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Holy Living

by Jeremy Taylor





Of Temperance in Eating and Drinking.


Sobriety is the bridle of the passions of desire, and temperance is the bit and curb of that bridle, a restraint put into a man’s mouth, a moderate use of meat and drink, so as may best consist with our health, and may not hinder but help the works of the soul by its necessary supporting us, and ministering cheerfulness and refreshment.

Temperance consists of the actions of the soul principally: for it is a grace that chooses natural means in order to proper and natural, and holy ends; it is exercised about eating and drinking, because they are necessary; but therefore it permits the use of them only as they minister to lawful ends; it does not eat and drink for pleasure, but for need, and for refreshment, which is a part or a degree of need. I deny not that eating and drinking may be, and in healthful bodies always is, with pleasure; because there is in nature no greater pleasure than that all the appetites which God hath made should be satisfied: and a man may choose a morsel that is pleasant, the less pleasant being rejected as being less useful, less apt to nourish, or more agreeing with an infirm stomach, or when the day is festival, by order or by private joy. In all these cases it is permitted to receive a more free delight, and to design it too, as the less principal: that is, that the chief reason why we choose the more delicious be the serving that end for which such refreshments and choices are permitted. But when delight is the only end, and rest itself, and dwells there long, then eating and drinking is not a serving of God, but an inordinate action; because it is not in the way to that end whither God directed it. But the choosing of a delicate before a more ordinary dish is to be done as other human actions are in which there are no degrees and precise natural limits described, but a latitude is indulged; it must be done moderately, prudently, and according to the accounts of wise, religious, and sober men: and then God, who gave us such variety of creatures, and our choice to use which we will, may receive glory from our temperate use, and thanksgiving; and we may use them indifferently without scruple, and a making them to become snares to us, either by too licentious and studied use of them, or too restrained and scrupulous fear of using them at all, but in such certain circumstances, in which no man can be sure he is not mistaken.

But temperance is meat and drink is to be estimated by the following measures.

Measures of Temperance in Eating.

1. Eat not before the time, unless necessity, or charity, or any intervening accident, which may make it reasonable and prudent, should happen. Remember, it had almost cost Jonathan his life, because he tasted a little honey before the sun went down, contrary to the king’s commandment; and although a great need which he had excused him from the sin of gluttony, yet it is inexcusable when thou eatest before the usual time, and thrustest thy hand into the dish unseasonably, out of greediness of the pleasure, and impatience of the delay.

2. Eat not hastily and impatiently, but with such decent and timely action that your eating be human act, subject to deliberation and choice, and that you may consider in the eating: whereas, he that eats hastily cannot consider particularly of the circumstances, degrees, and little accidents and chances, that happen in his meal; but may contract many little indecencies, and be suddenly surprised.

3. Eat not delicately or nicely, that is, be not troublesome to thyself or others in the choice of thy meats or the delicacy of thy sauces. It was imputed us a sin to the sons of Israel, that they loathed manna and longed for flesh: the quails stunk in their nostrils, and the wrath of God fell upon them. And the the manner of dressing, the sons of Eli were noted of indiscreet curiosity: they would not have the flesh boiled but raw, that they might roast it with fire. Not that it was a sin to eat it, or desire meat roasted; but that when it was appointed to be boiled, they refused it: which declared an intemperate and a nice palate. It was lawful in all senses to comply with a weak and a nice stomach, but not with a nice and curious palate. When our health requires it, that ought to be provided for; but not so our sensuality and intemperate longings. Whatsoever is set before you eat it, be it never so delicate; and be it plain and common, so it be wholesome, and fit for you, it must not be refused upon curiosity: for every degree of that is a degree of intemperance. Happy and innocent were the ages of our forefathers, who ate herbs and parched corn, and drank the pure stream, and broke their fast with nuts and roots;[72] and when they were permitted flesh, ate it only dressed with hunger and fire; and the first sauce they had was bitter herbs, and sometimes bread dipped in vinegar. But in this circumstance, moderation is to be reckoned in proportion to the present customs, to the company, to edification, and the judgment of honest and wise persons, and the necessities of nature.

