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At lunch today I heard the claim again that the practice of eating fish on Fridays was started by the church to help save a floundering Italian economy at a time when fishing was its primary industry.

I have heard this many times and a quick search shows this is a common claim. It was even the subject of an article in the Ferris State Torch in 2010

Is there any evidence to support either side of this claim?

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... "a floundering Italian economy" - I see what you did there. –  Tacroy Feb 24 '12 at 22:00
Give us this day our daily (chicken) (lamb) (turkey) (steer) (gopher) going...going...gone for bread for 666,000 silver pieces.... remember to pay the guy with the funny hat on your way out. –  Paul Sep 3 '12 at 3:49
I have always wondered if the Ichthys had something to do with that... –  nico Feb 20 '13 at 6:53
There is an article about this, might help in creating an answer fsutorch.com/2010/03/03/news/the-history-of-lenten-abstinence –  Suma Feb 20 '13 at 10:34
@Suma - Thank you I have incorporated that into the question as it helps provide a notable claim. –  Chad Feb 20 '13 at 14:28

3 Answers 3

The practice of giving up meat for Lent has been part of the Christian tradition since before the fourth century and before the schism between East and West. It could not be part of an economic plan to save Italy. In some traditions this means a completely vegan diet. The practice was tied to the three days Jesus spent in the tomb and/or the 40 days of fasting by Jesus and is a preparation for Easter. Fish were allowed because they were not considered to be meat and provided necessary protein for hard working people. Check out this site for more information. http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/09152a.htm

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To improve your answer, you should quote some evidence from your source rather than just point to it (and it needs to be a good source). –  matt_black Feb 17 '13 at 18:23

The answer to this question is simple. Fish was the poor man's food. Imagine: Which takes more resources? Fish - you borrow an old wooden boat and throw a net overboard. You may catch a few fish or you may catch plenty enough to feed a family for a few days. Or, beef, chicken, etc - animals that must be bred, raised on property, and fed. These animals also take more time an effort to be killed, cleaned and cooked than fish. Meat was a luxury item.

"It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of God." - Mark 10:25

In chapter 10 of Matthew, Jesus said that the only way a rich man could go to heaven was to, "sell everything you have and give to the poor." Jesus preached against wealth because he thought that the life of luxury was a selfish life - a wasteful life. Little sacrifices - like fasting or only eating fish - was the Church's way of making practical compromises to make itself more mainstream, in the same way the G.O.P. might ask a radical republican to make her/his views more mainstream to acquire more votes.

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Oh the irony! Now fish is expensive and meat is cheap. Maybe they should give up fish and only eat beef during Lent... –  Coomie Feb 20 '13 at 3:18
Welcome to Skeptics! Please provide some references to support your claims. –  Oddthinking Feb 20 '13 at 3:23
This answer does not even attempt to answer the actual question asked. Skeptics is not a place for proselytizing or ranting about the evils of wealth or the GOP. –  Chad Feb 20 '13 at 14:09
Haha, good point Coomie. –  Jabari Martin Feb 20 '13 at 22:12

That is quite incorrect. The Catholic practice is tied to the concept of Penance (i.e. give up something, make a sacrifice). In particular, on Fridays and during lent, Catholics are expected to give up meat. Since fish is not considered meat, then Catholics eat that on Fridays.

Days of Penance

Can. 1249 The divine law binds all the Christian faithful to do penance each in his or her own way. In order for all to be united among themselves by some common observance of penance, however, penitential days are prescribed on which the Christian faithful devote themselves in a special way to prayer, perform works of piety and charity, and deny themselves by fulfilling their own obligations more faithfully and especially by observing fast and abstinence, according to the norm of the following canons.

Can. 1250 The penitential days and times in the universal Church are every Friday of the whole year and the season of Lent.

Can. 1251 Abstinence from meat, or from some other food as determined by the Episcopal Conference, is to be observed on all Fridays, unless a solemnity should fall on a Friday. Abstinence and fasting are to be observed on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday.

Can. 1252 The law of abstinence binds those who have completed their fourteenth year. The law of fasting binds those who have attained their majority, until the beginning of their sixtieth year. Pastors of souls and parents are to ensure that even those who by reason of their age are not bound by the law of fasting and abstinence, are taught the true meaning of penance.

Can. 1253 The conference of bishops can determine more precisely the observance of fast and abstinence as well as substitute other forms of penance, especially works of charity and exercises of piety, in whole or in part, for abstinence and fast.


As you can see, there is no requirement by the Catholic Church to eat fish on Fridays and Lent.

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That doesn't really address the question, though - even though the Canon doesn't explicitly state that you must eat fish, that doesn't preclude the possibility of it having been made to encourage the eating of fish. You'd have to go into the history surrounding that canon particularly in order to really answer the question - like, why was it instated? Was it during a time of crisis for Italy's fishing industry? Was it in response to something altogether unrelated? –  Tacroy Feb 24 '12 at 22:04
@Tacroy It was not "instated". It's tradition, since the XII century (IIRC). Also, I disagree it doesn't address the question - the position that the Church banned meat to "encourage the eating of fish" is completely unsustainable. Why wouldn't the Church encourage eating fish directly? The onus is not on me to prove this. –  Ebenezer Sklivvze Feb 24 '12 at 22:35
I know, and I'm just saying that that's what your answer should have been - "giving up meat (but not fish) for lent has been an official Catholic tradition since <time> [source], Italy has only existed since <time + x> [source]; therefore, this is highly unlikely." Referencing the 1983 canon law and pointing out that it lacks fish doesn't address the question (after all, it's not like there'd really be something in there that says "eat fish on Friday, it's good for Italy's economy!") –  Tacroy Feb 24 '12 at 23:01
forbidding meat on a single day of the week would automatically encourage non-meat consumption on that day. and it wouldn't be much of a stretch that some high-ranking bishops had stock (or family) in some fish companies back then and pushed for it under a guise. –  ratchet freak Feb 25 '12 at 2:16
That's not true. If you live far from the sea, without quick transport or refrigeration, giving up meat pretty much means eating cheese, cereals, polenta, veggies... the poor never had much meat before the war, anyways, and they were certainly not eating fish. –  Ebenezer Sklivvze Feb 25 '12 at 12:05

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