The sin and vice opposed by way of excess to the virtue of abstinence, whose function it is to control the desire and use of food and non-intoxicating drink. The virtuous man will take nourishment of proper quality and sufficient quantity to maintain his physical life and wellbeing (somatic, psychic, and social), but without exceeding the limit set by prudence with a view to that same end.
In the OT little is said with direct bearing on the vice of gluttony. Fasting is commended in connection with prayer and repentance, but not so much, it would seem, as a corrective of intemperance in eating as a kind of self-humiliation, a bowing down of the soul, likely to lend strength to one's prayers. In Sirach gluttony is called an evil (31.13), and moderate eating that ensures sound slumber and a clear mind next day on arising is encouraged (v. 20). However, it is understood in the context that food is good, and blessings are invoked on the man who is generous with it (v. 23). Although immoderateness brings distress and anguish, gives offense to others, and causes a man to be looked down upon (31.17–18), the pleasures associated with good meals, so long as they are indulged with moderation, are considered with approval (v. 29). In Deuteronomy, God's mercy to His chosen people was illustrated by the good things He had given them to eat—honey oozing from the rocks, olive oil, butter, milk, fat cattle, the finest wheat, and the foaming blood of the grapes—although, to be sure, there is warning in the passage, too, for God's gifts were abused; His darling became fat and gross and gorged and then spurned the God who made him (32.13–15). The good things provided by God's extraordinary providence were also delectable to the taste: the bread He sent in the desert was endowed with all delights and conformed to every taste (Wis 16.20), and, later, the wine at Cana was excellent (Jn 2.10).
The NT records Our Lord's fast at the beginning of His public ministry, but this appears to have been an event of religious and perhaps even messianic significance and not merely a disciplining of the sense appetite (see Vann and Meagher, 54–55). For the rest, little stress is laid upon fasting in the NT, though Jesus did say that His Disciples would fast when the Bride-groom was no longer with them (Mt 6.16–18). Not much is said about excessive eating. The rich man who feasted every day in splendid fashion was buried in hell, but more, it would seem, because he was so preoccupied with his self-indulgence that he had no compassion toward the poor who were in need (Lk 16.19–31) than because of simple gluttony. In St. Paul, however, gluttony is more explicitly
condemned, and the Philippians were exhorted not to imitate those whose god is the belly, who mind the things of earth, and whose end is ruin (3.19).
As the various forms of ascetical practice evolved among Christians, particularly under the influence of the eremitical and monastic ways of life, fasting and abstinence from particular kinds of nourishment, especially meat, assumed a prominent place among them. It is a simple and effective way to practice mortification and self-denial and to subdue the powerful stirrings of the sense appetite. The Fathers of the Church, the theologians, and ascetical writers urged its practice and have been vigorous in their condemnation of gluttony, which has been traditionally classified among the capital sins.
However, in spite of the disfavor with which gluttony was viewed because of its status as a capital sin and particularly because it was supposed to contribute to sexual disorder, it was nevertheless not considered to be per se a grave sin even when carried to disgusting lengths (ad vomitum ). It consists in the excessive use of things in themselves legitimate. It does not therefore necessarily involve a basic disorder with regard to the goal of human life or imply the pursuit of an end unworthy of a Christian or a man. Hence it lacks the element of aversion from God that is always present in mortal sin. Nonetheless, because of incidental circumstances, aversion from God may in fact occur in gluttony, and in that case it becomes mortally sinful. This happens if one prefers the satisfaction of his appetite for food to God, and, in effect, makes his belly the god he serves (Phil 3.19). This he could do by preferring high living to the payment of his just debts, or by being so dedicated to the pleasures of eating that he is prepared to commit acts of injustice, or to violate serious obligations, rather than to forgo them.
There are many ways, as the scholastic theologians pointed out, that one can fail to keep his eating or his will to eat within reasonable bounds. One can offend by eating: praepropere, i.e., by anticipating the time or hour when eating is allowable; laute, i.e., more sumptuously than is appropriate to one's means; nimis, i.e., too much; ardenter, i.e., in a voracious manner; and studiose, i.e., with an excessive fastidiousness about what one eats.
