The Divine Life in Man
BASED ON THE WRITINGS OF THE SUMMA OF ST. THOMAS AQUINAS
FOR THE CONFRATERNITY OF THE PRECIOUS BLOOD
BY FRS. WALTER FARRELL AND MARTIN HEALY
CHAPTER 9, TEMPERANCE: HAPPINESS AND CONTROL
DID YOU EVER INVITE a family to dinner? And had you cooked a large roast and an abundance of vegetables? Did you think that you had enough food for an army? And were you embarrassed when your guests and their children ate as if they had not had a meal in a month? Remember how your heart sank as the food vanished through their mouths like water poured into a glass with a hole in the bottom?
OR WERE YOU EVER embarrassed by a guest who drank too much and proceeded to make himself a nuisance to all the other guests by his vulgar language, his obscene jokes, or his too amorous attentions to the ladies present?
IN ALL HUMAN SITUATIONS of this kind, the cause of the trouble is lack of control. People are unable to control their desires. They can never have enough of what they want. They eat too much, or drink too much, or seek too much sexual excitement. The man or woman with unbridled desires is a danger to himself or herself and a nuisance or a scandal to society. In a brief phrase, the happiness of both the individual and society demands self-control. Man is full of desires, but they must be regulated by reason. Left to themselves they will bring man to disaster; hence they must be subject to the control of right reason.
IT IS THROUGH THE VIRTUE of temperance and the virtues related to it that the desires of man are brought under the control of reason. Man is not simply an animal; he is a rational being. Man does not live simply by instinct or desire; he lives by reason. Reason must direct his actions to the goal of human life---happiness in the vision of God. But man is also an animal; he has the same tendencies to eat and drink and to procreate his kind that we find in animals. The good of the individual, the life of his body, requires that man eat and drink to preserve his life. The good of the human race demands that men and women marry to preserve the human race. It is nature which impels a man to eat and drink and marry and raise children; but because man is also a rational being, all these tendencies must be brought under the control of reason. If they are not, man descends to the level of the beasts and forsakes what is highest and noblest in his human nature---the spiritual soul, with its capacities for knowledge and love, which raise him above the beast and make him capable of living forever with God in friendship and love. It is temperance and the virtues related to it which give man the control he needs to achieve true human happiness.
MAN HAS MANY TENDENCIES, and so many desires, which could draw him away from God. The strongest of these are his inclinations to eat and drink and to beget children through marriage. The virtue which moderates or controls these strong inclinations is temperance. If a man's cravings for food and drink and the pleasure of sex are not controlled by reason through the virtue of temperance, then he is in danger. His uncontrolled appetite for food or drink or sex will lead him to forsake God for creatures. He will ruin his own health and life by gluttony, drunkenness or sexual excess. He will destroy the order of society in his eagerness to gratify his own desires. He will lose his immortal soul because the intensity of his desires will lead him to abandon God for the pleasures of his own body. The needs of the body are natural and impelling, but they must be brought under the control of reason or they will destroy man. It is temperance which brings these imperious forces under control; it enables a man to master his own inclinations and direct them to the good of himself and the whole human race.
LIKE ALL THE MORAL VIRTUES, temperance follows a mean between excess and defect. It does not deny that man has natural inclinations to food and drink and the use of sex. It gives man the means to master these inclinations for his own good. It admits that man requires these things for his own preservation and that of the human race. A man would sin by defect, then, if he refused totally to satisfy these needs of nature. The man who refuses to eat at all for no good reason would be guilty of the sin and the vice of insensibility. On the other hand, the man who eats too much, or drinks too much, or who makes a sinful use of sex, sins against temperance by intemperance. Temperance enables a man to satisfy these tendencies within reason.
FORTUNATELY FOR MOST MEN, the two qualities most necessary for temperance are found in the majority of men. They are shamefacedness and honesty. Shamefacedness is a passion in man which makes him fear to do a base or ignoble action. It is shamefacedness which prevents a man from overeating or getting drunk in the presence of others. It may not be the most noble motive for avoiding evil and doing good, but there is no doubt that it is a very good means of acquiring the virtue of temperance and keeping it.
