Catholic Candle note: The article below is a Call to Spiritual Combat! It is motivated by charity, and its final goal is not to make anyone feel bad. This article is an attempt to help all of us to live in the way that, at our Judgment, we would want to have lived.
a man selects what to notice about his own soul, he can readily deceive himself that he is making spiritual progress. For example, he might tell himself that he deserves a rich reward because he has been Traditional Catholic for many years.
However, this man might be deceiving himself about the state of his soul by ignoring the fact that he has been spiritually tepid his entire life. Thomas à Kempis admonishes us for such self-deception, in these words:
What avails it to live long, when there is so small amendment in our practice! Alas! length of days does more often make our sins the greater, than our lives the better! O that we had spent but one day in this world thoroughly well! Many there are who count how long it is since their conversion; and yet full slender oftentimes is the fruit of amendment of life.
Imitation of Christ, Thomas à Kempis; Book I, ch.23 (emphasis added).
One way a man can deceive himself is to tell himself that he is advancing far in other virtues, although he ignores the fact that he is a glutton and his god is his belly.
St. Paul warns about the “enemies of the cross of Christ, whose end is destruction; whose god is their belly; and whose glory is in their shame; who mind earthly things.” Philippians, 3:18-19.
The truth, though, is that a man begins spiritual progress by conquering gluttony. This is because gluttony is indulgence. The devil promotes indulgence. God promotes sacrifice, which is necessary in order to advance in the spiritual life.
Here is how the greatest Doctor of the Church, St. Thomas Aquinas, teaches this truth, quoting St. Gregory the Great (also a Doctor of the Church):
[U]nless we first tame the enemy dwelling within us, namely our gluttonous appetite, we have not even stood up to engage in the spiritual combat.
Summa, IIa IIae, Q.148, a.1, Sed Contra, quoting St. Gregory the Great, de Moralis, Bk xxx, ch.18.
Thus, without conquering gluttony, we have not yet begun the spiritual fight!
At the beginning of our education, we must learn the alphabet (i.e., the “ABCs”). St. Vincent de Paul compares this beginning of education, to conquering gluttony at the beginning of the spiritual life. Here are his words:
Mortification of the palate is the ABCs of the spiritual life.
He who is unable to overcome gluttony will find it hard to overcome the other vices, which are more difficult to conquer.
Words of St. Vincent de Paul, quoted in Spiritual Diary, Daughters of St. Paul Press, Boston, © 1962, p.58 (emphasis added).
In an article entitled: “Whether intemperance is a childish sin?
”, St. Thomas Aquinas explains why gluttony is a “childish” vice,
giving three compelling reasons for this truth.
Here is how St. Thomas explains more completely the childishness of gluttony:
A thing is said to be childish for two reasons. First, because it is becoming to children, and the Philosopher [i.e., Aristotle] does not mean that the sin of intemperance is childish in this sense. Secondly, by way of likeness, and it is in this sense that sins of intemperance are said to be childish. For the sin of intemperance is one of unchecked concupiscence, which is likened to a child in three ways.
First, as regards that which they both desire, for like a child concupiscence desires something disgraceful. This is because in human affairs a thing is beautiful according as it harmonizes with reason. Wherefore Tully [i.e., Cicero] says (De Offic. i, 27) under the heading "Comeliness is twofold," that "the beautiful is that which is in keeping with man's excellence in so far as his nature differs from other animals." Now a child does not attend to the order of reason; and in like manner "concupiscence does not listen to reason," according to Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics, bk. vii, ch. 6.
Secondly, they are alike as to the result. For a child, if left to his own will, becomes more self-willed: hence it is written (Ecclesiasticus 30:8): "A horse not broken becometh stubborn, and a child left to himself will become headstrong." So, too, concupiscence, if indulged, gathers strength: wherefore Augustine says (Confess. viii, 5): "Lust served became a custom, and custom not resisted became necessity."
Thirdly, as to the remedy which is applied to both. For a child is corrected by being restrained; hence it is written (Proverbs 23:13-14): "Withhold not correction from a child . . . Thou shalt beat him with a rod, and deliver his soul from Hell." In like manner by resisting concupiscence we moderate it according to the demands of virtue. Augustine indicates this when he says (Music. vi, 11) that if the mind be lifted up to spiritual things, and remain fixed "thereon, the impulse of custom," i.e. carnal concupiscence, "is broken, and being suppressed is gradually weakened: for it was stronger when we followed it, and though not wholly destroyed, it is certainly less strong when we curb it." Hence the Philosopher says (Ethic. iii, 12) that "as a child ought to live according to the direction of his tutor, so ought the concupiscible to accord with reason."
Summa, IIa IIae, Q142, a.2, respondeo.
In his explanation of this truth, he cites not only Sacred Scripture and St. Augustine (a Doctor of the Church), but he also cites Aristotle and Cicero. That is significant because St. Thomas thereby shows that the childishness of gluttony is a natural
truth, as well as a supernatural
truth (which is derived from revealed Faith).
Further, Aristotle’s and Cicero’s arguments proving the childishness of gluttony show that gluttony prevents us from making any progress even in natural
virtue (temperance, courage, etc.
God, Who created our nature, intended us to have a natural good and happiness, as well as a supernatural good and happiness (i.e., above our nature).
Our natural good and happiness involve our acquiring and practicing the moral virtues which come through habits of good acts. These moral virtues are the Cardinal Virtues (Temperance, Prudence, Courage and Justice), as well as the virtues related to them. Summa, Ia IIae, Q.63, a.2. Man cannot be happy or virtuous on a natural level without the moral virtues.
beyond “square one”, as well as prevents us from advancing in the spiritual life (supernatural prudence, self-denial, etc.
There is a complete set of supernatural moral virtues (which are different from the natural moral virtues), which are infused into souls which are in the state of grace. Summa, Ia IIae, Q.63, a.3.
In our spiritual combat, we must follow St. Paul’s example and put away gluttony, which is childish vice:
When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child. But, when I became a man, I put away the things of a child.
1 Corinthians, 13:11.
So, Dear Reader, if you are a glutton and are wondering how far you have advanced in the spiritual life, know that you are at the beginning!
However, God gave us additional time on earth so that we could advance! Let all of us—gluttons and non-gluttons alike—fast and mortify our palates. This is crucial for our spiritual progress!
This is also necessary in order to avoid Our Lord’s question (at our Judgment) why we remained at the beginning of the spiritual life and did not use the decades of life He gave us to advance far!
Catholic Candle note: We plan future articles on gluttony, including practical strategies how to conquer this vice.