The Friday “Drinking Matters” Column (BYCU)
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.… Read the rest