Temperance, Catholic Style


(From O. Herford, via Life Magazine/Wikipedia, used w/o permission.)
(“Life” magazine, Demon Rum, and Matthew 12:45: June 26, 1919.)

My household is “dry:” there’s no beer in the fridge, wine in a rack, or whiskey on a shelf. That’s partly because I drank too much, which was a very bad idea. (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2290)

After that experience, I could get cherophobia and virtue confused — but I won’t.

Cherophobia, aversion to happiness; and hedonophobia, fear of pleasure; are real words. But “blessed are the miserable, for they shall spread misery” is not in the Beatitudes. 1

The ‘gloominess is next to Godliness’ attitude is yet another reason why I do not miss the ‘good old days:’

“Puritanism: The haunting fear that someone, somewhere, may be happy.”
(Sententiæ:2 The Citizen and the State, p. 624; H. L. Mencken; via wikiquote.org)

I think H. L. Mencken wasn’t entirely fair in his assessment of Puritans, although forbidding musical instruments in church seems excessive, and their attitude about Christmas celebrations was Grinch-like. Oddly enough, they didn’t object to alcohol in moderation.

I run into the occasional Catholic who seems to equate despondency with holiness, but that’s not what the Church teaches. Happiness is okay:

BEATIFIC VISION: The contemplation of God in heavenly glory, a gift of God which is a constitutive element of the happiness (or beatitude) of heaven (1028, 1720).”

HAPPINESS: Joy and beatitude over receiving the fulfillment of our vocation as creatures: a sharing in the divine nature and the vision of God. God put us into the world to know, love, and serve him, and so come to the happiness of paradise (1720).”
(Glossary, Catechism of the Catholic Church)

Following Our Lord, Remembering God

This sort of happiness isn’t the giddy every-day-is-a-party sort. Following our Lord means putting up with the occasional inconvenience:

“Then he said to all, ‘If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily 11 and follow me.”
(Luke 9:23)

“Every day I face death; I swear it by the pride in you (brothers) that I have in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
(1 Corinthians 15:31)

But in the long run — I’ve talked about that before. (November 1, 2015; October 5, 2014; September 13, 2014)

Basically, wanting to be happy is okay. Expecting to find ultimate happiness with anyone or anything other than God is unreasonable, and making pleasure-seeking my top priority is a really bad idea. (Catechism, 27, 17181719, 21122114)

On the other hand, I’m not expected to flee from pleasure.

3 There is nothing better for man than to eat and drink and provide himself with good things by his labors. Even this, I realized, is from the hand of God.

“For who can eat or drink apart from him?”
(Ecclesiastes 2:2425)

Gluttony, Sin, and Moderation

The trick for me is learning to enjoy pleasure in moderation.

Gluttony is one of my problem areas, and a serious one. Aside from health considerations, gluttony makes the list of capital sins: sins that cause or lead to other sins. (Catechism, 1866, 2341)

Recognizing over- and under-eating as a health problem is one thing.3

But calling my habit of eating more than I should a sin? That may need some explaining: starting with what sin is.

Sin is a failure to love God. It’s “an offense against reason, truth, and right conscience; it is failure in genuine love for God and neighbor….” (Catechism, 18491853)

The good news is that God loves me — loves us — anyway.

“For God so loved the world that he gave 7 his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life.

“For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn 8 the world, but that the world might be saved through him.”
(John 3:1617)

It gets better. About two millennia back, we got the best news humanity’s ever had. God loves us, and wants to adopt us: all of us. (Romans 8:15; Ephesians 1:35; Peter 1:34; Catechism, 13, 2730, 52, 1825, 1996)

“But to those who did accept him he gave power to become children of God, to those who believe in his name,

8who were born not by natural generation nor by human choice nor by a man’s decision but of God.”
(John 1:1213)

Since I take God seriously, and decided to accept the offer, trying to act like part of the family makes sense: to me, anyway.

That doesn’t mean that I’ll always behave perfectly, and never ever do anything wrong.

Anyone who has raised kids knows that even the best child sometimes acts badly. When my son or one of my daughters misbehaved, I tried to show them what had gone wrong and how to fix it. I’m not God, so I didn’t do a perfect job. But I tried.

