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The Life of Virtue - Sobriety

Monday, September 07, 2009
At first sight the notion of sobriety as a virtue might seem rather dull, or even worse, puritanical, but St. Thomas is careful to make clear that this is not at all what he has in mind by this virtue of moderation in drink. Like all virtues, sobriety is a good and useful habit that is essential for those who are in the pursuit of a happy and peaceable life. The scriptures are full of exhortations and encouragements that counsel us always to show restraint when drinking, so as to avoid drunkenness, a state that is the cause of so much strife, violence and unnecessary heartache in our society: “wine drunk to excess is bitterness of soul, with provocation and stumbling” (Sirach 31:29). The need to know one’s limit in drinking and the harmful consequences of disregarding it can be plainly in any of our city centres on a Saturday night, where anti-social behaviour and alcohol-related fights are an all too frequent occurrence.

However, sobriety does not mean a rejection of all alcohol as sinful (this cannot be the case, for we know from scripture that Our Lord drank wine). In fact, Thomas stresses in many articles in the Summa Theologiae, that a moderate intake of wine is good for the health of the body and cheering for the heart, especially when it is drunk as a means of making merry with friends, as Aquinas holds friendship in the highest regard, “wine drunk in season and temperately is rejoicing of heart and gladness of soul” (Sirach 31:28). Thus in drinking, as with other pleasures of the flesh, the virtue is to be found in the mean, since the virtuous man is one who has accustomed himself to drinking within what he knows to be his sensible and enjoyable limit. With young people, it may take a few incautious drinking sessions before they learn the unpleasant side effects of reckless drinking, but this is a lesson well-learnt, since it will stand them in good stead throughout their lives. As followers of Christ, we are called to be models of good behaviour for others to follow and therefore should avoid drunkenness, but we can enjoy a drink or two with family and friends, content in the knowledge that we are practicing the virtue of sobriety.

Daniel Mary Jeffries OP


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