A theology of chocolate

I consider myself a connoisseur of many things: microbrews, pipe tobacco, foreign films, indie music. But recently I have been gravitating toward artisan chocolate. Not the stuff you buy at the supermarket. Not the bland, mass-produced Hershey’s bars (though I still love my Reese’s Pieces). Not sugar-injected chocolate that has lost any trace of the original cacao beans. No, artisan chocolates are to Hershey what microbrews are to Budweiser. They are crafted by small chocolate makers with unique flavors and ingredients.

I first realized that my chocolate palate was underdeveloped when I went to England in 2003. There I tried my first bona fide Cadbury chocolate bar. It was richer and creamery than anything I had ever tasted. Since then I have enjoyed the wonders of German, Swiss, Belgian, French, and more recently, Venezuelan chocolates, among others. This past week, the NY Times published a wonderful article on the greatness of Cadbury chocolate. The article notes the differences between American and British chocolate:
Mr. Smart, who has lived in the United States for 25 years, learned early on in his life here that British and American chocolate bars are different, even if they share a name and a look.

“One day I was eating a bar of Cadbury Dairy Milk and I thought, this has absolutely no flavor,” he said. “I looked at the label and saw it was made by Hershey. I was outraged.”

Cadbury Dairy Milk is the iconic British candy bar, the one most likely to be tucked into the suitcase of a Yankee tourist looking for an inexpensive souvenir. Versions are filled with caramel, whipped fondant, whole nuts or pellets of shortbread cookie.

It’s a different bar from the Cadbury bar available in the United States. According to the label, a British Cadbury Dairy Milk bar contains milk, sugar, cocoa mass, cocoa butter, vegetable fat and emulsifiers. The version made by the Hershey Company, which holds the license from Cadbury-Schweppes to produce the candy in the United States under the British company’s direction, starts its ingredient list with sugar. It lists lactose and the emulsifier soy lecithin, which keeps the cocoa butter from separating from the cocoa. The American product also lists “natural and artificial flavorings.”

In light of these differences, I would like to offer a few theses toward a theology of chocolate. As far as I know, such a project has never been undertaken before. I welcome help from others who are willing to explore the profound depths of chocolate.

A Theology of Chocolate

1. Chocolate is a gift of God. Like rainbows, manna, tobacco, beer, and coffee, chocolate is an expression of divine favor toward humanity. “Every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights” (Jas. 1:17).

2. Chocolate is an event of human freedom accompanied by God (concursus dei) within the covenant of grace. Chocolate is not part of the original creation. The raw elements are found in nature, but human action had to bring these together in order to produce the glorious bar of chocolate that we now enjoy. While human autonomy often leads to the destruction and perversion of nature, chocolate is a testament to the divine accompanying of human action within the covenant of grace between God and humanity.

3. Chocolate is a christologically grounded reality. The Christ-event is an event which reconciled the world to God (2 Cor. 5:19). According to Ephesians, this event “has broken down the dividing wall” between Jews and Gentiles (Eph. 2:14); according to Galatians, all of us are now “one in Christ Jesus” (Gal. 3:28); according to 2 Corinthians, “everything has become new!” (2 Cor. 5:17). Chocolate is a manifestation of this reconciliation. Chocolate unites people from around the world in appreciation of its artistic and God-given taste; it carries on its own “ministry of reconciliation” (2 Cor. 5:18) by resurrecting dead taste faculties and offering nougat-filled glimpses into the grace of God.

4. Chocolate is a concrete manifestation of the coming eschatological kingdom. In the coming kingdom, the Lord will reveal the new heavens and new earth in which “death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away” (Rev. 21:4). Chocolate is a taste of the coming regnum dei. In anticipation of what God will accomplish for all, here and now chocolate “wipes every tear from their eyes.” Chocolate is thus a proleptic realization of the New Jerusalem, which “has the glory of God and a radiance like a very rare jewel” (Rev. 21:11). In its own small way, chocolate ushers us into the presence of the eschatological community, where we will gather around the messianic banquet table and feast together as the one people of God.


Halden said…
Your theology of chocolate is inherently flawed in that it has a pneumatological deficit, just as your theological progenitor, Karl Barth bore the same failing.

Tsk, tsk.
a. steward said…
Before they were bought out by Starbucks, one of Portlands best coffee shops, Torrefazione, used to make this unsweetened mocha. Did you ever get a chance to try it? It remains easily the best coffee drink I've ever had. It all rested on this amazing bitter chocolate they put in it. I'd love to find out what it was they used.
dw said…
Yeah, right. I trust this like I trust all those books on "golf is like life because..." or "life is like fishing because..." or "insert your fave activity ________ is like worship."


p. s. Off to bed now. I have an early tee time tomorrow.
Ben Myers said…
Your account of the concursus Dei could have been strengthened by a consideration of the relationship between chocolate and coffee.

