JMC : Four-Square / by Joseph Rickaby, S.J.


Temperance is the virtue contrary to the two deadly sins of gluttony and lust. As against the former it represents abstinence, or moderation in solid food generally, and sobriety, which is moderation in the particular matter of intoxicating drinks. In a scientific treatment of this virtue we must not be led away by newspaper association. Temperance is not the exclusive appanage of temperance societies and teetotalers. Temperance does not mean total abstinence, and abstinence is quite independent of Fridays and flesh meat. Temperance is the sum of the three subordinate virtues of abstinence, sobriety and chastity.

Temperance is a habit residing in the sensitive appetite, when that appetite has come to be "broken in" by frequent acts of self-restraint. For these acts we have occasion every day; so that every day we should be growing in temperance. If we are failing to do that we must be growing into the habits which make the contrary vices: gluttony, drunkenness and lust.

Appetite unrestrained easily carries man to the extreme of excess. Here, then, is the good of temperance. It is solely a restraining, not an impelling virtue. Against the extreme of too little, appetite is its own guardian. Against the extreme of too much appetite is restrained by the habit of temperance, gradually brought to reside in it, formed and planted there, by repeated acts of reason and will, forcing appetite back into due bounds, till at last appetite of itself, like a tamed beast, is more or less apt not to exceed the just limit. Then the man is said to be "temperate."

It may be asked how it is that temperance seems sometimes to push men into an extreme, not merely restraining appetite, but refusing it altogether. Thus the total abstainer refuses the craving for strong drink entirely; he never will gratify it. The priest and the religious renounce even the lawful indulgences of the married state. We reply by the enunciation of a principle which the old sixteenth-century Protestantism stupidly repudiated -- that besides commandment there is counsel, and that not every act morally praiseworthy is also obligatory. Where duty ends generosity begins. Not every virtue lies between two vicious extremes immediately conterminous with itself, but sometimes there is a further virtue intervening between that virtue and the vicious extreme. Thus between justice and the vicious extreme of prodigality there intervenes the further virtue of liberality. Liberality may be styled a more excellent justice, and virginity (in the present order of providence) a more excellent chastity. But observe, the main central virtue, as justice, is for all men to practise; the more excellent virtue, as liberality, is not for all, and in some cases it would be a mistake to attempt it. We say well, be just before you are generous. Further, the golden mean is not the same for all persons. Half a bottle of wine is not too much for some men to drink, for others it would be a sinful excess. For some persons total abstinence from spirituous liquors is not a work of supererogation, it is a downright duty. They have lost the ability to drink in moderation; and their only way of remaining sober is by never touching alcohol in any shape. They may be likened to patients where doctors forbid them to touch fleshmeat. One mutton chop is too much for Henry, and one-half pint of beer is more than can be safely allowed to George. What looks like an extreme is sometimes no more than the golden mean of duty for this particular individual; sometimes it is a feat of generosity, still in the golden mean, for that mean is not a forever fixed point. But, as I have said, such generous outrunning of duty can not be inculcated indiscriminately in all cases. In some it would be downright folly, or even wickedness. Not all men and women are fit for the religious state. It is questionable whether total abstinence should be preached to all as a counsel, certainly not to all as a duty. We have no right to add an eleventh commandment. To say this much is not to deny that for many in their youth total abstinence is an excellent counsel; that for many grown men, never themselves the victims of drunken habits, but obliged to live in the society of free drinkers, total abstinence is a great preservative. The simple words, "I am a total abstainer," have kept many a man and many a youth out of a den of infamy. Still, be it remembered, total abstinence is not the sum and substance of all Christian virtue. Though hell be full of drunkards, still heaven is not the birthright of every total abstainer. It is a weakness of human nature to expect one virtue to do duty for all.

As regards the vices opposite to temperance, an important distinction is to be drawn between him who sins by outbursts of passion and him whose very principles are corrupt. The former in doing evil acknowledges it to be evil, and is prone to repent of it afterwards; the latter has lost his belief in virtue and his admiration for it; he drinks in iniquity like water, with no after-qualms; he glories in his shame. The former is reclaimable, the latter is reprobate -- at least it takes a miracle of divine grace to reclaim him: his intellect as well as his heart is vitiated: faith and works, fine feeling and sense of honour, all have gone by the board. No hard and fast line of division, however, can in every case be drawn between sinning from passion and sinning on principle; but cases of the one shade into cases of the other, and by frequent indulgence of passion principle is brought gradually to decay. Sinning daily and not repenting, a man loses his good principles. But repenting daily, or frequently, he keeps them.