The virtuous mean that gluttony violates does not consist in an indivisible point short of which there is culpable defect and beyond which there is culpable excess. It has, on the contrary, a certain amplitude within the limits of which there can be a considerable variation of more and less without fault. Again, the mean is not static, but varies from occasion to occasion according to one's needs. Moreover, it has a certain elasticity. Festive occasions and the special need for relaxation and agreeable fellowship can justify at times a more generous interpretation of how much and what kinds of food fall within its limits.
Much that is said in ascetical literature on the subject of gluttony should be understood as directed not against the sin of gluttony as such, but against the imperfect dispositions of those who are unreasonably reluctant ever to mortify or deny themselves in matters of food or drink. Voluntary self-denial of some legitimate satisfactions has a value that no Christian can afford to overlook, and pleasures of the table provide obvious and acceptable material for sacrifice. Recognizing the common tendency to neglect this opportunity, the Church imposes on the faithful the laws of fast and abstinence.
Bibliography: thomas aquinas, ST 2a2ae, 148. g. vann and p. k. meagher, The Temptations of Christ (New York 1957). v. oblet, Dictionnaire de théologie catholique. ed. a. vacant et al., (Paris 1903—50) 6.2:1520–25. g. jacquemet, Catholicisme 5: 124–125.
[p. k. meagher]
302. Gluttony (See also Greed.)
- Belch, Sir Toby gluttonous and lascivious fop. [Br. Lit.: Twelfth Night ]
- Biggers, Jack one of the best known “feeders” of eighteenth-century England. [Br. Hist.: Wallechinsky, 377]
- Ciacco Florentine damned to the third circle of Hell for gluttony. [Ital. Lit.: Dante Inferno ]
- crab loves to devour oysters. [Medieval Animal Symbolism: White, 210–211]
- Dagwood relieves tensions by making and eating gargantuan sandwiches. [Comics: “Blondie” in Horn, 118]
- Fat Freddy character who loves food more than anything else. [Comics: “The Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers” in Horn, 239–240]
- Gargantua enormous eater who ate salad lettuces as big as walnut trees. [Fr. Lit.: Brewer Handbook, 406]
- Gastrolaters people worshiped food in the form of Manduce. [Fr. Lit.: Pantagruel ]
- hedgehog attribute of gourmandism personified. [Animal Symbolism: Hall, 146]
- Jones, Nicely Nicely Damon Runyon’s Broadway glutton. [Am. Lit. and Drama: Guys and Dolls ]
- Jughead character renowned for his insatiable hankering for hamburgers. [Comics: “Archie” in Horn, 87]
- Laphystius epithet of Zeus, meaning “gluttonous.” [Gk. Myth. Zimmerman, 292–293]
- Lucullus Roman epicure chiefly remembered for his enormous consumption of food. [Rom. Hist.: Payton, 406]
- lupin traditional symbol of voracity. [Plant Symbolism: Flora Symbolica, 175]
- Manduce idol worshiped by the Gastrolaters. [Fr. Lit.: Pantagruel ]
- Pantagruel son of Gargantua noted for his continual thirst. [Fr. Lit.: Jobes, II, 1234]
- Snorkel, Sergeant character devoted to God, country, and belly. [Comics: “Beetle Bailey” in Horn, 106 ]
- Sobakevitch huge, bearlike landowner astonishes banquet guests by devouring an entire sturgeon. [Russ. Lit.: Gogol Dead Souls ]
- Stivic, Michael “Meathead” Archie’s son-in-law; has insatiable appetite. [TV: “All in the Family” in Terrace, I, 47]
- Willey, Walter servant who achieved fame through his public gluttony. [Br. Hist.: Wallechinsky, 378]
- Wimpy, J. Wellington Popeye’s companion, a corpulent dandy with a tremendous capacity for hamburgers. [Comics: “Thimble Theater” in Horn, 657–658]
- Winnie-the-Pooh lovable, bumbling devourer of honey. [Children’s Lit.: Winnie-the-Pooh ]
- Wood, Nicholas his gastronomic abilities inspired poems and songs; at one historic sitting, he consumed all the edible meat of a sheep. [Br. Hist.: Wallechinsky, 378]
- Wood, Willy “ate up cream cheese, roast beef, piecrust”; incessant eater. [Nurs. Rhyme: Baring-Gould, 158]
- Yogi Bear character with insatiable appetite; always stealing picnic baskets from visitors to Jellystone Park. [Am. Comics: Misc.; TV: Terrace, II, 448–449]