Justice, Peace, Integrity<br /> of Creation
Justice, Peace, Integrity<br /> of Creation
Justice, Peace, Integrity<br /> of Creation
Justice, Peace, Integrity<br /> of Creation
Justice, Peace, Integrity<br /> of Creation

The essence of bread is the truth of the spirit

Avvenire 25.05.2024 Andrea Riccardi Translated by: Jpic-jp.org

Bread, in faiths, has always been a symbol of solidarity. Eating it together means sharing. Not having it often also denies the right to a name and a word: evidence of human and spiritual emptiness.

A Christian drama is bread without solidarity. Let us take the theme of the communal table that touches the first centuries of Christianity. The table unites, in the memory of the supper, but also in the shared agape, people who call themselves Christians, from different social and religious backgrounds, Jews and non-Jews, people from different lifestyles. The differences, however, become evident at the communal table, not only because of dietary prohibitions, but also because of the customs of the various social classes and also of the quality of the food.

In Corinth, the communal table gives rise to serious problems: it is difficult to eat together. Eating together means recognising oneself as belonging to the same world and as being in solidarity in the same family. In the decades after Vatican II, a verse from the Didache, a text between the end of the 1st century and the beginning of the 2nd century, lost and rediscovered in the late 19th century, came to the fore: ‘If we share the bread of heaven, how shall we not share that of the earth?’

Bread emphasises distances and divisions, as does the desire for fraternity. Sharing the bread of the earth is not easy and spontaneous, as seen even in enthusiastic ancient communities like the Corinthians. Paul writes admonishing them: ‘For each one, when he partakes of the supper, takes his own meal first, so that one is hungry and the other is drunk. Have ye not your own houses to eat and drink?’ (1st Cor. 11:21-22). There are those who consume their food without sharing it with others, notes exegete Richard Hays. For Paul, this is a humiliation of poor brothers and sisters and an outrage against the unity of the Church.

The table, a place of intimacy and group tastes and habits, highlights the classism of the various social groups. Paul struggles for the commonality at the table to express the equality and fraternity of Christians. The table is a test for fraternity.

Pliny the Younger, who died around 114, illustrates classism at the table when he speaks of a refined host praising him: ‘For himself and a few he laid out exquisite food, for all the others food of little value and cheapness. Even the wine in small bottles he had divided into three categories... one was for him and us, another for less important friends (because he graduates friendships), the last for his and our servants'.

Religions, in their history, with all the diversity of times and situations, have given bread to the hungry or pushed their faithful to give it. However, they have been challenged by distance, by a sense of superiority, by contempt, when - as Gregory says - it is not enough to give bread but one must give the word, which alone builds fraternity. Also because the poor has but for all, /...for all peoples / and with it what has / the form and flavour of bread / we will share: / the earth, / beauty, / love, / all this has the flavour of bread'.

Bread not for one, but for every man, for everyone. The taste of bread is that of a land shared together with love and beauty. It almost seems as if bread transcends itself.

On the other hand, bread also means family intimacy. Edith Bruck, a Jewish girl, Hungarian and peasant, snatched from her poor home, while the Hungarian gendarmes mocked her father who had war medals on his chest, and were about to take the Jews to the ghetto and then to extermination... she hears her mother who, at the instant of deportation, shouts: ‘Bread, bread!’. The memory of his mother and family life in the Hungarian village, discriminated against among the poor, becomes The Lost Bread, a novel-memoir.

The taste of bread is also that of intimacy, but at the same time bread calls to be shared beyond, in solidarity. This is the drama that has split Christianity that has grasped, in certain moments and characters, the value of solidarity that emanates from bread. Nevertheless, it also experienced the divorce between bread and word and generated a one-sided almsgiving, which does not create solidarity, unable to grasp the poor world's desire for redemption.

Eastern Christianity, less organised than Catholics in charitable works, has grasped the drama. Olivier Clément, Western but Orthodox, spoke of a divorce between the aspirations for redemption of the poor’s world and the Church: a divorce at the origin of the conflict between the socialist and communist movement, which proposed social redemption, and the Church itself. The Russian philosopher Berdjaev, who lived through the Bolshevik revolution, criticises Marxist Prometheanism, but also the individualism that separates faith and social justice. He touches on the subject of bread and solidarity with extraordinary depth: ‘The question of bread for me is a material question; but the question of bread for my neighbour, for people all over the world, is a spiritual and religious question. Society must be organised in such a way that there is bread for all; only then will the spiritual question arise before man in all its profound essence'.

See, L’essenza del pane è verità dello spirito

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