Tag Archives: fast

Chocolate vs. The Catholic Church

Chocolate Easter Eggs

When you think of Easter, whether you are Christian or not, the content in the image seen above is familiar.

Easter is a Christian religious holiday that celebrates the resurrection of Jesus Christ, but today it has also become a period of time where individuals eat specialized chocolate treats sold only during this time of year. One cannot think about Easter without thinking of chocolate eggs or chocolate bunnies stacking the shelves of supermarkets and drug stores similar to the image below.

Easter Chocolate Being Sold in a Store

With chocolate being such a strong component of the Christian holiday of Easter, it is difficult to believe that when chocolate was first discovered by Spain in the 16th century, the Catholic Church attempted to marginalize the new foodstuff because of their initial inability to classify it and determine its relationship with the ecclesiastical fast. Social, economic, and cultural factors help explain why the cacao crop was not completely destroyed and dictate why the relationship between chocolate and the Catholic Church is what it is today.

During the time of this debate, a fast was defined as withholding from ingesting any nourishment between midnight and Holy Communion, with the exception of drinking to allay thirst as long as the liquid did not provide any nourishment (5). Because cacao can be prepared in many different ways and take on both a solid and liquid form, the main question was whether or not chocolate was a liquid or a solid. If it were deemed a food or a solid, if one consumed chocolate during a period of fasting then one would be committing a mortal sin. The controversy was even more complex because of the numerous nutritional ingredients that can be added to chocolate, including maize. Mexican physician Juan de Cárdenas began the debate in Mexico in 1591 by interpreting the word “drink” in two different ways. He states that one way to think about the word is anything drinkable and therefore permitted to be consumed during the fast. But another way is to consider it a liquid that is intended to refresh and quench thirst. Cádenas concluded that chocolate in any form breaks the fast because the intention behind fasting is to deny the human body of food and nutrition (1). There were many other arguments put forward over time in order to settle this debate. Dominican friar Agust´ın Davila Padilla wrote in favor of consuming chocolate during the ecclesiastical fast. This ruling was favored among some members of the Church because it lessened the moral dilemma of taking chocolate (5). Later, around 1636, Spaniard Antonio de León Pinelo produced a book stating that the solution depended on the added ingredients. If chocolate were concocted with plain water, it was merely a drink and did not break the fast (5). Individuals continued to put forth arguments, which left some discontented and others pleased.

Factors contributing to the debate extend beyond religious ones due to chocolate’s strong social influence. The complexity of this argument and chocolate’s power is illustrated in the story of Bishop Don Bernardino de Salazar who, in 1625, with the backing of the Spanish government and the Catholic Church, prevented the consumption of chocolate during the celebration of mass. He argued that the consumption during mass was not only distracting but also drew attention away from worshipping and praising God properly (5). The peninsulares, Spanish Catholic women in Latin America, had their maids deliver them chocolate during mass. When the bishop threatened excommunication, they simply chose to attend their neighborhood cathedrals instead of giving up taking chocolate during mass. Soon after, the bishop passed away after consuming chocolate himself. Because it is so well known that chocolate is a great vessel to deliver poison, it is rumored that he was poisoned to death.

The economic value of cacao beans to Spain and the Catholic Church ensured that chocolate did not disappear as a result of this debate and was a strong attributing factor in the stance certain groups took on the matter. The Jesuits, a denomination of Christianity, supported that chocolate was a liquid and could not break any fast because of their own stakes in the cacao trade (3). In addition, the Spanish Crown used cacao beans as a commodity for taxation, and the Catholic Church profited from the forced labor and tribute of the native inhabitants that cultivated the cacao beans (5).

Four Molinillos: A Tool Used to Create Froth in Chocolate Beverages
A Mancerina: Used by the Spanish to “Take Chocolate”

Furthermore, chocolate took on cultural significance in Spain. Chocolate was a luxury product that “became a ritual around which an entire consumer culture developed” (5). Special instruments and material objects like the ones seen in the image above and to the right lent a certain protocol to the act of “taking chocolate” (5), as the Spanish referred to it. The molinillo was vital in the preparation of the chocolate beverage, creating a strongly desired froth on the top. The mancerina, used to hold the chocolate beverage, exhibits chocolate’s status as an extravagant commodity .

