Paulaner monks

Beer, Hospitals and No “Double Jeopardy”

Candida Moss, a professor at the University of Notre Dame, reminds us of Christianity’s role in bringing us beer. Catholic monks didn’t invent beer or create beer culture, but out of necessity they brewed superb ales—including Westvletern 12, which has been rated the world’s best. Centuries ago, St. Benedict instructed monks to be good hosts, and to support themselves from the fruit of their labor. Brewing beer was a way to comply with both. Originally the monks made beer as a way to avoid contracting dangerous water-borne illnesses. But in the 17th century, the Paulaner monks of Bavaria starting brewing beer especially for consumption during the Lenten fast, when eating was prohibited. The monks’ tradition lives on in the form of Starkbierzeit, Munich’s Lenten festival.

Moss adds that Christianity deserves credit for the concept of the hospital as an independent institution. Here again, the monks get credit; they started caring for the sick at their monasteries; and in Egypt, they make the health care available to monks available to all. In addition, Moss traces the Anglo-American legal concept of “double jeopardy” to the Church. In the 12th century, King Henry II of England tried to pass a law allowing his courts to try members of the clergy who had already been tried in ecclesiastical courts. Thomas a Becket, who was later made a saint, argued that there could be only one judgment for the same act. Henry took exception, and his knights murdered Becket. Afterward, the pope not only condemned Henry but also his effort to inflict double punishment on the clergy.

Will Fast for Beer

Legend has it that during Lent, Munich’s Paulaner monks fasted by drawing all of their nourishment from doppelbock. This sounds like an 18th century version of Supersize Me, except that the monks partook of a better product.

How tough was such a diet? Beer blogger J. Wilson intends to find out. He’s teamed up with Eric Sorensen, head brewer at Rock Bottom-Des Moines, to collaborate on a commercial-scale batch of his bock recipe. It’s called Illuminator Doppelbock, and checks in at 6.67% alcohol by volume and 288 calories per 12-ounce serving.

Wilson’s beer-only fast begins on Ash Wednesday, March 9, and runs through Holy Saturday, April 23. To get him through the penitential season, Wilson will call on the services of a doctor and a spiritual advisor. And, hopefully, a designated driver.

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