Saturday, January 21, 2012

On abstinence and alcohol...

A friend pointed me to the words of Clement in his treatise "On Drinking."  I admit that I had not read it before.  If you are like me, I might point you to it so that you might become acquainted with this little work.  You can read it online here.

Let me merely point you to a couple of gems from this essay.  “[youth] should keep as much as possible away from this medicine” – but Clement speaks differently to us older folks, whom he thinks may partake in moderation with great benefit . . .
. . . of the draught, to warm by the harmless medicine of the vine the chill of age, which the decay of time has produced. For old men’s passions are not, for the most part, stirred to such agitation as to drive them to the shipwreck of drunkenness. For being moored by reason and time, as by anchors, they stand with greater ease the storm of passions that rushes down from intemperance.

Growing up Lutheran in the Midwest, drinking, in moderation, was not a particular problem.  There was always alcohol in my home growing up but it was there with a warning to youth similar to the words of Clement.  I never really thought about it but Chesterton reminds us that the etymological source of the word alcohol is Arabic.  How utterly strange!  Our word for wine, beer, and other spirits is an Arabic word -- made spectacularly odd by the fact that Islam is at war with alcoholic beverages!

The problem of alcohol is not so much its use as its abuse.  Perhaps the reason why youth are discouraged is that booze tends to, as one author put it, awaken not the beast in us but the devil.  Those who handle it need to have some experience dealing with the devil and some awareness of how the devil seems to use our weakness to alcohol (it might have something to do with sex).  We bring terrible harm upon us and those whom we love, as well as sin greatly, when we, as one put it, view the world through the bottom of a cocktail glass.  Yet it occurs to me that those who avoid wine have are not devoid of the sins it may magnify and are probably guilty of other sins in greater degree than those who imbibe.

Scripture is replete with condemnations for drunkenness but reminds us that it does not have to end this way.  Psalm 104:15 tells us And wine that maketh glad the heart of man, and oil to make his face to shine, and bread which strengtheneth man's heart.  Ecclesiastes 10:19 says Bread is made for laughter, and wine gladdens life.  Jesus turned water into wine and wine into His blood and thus specified and sanctified its use for our heavenly as well as earthly joy -- all in fulfillment of Isaiah's promise of a banquet of well marbled meat and wine twice refined!  The Fourth Lateran Council (1215) even codified this gift by saying: “They should temper the wine to themselves and themselves to the wine.”

Now by no means am I ignorant of the terrible and horrible cost paid by those who do not heed the call to moderation -- and neither does Scripture soften in any ways its condemnation or its identification of the abuses that proceed from such immoderate use of God's gift.  However, the answer lies less in temperance but in the temperate use of the gift.  That is where the Church can enter in -- reminding us of the gift and the burden that resides in the same cup -- whether moderately or immoderately taken.

Anyway, I offer this to you in the bleak midwinter while snow, cold, dank and dark weather may test our joys... Take a little wine for your stomach... and for your heart... but don't forget the "little."


CA Wine Club said...

Wine and women
Balm for the soul
This floating world is
Women and wine
Just a taste, and now
Karma leads me to this fate
Praise the lord, praise the lord!
To heaven or hell,
Women and wine,
You and me, babe
Till the end -
With a honey like you
With me in hell,

Janis Williams said...

I was NEVER a good Baptist on the drining issue. Not because I was a wild youth. I never drank alcoholic beverages then; they were forbidden in our home.

That is not to say I held to the belief that Jesus drank only grape juice. The water wasn't turned into Welch's. So, in fact, I didn't drink wine (or coffee, for that matter) till I was on my own.

I agree with Clement. This gift from God is like any other gift we receive. To become addicted to a gift, or misuse it is just plain foolish, and an insult to the Giver.

As I grow older (and now that medicines that prevented me partaking are done) appreciation for the comfort it can afford grows.

Janis Williams said...

And, I don't stretch my mouth on large goblets, or bare my neck in public. If I have hiccups, it's from eating too fast, not driinkinf too much. ; *

Anonymous said...

The Lutherans living in Milwaukee
for the past century prided themselves on Pabst, Schlitz, Blatz,
Miller High Life, Old Milwaukee, and
other drinks from local breweries.

They never talked about wine, only
beer. Beer was the drink of hearty
Mensch in the Fatherland.