Gluttony and what do we consider it today?

I read in college a journal passage from a Benedictine monk in France from the late 1400s or early 1500s. The Benedictine monks at that time considered gluttony to be consuming any amount and food or beverage that would not be required for basic human nourishment. They also considered eating expensive food that isn’t necessary for living but rather a luxury gluttony. What is gluttony considered today by the church? As a chef working in fine dining I cook and serve luxurious food and do enjoy partaking in these foods now and then. Would that be gluttony?

1 Like

Gluttony isn’t just about food or how expensive the things are that we consume or use, but about idolizing earthly things or putting them before love of God and neighbor. “For many, as I have often told you and now tell you even in tears, conduct themselves as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their end is destruction. Their God is their stomach; their glory is in their “shame.” Their minds are occupied with earthly things.” Phil 3:18-19

C.S. Lewis described it very well in The Screwtape Letters

XVI
My dear Wormwood,

The contemptuous way in which you spoke of gluttony as a means of catching souls, in your last letter, only shows your ignorance. One of the great achievements of the last hundred years has been to deaden the human conscience on that subject, so that by now you will hardly find a sermon preached or a conscience troubled about it in the whole length and breadth of Europe. This has largely been effected by concentrating all our efforts on gluttony of Delicacy, not gluttony of Excess.
(cont)…

1 Like

(cont)
Your patient’s mother, as I learn from the dossier and you might have learned from Glubose, is a good example. She would be astonished — one day, I hope, will be — to learn that her whole life is enslaved to this kind of sensuality, which is quite concealed from her by the fact that the quantities involved are small. But what do quantities matter, provided we can use a human belly and palate to produce querulousness, impatience, uncharitableness, and self-concern? Glubose has this old woman well in hand. She is a positive terror to hostesses and servants. She is always turning from what has been offered her to say with a demure little sigh and a smile “Oh please, please . … all I want is a cup of tea, weak but not too weak, and the teeniest weeniest bit of really crisp toast”. You see? Because what she wants is smaller and less costly than what has been set before her, she never recognises as gluttony her determination to get what she wants, however troublesome it may be to others. At the very moment of indulging her appetite she believes that she is practising temperance. In a crowded restaurant she gives a little scream at the plate which some overworked waitress has set before her and says, “Oh, that’s far, far too much! Take it away and bring me about a quarter of it”. If challenged, she would say she was doing this to avoid waste ; in reality she does it because the particular shade of delicacy to which we have enslaved her is offended by the sight of more food than she happens to want.
The real value of the quiet, unobtrusive work which Glubose has been doing for years on this old woman can be gauged by the way in which her belly now dominates her whole life. The woman is in what may be called the “All-I-want” state of mind. All she wants is a cup of tea properly made, or an egg properly boiled, or a slice of bread properly toasted. But she never finds any servant or any friend who can do these simple things "properly” — because her “properly” conceals an insatiable demand for the exact, and almost impossible, palatal pleasures which she imagines she remembers from the past; a past described by her as "the days when you could get good servants” but known to us as the days when her senses were more easily pleased and she had pleasures of other kinds which made her less dependent on those of the table. Meanwhile, the daily disappointment produces daily ill temper: cooks give notice and friendships are cooled. If ever the Enemy introduces into her mind a faint suspicion that she is too interested in food, Glubose counters it by suggesting to her that she doesn’t mind what she eats herself but “does like to have things nice for her boy”. In fact, of course, her greed has been one of the chief sources of his domestic discomfort for many years

1 Like

YES this is EXACTLY what came to mind for me as soon as this thread opened! Gluttony, to me, is much like envy and jealousy - the demanding of something that pleases you, no matter what it does to those around you. Gluttony doesn’t have to make you obese or addicted to be bad and harm you, it can deaden your sense of generosity or empathy and that’s worse, because, y’know, eternity. It also doesn’t mean it has to be “in excess” as Screwtape describes; any demand that doesn’t take others into account (or ignores others) could be under the umbrella of gluttony.

3 Likes

Exactly…and we are learning that obesity isn’t necessarily a sign of gluttony, either. I have heard some people say they started wishing when they were children that they wouldn’t gain weight by eating the same amount as their siblings and friends. There is increasing evidence, too, that certain kinds of foods may predispose certain people to weight gain and even diabetes.

Likewise, there is no reason that it is automatically gluttony to be eating the choicest part of a side of beef or to eat food prepared in a labor-intensive or skill-intensive way. There is beauty in food, just as surely as there is beauty in art, and it is not intrinsically sinful. It is when overindulgence, selfishness or greed guide consumption or when consumption comes before charity that the problem of gluttony arises.

