Thursday, April 25, 2013

The Catholic Connection to Coffee

I wouldn't survive most mornings without coffee. I admit it, I'm an addict. I have been since my freshman year of college, when I decided that downing a cup or two of my parent's Maxwell House was better than sleeping through my 8:00 a.m. chemistry class. My grades soon thanked my wise choice, and I have ever since enjoyed a warm and comfy relationship with the dark and bitter brew. (I take mine black, thank you.)

 Several years back I came across an interesting tidbit of information about the Church's historical role in bringing coffee to the Western world. I did a little further digging and ended up writing a short article about it for Liguorian Magazine. I'm reprinting it here for all of my coffee drinking guests. Between all the latest research touting coffee's health benefits and this affirmation of coffee's, ahem, blessedness, all is good in java land. Enjoy!




Melaine Ryther

    He negotiated the Union of Brest in 1598, which brought the Ukrainian Church back in communion with Rome. He revised the breviary, forbade dueling, and promoted the forty hours devotion. Yet for many modern Catholics, the greatest achievement of Pope Clement VIII was allowing coffee to be introduced to the Western world.

    Long a part of Arab culture, coffee began finding its way into the West in the late 1500’s via Italian trade ships returning from Constantinople. The bitter elixir soon gained adherents among the populace in Venice and other port cities in Italy. Church officials in Rome, however, were wary of the dark drink. Fearing that coffee had been invented by Satan himself for the Muslim infidels, priests forbade the faithful to imbibe. They argued that if wine was the drink sanctified by Christ and used in Holy Communion, then coffee—the preferred beverage of the Muslims, who weren’t allowed to drink wine—must be the Antichrist’s brew.

    Into this ring of debate stepped Clement. Although known as a devout and spiritual Pope, Clement was not without his practical side. He spearheaded missionary efforts in the Far East, Persia, Mexico, and South America. He brought back into the Church schismatic Serbians and Ukranians. And, closer to home, he often visited hospitals, not only to comfort the sick, but to inspect the food that was being served.

    Having heard all the fuss about the devilish Turkish drink, Clement asked that a cup of it be brought to him. Onlookers held their breath as their beloved Pope first smelled, then sipped the exotic beverage. Would he die on the spot? Would the devil himself appear? Nothing quite so dramatic happened, of course. But after satisfying his palate, Clement did make a proclamation that was nonetheless surprising:

    “This Satan’s drink is so delicious,” Clement intoned, “that it would be a pity to let the infidels have exclusive use of it. We shall cheat Satan by baptizing it.” Clement further reasoned that it would be a larger sin to keep the drink from the Christian world.

    The on-the-spot blessing opened the floodgates for coffee imports to the West, paving the way for the first coffeehouses to open in Italy in 1645.

    It’s perhaps only fitting that the man to whom nine-to-fivers worldwide owe their gratitude started his career in a white collar setting himself—as a humble bank clerk in Fano, Italy.


  1. Great blog! So glad to know that my coffee has been blessed - thank you Pope Clement VIII - I am forever grateful (as is my husband!) ~ Ruth A.

  2. I'm with you, Ruth. Now if we could just find out that chocolate's been blessed! :)