4. Eat not too much: load neither thy stomach nor thy understanding. If thou sit at a bountiful table, be not greedy upon it, and say not there is much meat on it. Remember that a wicked eye is an evil thing: and what is created more wicked than an eye? Therefore it weepeth upon every occasion. Stretch not thy hand whithersoever it looketh, and thrust it not with him into the dish. A very little is sufficient for a man well nurtured, and he fetcheth not his wind short upon his bed.

Signs and Effects of Temperance.

We shall best know that we have the grace of temperance by the following signs, which are as so many arguments to engage us also upon its study and practice.

1. A temperate man is modest: greediness is unmannerly and rude. And this is intimated in the advice of the son of Sirach. When thou sittest amongst many, reach not thy hand out first of all. Leave off first for manner’s sake, and be not insatiable lest thou offend. 2. Temperance is accompanied with gravity of deportment: greediness is garish, and rejoices loosely at the sight of dainties.[73] 3. Sound but moderate sleep is its sign and its effect. Sound sleep cometh of moderate eating; he riseth early, and his wits are with him. 4. A spiritual joy and a devout prayer. 5. A suppressed and seldom anger. 6. A seldom-returning and a never-prevailing temptation. 8. To which add, that a temperate person is not curious of fancies and deliciousness. He thinks not much, and speaks not often of meat and drink; hath a healthful body and long life, unless it be hindered by some other accident: whereas to gluttony, the pain of watching and cholera, the pangs of the belly are continual company. And therefore Stratonicus said handsomely concerning the luxury of the Rhodians, “They built houses as if they were immortal; but they feasted as if they meant to live but a little while.” And Antipater, by his reproach of the old glutton Demades, well expressed the baseness of this sin, saying, that Demades, now old,[74] and always a glutton, was like a spent sacrifice, nothing left of him but his belly and his tongue; all the man besides is gone.

Of Drunkenness.

But I desire that it be observed, that because intemperance in eating is not so soon perceived by others as immoderate drinking, and the outward visible effects of it are not either so notorious or so ridiculous, therefore gluttony is not of so great disreptuation amongst men as drunkenness; yet, according to its degree, it puts on the greatness of the sin before God, and is most strictly to be attended to, lest we be surprised by our security and want of diligence, and the intemperance is alike criminal in both, according as the affections are either to the meat or drink. Gluttony is more uncharitable to the body, and drunkenness to the soul, or the understanding part of man; and therefore in Scripture is more frequently forbidden and declaimed against than the other: and sobriety hath by use obtained to signify temperance in drinking.

Drunkenness is an immoderate affection and use of drink. That I call immoderate that is beside or beyond that order of good things for which God hath given us the use of drink. The ends are digestion of our meat, cheerfulness and refreshment of our spirits, or any end of health; beside which if we go, or at any time beyond it, it is inordinate and criminal - it is the vice of drunkenness. It is forbidden by our blessed Saviour in these words:[75] “Take heed to yourselves, lest at any time your hearts be overcharged with surfeiting and drunkenness:” surfeiting, that is, the evil effects, the sottishness and remaining stupidity of habitual, or of the last night’s drunkenness. For Christ forbids both the actual and the habitual intemperance; not only the effect of it, but also the affection to it; for in both there is sin. He that drinks but little, if that little makes him drunk, and if he knew beforehand his own infirmity, is guilty of surfeiting, not of drunkenness.[76] But he that drinks much, and is strong to bear it, and is not deprived of his reason violently, is guilty of the sin of drunkenness. It is a sin not to prevent such uncharitable effects upon the body and understanding, and therefore a man that loves not the drink is guilty of surfeiting if he does not watch to prevent the evil effect; and it is a sin, and the greater of the two, inordinately to love or to use the drink, though the surfeiting or violence do not follow. Good, therefore, is the counsel of the son of Sirach, ‘Show not thy valiantness in wine; for wine hath destroyed many.’[77]

Evil Consequents to Drunkenness.

