that turns animals into food might have no long term effect whatsoever, since the pigs and oxen humans devour might simply pass through us, digested but not assimilated, leaving what is essentially us unchanged; other doctrines allowed the devoured pigs and oxen to transform into resurrectable flesh. But regardless of the scholar, they all, more or less implicitly, agreed that animal violence can never have any long-term effect: no animal can keep our flesh, or the flesh of its fellow animals, forever. The resurrection will make things right; its promise, perhaps, insured that even what happened here below was already right. No matter how similar the bodies humans shared with animals, no matter how similar their struggles in eating, digestion, and death, the violence of human eating is the only meat-eating that might transform flesh into a substance fit for the Eternal City. Our violence, not theirs, has meaning in the long run. Our violence can also make the law that justifies or requires it; it can free us from discovery of ourselves in the slaughtered bodies of animals; our violence can free us from the futility of making nothing but bodies joined by suffering. Or so runs the hope.
(fixed, as always, a bit after the original posting, for my usual mistakes and some vagueness: apologies)
Final Update: I wrote my post before I read this, but, as so often, Amanda Marcotte hits the points I would have wanted to make (or would have wanted myself to make) so well. Read it.