To drink coffee while eating chocolate is to enact the non-competitive character of God's relation to God's creatures. Far from competing with the chocolate, the coffee empowers it to be fully itself, and so brings the chocolate's own chocolateness to completion. In this concursus cafeae, the chocolate is accompanied, upheld and carried to its goal. The chocolate is thus actualised and liberated -- not by achieving independence from other tastes, but precisely by a most profound relation of dependence and correlation.
Anonymous said…
I regret to say that I am quite allergic to chocolate. Is this a form of election to reprobation??

I also found it hard to take seriously this theological discussion when David kept punctuating it with comments about pipe tobacco. The older I get, the less patience I have with smokers. I don't care if they insist on their peculiar form of slow suicide--but they insist on inflicting it on the rest of us and then complaining that we are restricting their freedom because we don't want want to get second-hand lung cancer. Rant over.

I'm gonna get a beer and some ginger snap cookies.
John P. said…

This post is quite timely for me, as I am both a student of theology and a part-time chocolatier for Teuscher Chocolates of Switzerland...

There are two Teuscher stores in New York City...if you have not tried their champagne truffles, I would suggest you do so with haste.
Anonymous said…
"a connoisseur of many things: microbrews, pipe tobacco, foreign films, indie music"

Consumerism defines us by having us attempt to express our individuality through our choices in the market.

Some people took this too seriously, but that's fine. I can deal with it. Thanks for the comments.

Halden: If you can find a way to bring a stronger pneumatology into a theology of chocolate, I am all ears. As to your insinuation that Barth failed in his pneumatology, I can point you to many books and articles which argue precisely the opposite and are much more convincing. I would have thought such a naive criticism of Barth was a thing of the past.

Ben: Excellent point. I will have to also consider things like chocolate chip cookies, in which we see created relations of mutual participation, amplified by, say, the addition of milk. :)

Michael: My apologies about your allergy. And my vicarious apologies for those smokers who have soured your view toward them. But no apologies for my love of pipe tobacco. I disdain cigarettes as much as the next person, but I will not give up my cigars and pipes. Some things are worth a shorter life. I would rather die young and have enjoyed my tobacco. Also, I never put it in anyone else's face against their will (i.e., no second-hand smoking).

John: Thanks for the recommendation. Next time I'm in NY, I will try them.

Anonymous: I'm sorry you think I am a pawn of the market, but I won't apologies for my enjoyment of some of God's gifts. If the market has perverted and manipulated them for human profit (which it has!), then the best thing we can do is to enjoy them properly within the abundant grace of God -- not discard them entirely with a "holier-than-thou" attitude.
Halden said…
The Spirit is the mediator of the presence of the ascended Christ. The non-competitive symphony of divine love and human reception and praise which is actualized in Christ is witnessed to and made present in the reality of the economic mission of the Spirit who shapes our sacramental experience of chocolate to reveal the presence-in-absence of the ascended Christ. Chocolate is the Spirit-given proleptic fore-taste of the eschatological consummation of union between Christ and the church in the great banquet. The Spirit is the agent which draws the eschatological future - infinite, eternal, intensive enjoyment of the triune feast of chocolate revealed in Christ - into the present in the life of the church.

How's that? And I was joking about Barth. Since he never wrote his volumes that would have covered the depth of his pneumatology, I don't think anyone can say that he "failed" in it.
Very nice, Halden!

Also, I think there is plenty of Barth's pneumatology in CD IV/1-3 already.
Halden said…
Yeah, I agree. I was throwing down a cheap crtitcism in the playful spirit of the initial post. The only reason I mentioned the Spirit was because the Spirit wasn't mentioned in the article and I wanted to find a cheap way to contribute something.

: )
mhkingsley said…
Hey bro, I totally understand that this was a light-hearted post and you probably don't care for much serious discussion on the topic because of that. So, feel free to ignore me :)

I was just wondering how your theology of chocolate might address the labor exploitation in the industry of cocoa bean harvesting. With some reports suggesting that nearly 50% of cocoa beans coming from the Ivory Coast - where much of this slavery occurs - can we really suggest that what we're eating is a gift from God. The same could be said for clothes or, God forbid, coffee but since you brought up the topic, I thought I'd ask your thoughts (you can still ignore me).

A great portal into the conversation of chocolate slavery is http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Labor_exploitation_in_the_chocolate_industry.
Anonymous said…
I agree with this commentor:

"a connoisseur of many things: microbrews, pipe tobacco, foreign films, indie music"

Consumerism defines us by having us attempt to express our individuality through our choices in the market.

I am myself a connoisseur of Jesus Christ!

(oh I also enjoy Folgers, Big Macs, generic chocolate and Basic cigs!)

In Christ,
s.j.simon said…
lol. did you know that chocolate was banned in switzerland for many years. read this
What a fantastic post! Perhaps we could build an entire liturgy around chocolate?

I'm all for that.