HONESTY is the quality of spiritual beauty in things, actions, or men. Man has a natural tendency to honesty in things, actions, or men. The honest is the good, and man has a natural bent toward what is good. Honesty is opposed to what is disgraceful. Honesty works hand in hand in a man with shamefacedness. Man hates what is disgraceful and loves what is honest or good. Honesty, then, is also a great help in building up the virtue of temperance and preserving it.
TEMPERANCE is concerned chiefly with the greatest pleasures which attract man in this present life---the delights of eating or drinking or sex. It is divided into the virtues which regulate man's use of these pleasures---the virtues of abstinence, chastity and virginity. Abstinence enables a man to eat and drink in moderation according to the rule of human reason. When a man eats more than he needs to preserve life, he is guilty of the sin of gluttony. It is abstinence or fasting which leads a man to use food for the good of his body and soul.
FASTING is the act of the virtue of abstinence. A man fasts when he abstains from eating all that it is possible for him to eat. Fasting is good for many reasons. In the first place, overeating often dulls a man's moral sense and leads him into temptation. It incites him to acts of lust. Fasting destroys this hazard to human action. Secondly, gluttony dulls a man's mind and prevents him from using it properly. Above all, gluttony prevents a man from devoting his mind to God and the things of God, because the glutton is always too sleepy for prayer or meditation. Lastly, fasting is good for man because it enables him to make acts of reparation to God for his sins. By denying himself the pleasures of eating, a man does two good things: he brings his body into subjection to his soul, and he can repay God by this self-inflicted punishment for the sins he has committed.
SOBRIETY is that part of the virtue of abstinence which enables a man to practise temperance in drinking. The harmful effects of alcohol on the human system and human behaviour are too well known to need any lengthy description here. The drunkard brings disgrace and disaster to himself and to his family. Sobriety is the virtue which enables a man to make use of the pleasures of drinking---or to abstain from them entirely---for the good of his human nature.
CHASTITY is the virtue which moderates man's use of sexual or venereal pleasure. The common good of the human race impels men to beget children so that the race will not perish. Nature has given men an added motive for begetting children by associating one of its most intense pleasures with the act by which children are conceived in the wombs of their mothers. This pleasure does not exist for itself, but is intended to lead men and women to perform their duty to propagate the human race. It should be sought and used, therefore, only for the good of the race and in accordance with the rule of right reason. But the intensity of the sexual drive in human beings will run away with man unless it is brought under the control of reason. It is the virtue of chastity which makes it possible for men to use their sexual instincts properly.
VIRGINITY is a virtue by which men or women abstain entirely from sexual pleasure. It represents the highest degree of control of the sexual appetite. As a virtue it makes men and their actions morally good. It should be clear, then, that when we speak of virginity here we are not referring to any of those unfortunate human beings who through some physical or mental defect are incapable of desiring or obtaining sexual pleasure. We are talking of the virtue that exists in those human beings---capable of sexual acts and pleasure---who voluntarily renounce such acts or pleasure for a higher good. In virtue of the basic natural tendency of human beings to perpetuate the human race by begetting children, only a higher goal makes voluntary virginity good. Men find three kinds of good in this life: the external possessions which enable them to live well, the goods of their bodies (such as health), and the goods of their souls (such as knowledge and virtue). Now it is reasonable to forego a lesser good for a higher good. The athlete gives up liquor and tobacco for the good of his body. The scholar gives up liquor, food and amusement for the good of his mind. So, too, the virgin gives up the pleasures of sex in order to have more time and mental ease to devote his or her mind to God and the contemplation of God. It is precisely the infinite character of the good that the virgin seeks---God Himself---which makes virginity more excellent than marriage. Married persons have to spend a great deal of their time, and energies and talents on one another and their children. The virgin can consecrate this time, energy and talent to the worship of God. Nor is the intention of the virgin a selfish one. In the first place, the virgin gives the world an example of the possibility of controlling the sexual drive of human nature. From this point of view alone the virgin is a boon to society. The virgin proves that self-control is attainable. Secondly, the true virgin practices virginity out of love for God, and hence out of love for men. No one can truly love God without loving men. As the virgin grows in the love of God, so does she grow in the love of men. Her virginity then becomes a sacrifice in the eyes of God for the good of mankind. As the married woman provides for the bodily preservation of the human race, so the virgin, by the sacrifice of her flesh provides for the spiritual preservation of the human race. Through her sacrifice and intercession in prayer, the grace and the power of God descend into human life, making men better and procuring the salvation of the human race.