When I do something I shouldn’t, I try to patch things up: or should, and that’s another topic. (Catechism, 14221460)

Recapping, I think sin is an offense against reason, truth, and God; and a bad idea.

That’s not even close to believing I’m one of the good guys, that God’s going to smite “sinners” who aren’t like me something fearful; and that’s yet another topic.

Where was I? Gluttony, sin, taking God seriously, right.

Eating and drinking are not sinful. Good grief, our Lord’s first miracle was providing wine for a wedding. (John 2:110)

God created a world that is “very good.” That hasn’t changed. Our problems started when we decided to misuse our freedom, and that’s yet again another topic. Topics. (Genesis 1:31; Catechism, 299, 309314, 385406, 2290)

I handled my drinking problem by cutting alcohol consumption down to almost zero.

For me, that’s “moderate” drinking. But I won’t denounce folks who enjoy a pint of beer after work, or wine with their meals.

Drinking is okay. It’s getting drunk that’s a bad idea. (Sirach 31:2531; 1 Timothy 5:23; Catechism, 2290)

Moderating my eating is harder, but I’m working on it: with some small measure of success. It’s a matter of practicing temperance.

Temperance, the Catholic version, is one of the cardinal virtues. The others are justice, prudence, and fortitude. (Catechism, 18051809)

Getting a Grip about Temperance


(From Nathaniel Currier, via The Library of Congress/Wikimedia Commons, used w/o permission.)
(“The Drunkard’s Progress. From the Glass to the Grave,” by Nathaniel Currier, circa 1846.)

As an American, I could think of “temperance” as the temperance movement’s anti-alcohol attitude; which led to the American Temperance Society, Carrie Nation, the Volstead Act, and Al Capone.

Folks here in central Minnesota, mostly Irish- and German-Americans, started producing Minnesota 13, a high-quality whisky. Federal agents finally burned enough buildings to slow us down: and that’s still another topic.

As a Catholic, I see “temperance” a bit differently: as a moderation of desires.

TEMPERANCE: The cardinal moral virtue that moderates the attraction of pleasure and provides balance in the use of created goods. It ensures the mastery of the will over instinct, and keeps natural desires within proper limits (1809)”
(Glossary, Catechism of the Catholic Church)

Madness: Reefer and Otherwise

Reefer Madness” enjoyed renewed popularity, starting in the 1970s, thanks to the exploitation film’s bonkers depiction of marijuana’s effects.

If you’re waiting for a rant on any side of the legalize-whatever position: you’ll have a long wait. I think any substance can be misused, but prefer rational caution to blind panic.

For example, drinking way too much coffee can induce psychosis in healthy folks, and makes it worse in folks with schizophrenia.4

That doesn’t mean that drinking coffee inevitably leads to psychosis, death, and the end of civilization as we know it.

It does suggest that there’s such a thing as too much coffee.

In my case, the limit was 12 cups of very strong coffee per day, the last one before 5:00 p.m., if I planned to sleep that night. I’m currently down to one or two per day, and I’ll get back to that — or maybe not.

About “Reefer Madness,” Demon Rum, and getting a grip: I think American culture around the mid-20th century encouraged pill-popping, legal and otherwise, as an easy way to solve complex issues.

It still does, but I think we’re getting past the uncritical ‘a pill for every problem’ attitude of my youth. The 1970 Controlled Substances Act was a milestone on that path to self-awareness.

It wasn’t just ‘those crazy kids,’ by the way. The ‘older generation’ liked their sleeping pills, happy pills, and – – – you get the idea.

Caution about pill-popping is not the same as thinking “Reefer Madness” makes sense, any more than an interest in exobiology is the same as thinking “Plan 9 From Outer Space” is a documentary. (August 2, 2015; July 31, 2015)

Making Sense

(Mis)using sleeping pills to get sleep, pep pills to clear the morning-after fog, more stimulants to get through the day, and sedatives to relax, is one problem.

Deciding that using any medicine is morally wrong is another, and potentially-lethal, problem.

