A blog for Catholic men that seeks to encourage virtue, the pursuit of holiness and the art of true masculinity.
The Seven Deadly Sins: Gluttony
November 5, 2013
The following post is part of a guest series by Jason Liske of Ascending Mount Carmel. Jason is also a freelance writer and social media contributor at Monkrock. You can read more about him here. The following post is used with permission.
“We overcome after a fashion, perhaps, our serious and dangerous vices, but there it stops. The small desires we freely let grow as they will. We neither embezzle nor steal, but delight in gossiping; we do not “drink,” but consume immoderate quantities of tea and coffee instead. The heart remains quite full of appetites: the roots are not pulled out and we wander around in the tanglewoods that have sprung up in the soil of our self-pity.”
– Tito Colliander, The Way of the Ascetics
Thus far, most of the seven deadly sins I have spoken of have seemed to be the more obviously deadly ones – but this sin, gluttony, is not one that is given much notice these days. And yet it is, along with lust, one of the most pervasive of sins in Western culture.
Gluttony is never being quite content with what we have, always wanting more (not in the sense of greed, on which I shall speak later), filling not only our stomachs but our entire lives with excess and still wanting more. It bloats and distracts the soul, causing us to form idols out of things we think we “need”, and helps us avoid reality by filling our lives with distractions (think shopping or eating as a “cure” for sadness). What we actually need has been replaced by want we think we need, what we think we want. But our hearts can only be restless until they rest in God. (cf. Confessions of St. Augustine)
Nevertheless, we see a kind of insatiable hunger to fill the void that only God can fill with anything and everything else. Even the way we eat in the West is often bordering on the ridiculous – we cram our bellies with as much food as we can, in as short a time as we can, and yet give our bodies no time to even digest what they have been given. We pile our closets full of clothes we never wear, and all manner of other things of this kind. “To want simply what is enough nowadays suggests to people primitiveness and squalor.”1 (Seneca)
The cure for the sin of gluttony is moderation – we eat to live, not live to eat, and this maxim can be extended to all other material things in life. “Food is to be taken in so far as it supports our life, but not to the extent of enslaving us to the impulses of desire.”2 (St. John Cassian) A good example is in drinking – I enjoy a good ale just as much as anyone else, but there is an obvious difference between enjoying a drink, and getting drunk.
But it might be asked, why write so alarmingly of such seemingly harmless things? Simply because “gluttony engenders love of pleasure and many other passions as well. It is the root from which the rest of the passions spring up in vigorous growth…”3 In other words, if we indulge our bodies in such ways as I have mentioned above, we will find that the sins of lust and greed will not be far behind, for these too are indulgences of the body.
Of course, it is prudent to mention once again, moderation. We are not to starve ourselves immoderately, to never enjoy life, and all the rest of it. But over-indulgence in even the little things an cause us to erect all kinds of idols in our lives that can distract us from God, and lead us into sin. Therefore, “Just as a horseman, before setting out on a race, bridles his spirited horse, so we, to take this road, must impose on our flesh the strong bridle of mortification, so as to bring under control all [the body’s] appetites and movements.”4 (Fr. Gabriel of St. Mary-Magdalen)Common sense alone teaches us this – it is not peculiar to the Christian faith. If I drink too much alcohol, I will become drunk, senseless, and sick. If I eat too much at a meal, I will become loagy and sick to my stomach. If I drink too much coffee, I will get the shakes and a headache. These are small and simple reminders that gluttony is not the way our bodies were intended to be treated.
But it is not only moderation that is a solid weapon against the sin of gluttony – we also may make use of another, the practice of fasting. Fasting does not only mean giving up certain foods (i.e. red meats on Fridays), but also giving up many other things that we love, for the love of Christ and in order to maintain our gaze solely on Him. “It is impossible for us to carry our cross well and get through the temptation of the devil, the ordeal of the world, and the oppression of evil without fasting on the Mount of Temptation.”5 (Matthew the Poor) But fasting should always “be moderate so as not to attract attention and not to deprive us of strength to fulfill the rule of prayer.”6 (Theophan the Recluse) “When you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show others they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full.” (Matt. 6:16)
1 – Letter XC
2 – Institutes, “On the Eight Vices”
3 – Ascetic Discourse
4 – Divine Intimacy, 296
5 – The Communion of Love, 111-112
6 – The Art of Prayer: An Orthodox Anthology, 217
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