If any French monks ever did this, they were playing games (or they were really ignorant about the RCC dietary rules).
The descriptions of meat from which one should abstain on Fridays and ember days has always pretty clearly identified what we would consider mammals and birds (warm blooded) even long before the Linnaean categories were established. There is no way that rabbits could be considered cold-blooded by anyone who has actually held one.
While the story might be true, it sounds like the sort of thing that was written as a joke and lost its humor connection along the way.
There used to be all sort of attempts to thwart the rules for meatless days.
While I can’t comment on rabbit=fish, I do remember the “barnacle goose” a goose that was born of barnacles on a pier, then grew to adulthood completely on the water. That belief made the beastie a fish, by medieval definition (since it lived entirely on the water) and you could eat it on meatless days.
I’m sure there was a lot of winking at each other on the days the goose was served.
What I’ve heard is that they considered fetal rabbits to be “not meat.” However, this is not believed everywhere; some believe that rabbit is always an acceptable substitute when fish is not available.
Barnacle Geese were believed to grow from Goose Barnacles; - they do look quite similar (superficially). Part of the reason that this belief persisted is that geese migrate, so it was not easy to observe them at every stage of their development.
Perhaps rabbit -> meatless -> fish is a confusion of Welsh rarebit often written as Welsh rabbit. Rarebit is a cheese, ale, etc. mixture poured over or baked onto bread slices. It is meatless and appropriate for lenten days. Recipe
The MW dictionary has it as Rabbit with the etymology of “rarebit” as an alteration from “rabbit”.
My OED is out for an oil-change so the Mirriam Webster might have to do…
Perhaps the monks were ahead of their time with respect to taxonomy
The clade Osteichthyes (bony fish) contains the clades Actinopterygii (ray-finned fishes, which includes all of what most people consider to be “fish”) and Sarcopterygii (lobe-finned, or fleshy-finned, fishes). All terrestrial vertebrates are included within Sarcopterygii.
By cladistic standards, each clade represents all of the descendents of a given common ancestor. Thus, everything within Sarcopterygii is a fleshy-finned fish, and everything within Osteichthyes is a bony fish.
Put simply, a clade is any ancestral species and all of its descendents (cladistics is a method of classifying organisms based upon relationships between clades). To further clarify my previous example, if a rabbit is ultimately descended from an early fish (the ancestral Osteichthyes), then it, too, is a fish.
Note, however, that it is rather unlikey that this is what the French monks had in mind; it was simply the first thing I thought of upon reading the thread title.
Dang. Didya ever have something on the tip of your brain, but couldn’t grab it? There was a story in the last year about some place where the locals eat (something) and believe it’s OK for lent. The local clergy, and of course, the fishmongers, were hoping for a clarification from the Pope that (aforementioned something) was meat and non-lenten.
Likewise, I’d heard of this regarding muskrats and other aquatic mammals. Perhaps they’re referring to the rabbit that attacked Jimmy Carter.
In fact, most cases like this involve a misunderstanding of canon law. The law, written in Latin, prohibits carnes, which refers to bird and mammal meat, not fish. This is a cultural concept more than a scientific one, so I suspect that Flipper and Shamu would be ok despite being mammals.
Indeed, capybaras are eaten during Lent in Venezuela as they are also classified by the Vatican as a fish. Apparently, the rationale was because the guys have webbed feet and swim around… though they spend most of their time on the land. However, eating Capybaras on fast days does not extend beyond the borders of Venezuela, from what I’ve read. Interesting research question: Does the Vatican say that capybaras are only fish in Venezuela, or are they also fish in, say, Columbia?
My guess about fetal rabbits counting as fish: inside the bunny-womb, they are in an aqueous medium and don’t breathe air. Thus, a medieval scientist could make the claim that it’s a fish. After all, it’s breathing “water.”
Of course, the logical extension of that line of reasoning is that all unborn animals (including humans) are fish, and therefore edible during lent. This, from the same people who accused us Jews of using babies’ blood to make matzoh… :rolleyes: