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Virtues Related To Temperance

November 3, 2018 Our Catholic Faith No Comments


“We may fail in our duty either because of the hardships and sacrifices we encounter,” asserts Fr. Gabriel of St. Mary Magdalen, OCD, “or because of the allurements of pleasure” (Divine Intimacy [DInt], p. 886).
Such is the distinction between assistance provided by the virtues of fortitude and temperance as articulated by one of the outstanding Discalced Carmelite authors and lecturers of the twentieth century. For just as fortitude assists us in overcoming arduous difficulties in living the Christian life, temperance moderates the inordinate desire for sensible pleasure that is part and parcel of our human condition due to the sin of our first parents.
Fr. John A. Hardon, SJ, provides a crisp characterization of temperance which summarizes the principal aspects of this fourth cardinal virtue as it was introduced last week:
“It moderates the attraction of pleasure — bodily, emotional, and spiritual. In the words of St. Paul, we are ‘to live lives that are self-controlled, upright, and godly’ (Titus 2:12). Always this control of our appetites is to be guided by right reason but illumined by the light of faith, in which Christ is our model of temperance. We surrender not only pleasures that are sinful but even legitimate pleasures out of love for God and in imitation of His Son, Jesus Christ” (The Faith, p. 162).
The Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) cites two illuminating exhortations from the Old Testament Book of Sirach in its teaching on temperance (see CCC, n. 1809): “Do not follow your inclination and strength, walking according to the desires of your heart” (Sirach 5:2), and “Do not follow your base desires, but restrain your appetites” (Sirach 18:30).
What is the consequence of discounting these wise counsels? “Without temperate dispositions and habits, the passions and appetites enslave a person” (The Didache Bible, p. 809); unruly passions become his master and lead to misery and unhappiness, both in this life and in the life to come.
We also saw last week that temperance has two integral parts (i.e., features necessary for its perfect exercise): a sense of shame and a sense of honor.
“The sense of shame causes a person to fear feeling the disgrace, confusion, or embarrassment from being intemperate in action,” explains Fr. William P. Saunders. “The sense of honor causes a person to want to feel the dignity, esteem, or love for practicing temperance. On one hand, the sense of shame prevents a person from acting intemperately and, thereby, sinfully; while on the other hand, the sense of honor inspires a person to act temperately and thereby meritoriously” (Straight Answers II, p. 228).
We now consider the vices that oppose temperance: insensibility by defect and intemperance by excess. To understand how insensibility can be a vice, one must recognize that “nature has introduced pleasure into the operations that are necessary for man’s life” (Summa Theologiae [STh] II-II, Q. 142, art. 1).
It is the Creator’s intent that man “make use of these pleasures in so far as they are required for his well-being” (Msgr. Paul J. Glenn, A Tour of the Summa [ATS], p. 274).
Thus, to reject pleasure to the extent of omitting those things necessary for the preservation of the individual and the species would be immoderate and unreasonable. A voluntary fixation on having a petite figure to the point of anorexia, for example, would be a disorder of insensibility.
One should not, however, confuse insensibility with fasting or abstinence, “which are useful and sometimes necessary even in the natural order” (ATS, p. 274). Think of a world-class athlete who — in addition to rigorous training — avoids red meat and alcohol in the interest of attaining a level of peak physical performance; or a married couple practicing natural family planning who abstains from sexual relations for a legitimate reason during the woman’s fertile period.
On the supernatural level, consider the penitent who abstains or fasts in order to advance spiritually; or consecrated religious and/or priests who have renounced the pleasures of sexual relations for the purpose of dedicating themselves exclusively to the service of God.
The vice of intemperance, which springs from allowing oneself to indulge excessively and inordinately in pleasures is, of course, far more common than insensibility. The Angelic Doctor is quite blunt in his abhorrence of this vice:
“Intemperance is most disgraceful for two reasons. First, because it is most repugnant to human excellence, since it is about pleasures common to us and the lower animals….Secondly, because it is most repugnant to man’s clarity or beauty; inasmuch as the pleasures which are the matter of intemperance dim the light of reason from which all the clarity and beauty of virtue arises: wherefore these pleasures are described as being most slavish” (STh II-II, Q. 142, art. 4).
Following the thought of Aristotle, St. Thomas describes intemperance as a childish vice (see STh II-II, Q. 142, art. 2).
“The adjective is justified,” affirms Msgr. Glenn. “Intemperance, like an ill-trained and unruly child, is unreasonable, headstrong, and willful, wanting his own way, knowing not where to stop, and growing stronger in his disgusting qualities the more he is indulged. Finally (and still like an unruly child), intemperance is corrected only by having its tendencies curbed and restrained” (ATS, p. 274).
Just as a spoiled child becomes more self-centered and unruly when left to his own designs, so the intemperate person whose concupiscible appetite is left unchecked and unrestrained becomes more and more ensnared in a web of self-love and less and less subject to the governance of right reason.
What, then, are the subjective parts of temperance? “Although temperance in general is concerned with pleasures,” states American philosopher Dr. J. Budziszewski, “its subjective parts include abstinence, which concerns the pleasures of food; sobriety, which concerns the pleasures of drink; chastity, which concerns the pleasures of the procreative act; and purity, which concerns the pleasures incidental to the act” (Commentary on Thomas Aquinas’s Virtue Ethics [C-AVE], p. 45).
Opposed to abstinence is the vice of gluttony, to sobriety the vice of drunkenness, and to chastity and purity the vice of lust and its various species.
Observance of the virtues related to temperance encompasses more than one might first imagine. For example, gluttony is not associated solely with overindulgence in food, or of eating in excess of what is required to sustain bodily health and acquiring the energy needed to carry out one’s duties (e.g., a mail carrier who walks several miles in a day would need a heartier breakfast than a person who drives a bus all day).
As indicated by Fr. Gabriel, “There is a disorder in the use of food and drink every time we allow the amount we use to be determined in any way by the pleasure we find in it, taking more than necessary if we like it, or if we do not like it, showing displeasure or refusing to take it. This too is being a slave to our senses, and allowing ourselves to be dominated by sensible pleasure” (DInt, p. 887).
Interesting to note is that St. Thomas refers to fasting as “the guardian of chastity” (STh II-II, Q. 147, art. 1).
Chastity, which relates the cardinal virtue of temperance to the specific area of human sexual desire, is a preeminent virtue in the sphere of temperance due to the vehemence of the passions to which it applies. The Catechism has a beautiful section on the nature and importance of chastity in its treatment of the Sixth Commandment (see CCC, nn. 2337-2350); as such, consideration of that most important virtue will be deferred until we advance to that section.
What about the potential parts of temperance? Dr. Budziszewski lists them as follows: continence, humility, mildness [meekness], modesty, contentment, and simplicity (cf. C-AVE, p. 45). [Note: Because of its foundational importance in the spiritual life, humility will be covered more comprehensively in next week’s installment.] Other complementary virtues that St. Thomas associates with temperance are studiousness (diligence) and eutrapelia (cheerfulness).

