Not in bread alone doth man live, but in every word that proceedeth from the mouth of God.
“Listen, O my son, to the precepts of thy master, and incline the ear of thy heart, and cheerfully receive and faithfully execute the admonitions of thy loving Father, that by the toil of obedience thou mayest return to Him from whom by the sloth of disobedience thou hast gone away.”
Since the 6th century St. Benedict’s monasteries established Catholic culture on the ruins of the crumbling empires of paganism. St. Benedict gave his monks detailed instructions to lead a life that is centered around the celebrations of the sacred liturgy and based on the precepts of charity: his rule allows a life in the harmony of nature and grace – and that is why it has survived until today.
St. Benedict’s rule includes all aspects of the life as a monk, even instructions of what to eat, how much to eat, how often to eat and how to eat with guests – who had to be received as Christ Himself.
“… We believe that for the daily meal, both at the sixth and the ninth hour, two kinds of cooked food are sufficient at all meals … And if there be fruit or fresh vegetables, a third may be added. Let a pound of bread be sufficient for the day … If, however, the work hath been especially hard, it is left to the discretion and power of the Abbot to add something, if he think fit, barring above all things every excess … For nothing is so contrary to Christians as excess …”
“The capital sin of gluttony is an inordinate love of the pleasures attached to the eating of food.”
St. Thomas explains that in matters of eating food, “the appetite is twofold. There is the natural appetite, which belongs to the powers of the vegetal soul. On these powers virtue and vice are impossible, since they cannot be subject to reason … Besides this there is another, the sensitive appetite, and it is in the concupiscence of this appetite that the vice of gluttony consists.”
Eating as a natural desire has two elements, St. Thomas calls them appetites: The desire to eat at all and the desire of the pleasures attached to the eating of food.
Both desires belong necessarily together, but only the second appetite can be and must be subject to our reason. It is in this part that we exercise virtue – by controlling the concupiscence of our senses by acts of moderation.
Protestant and Jansenist error teaches that the concupiscence which remains after baptism is a true and proper sin, which is simply not reckoned for punishment.
Catholic teaching guides us to understand that there is no sin in us after baptism, and what we know as man’s desires – often inordinate ones – which are called “concupiscence”, is left in us for our moral betterment and proving.
St. Benedict’s monks were given two choices each day, they were not forced against their will to eat – like animals are forced to eat by nature.
The Church teaches that there are different ways to commit the sin of gluttony:
– Eating when there is no need, eating between meals and for no other reason than that of indulging food.
– Seeking delicacies or “daintily prepared meats”
– Going beyond either appetite or need, with danger to health.
– Eating with greed, after the manner of animals
Gluttony is a capital sin because it generates, so to say, easily other sins, especially sins related to the body. He who eats too much, easily lets his guard down and falls into other weaknesses. If these weaknesses are grave sins, even gluttony can be a mortal sin.
“On the other hand, says St. Thomas, if the inordinate concupiscence in the vice of gluttony be found to affect only such things as are directed to the end, for instance when a man has too great a desire for the pleasures of the palate, yet would not for their sake do anything contrary to God’s law, it is a venial sin.”
Who teaches us how to eat?
As in all other aspects of our life our ability to master our desires and to protect them from being inordinate depends on the health of our soul. “Fasting is instituted by the Church in order to bridle concupiscence, yet so as to safeguard nature”, explains St. Thomas. To eat well our soul needs strength and health – fasting well helps us to eat well.
The Church teaches us everything, even how to eat:
St. Alphonsus Liguori says:
“It is not a fault to feel pleasure in eating: for it is, generally speaking, impossible to eat without experiencing the delight which food naturally produces. But it is a defect to eat, like beasts, through the sole motive of sensual gratification, and without any reasonable object. Hence, the most delicious meats may be eaten without sin, if the motive be good and worthy of a rational creature; and, in taking the simplest food through attachment to pleasure, there may be a fault.”
Wouldn’t it help all of us to avoid the sin of gluttony better if we eat carefully, well prepared food, food that is healthy, food that is able to sustain us well without making us eating more and more of it?
The culture of the table – this includes all aspects of eating as man, not as a beast. Modern ways to eat do not make our efforts easier, but then: why shouldn’t this aspect of our lives – eating – also be counter-cultural? We don’t need to be “green” or environmentalists to understand that we need to be virtuous in all parts of our lives – also while eating – to be Catholic.
Eating just bread and butter at table is better than eating caviar standing over the sink. Having at least one meal together as a family is better than sitting in front of a TV eating frozen dinners. Receiving guests regularly – even if we live alone that seems to be possible once in a while – helps us to elevate our “taking meals” on the level on which it belongs.
“Therefore, whether you eat or drink, or whatsoever else you do, do all to the glory of God.” God’s grace allows us to return to virtue and strength which alone allows us to eat as Christians – and that is as truly human beings. Not in bread alone doth man live, but in every word that proceedeth from the mouth of God.