THE VICE OPPOSED to chastity and virginity is lust. Lust is an inordinate tendency to indulge in the pleasures of sex. As we have already said, the pleasures of sex are legitimate as long as they are sought in accord with reason. Since God and nature direct these pleasures to the preservation of the human race through the begetting of children, reason demands that these pleasures should not be sought or used unless they are directed to the procreating and raising of children. It follows, therefore, that they can be sought legitimately only in marriage, for only through the institution of marriage and the human family is it possible to beget children and raise them properly. The deliberate seeking of sexual pleasure outside marriage will always be against right reason and hence sinful. Lust is a vice or a sin by which men seek and employ sexual pleasure against the order of right reason.
IT IS A CAPITAL SIN because it leads to other sins. The lustful man becomes blind to all else as he seeks to gratify his base desires. He becomes thoughtless, refusing to take counsel even with himself about his evil way of living. Because his mind is blinded by his insane desires he is inconstant, swearing to give up his lustful cravings, but rushing back to them at the first smile or affectionate gesture from the object of his lust. Throwing caution to the winds, he becomes rash in seeking to satisfy his ignoble yearnings. By pampering his own desires, he succumbs to an inordinate self-love and begins to hate God. Hating God, he comes to love this present world in which all his temporary wishes seem to be fulfilled, and to hate the next world in which he could find true happiness. And so the lustful descends from the world of the spirit, for which he was made, to the world of the beasts, which he was meant to dominate. Refusing to be ruled by God, he finds himself ruled by the blind impulses of the beasts beneath him.
THOSE WHO HAVE FALLEN VICTIM to lust need the virtue of temperance to restrain their inordinate desires. But there are other inclinations in man which also need the moderation of reason. Because the virtues which direct these tendencies do so by regulating them, these virtues are said to be related to the virtue of temperance. They enable man to reach self-control or self-mastery.
CONTINENCE is a virtue of the will by which a man checks the strong impulses of desire for pleasures of touch---such as the pleasures of food, drink and sex. It is distinct from temperance as the imperfect is distinct from the perfect. When a man has the virtue of temperance, the passions of his concupiscible appetite are subject to his reason and will, and they cannot strongly resist the power of his will. In the continent man his passions strongly resist his will, but his will remains firm in the face of their onslaught. In the incontinent man, on the contrary, the will gives in to the vehemence of the passions and he falls into sin.
CLEMENCY AND MEEKNESS are virtues which moderate the passion of anger. Meekness restrains anger itself, whereas clemency directs its external effects. Meekness keeps a man from becoming angry at all; clemency prevents a man from taking too much revenge on those who have injured him.
MODESTY is the virtue which subjects to the rule of reason those tendencies of man which are weaker than his inclination to the pleasures of food, drink or sex. Briefly, we might say that modesty directs man's desire for his own excellence and for knowledge, and man's external behaviour and dress. As we have already seen, men have a natural tendency to avoid difficult things. They need the virtue of magnanimity to move them to the accomplishment of hard things. Men also have a natural leaning to great things, but since lofty things are often beyond their powers they need a virtue to keep them from tending immoderately to high goals. The virtue which restrains man's mind from aiming at big things against reason is the virtue of humility. Humility is a virtue of the will, but it depends on knowledge. To be humble, a man must realize the lack of proportion between his own powers and the great things toward which his will tends. Humility does not make a man think less of himself than he ought; it is based on an honest estimate of one's own capacities, and hence enables a man to see what he cannot do and to abstain from trying to do the impossible. Humility is a very important virtue in relation to the pursuit of happiness. It is humility which makes it possible for a man to see that he cannot find happiness without the assistance of God's grace and love. The humble man does not try the impossible---to save himself without God. The humble man subjects himself to God, worships God and asks the Divine assistance in his pursuit of happiness.