The Proper Balance

Let us close by considering how studiousness and eutrapelia relate to temperance. Diligence in study restrains one from seeking knowledge immoderately (i.e., for the wrong reasons or out of idle curiosity) on one hand; on the other, it prods one to combat the tendency to sloth (i.e., the desire to avoid the effort required to gain knowledge).
Man naturally desires to know things — he aspires to knowledge. The diligent person, the person who studies well, limits his attention to the issue at hand and doesn’t allow his mind to wander to idle questions that are of no importance.
Studiousness channels one’s mind to gain knowledge in a disciplined way, to not give in to distractions. It also moderates against gaining knowledge so as to puff up one’s self in pride or to use knowledge for the purpose of sin. St. Paul warns against lack of diligence in work: “If anyone will not work, let him not eat” (2 Thess. 3:10); in a sense, the same can be applied to diligence in study. Diligence in study strikes a balance or mean between the extremes of sloth and idle curiosity.
The virtue of eutrapelia (or leisure) gives the right mean in man’s need for play and recreation. When one constantly works or is overly serious, he can become oppressed and weary. Body and soul need times of respite so as to avoid burnout — weariness of soul is alleviated by relaxation and leisure. On the opposite extreme (by way of excess) is the person who is all play and never serious — eutrapelia provides the proper balance.

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(Don Fier serves on the board of directors for The Catholic Servant, a Minneapolis-based monthly publication. He and his wife are the parents of seven children. Fier is a 2009 graduate of Ave Maria University’s Institute for Pastoral Theology. He is a Consecrated Marian Catechist.)

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