After centuries of debating, the Catholic Church was forced to take a stance. In 1662 the Vatican ended the stalemate when Cardinal Francisco Maria Brancaccio declared that: “Beverages do not break the fast, since wine, being as it is so nutritious, does not break it. The same applies to cacao beverage” (2). In 1664 Italian Francesco Maria Brancaccio examined this decision stating that because fasting is not divine law, it is subject to change and should be changed to accommodate the fine chocolate beverage (2). Fortunately, consuming chocolate was deemed to not be a mortal sin nor break the ecclesiastical fast. Today when one thinks of fasting, one does not consider that chocolate was ever part of the discussion. Although chocolate and the Catholic Church used to be in conflict, they are now in a harmonious relationship. The Easter holiday is a time when chocolate sales peak. In 2015 $823 million in chocolate was bought the week before Easter (4). Without this holiday, special chocolate treats would not be sold in mass quantities, and without chocolate, many would not recognize Easter. It is because of chocolate’s initial social, economic, and cultural influence that it is still around today and exists in harmony with Christian holidays.


Works Cited:

  1. Coe, Sophie D. The True History of Chocolate. 3rd ed. London: Thames & Hudson, 2013.
  2. De Orellana, Margarita, Clara Marín, Salvador Reyes Equiguas, Quentin Pope, Anahí Luna, Martha Few, Johanna Kufer, Nikolai Grube, Michael Heinrich, Michelle Suderman, Jorge Betanzos, Timothy Adès, José Luis Trueba Lara, Rafael Vargas, and Guadalupe Loaeza. “Chocolate III: RITUAL, ART AND MEMORY.” Artes De México, no. 110 (2013): 91. Accessed March 8, 2020. www.jstor.org/stable/24318995.
  3. De Orellana, Margarita, Quentin Pope, Sonia Corcuera Mancera, José Luis Trueba Lara, Jana Schroeder, Laura Esquivel, Jill Derais, Mario Humberto Ruz, Clara Marín, Miguel León-Portilla, Michelle Suderman, Marta Turok, Mario M. Aliphat Fernández, Laura Caso Barrera, Sophie D. Coe, Michael D. Coe, and Pedro Pitarch. “CHOCOLATE II: Mysticism and Cultural Blends.” Artes De México, no. 105 (2012): 73-96. Accessed March 6, 2020. www.jstor.org/stable/24319003.
  4. Fahey, Mark. “The Easter Bunny Is the King of Candy Sales.” CNBC. CNBC, March 24, 2016. https://www.cnbc.com/2016/03/24/easter-wins-the-candy-battle.html.
  5. Forrest, Beth Marie, and April L Najjaj. “Is Sipping Sin Breaking Fast? The Catholic Chocolate Controversy and the Changing World of Early Modern Spain.” Food and Foodways 15, no. 1-2 (2007): 34-43.

Church and Chocolate – The Turbulent Relationship of the two C’s

The strength of the Catholic Church and their presence in Europe is a commonly known fact, and it’s something that still holds true today.  Through the shrewd political tactics during the turmoil of the middle ages, the Catholic Church’s religious influence over western Europe became all encompassing (Hanson, 24-26). As someone who grew up in a religious household, the idea that chocolate would be a point of contention within the church was not just fascinating, but almost incomprehensible without a deeper understanding of what chocolate stood for when it was first introduced.

With the discovery of chocolates that came from the New World, questions began emerging within the church. Was this pagan beverage something that they supported or denounced? Would this beverage be beneficial to their influence or be a thorn on their side? It should be noted that when chocolate’s influence started rising in Europe, the Catholic Church was going through their own upheaval of what we now know as the Reformation, or the religious wars (Coe, 137).  They were struggling with the emergence of the Protestant wave and trying to maintain their borders and influence over the members that were unhappy with what the church represented.

This post isn’t to argue whether or not the church’s continuous changes in stance of chocolate was right or wrong, but to highlight how the discovery of chocolate brought about not just socioeconomic changes, but religious changes as well.

Fasting, Women and Poison

While there is no real record of when exactly chocolate reached Europe, but the first appearance takes place in Spain (Coe, 129-128). Making its way through the royal courts and nobility, the popularity of this beverage spiraled. This is also when the questions of chocolate and its relationship with the church began coming into question.

