Sobriety is a Sin?

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The Friday “Drinking Matters” Column (BYCU)

wine glass with red wine
Photo by Posawee Suwannaphati on

Sunday marks the Feast Day of Thomas Aquinas. Well, not really. It was his Feast Day until 1969, when “they” moved it to January 28th (apparently, so it wouldn’t fall during Lent).

In his Summa Theologica, he wrote that “if a man were knowingly to abstain from wine to the extent of molesting nature grievously, he would not be free from sin.”

Many years ago, when I was the editor of Gilbert Magazine, this passage prompted an email-chain discussion about whether Aquinas thought teetotalling is a sin. At least one of the participants said that wasn’t Aquinas’ position. Aquinas’ position is that every extreme that gives rise to sin must have a countervailing sin on the other extreme. So, for instance, cowardice is a sin, but so is reckless disregard for one’s safety. In this case, Aquinas pointed out that drunkenness is a sin, so there must be a sin on the other extreme, and that’s all he was saying. He wasn’t articulating what, exactly, that sin consists of, other than, if you abstain to the extent of molesting your nature, you’re in sin.

That makes sense to me.

Though it should be noted that tetotalling is a sin. Abstaining is not a sin, but teetotalling is. The difference is, tetotalling is refusal to drink alcohol on grounds that it’s evil. It’s a type of ancient Gnosticism (which thought creation evil). Abstinence, on the other hand, is a refusal to drink alcohol in pursuit of something better. The person who abstains doesn’t believe alcohol is evil, anymore than a person who declines to reads newspapers because he’d rather read more substantive fare thinks that newspapers are evil.

And speaking of evil drinking, check out this article: Amazing Effects of Drinking Alcohol You Never Knew. As Chesterton pointed out (in Heretics, “Omar and the Sacred Vein,” I’m pretty sure), you should never drink alcohol for the health of it. That, he said, is the way to sin and perdition. Rather, drink because you’re happy and free. That is healthy drinking.

But if you’re into the health effects of drinking, this piece has interesting information, even though the headline is grossly misleading. Many of these “health effects” have been well-known for years, plus all the benefits are from drinking wine, not alcohol in general. The benefits include heart health, antioxidants, reduced blood pressure, and better thinking skills.

That last one is interesting, and I had forgotten about it. Years ago, I read that chocolate and wine both have the ability to sharpen your thinking, so I started sitting down with a piece of dark chocolate and a glass of wine and a book. I remember enjoying the experience. I can’t remember why I stopped, but it may have given me headaches (both things are known to trigger headaches).

A reader sends this along: The Basilica and National Shrine of Our Lady of Consolation now has a brewery. Well, not exactly. The town where the Shrine is located, Carey, Ohio, now has a brewery. It is trying to create “all-Ohio” beers, using only locally-grown products.

The reader tells me the walls have a lot of Ohio State banners and logos on the walls. It’s odd to have Satan paraphernalia so near a Shrine, but oh well. I wish them well.