SELF-PRESERVATION is nature's first law, and the first and essential

means of preserving one's existence is the taking of food and drink

sufficient to nourish the body, sustain its strength and repair the

forces thereof weakened by labor, fatigue or illness. God, as well as

nature, obliges us to care for our bodily health, in order that the

spirit within may work out on earth the end of its being.

Being p
rely animal, this necessity is not the noblest and most

elevating characteristic of our nature. Nor is it, in its imperious and

unrelenting requirements, far removed from a species of tyranny. A kind

Providence, however, by lending taste, savor and delectability to our

aliments, makes us find pleasure in what otherwise would be repugnant

and insufferably monotonous.

An appetite is a good and excellent thing. To eat and drink with relish

and satisfaction is a sign of good health, one of the precious boons of

nature. And the tendency to satisfy this appetite, far from being

sinful, is wholly in keeping with the divine plan, and is necessary for

a fulsome benefiting of the nourishment we take.

On the other hand, the digestive organism of the body is such a

delicate and finely adjusted piece of mechanism that any excess is

liable to clog its workings and put it out of order. It is made for

sufficiency alone. Nature never intended man to be a glutton; and she

seldom fails to retaliate and avenge excesses by pain, disease and


This fact coupled with the grossness of the vice of gluttony makes it

happily rare, at least in its most repulsive form; for, be it said, it

is here question of the excessive use of ordinary food and drink, and

not of intoxicants to which latter form of gluttony we shall pay our

respects later.

The rich are more liable than the poor to sin by gluttony; but gluttony

is fatal to longevity, and they who enjoy best life, desire to live

longest. 'Tis true, physicians claim that a large portion of diseases

are due to over-eating and over-drinking; but it must be admitted that

this is through ignorance rather than malice. So that this passion can

hardly be said to be commonly yielded to, at least to the extent of

grievous offending.

Naturally, the degree of excess in eating and drinking is to be

measured according to age, temperament, condition of life, etc. The

term gluttony is relative. What would be a sin for one person might be

permitted as lawful to another. One man might starve on what would

constitute a sufficiency for more than one. Then again, not only the

quantity, but the quality, time and manner, enter for something in

determining just where excess begins. It is difficult therefore, and it

is impossible, to lay down a general rule that will fit all cases.

It is evident, however, that he is mortally guilty who is so far buried

in the flesh as to make eating and drinking the sole end of life, who

makes a god of his stomach. Nor is it necessary to mention certain

unmentionable excesses such as were practiced by the degenerate Romans

towards the fall of the Empire. It would likewise be a grievous sin of

gluttony to put the satisfaction of one's appetite before the law of

the Church and violate wantonly the precepts of fasting and abstinence.

And are there no sins of gluttony besides these? Yes, and three rules

may be laid down, the application of which to each particular case will

reveal the malice of the individual. Overwrought attachment to

satisfactions of the palate, betrayed by constant thinking of viands

and pleasures of the table, and by avidity in taking nourishment,

betokens a dangerous, if not a positively sinful, degree of sensuality.

Then, to continue eating or drinking after the appetite is appeased, is

in itself an excess, and mortal sin may be committed even without going

to the last extreme. Lastly, it is easy to yield inordinately to this

passion by attaching undue importance to the quality of our victuals,

seeking after delicacies that do not become our rank, and catering to

an over-refined palate. The evil of all this consists in that we seem

to eat and drink, if we do not in fact eat and drink, to satisfy our

sensuality first, and to nourish our bodies afterwards; and this is

contrary to the law of nature.

We seemed to insist from the beginning that this is not a very

dangerous or common practice. Yet there must be a hidden and especial

malice in it. Else why is fasting and abstinence--two correctives of

gluttony--so much in honor and so universally recommended and commanded

in the Church? Counting three weeks in Advent, seven in Lent and three

Ember days four times a year, we have, without mentioning fifty-two

Fridays, thirteen weeks or one-fourth of the year by order devoted to a

practical warfare on gluttony. No other vice receives the honor of such

systematic and uncompromising resistance. The enemy must be worthy.

As a matter of fact, there lies under all this a great moral principle

of Christian philosophy. This philosophy sought out and found the cause

and seat of all evil to be in the flesh. The forces of sin reside in

the flesh while the powers of righteousness--faith, reason and will--

are in the spirit. The real issue of life is between these forces

contending for supremacy. The spirit should rule; that is the order of

our being. But the flesh revolts, and by ensnaring the will endeavors

to dominate over the spirit.

Now it stands to reason that the only way for the superior part to

succeed is to weaken the inferior part. Just as prayer and the grace of

the sacraments fortify the soul, so do food and drink nourish the

animal; and if the latter is cared for to the detriment of the soul, it

waxes strong and formidable and becomes a menace.

The only resource for the soul is then to cut off the supply that

benefits the flesh, and strengthen herself thereby. She acts like a

wise engineer who keeps the explosive and dangerous force of his

locomotive within the limit by reducing the quantity of food he throws

into its stomach. Thus the passions being weakened become docile, and

are easily held under sway by the power that is destined to govern, and

sin is thus rendered morally impossible.

It is gluttony that furnishes the passion of the flesh with fuel by

feeding the animal too well; and herein lies the great danger and

malice of this vice. The evil of a slight excess may not be great

in itself; but that evil is great in its consequences. Little

over-indulgences imperceptibly, but none the less surely, strengthen

the flesh against the spirit, and when the temptation comes the spirit

will be overcome. The ruse of the saints was to starve the enemy.