The chief sins against temperance are drunkenness and impurity. The evil of drunkenness consists in voluntarily parting with your reason in such a way that under this induced privation of reason, and under the influence of the stimulant, you are likely to do acts contrary to reason and God's law. It is true that in the act of doing them you are not your own master: but in the renouncement of control over yourself, and submission to the blind control of liquor, you were your own master, and there and then in parting with your reason you sinned. You have let the tiger loose, you can not get him back to his cage; meanwhile you are responsible for his devastations. There is no crime of murder, or lust, or irreligion, that may not be committed in drunken fury. This holds good even of one solitary act of deliberate drunkenness: but when we come to consider the condition of the house and family of the habitual drunkard, the case comes out worse. Quite unnecessary here to describe the interior of a house where father drinks, or mother drinks, or both. Quite unnecessary to visit the home for inebriates, or the lunatic asylum. To whom is woe? to whose father is woe? to whom brawling? to whom pitfalls? to whom wounds without cause? to whom bloodshot eyes? Is it not to them that linger over their wine, and make a business of emptying cups? Look not on the wine when it is golden, when its colour gleameth in the glass; it goeth in pleasantly, but in the end it will sting like a serpent, and spread poison like an asp. Thine eyes shall see strange women, and thine heart shall utter perverse things; and thou shalt be as one who slumbers in the midst of the sea, and as a steersman fallen asleep that has lost the helm. And thou shalt say, They have beaten me, but I had no pain, they hauled me, but I felt it not; when shall I arise and find wine again? (Prov. xxiii, 29-35).

St. Thomas quaintly enumerates as "daughters," i.e., effects, of gluttony and drunkenness -- inept mirth, buffoonery, uncleanness, much talking, and dulness of mind for intellectual things. Had the saint seen much of the dwellings of drunkards, he might have enumerated more "daughters" and worse. Drunkenness is the disgrace of man, but it is the ruin of woman. Those poor creatures who infest our streets are nearly all of them victims of drink. They are either actually under its effects or are seeking money to get it. This, at least, is the case with the poor; of the well-to-do one had better not speak. If a woman of the humbler sort is safe from liquor, she is safe from shame and public misery. Any Catho1ic man who is sober, frugal, and industrious, has married a good wife, and approaches the Sacraments regularly, is fairly safe against the sin of impurity. But drink spoils all. More than worse sins, drunkenness preys upon the physical system, upon the nerves and brain; and through the interconnection of body and mind the physical disease carries with it an impotence of will, a thorough untrustworthiness under any solicitation or temptation, so that the one chance for so debilitated a subject is entire flight from every occasion of sin -- not an easy thing to realize as life ordinarily goes. Without being a religious, this person has come to need the graces and also the restrictions of religious life, simply to keep him in the path of the commandments.

Still it must be confessed that, away from all abuse of alcohol, in many circumstances of age, temperament, employment and company, chastity is a most difficult virtue to practise. Quotidiana pugna, "a daily battle," says St. Augustine, and he adds, rara victoria, "seldom victorious." Seldom victorious, if we measure victory by the Christian standard, the standard of Christ Himself (Matt. v, 27-30), which requires chastity in every human act, seen or unseen, chastity in every word, chastity in every deliberate thought and desire. The world pronounces this an unattainable ideal and substitutes another of its own setting up, the standard of respectability. The standard may be formulated thus: "Do as you like, so long as you do it on the quiet, and do not upset the peace of families; there must be no scandals." This is a fair standard, if we are to be judged by the world only. But if, after the world has done with us and we with the world, we must all be made manifest before the judgment seat of Christ, that every one may receive the proper things of the body (or, as the Greek has it, the things incurred through the body), according as he hath done, whether it be good or evil (II Cor. v, 10) -- then it will be wise of us to live up to the law that is administered in that court wherein we shall be tried finally and sentenced irrevocably. We must not give in to the suggestion of the flesh and of the world, that this is an impossible law to observe. How do they know? Neither world nor flesh has ever made any serious effort to observe the law. We may repeat in a nobler arena the answer made by a British officer, when told that the capture of a certain position was impossible: "Impossible? why, I have got the order in my pocket." We have the command of God, and that can not be impossible -- with His grace. About grace, this is not the occasion to speak; let that topic stand over. Grace will never enable us to dispense with the measures dictated by natural prudence. These we will consider; and as the difficulty is undeniably great, and the danger serious, these precautions must be adopted in all earnestness. First, then, we must have a clear understanding of the lie of the law. That is so important that it shall be made the subject of our next address. For the moment I say: Keep your will habitually firmly bent on good, and confirm it by repeated acts. Keep your understanding active on topics innocent, interesting, and elevating. Keep your imagination clean, so far as it lies under the dominion of your will. Keep your eyes from the curious study of objects unchaste and provocations of evil desire. You can not help seeing many such; you need not stare at them and con them over. Surely it is not your custom to stare at every person you meet as though you were a backwoodsman, and a fellowman were a novelty. You may see and not look hard, hear and not listen or show interest. You are master of your amusements, if not of your employment and work: where do you go to enjoy yourself? where do you spend your evenings? what theatre do you patronize? what music? Avoid artificial incentives to sin. Let no temptation take hold of you but such as is human, or part of the ordinary course of human nature; and God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that which you are able, but will make with temptation issue that you may be able to bear it (I Cor. x, 13). Aim at being too busy for temptation to settle on you; labour hard in your profession, have hobbies, take exercise, be manly and play out-of-door games. But remember -- be this said by way of warning, not of reprobation -- for the matter of purity, athletes have dangers all their own.

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