St. Arnold, Beer and Church Connections
Welcome to an essential brewvana series. Discussing The Role of Beer in a Christian Life OR The Role of Christianity in a Beery Life, “The Gospel According to St. Arnold” will be a Wednesday feature here at brewvana for the next few weeks.
If you missed the Preface, you can find it here.
If you missed Part 1–I smell a Pharisee, you can find it here.
In the Good Old Days, beer was a matter-of-fact daily drink. Boiled during production, it was safer to drink than water, which was often contaminated. Low in alcohol, even children imbibed. In short, it was normal. There was no sinful connotation. In fact, monks produced beer for not only their own nourishment, but also as a source of income.
Rochefort’s records indicate brewing as early as 1595. Orval’s records show brewing as early as 1628. Westmalle began brewing in 1836, Westvleteren in 1839. Achel’s monks were brewing for their own consumption by 1852, and Chimay began selling their beer by 1862. (Brew Like a Monk, Hieronymus)
Today, beer produced at Trappist monasteries in Belgium and The Netherlands are among the most highly acclaimed beers in the world. Tradition, attention to detail and what must be God’s blessing gives the Trappist ales a divine edge. In Stan Hieronymus’ book, Brew Like a Monk, Brother Pierre of Rochefort sums up a very good attitude: “You know, if there were a secret, it is to be found in our attitude towards life, in our relation with God and with nature. We believe that everything growing on the field or in nature–and what you brew out of it–is not merchandise but a gift.”
The Trappists have influenced brewers the world over and fill a special spot in the hearts of many beer enthusiasts and foodies alike. These fans aren’t junkies or whores. They’re bent on excellence at every turn and prefer quality over quantity. They savor aromas, flavors and the mouthfeel of a well-brewed beer (or well-prepared meal). With quality often comes added expense. Since some of these beers climb above 8% and 10% alcohol by volume, the occasional Christian Prohibitionist (CP) has been known to oppose the sale of these brews as downward spiral tools of raping the poor.
This is an unfortunate sentiment on many levels, but the offense to the Godly monks responsible for these brews is somehow more troubling to me than the offense to those that enjoy (and have the means to afford) beers of this ilk, or the offense to the poor or the alcoholic or even the minorities alluded to by the self-righteous conservatives responsible for such outlandish ideas.
These ideas would be somehow easier to stomach if they weren’t accompanied by such a healthy helping of hypocrisy. There are too many examples of preachers and politicians wooed by the money and women so easily accessible to those in a position of power. Of these people, I have two requests:
1) Change your delivery.
2) Give “the people” some credit.
If we’re not going to listen to the wisdom of Batman: “They may be drinkers, Robin, but they’re also human beings,” then let us listen to Plato: “Access to power must be confined to those who are not in love with it.”
The Trappist monks are a good role model for beer drinkers, regular people and Christian leaders of all kinds. They’re not out carousing, womanizing and slurping down beer all day. They spend their days in prayer, reflection, study and manual work. The work takes many forms–cooking, cleaning, gardening. The monastaries make ends meet through agricultural means as well as the sale of cookies, cheeses, wine, and yes, beer. As would be expected of a good organization (whether religious or secular), profits go not only toward supporting the monastery, but also to charities and community development.
The rich connection between beer and religion we see so ably demonstrated by the Trappists is nothing new. But just who is Arnold? The Patron Saint of Hop-pickers and Belgian brewers, Arnold of Soissons (1040-1087) was a Flanders-born soldier-turned-monk who began brewing and encouraging people to drink beer due to its healthy attributes. Of course, at this time, it wasn’t understood that the boiling of the wort kills the “bad guys” present in contaminated water.
He is said to have multiplied the stores of beer when the roof of an abbey brewery collapsed. Arnold of Soissons is also credited with inventing a method for filtering beer. On the Day of Beer–July 8–he is honored with a parade in Brussels.
There are other Arnolds, and some resulting confusion and meandering of whom gets credit for which great Beer Act. Arnold of Metz (580-640) is quoted as saying: “Don’t drink the water, drink beer.” Again, this was an ill-understood reference to contaminated water. I wonder if God put these words in his mouth? Probably. In any casee, this Arnold is also said to have cured a plague by submerging his crucifix into a brew kettle. When the sick drank from that “blessed” kettle, all was well.
If that’s not enough, cold beer poured from the casket carrying his bones, slaking the thirsts of those carrying him on a hot day.
But there are more than Arnolds near and dear to beer folk. St. Brigid (457-525) is only eclipsed in importance in her Irish homeland by St. Patrick himself. While working in a leper colony, beerless, she transformed water meant for bathing into beer. On another occasion, she turned her own dirty bathwater into beer for visiting clerics. She also stretched the contents of one beer barrel to accommodate the needs of 18 separate churches.
St. Columbanus (b. 612) happened across a crew of pagans preparing a vat of beer for sacrifice to their god Wodan. He blew on the great tub and it shattered, spilling the beer on the ground. He explained their waste of the good ale that his God so loved–loved when drunk in His name. Many converted that day.
Four other well-known saints have “Patron Saint of Brewers” attached to their resumes: Nicholas of Myra (4th Century), St. Luke (1st Century), St. Wenceslas (907-929) and Augustine of Hippo. There are Many more lesser known “Patron Saints of Brewers,” for various reasons, but St. Augustine of Hippo seems a good model after which we might wisely pattern our lives. Prior to his conversion, he was well known for his voracious appetite for alcohol and debauchery. Once converted, he lived a notable life of moderation, something others of us have also achieved (with or without saintly status). This is a way of living and drinking that might be acceptable to God.
If God can look at drinking in moderation as acceptable, then why shouldn’t those following Him on Earth? After all, it’s the love of money–not the money–that’s the root of all evil. I might extend that sentiment to interpret that it’s the drunkenness–not the drink–that would be the concern over alcohol.
Here in brewvana, it’s a perfect condition of harmony, beer and joy. For my grandma, it’s harmony, knitting and joy. Moderation, respect and a love of life, no matter the element of recreation one pursues, might be the positive and appreciative path God wishes us to travel.
Coming Wednesday, December 19: Part 3–What Would Jesus Brew?
A few related links and news items on beer and/or history and/or God:
Christians Drink Beer Too (Monday Night Brewery’s thoughts on the subject)
Trappist Beer (history and info on Trappist Brewing)
Saints of Suds (Patron Saint of Brewers info from The Brews Brothers)
Church Birthday Beer (Wadworth brewer collaborates with the Vicar’s wife)
Thou Shalt Not Buy Too Much of Our Beer (Wall Street Journal on Westy’s anti-marketing)