The evils and sad consequents of drunkenness (the consideration of which are as so many arguments to avoid the sin) are to this sense reckoned by the writers of holy Scripture, and other wise personages of the world. 1. It causeth woes and mischief,[78] wounds and sorrow, sin and shame;[79] it maketh bitterness of spirit, brawling and quarrelling; it increaseth rage and lesseneth strength; it maketh red eyes, and a loost and babbling tongue. 2. It particularly ministers to lust, and yet disables the body; so that in effect it makes man wanton as a satyr, and impotent as age. And Solomon, in enumerating the evils of this vice, adds this to the account,[80] ‘thine eyes shall behold strange women, and thine heart shall utter perverse things: as if the drunkard were only desire, and then impatience, muttering and enjoying like an eunuch embracing a woman. 3. It besots and hinders the actions of the understanding, making a man brutish in his passions, and a fool in his reason; and differs nothing from madness but that it is voluntary, and so is an equal evil in nature, and a worse in manners.[81] 4. It takes off all the guards, and lets loose the reins of all those evils to which a man is by is nature or by his evil customs inclined, and from which he is restrained by reason and severe principles. Drunkenness calls off the watchmen from their towers; and then all the evils that can proceed from a loose heart and an untied tongue, and a dissolute spirit, and an unguarded unlimited will, all that we may put upon the accounts of drunkenness. 5. It extinguisheth and quenches the Spirit of God and with wine at the same time. And therefore St. Paul makes them exclusive of each other:[82] ‘Be not drunk with wine wherein is excess; but be filled with the Spirit.’ And since Joseph’s cup was put into Benjamin’s sack, no man had a divining goblet. 6. It opens all the sanctuaries of nature, and discovers the nakedness of the soul, all its weaknesses and follies; it multiplies sins and discovers them; it makes a man incapable of being a private friend or a public counsellor. 7. It taketh a man’s soul into slavery and imprisonment more than any vice whatever,[83] because it disarms a man of all his reason and his wisdom, whereby he might be cured, and therefore commonly it grows upon him with age; a drunkard being still more a fool and less a man. I need not add any sad examples, since all story and all ages have too many of them. Amnon was slain by his brother Absalom when he was warm and high with wine. Simon, the high-priest, and two of his sons, were slain by their brother at a drunken feast. Holofernes was drunk when Judith slew him; and all the great things that Daniel spake of Alexander[84] were drowned with a surfeit of one night’s intemperance: and the drunkenness of Noah and Lot are upon record to eternal ages, that in those early instances, and righteous persons, and less criminal drunkenness than is that of Christians in this period of the world, God might show that very great evils are prepared to punish this vice; no less than shame, and slavery, and incest; the first upon Noah, the second upon one of his sons, and the third in the person of Lot.

Signs of Drunkenness.

But if it be inquired concerning the periods and distinct significations of this crime; and when a man is said to be drunk; to this I answer, that drunkenness in in the same manner to be judged as sickness. As every illness or violence done to health, in every part of its continuance, is a part or degree of sickness; so is every going off from our natural and common temper and our usual severity of behaviour, a degree of drunkenness. He is not only drunk that can drink no more; for few are so: but he hath sinned in a degree of drunkenness who hath done anything towards it beyond his proper measure. But its parts and periods are usually thus reckoned: 1. apish gestures; 2. much talking; 3. immoderate laughing; 4. dullness of sense; 5. scurrility, that is, wanton, or jeering, or abusive language; 6. an useless understanding; 7. stupid sleep; 8. epilepsies, or fallings and reelings, and beastly vomitings. The least of these, even when the tongue begins to be untied, is a degree of drunkenness.

But that we may avoid the sin of intemperance in meats and drinks, besides the former rules of measures, these counsels also may be useful.

Rules for obtaining Temperance.

