The Moral Virtue of Temperance – Part 1 of 5

Father Pegues continues his exposition of St. Thomas Aquinas’ Treatise on the Cardinal Moral Virtues (Summa Theologica II-II, 47-170) by discussing the virtue of temperance.

Temperance is “that virtue which keeps man’s sensitive appetite within the bounds of reason so that it may not be carried away by pleasures, particularly those that refer to the sense of touch in those acts that are necessary for the conservation of bodily life.”

Abstinence and sobriety are forms of the virtue of temperance that concern pleasures of the table. They regulate “the sensitive appetite with regard to eating and drinking so that this be done in conformity with what reason demands.” A special form of abstinence is fasting, which is “doing without a part of what is normally required for each day’s food. . . . To fast may be a most excellent thing, for it serves to keep concupiscence under control; to make the mind more free to occupy itself with the things of God; and to make satisfaction for sin. In this matter one must always be ruled by discretion and prudence, and there must be no danger to health, and it must not prove an obstacle to duty.”

The sin opposed to the virtue of abstinence is gluttony. There are several forms of gluttony: “The inordinate desire to eat and drink may bear upon the nature and the quality of food, or upon its quantity, or upon its preparation, or upon the actual consumption of the food by not waiting for the proper time of eating, or by eating with greediness.” Gluttony is a capital sin because “it bears upon one of those pleasures which of its nature incites man to desire things of sense and to act in accordance with them.” The offspring of gluttony are “dullness of mind with regard to things intellectual, inept mirth, immoderate speech, buffoonery, and impurity. . . . These sins are the outcome of gluttony because thereby the reason becomes sluggish and almost paralyzed, and can no longer guide man in the way he should go.”

The object of sobriety is “only to take intoxicating drink as it behooves.”

Drunkenness is the vice opposed to sobriety. Drunkenness is a sin “whenever it comes about through one’s own fault by not ceasing to drink when one should and not taking into account the intoxicating character of the drink one takes.” By drunkenness, one “knowingly deprives himself of the use of his reason and puts himself lower than brute beasts, for these at least always keep their instinct to guide them.”

Quotations from Thomas Pegues, Catechism of the “Summa Theologica” of Saint Thomas Aquinas, trans. Aelred Whitacre (New York: Benziger, 1922).

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