General advice against Temperance

December 14, 2021 • 4 min

From The Sinner’s Guide, page 399
By Venerable Louis of Granada

Section III.


The first thing to be done for the reformation of the body is to put a rigorous curb on the appetites and to refrain from immoderate indulgence of any of the senses.

As myrrh, which is an exceedingly bitter substance, preserves the body from corruption after death, so mortification preserves it during life from the corruption of vice.

For this reason we shall consider the efficacy of sobriety, or temperance—a virtue upon which all the others depend, but which is very difficult to attain because of the resistance of our corrupt nature.

Read, then, the words in which the Holy Spirit deigns to instruct us in this respect: “Use as a frugal man the things that are set before thee, lest if thou eatest much thou be hated. Leave off first for manners’ sake, and exceed not lest thou offend. And if thou sittest among many, reach not thy hand out first of all, and be not the first to ask for drink.” [Ecclus. xxxi. 19, 20, 21.] Here are rules worthy of the Sovereign Master, Who wills that we should imitate in our actions the decorum and order which reign in all His works.

St. Bernard teaches us the same lesson in these words: “In regard to eating there are four things to be regulated: the time, the manner, the quantity, and the quality. The time should be limited to the usual hours of our repast; the manner should be free from that eagerness which makes us appear absorbed in what is set before us; the quantity and quality should not exceed what is granted others, except when a condition of health manifestly requires delicacies.”

In forcible words, supported by appropriate examples, St. Gregory declares the same sentiments: “It belongs to abstinence not to anticipate the ordinary time of meals, as Jonathan did when he ate the honeycomb; [1 Samuel. xiv. 27.] not to desire the greatest delicacies, as the Israelites did in the desert when they longed for the fleshpots of Egypt; [Exod. xvi. 3.] not to wish for the choicest preparation of food, as the people of Sodom; [Gen xix.] and not to yield to greediness, as Esau did [Gen xxv. 33.] when he sold his birthright for a mess of pottage.”

Hugh of St. Victor tells us we must be very attentive to our deportment at table, always observing a certain modesty of the eyes and a reserve of speech. There are some, he says, who are no sooner seated at table than their uncontrolled appetite is manifested by their bearing: their eyes eagerly scan the whole board; they rudely help themselves before others, and seize upon the nearest dish, regardless of all save self. They approach the table as a general approaches a fort which he is to assail, as if they were considering how they can most quickly consume all that lies before them.

Control these disgraceful indications of a degrading vice, and overcome the vice itself by restricting the quantity and quality of your food.

Bear these wise counsels in mind at all times, but particularly when the appetite is stimulated by hunger, or by rare and sumptuous viands which prove strong incentives to gluttony.

Beware of the illusions of this vice, which St. John Climachus tells us is most deceptive. At the beginning of a repast it is so clamorous that it would seem that no amount could satisfy our hunger; but if we are firm in resisting its unruly demands we shall see that a moderate portion is sufficient for nature.

An excellent remedy against gluttony is to bear in mind when we go to table that there are, as a pagan philosopher says, two guests to be provided for: the body, to which we must furnish the food which its necessity craves; and our soul, which we must maintain by the virtues of self-denial and temperance.

A no less efficacious remedy is to compare the happy fruits of abstinence with the gross pleasures of gluttony, which will enable us to appreciate the folly of sacrificing such lasting advantages for such pernicious and fleeting gratifications.

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