For some time, I have been of the position that drinking wine (or any alcohol, for that matter) is fine if done in moderation, and I believed there were plenty of verses to support that.
Also, as I understand it, much of the Church has held this position down through the centuries.
My first question is: Is there any authoritative (infallible) decree on this matter?
Secondly, does the Catechism address the issue in any way?
As I understand it, even the Angelic Doctor is fine with drinking in moderation (as I recall once reading?).
However, it is the following particular verse of Scripture that troubles me most on this matter and may even speak against Christians drinking wine at all:
“It is not for kings, O Lemuel, it is not for kings to drink wine, or for rulers to desire strong drink.” (Proverbs 31:4)
The passage goes on to to give the reason for this: that, in drinking, the may “forget what has been decreed”. Then, our author states that, rather, these things should be given to those who are “perishing” and are in distress so that they may forget their poverty.
This passage raises so many questions!
Does this passage, for Christian or Catholic kings (rulers of any kind? people in high positions of any kind? in any culture? at any time?) completely forbid them in partaking in alcoholic drink? Indeed, was such a rule followed by Christian/Catholic rulers (whether “kings” proper or not) in any age? Somehow, I don’t recall this being an issue for them. If not, why not?
Furthermore, the reasons given in this passage would seem to suggest (I believe it’s called) a “near occasion of sin”. If a king drinks, he may possibly, as it were, pervert justice.
However, are kings alone so liable to get this drunk? Aren’t many other people in many other ranks in society besides? So, on the principle of avoiding nearness to sin, should we not all avoid this? If not, why not? After all, even the ordinary person can get himself into trouble after having had too much to drink. Indeed, as I understand it, even priests are allowed to consume alcoholic beverages. If secular rulers cannot drink wine, why are priests responsible for souls permitted to do so? After all, someone in their care might theoretically come to them in need of some spiritual guidance and (one would hope, but remember fleshly weakness) he might be so drunk that he ill-advises that person.
As to those who are “perishing”, the questions arises as to whether we are to take these as men literally in dire straights or whether we are to take them as being spiritually so. In the first case, the passage seems to suggest that only the most miserable among us are permitted to have alcoholic drink. In the latter case, it either seems to be suggesting that those who are “unsaved” are permitted to drink but not us, or, the passage may be speaking somewhat ironically in this statement: “Let them go ahead and drink; for they are in such a miserable spiritual state anyway!”
Looking at other posts on the subject of alcohol and the Bible/the Church, I see little to no good answers to this passage when it is set before us by those who hold a position of total abstinence. Is there any way, from even this verse alone, to salvage the “moderate drinking” position? Could someone please provide me with some insight into this passage? Are there any good Catholic commentaries on it? Are there even any good Jewish commentaries, since I understand that many Jews find it just fine to drink wine? Any Talmudic references or other interpretative Jewish sources? Do any of the “moderate” folks have any insight into this? Has anyone around you explained this passage to you in the light of this position?
Indeed, there are far too many other verses that would seem to suggest that moderate drinking, even among those who were basically well-off, was fine (many of which have been elucidated in other posts on similar subjects).
It might be interesting to note that, when Christ’s detractors see him coming “eating and drinking” and accuse Him of being a “drunkard” (as it is often translated), the original literal meaning of the term used is “wine-drinker”. In the literal sense, there is no word meaning “drunk” used. I wonder if this itself could help us in our understanding. Might the phrase “wine-drinker” be alluding, even if indirectly, to our passage in question? Did the Jews perhaps have some idiomatic usage of “to drink wine” meaning “to get drink on wine”? If that were the case, this would make more sense. After all, simply “drinking” wine (as this passage says) does not automatically lead to the forgetting of justice.
Further evidence of something more than just “drinking wine” here understood may be the next phrase, speaking of those who “desire strong drink”. (Some translations here render “crave”.) The tendency toward parallelism in Jewish poetry, particular proverbial speech, might suggest that the first and the second phrase are to be interpreted together and, thus, to have a similar meaning.
(Now, perhaps this is a bit of a side-note, but, what, also, are we to make of the repetition of the “not for kings” line? This would seem, for whatever reason, to be repeated for emphasis? Does this at all bear on our present topic of discussion?)
I am thoroughly confused here and would very much appreciate any help you might be able to offer.