Note in the story of Lazarus and the rich man that Our Lord did not paint the rich man as someone who dined sumptuously on occasion. He noted hims as someone who dined sumptuously every day. (Lk 16:19)

As Our Lord said: No servant can serve two masters. He will either hate one and love the other, or be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon. (Lk 16:13). With regards to gluttony, no one can be the servant both of God and their own appetites.

2 Likes

Fyi, have included a theological analysis of gluttony in “food and drink” below from The Theology of Christian Perfection by Fr Antonio Royo Marín OP. The work has the Imprimi Potest and Imprimatur. Also, as you may be aware there are other forms of gluttony other than in food or drink, such as “TV” gluttony (watching too much TV to the extent of not carrying out necessary duties of state, getting necessary exercise or spending time with God in prayer or in other religious exercises), “clothes” gluttony (buying too many clothes that one doesn’t need), “talking” gluttony (spending too much talking to people about unnecessary things at the expense of doing necessary duties of state or spending time with God in prayer), “work” gluttony (working too much at the expense of spending time with the wife and children, and at the expense of necessary rest and exercise), “sleep” gluttony (sleeping too much in excess of what the body needs), etc. There is also “spiritual” gluttony, for example wanting to spend the whole day in contemplative prayer (for the consolations of God not for the God of consolation) and at the expense of doing necessary duties of state.

From The Theology of Christian Perfection by Fr Antonio Royo Marín OP:

The sense of taste can constitute an obstacle to perfection by reason of its immoderate inclination to eat and drink. Lack of mortification in this sense is called gluttony. According to St. Thomas, gluttony is the disordered appetite for food and drink,15 one of the vices opposed to the cardinal virtue of temperance. God placed in nourishment a pleasure which has for its purpose the guarantee of the nutritive function for the conservation of the life of the individual. In itself, to experience that pleasure does not imply any imperfection, and not to experience it would be a physiological deformity. But since original sin, the concupiscible appetite has been withdrawn from the control of reason and tends to exceed the limits of reason. Then this sensation becomes sinful, because the nature of man is rational and that which goes contrary to reason is evil for human nature and is contrary to the will of God.

Moderation of the sense of taste offers a special difficulty, since we cannot prescind entirely from it. On the one hand, it is necessary to nourish ourselves in order to preserve life; on the other hand, it is necessary to keep oneself within the limits of reason, without permitting the natural delight to become the primary purpose of eating.

According to St. Gregory and St. Thomas,16 one can incur the vice of gluttony in the following ways: eating outside the proper time and without necessity; eating with too great an avidity; seeking exquisite fare; preparing food with excessive delicacy; eating too much in quantity.

continued…

2 Likes

According to St. Thomas gluttony can be either a venial or a mortal sin.17 It is a mortal sin when one prefers the delight of eating and drinking to God and His precepts. In other words, when one would break a grave precept for the pleasure of eating or drinking, as when one breaks a fast or abstinence; when one causes serious injury to one’s health; when one loses the use of reason as in the case of drunkenness; when it presupposes a serious waste of material goods; or when one gives grave scandal through gluttony. It will be a venial sin if, without going to any of the above mentioned extremes, one goes beyond the limits of prudence and reason. Ordinarily excess in food or drink does not go beyond the limits of a venial sin, but the lack of mortification in regard to the sense of taste constitutes a great obstacle to one’s sanctification.

As a capital sin, gluttony gives rise to many other vices and sins because the intellect, dulled and clouded by excessive food or drink, loses the control which it should have in the direction of our actions. St. Thomas, quoting St. Gregory, assigns the following as the daughters of gluttony: stupidity or dullness of intellect; excessive joy (especially because of drink), from which follow imprudent acts and unbecoming acts; excessive loquacity, in which there is usually sin, as Scripture states (Prov. 10:19); excess in words and in gestures, which proceeds from the lack of reason or weakness of intellect; lust, which is the most frequent evil effect of the vice of gluttony.18 If we add to this that excess in eating and drinking destroys the organism, impoverishes the affections, degrades good sentiments, destroys the peace of the family, undermines society (especially with the plague of alcoholism), and incapacitates one for the practice of every kind of virtue, we shall have summarized the principal disastrous effect of this ugly vice which debases a man to the level of an animal.19

continued…

2 Likes

The following counsels will be of great help if they are carried out with firmness and perseverance:

  1. Not to eat or drink without first having rectified one’s intention by directing it to the fulfillment of the will of God in the satisfaction of our bodily needs, and with a previous blessing of the meal. And never to omit thanksgiving after meals.