PRIDE is the vice opposed to humility. The sin of pride is an inordinate desire or love of one's own excellence. Through pride a man either thinks himself better than he is, or he thinks he can do things which are beyond his own power. The proud man thinks that all his talents are his own; he will not even acknowledge that he owes them to God. Or, if he acknowledges that they come from God, he still thinks that they are due to his own merit rather than to God's generosity. He boasts of gifts which he does not possess. He despises other men and imagines he is the exclusive possessor of whatever talent he has. The proud man knows everything and can do anything. He must be the leader, or else he will not work or play. Pride is a very serious sin because it leads a man to resist even God Himself. A man may fall into other kinds of sin through ignorance or weakness, and in such a case he fears the just judgment of God. But the proud man rebels against God, and will not be subject to Him. He resists all God's efforts to lead him back to virtue, and will have none of His help. He will save himself by himself or perish.
THE SIN OF ADAM AND EVE, our first parents, was a sin of pride. By the gifts of grace and integrity Adam and Eve were free from the temptations of the flesh; they could only fall into sin through the spiritual faculties of reason and will. When the devil, in the guise of a serpent, tempted them, he attacked them by appealing to pride. He told them that if they would eat of the forbidden fruit, they would become as gods, knowing good and evil. Through pride, through a disordered desire to attain some spiritual perfection without God, Eve fell and then seduced Adam. The consequences of this first sin of pride are apparent to all of us. Because of it the human race was expelled from Paradise and man became subject to inordinate concupiscence, disease and death.
As PRIDE EXPELLED Adam and Eve from Paradise, so it can prevent men from finding happiness through the grace of God. Humility, man's recognition of his dependence oil God and of his absolute need for submitting himself to God, is the only remedy for human pride. The humble man trusts not in his own strength, but in the power and love of God. Unable to do anything of himself for his own salvation, he can do all things in God.
MAN HAS ALSO AN INTENSE DESIRE to know, to learn everything; but it is neither possible nor convenient for man to know everything. This desire also must be moderated according to the rule of reason. Studiousness is the virtue which directs man in his desire to learn the truth. Curiosity is the vice which impels man to seek knowledge which is not proper to him. It is curiosity which sends men and women to fortune-tellers to learn what will happen to them in the future---a knowledge which is proper to God alone. Curiosity impels women---or men, for that matter---to seek to know all the secrets of their neighbors, so that they may slander them behind their backs.
MODESTY is also the virtue which directs a man's external behaviour and dress according to the rules of right reason. Modesty makes a man act in the fashion that befits a human being. It is modesty which prevents a man or woman from behaving lewdly in public, and enables a human being to seek legitimate recreation in a decently human way. The modest man does not insist on being the life of every party. He may tell a joke, but never a "dirty" one; he laughs at what is humorous, but not hysterically like a man out of his mind. Or again, it is modesty which makes a woman dress decently, and prevents her from making herself a temptation to lust in the men she meets. Briefly, modesty is a virtue which gives a man or woman self-control.
IT IS AN UNFORTUNATE FACT that the world today has glorified intemperance, impurity and immodesty. Through the newspapers, radio and television, men and women are led to believe that "glamor", sophistication, "sex appeal", the right silhouette, and the right liquor are the only things in life worth striving for. This is an appeal to what is lowest in man, his animal nature. That is why the virtue of temperance and its related virtues are a necessity in the modern world. Man is made for God, not for the beasts. Man's problem is to use the things of this world to lead him to God. He must be the master of his animal nature, or he will be its slave. He must subdue his body for the good of his soul. He must conquer the world so that he may go to God. Temperance is the virtue which makes man ruler of himself and of the material world in which he lives. The intemperate man is a plaything in the grip of the debasing forces of the material world. The temperate man is the master of material forces, and his self-control enables him to use the world as a stepping-stone to God. The temperate man finds happiness through rational self-control.
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