1. Be not often present at feasts, nor at all in dissolute company, when it may be avoided, for variety of pleasing objects steals away the heart of man; and company is either violent or enticing, and we are weak or complying, or perhaps desirous enough to be abused. But if you be unavoidably or indiscreetly engaged, let not mistaken civility or good nature engage thee either to the temptation of staying, (if thou understandest thy weakness,) or the sin of drinking inordinately.

2. Be severe in your judgment concerning your proportions, and let no occasion make you enlarge far beyond your ordinary. For a man is surprised by parts; and while he thinks one glass more will not make him drunk, that one glass hath disabled him from well discerning his present condition and neighbour-danger. While men think themselves wise, they become fools: they think they shall taste the aconite and not die, or crown their heads with juice of poppy and not be drowsy; and if they drink off the whole vintage, still they think they can swallow another goblet.[85] But remember this, whenever you begin to consider whether you may safely take one draught more, it is then high time to give over. Let that be accounted a sign late enough to break off; for every reason to doubt is a sufficient reason to part the company.

3. Come not to table but when thy need invites thee; and, if thou beest in health, leave something of thy appetite unfilled, something of thy natural heat unemployed, that it may secure thy digestion and serve other needs of nature or the spirit.

4. Propound to thyself (if thou beest in a capacity) a constant rule of living, of eating and drinking, which, though it may not be fit to observe scrupulously, lest it become a snare to thy conscience, or endanger thy health upon every accidental violence; yet let not thy rule be broken often nor much, but upon great necessity and in small degrees.

5. Never urge any man to eat or drink beyond his own limits and his own desires. He that does otherwise is drunk with his brother’s surfeit,[86] and reels and falls with his intemperance; that is, the sin of drunkenness is upon both their scores, they both lie wallowing in the guilt.

6. Use St. Paul’s instruments of sobriety: ‘Let us who are of the day be sober, putting on the breastplate of faith and love, and, for an helmet, the hope of salvation.’ Faith, hope, and charity are the best weapons in the world to fight against intemperance. The faith of the Mahometans forbids them to drink wine, and they abstain religiously, as the sons of Rechab; and the faith of Christ forbids drunkenness to us, and therefore is infinitely more powerful to suppress this vice, when we remember that we are Christians, and to abstain from drunkenness and gluttony is part of the faith and discipling of Jesus, and that with these vices neither our love to God nor our hopes of heaven can possibly consist; and, therefore, when these enter the heart the others go out at the mouth; for this is the devil that is cast out by fasting and prayer, which are the proper actions of these graces.

7. As a pursuance of this rule, it is a good advice, that, as we begin and end all our times of eating with prayer and thanksgiving, so, at the meal, we remove and carry up our mind and spirit to the celestial table, often thinking of it, and often desiring it; that by enkindling thy desire to heavenly banquets, thou mayest be indifferent and less passionate for the earthly.

8. Mingle discourses, pious, or in some sense, profitable, and in all senses charitable and innocent, with thy meal, as occasion is ministered.

9. Let your drink so serve your meat as your meat doth your health; that it be apt to convey and digest it, and refresh the spirits; but let it never go beyond such a refreshment as may a little lighten the present load of a sad or troubled spirit, never to inconvenience, lightness, sottishness, vanity, or intemperance; and know that the loosing the bands of the tongue, and the very first dissolution of its duty, is one degree of the intemperance.

10. In all cases be careful, that you be not brought under the power of such things which otherwise are lawful enough in the use. “All things are lawful for me; but I will not be brought under the power of any”, said St. Paul. And to be perpetually longing, and impatiently desirous of anything, so that a man cannot abstain from it, is to lose a man’s liberty, and to become a servant of meat and drink, or smoke. And I wish this last instance were more considered by persons who little suspect themselves guilty of intemperance, though their desires are strong and impatient, and the use of it perpetual and unreasonable to all purposes, but that they have made it habitual and necessary as intemperance itself is made to some men.

11. Use those advices which are prescribed as instruments, to suppress voluptuousness, in the foregoing section.



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