In 1636 Antonio de León Pinelo asked the question, “Where does chocolate fit into our moral and religious system?” (Martin, pp. 23).  Looking further back, we see that even before, there was a Dominican friar who had formally asked the pope whether or not chocolate was okay to consume during fast. It is stated that the pope merely had a good laugh with the cardinals regarding this question and did not even bother to write a response. So, why would this have been an issue? The church’s dilemma came from several issues: this was a beverage from a pagan colony that did not believe in their God, this chocolate beverage was often used as a meal substitute, and the products that were mixed in to the chocolate beverages could count as a type of food.

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Treatise by Leon Pinelo. Madrid, 1636.

The question about the consumption of chocolate, which was mostly in liquid form at the time, actually became a legitimate debate as time went by.  Jesuits, who had wholly accepted chocolate and were already using it as a tool for trades and investments, were for everything chocolate. Yet, the Dominicans who were much more puritanical and traditional, argued that the whole point of fast was to purify the body of food and thirst quenching liquids and thus chocolate should not be allowed (Coe, 148). Despite the fact that chocolate (once with the addition of sugar to subdue the bitterness of it) became a favorite amongst the cardinals and the pope, who declared that it was OK to consume during fast, many puritanical priests still held on to the idea that chocolate was not okay.

There was also the issue that chocolate had such strong ties to women, and the status was women was always a point of contention in the church (Martin, Lecture 3).  Since chocolate was prepared by women, the church initially felt that it was almost inappropriate for it to be enjoyed by men, especially during fast.  The church also probably felt threatened of their power when European women in Latin Americas, who had grown up away from Europe, did not listen to the sermons that were conducted in these colonies and instead chose to gossip right outside the church drinking chocolate while the priests were speaking (Martin, Lecture 3). It isn’t hard to see why the church began to perceive the presence as a threat to their ideals and their teachings.

Raimundo_Madrazo_-_Hot_Chocolate“Hot Chocolate”. Raimundo de Madrazo y Garreta, 1884-1885.

Also, the idea that chocolate was not a “Gift of God”, but perhaps something more sinister came to be with with the perceived murder of Pope Clement XIV.  Because chocolate had become sweeter and the taste was so strong, it was thought as the ideal vessel for poison.  When it was rumored that the pope was slowly poisoned to death through his favorite beverage, the consumption of chocolate within the church was also soured. Even though the rumor was eventually debunked, the idea that chocolate could be used as a tool of weapon made people much more wary of it.

The Society of Jesus

However, if there was a group of strong advocates for chocolate within the church, it was the Jesuits. The Jesuits were both feared and disliked by people inside and outside the church. This was mostly linked to their history as the militant arms of the church but also due to their large success in using slavery in the New World for their own profit. They captured and used forced labor on the locals to harvest large amounts of not just tobacco and cotton, but also cacao beans for their own monetary gains (Moss, 29).

The Jesuit missionaries tried to take this success past the Americas and Europe into parts of Asia. They wanted to repeat the success they had found in the New World and expand to China and other parts of the East. While they were mostly unsuccessful, they did find large amounts of success in the Philippines. As the Philippines became a Spanish colony, using the influence of the Catholic religion, they also introduced chocolate as a source of beverage and food as well.  The country, still to this day, enjoy copious amounts of chocolate and tend to have a lot of chocolate based food and beverages during the Christmas holidays.

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Malagos Chocolate (Philippine Chocolate Brand). Malagos webpage.

Works Cited:

Coe, Sophie D., and Michael D. Coe. The true history of chocolate. Thames and Hudson, 2013.

de Madrazo y Garreta, Raimundo; featured image. 1884-1885. Private collection. Oil on canvas. http://www.artnet.com/artists/raimundo-de-madrazo-y-garreta/hot-chocolate-806TPfsQ-L3wKppXQc2LlA2

Hanson, Eric O. Catholic church in world politics. Princeton University Press, 2016.

Malagos Chocolate; featured image. 2016. Malagos Facebook Page.

Martin, Carla. 2018 AAAS E-119 Lecture Slides. February 7th, pp.23, 25.

Martin, Carla. 2018 AAAS E-119 Lecture 3. Chocolate Expansion. February 7th.

Moss, Sarah, and Alexander Badenoch. Chocolate: A Global History. Reaktion Books, 2009.

Pinelo, Leon; featured image. Madrid, 1636.