  2. Carefully to avoid the defects which we have listed above.

  3. To attempt gradually, over a period of time, to diminish the quantity of food until one reaches the amount which is necessary for the health of the organism. Many persons eat a great deal more than they really need.

  4. To avoid singularity in the quality or quantity of the food taken, especially if one lives in a community.

  5. To mortify oneself positively in the use of food. This can be done in many ways without attracting attention: for example, by renouncing certain lawful satisfactions in food; by abstaining from some food that is particularly tasty or taking a smaller portion; by giving up wine or liquors when one can do so prudently, or by reducing their use to a minimum. Generosity in self-renunciation and the increasing love of God will inspire the soul with many ingenious methods of practicing a mortification which is progressively more profound, without compromising bodily health.

Notes:

  1. Cf. Summa, II-II, q. 148, a. 1.
  2. Ibid., a. 4.
  3. Ibid., a. 2.
  4. Ibid., a. 6.
  5. “From joy in the savor of meat and drink, there arise directly such gluttony and drunkenness, wrath, discord and want of charity with one’s neighbor and with the poor, as had that rich man who fared sumptuously every day, with Lazarus. Hence arise bodily disorders, infirmities and evil motions, because the incentives to luxury become greater. Directly, too, there arises great spiritual torpor, and the desire for spiritual things is corrupted, so that the soul can derive no enjoyment or satisfaction from them, nor can even speak of them. From this joy is likewise born distraction of the other senses and discontent with regard to many things” (The Ascent of Mount Carmel, Bk. Ill, Chap. 25).
2 Likes

This one doesn’t need to be complicated. If you are consuming to the point of being ill, degrading you’re health, or causing similar issues, probably gluttony. Expanding the term to include too much TV, or other things doesn’t fly right with me. It was specifically intended to refer to food and its consumption yes?
Dominus vobiscum

I don’t think that it is that simple, for two obvious reasons. Many people are ill because of their food, but they eat the same food everyone else eats and, essentially, the food that it readily available within their community. For some people, it takes multiple doctor’s appointments, experimentation, and even blood work to determine the precise food that does not make them ill. Also, some people remain in good physical health while displaying the spiritual sins of gluttony, such as the woman described in the Screwtape excerpt. She is rude and troublesome to other people over having to have everything to her preference and feels completely justified in being so. This is obviously more spiritually harmful than a person who participates in their family’s Sunday dinner when they probably shouldn’t eat that much starch. I think that “gluttony” happens when a person’s desire for food, or a specific food, becomes more important to them than doing the right thing, either by other people or by God. I do agree with you that it is specifically about things we consume such as food, drink, drugs, and not TV. TV would be more like sloth.

I was thinking of a rather unpleasant coworker that I had for a short time. She was very nuts about “healthy food”. All she seemed to talk about it constantly and it was always in a very degrading way toward other people. She called people who were not obsessed with eating her low-carb diet mean names, accused them of doing wrong, and was rude to people who were being kind by bringing treats in to celebrate holidays. In the name of professionalism, probably a lot more was tolerated from her than should have been. She quite shortly after I got there and I understand she passed away a few years later from a stroke. Somewhat ironic because her source of pride and her justification for being rude toward others was her superior health due to her diet, and in the end, hypertension got her anyway. In the meantime, she spent at least the last part of her life being mean, condescending, judgmental, and ungrateful, all over food. Even though she wasn’t fat, I always think of when I think of the word “gluttony”.

1 Like

My only response would be:
Gluttony (Latin: gula , derived from the Latin gluttire meaning “to gulp down or swallow”) means over-indulgence and over-consumption of food, drink, or wealth items, particularly as status symbols.

In Christianity, it is considered a sin if the excessive desire for food causes it to be withheld from the needy.
Yes, it’s wikipedia, I know.
Dominus vobiscum

If I’m to be judged guilty of the sin of gluttony, I think the Church owes me some definitions:

“Seeking exquisite fare?” A sin to choose shrimp over fish sticks? Steak over hamburger? Celebrating a special family occasion with a nice dinner out instead of meat loaf at home?

“Preparing food with excessive delicacy?” Huh? So spices- especially those used in traditional national dishes - are wrong? Or if something takes more than X minutes to prepare, it’s somehow prepared “excessively?”

“Excessive joy?” How much joy is “excessive?”

“Excessive loquacity?” A family sins by joyfully talking too much at dinner?

I’d certainly agree that gluttony is a very real thing. I’d also argue that much of the above material taken at its face value puts huge burdens of possible scrupulosity on average people who are just trying to live their lives faithfully without wondering whether one has “rectified one’s intention by directing it to the fulfillment of the will of God” before having a cheeseburger.