It’s been a while since I read about someone who died because they, or their family, didn’t “believe in” medical treatment. It’s probably just a matter of time before a tragedy like that hits the news again.

I don’t doubt that folks who shun doctors and medicine are sincere. I’m also quite sure that they’re mistaken.

Don’t get me wrong: I rely on God for my continued existence, like every other creature. (Catechism, 301)

I don’t “believe in” medical science and technology in the sense of imagining that it’s the most important thing around, or an answer to all my problems. That’d be idolatry, and a daft decision: which does not make what we’ve learned over the last few centuries evil. (Catechism, 22922293, 1723)

God gave us brains, and expects us to use them. (Genesis 1:26, 2:7; Catechism, 355, 1730, 1778, 21122114, 22922295)

Using my brain, thinking about what I do and why I do it, is part of being human: or should be. So is worshiping God, and other aspects of faith. Faith and reason get along fine: including when we’re learning something new about this astounding world. (Catechism, 154159, 283, 1730)

God is large and in charge, but I get to do some of the work myself.5 One of these days I’ll talk about secondary causes, science, and priorities. But not today. (Catechism, 302308, 1723, 22922296)

My life and health are “precious gifts” from God. I’m expected to take care of both: within reason. (Catechism, 22882291)

Catechism, 2291, starts by saying “the use of drugs inflicts very grave damage on human health and life.” If I stopped reading there: that would be a very bad idea. The rest of that paragraph says that using/abusing drugs “except on strictly therapeutic grounds” is wrong.

I can’t — and won’t — argue with that, considering what happened to folks like Jackie Curtis, Hillel Slovak, and Lester Bangs.

But I’ll keep taking prescribed medications to control my diabetes, hypertension, and neurological glitches. The comparatively good health I enjoy is still a “precious gift,” one I intend to maintain. Within reason.

More about moderation and getting a grip, from A Catholic Citizen in America’s Blogger version:


1 Depending on how you break them out, there are eight or nine Beatitudes — blessed are:

  1. The poor in spirit
  2. Those who mourn
  3. The meek
  4. Those who hunger and thirst for righteousness
  5. The merciful
  6. The pure in heart
  7. The peacemakers
  8. Those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake
    • You when men revile you and persecute you … on God’s account

    (From Matthew 5:312)

This is “…the heart of Jesus’ preaching….” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 17161724)

2 I’m not sure if “Sententiæ” is a generic term used in this case as a proper noun, an unpublished document, or a document which was published and not particularly well-known these days. This is the closest I came to finding an explanation:

“…I have a copy of The Vintage Mencken, but I’m interpreting what it says on p. 231 a bit differently. For the sake of others who are reading this, it should be explained that the quote is part of a group entitled ‘Sententiae,’ with the following introduction:

” ‘These maxims, epigrams and apothegms cover a long range in time. The earliest were first printed in The Smart Set in 1912; the latest come from notebooks never printed at all. In 1916 I published a collection under the title of A Little Book in C Major. Four years later it was taken, in part, into a revised edition of A Book of Burlesques, and there survived until that book went out of print in the late 30’s.’…”
(Talk:H. L. Mencken, Wikiquote.org)

3 Overeating and obesity, the medical side:

4 I am not making that up:

  • Caffeine-induced psychosis.
    Hedges, Woon, Hoopes; CNS Spectrums (March 2009); via US National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health

5 God is in charge; and God’s creatures, including me, get to help.

“God is the sovereign master of his plan. But to carry it out he also makes use of his creatures’ co-operation. This use is not a sign of weakness, but rather a token of almighty God’s greatness and goodness. For God grants his creatures not only their existence, but also the dignity of acting on their own, of being causes and principles for each other, and thus of co-operating in the accomplishment of his plan.”
(Catechism, 306)

About Brian H. Gill

I'm a sixty-something married guy with six kids, four surviving, in a small central Minnesota town. I mostly write and make digital art. I'm only interested in three things: that which exists within the universe; that which exists beyond; and that which might exist.
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6 Responses to Temperance, Catholic Style

  1. Naomi Gill says:

    Either extra word or wrong contraction: “That’s be idolatry, and a”

    The Friendly Neighborhood Proofreader

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