Did you give up chocolate this year for Lent? Chocolate, indeed a worldly pleasure, has had a prominent role in the guilt and abstinence cycle for centuries.
As early as 1591 Spanish conquerers in Mexico were contemplating whether this new chocolate drink of the native people "broke the ecclesiastical fast", which includes the 40 days of Lent. Was it a food? Or was it a drink? Did it quench the thirst or did it nourish the body? For almost 3000 years chocolate was a drink of the elite, both in native Mesoamerican cultures and for the 200 years it was poured in palaces and aristocratic circles of Europe. The argument came about in the predominantly Catholic countries due to the practice of spiking the basic chocolate and water drink with all sorts of substances (milk, chilies, honey, sugar, spices, and even breadcrumbs, ground maize, eggs, or chickpea flour).
Regardless of how appetizing that sounds to us, the explorers, monks, nobles, scholars, and even popes of that day weighed in with their views on whether chocolate should be banned during the fast. A key point of those in favor of the ban sited chocolate's use as an aphrodisiac. In 1680 the Italian Giovanni Batista Gudenfridi wrote this passage in answer to an anti-chocolate writing. It is a story in the life of St. Rose of Lima, the "Virgin of Peru":
"...we are told that one day, after many hours of an ardent elevation of spirits, the Holy Girl, feeling herself languish, lacking breath, and weakened in body, had at her side an Angel, who presented her with a little cup of chocolate, with which she regained her vigor and her strength returned. "
He goes on to ask readers if this would be a good angel or a bad angel, one of darkness or of light...
"...if it was a good one, does he think that if Chocolate be the poison of chastity, that the Angel would have brought it to a Virgin of Christ? If Chocolate injects into the veins of those that drink it the spirit of lasciviousness, does he think that the good Angel would have given even a sip to a maiden who was a Temple of the Holy Spirit? Does he think, if Chocolate merits the name of a diabolical liquid, that God would command, or permit, that by the hand of his Angels such a drink be given to one of his Brides?"
Hmmm. Poison of chastity, diabolical liquid -- think I'll go and drink in the spirit of lasciviousness with a nice cup of hot chocolate. It is Easter, and I love my worldly pleasures.
Have a great Easter weekend!
The quote above is from "The True History of Chocolate", by Sophie and Michael Coe