An appetite is a good and excellent thing. To eat and drink with relish and satisfaction is a sign of good health, one of the precious boons of nature. And the tendency to satisfy this appetite, far from being sinful, is wholly in keeping with the divine plan, and is necessary for a fulsome benefiting of the nourishment we take.
On the other hand, the digestive organism of the body is such a delicate and finely adjusted piece of mechanism that any excess is liable to clog its workings and put it out of order. It is made for sufficiency alone. Nature never intended man to be a glutton; and she seldom fails to retaliate and avenge excesses by pain, disease and death. This fact coupled with the grossness of the vice of gluttony makes it happily rare, at least in its most repulsive form; for, be it said, it is here question of the excessive use of ordinary food and drink, and not of intoxicants to which latter form of gluttony we
shall pay our respects later.
The rich are more liable than the poor to sin by gluttony; but gluttony is fatal to longevity, and they who enjoy best life, desire to live longest. 'Tis true, physicians claim that a large portion of diseases are
due to over-eating and over-drinking; but it must be admitted that this is through ignorance rather than malice. So that this passion can hardly be said to be commonly yielded to, at least to the extent of grievous offending. Naturally, the degree of excess in eating and drinking is to be measured according to age, temperament, condition of life, etc. The term gluttony is relative. What would be a sin for one person might be permitted as lawful to another. One man might starve on what would constitute a sufficiency for more than one. Then again, not only the quantity, but the quality, time and manner, enter for something in determining just where excess begins. It is difficult therefore, and it is impossible, to lay down a general rule that will fit all cases. It is evident, however, that he is mortally guilty who is so far buried in the flesh as to make eating and drinking the sole end of life, who makes a god of his stomach. Nor is it necessary to mention certain immentionable excesses such as were practiced by the degenerate Romans towards the fall of the Empire.
It would likewise be a grievous sin of gluttony to put the satisfaction of one's appetite before the law of the Church and violate wantonly the precepts of fasting and abstinence. And are there no sins of gluttony besides these? Yes, and three rules may be laid down, the application of which to each particular case will reveal the malice of the individual. Overwrought attachment to satisfactions of the palate, betrayed by constant thinking of viands and pleasures of the table, and by avidity in taking nourishment, betokens a dangerous, if not a positively sinful, degree of sensuality. Then, to continue eating or drinking after the appetite is appeased, is in itself an excess and mortal sin may be committed even without going to the last extreme.
Lastly, it is easy to yield inordinately to this passion by attaching undue importance to the quality of our victuals, seeking after delicacies that do not become our rank, and catering to an over-refined palate. The evil of all this consists in that we seem to eat and drink, if we do not in fact eat and drink, to satisfy our sensuality first, and to nourish our bodies afterwards; and this is contrary to the law of nature. We seemed to insist from the beginning that this is not a very dangerous or common practice. Yet there must be a hidden and especial malice in it. Else why is fasting and abstinence—two correctives of gluttony—so much in honor and so universally recommended and commanded in the Church? Counting three weeks in Advent, seven in Lent and three Ember days four times a year, we have, without mentioning fifty-two Fridays, thirteen weeks or one fourth of the year by order devoted to a practical warfare on gluttony. No other vice receives the honor of such systematic and uncompromising resistance. The enemy must be worthy. As a matter of fact, there lies under all this a great moral principle of Christian philosophy. This philosophy sought out and found the cause and seat of all evil to be in the flesh. The forces of sin reside in the flesh while the powers of righteousness —faith, reason and will—are in the spirit. The real issue of life is between these forces contending for supremacy. The spirit should rule; that is the order of our being. But the flesh revolts, and by ensnaring the will endeavors to dominate over the spirit.
Now it stands to reason that the only way for the superior part to succeed is to weaken the inferior part. Just as prayer and the grace of the sacraments fortify the soul, so do food and drink nourish the animal; and if the latter is cared for to the detriment of the soul, it waxes strong and formidable and becomes a menace.
The only resource for the soul is then to cut off the supply that benefits the flesh, and strengthen herself thereby. She acts like a wise engineer who keeps the explosive and dangerous force of his locomotive within the limit by reducing the quantity of food he throws into its stomach. Thus the passions being weakened become docile, and are easily held under sway by the power that is destined to govern, and sin is thus rendered morally impossible. It is gluttony that furnishes the passion of the flesh with fuel by feeding the animal too well; and herein lies the great danger and malice of this vice. The evil of a slight excess may not be great in itself; but that evil is great in its consequences. Little over-indulgences imperceptibly, but none the less surely, strengthen the flesh against the spirit, and when the temptation comes the spirit will be overcome. The ruse of the saints was to starve the enemy.
Source: Moral Briefs by Rev. John H. Stapleton, Imprimatur 1904