1 Like

It’s helpful to consider history when you read these sorts of documents.

First of all, the Benedictines were monks; they were supposed to be living a fairly austere lifestyle. In those days, rich people might use the monasteries as just places to spend time being ostensibly holy, but in reality having all the comforts of home, and the rules on gluttony were supposed to prevent that.

Second, in those days there was a much more limited supply of food, because the food from one region would have to sustain everyone living there - you couldn’t fly in food from some other part of Europe - and someone who ate more than their share was likely depriving other local people of food they might need to live. There were likely people in the neighborhood literally starving, and there wasn’t a food bank or welfare office to help them.

Third, it was important in those days that a monastery be self-sustaining, so if somebody was eating more than their share of the food that the monastery was able to produce through its own labor, then it would have a negative impact on the whole community.

The whole point of this rule is that you don’t come to a monastery to eat, drink and be merry, you come there to pray and live in moderation. That means getting your mind off food and onto prayer and penance.

If you’re living outside a monastery, it’s understood that you might be more interested in worldly things than a monk would be, but again, it would be good even for a person outside a monastery to live in moderation. And if people are poor, hungry, ragged, ill and living in your neighborhood with no social safety net, you’d be acting pretty badly if you spent your money on lots of luxury food instead of helping your neighbor. Maybe some treats a few times a year on holidays would be fine, but you shouldn’t be indulging all the time.

We can apply the same thinking today; luxury food in moderation is fine, and I presume that the same people aren’t eating in your restaurant every day so it could be a lot of people coming in to indulge in moderation. Everything in moderation.

But if somebody’s whole life revolved around spending a lot of money going to expensive luxurious restaurants, maybe it’s time to rethink. And the same goes for nice clothes, electronics, cars and everything else.

2 Likes

My meatloaf is more exquisite than a turkey or ham dinner any day!

1 Like

Sounds like a dinner invite to me. Followed by the leftover served cold as sandwiches the following day.
Set a date/time after the virus thing ends.
Dominus vobiscum

I’ve known people who have literally put themselves in crushing dept with going out to eat too frequently. I’m not talking about fast food either, but sit down restaurants four and five nights a week. I think it’s an easier habit to get into when one lives in a more urban area or where restaurants and bars are a place for people to socialize. I know my sister and her husband got themselves in a lot of trouble financially with this. They had lots of friends and would spend weekend after weekend eating out like they were on vacation. I remember one time the family was out for ice cream at a local diner and they showed up late and had ice cream and drinks coming straight from eating a from several hours of eating and drinking at a Mexican restaurant with his family. (Their three year old was still picking rice and beans from the styrofoam to-go container.) My mom asked them then how this lifestyle was going to be sustainable as they were literally spending $300+ a weekend on eating out and drinking. They admitted then it was already a problem, but it took years for them to even tone it down. When they did, out of desperation, it had a really hard social effect on them. They literally lost friends and relationships with his family members they had thought they were close to because the people they has socialized with every weekend literally didn’t know how to do any way other than meeting at a restaurant and eating and drinking together, nor were they interested in changing their plans.

1 Like

Yeah, I know for some people restaurant culture and trying the latest trendy restaurant is a big thing for them. Sometimes it’s because they genuinely enjoy the food and the experience, sometimes it’s for socializing, sometimes it’s because they want to be in some sort of restaurant in-crowd. I have friends who do that stuff on regular basis and I remember the novel “American Psycho” satirizing it - the protagonist and his friends spent huge amounts of time trying to get into trendy restaurants even though it seemed like they didn’t really want to eat the food once they got there, they just wanted to show they could get a table at a place that was “totally booked” for months.

For a variety of reasons, I’ve never really liked eating at restaurants. My husband and I would do it from time to time as a date, or a special night out, but we would usually pick places that weren’t terribly expensive, trendy or even crowded. Now that he’s gone I"ll eat out in a restaurant maybe 5 times a year by myself and maybe a few more times when I’m meeting a group, but I’m usually much happier with takeout food or fast food, or making myself something easy to cook at home.

1 Like

With regards to food, I know I have a problem with it , but part of that is, is I then have motive to work out more, and if you work out a lot, you’ll know that pain is penance.

@Allegra

I’ll admit I had a problem with spending a lot on eating out, and I’ve even mentioned it on occasion in confession.

One way this pandemic has been a blessing in disguise is that I’m making a lot more of my own meals, and only getting delivery or carryout 1 to 3 times a week. As a result my spending on restaurants is way down.

1 Like
DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed in these forums do not necessarily reflect those of Catholic Answers. For official apologetics resources please visit www.catholic.com.