The Temperance of the Rich Young Man


In the Catechism of the Catholic Church, Paragraph 1809 states:

 Temperance is the moral virtue that moderates the attraction of pleasures and provides balance in the use of created goods.       

In The Gospel According to Matthew, the Rich Young Man went away sad, for he had many possessions.

Would the Rich Young Man be an example of an individual who uses temperance incorrectly?


I don’t think misuse of a virtue is at issue. He may be lacking in temperance as some are lacking in charity or faith. :shrug:


Here is the passage in question:
16And behold, one came up to him, saying, “Teacher, what good deed must I do, to have eternal life?” 17And he said to him, “Why do you ask me about what is good? One there is who is good. If you would enter life, keep the commandments.” 18He said to him, “Which?” And Jesus said, “You shall not kill, You shall not commit adultery, You shall not steal, You shall not bear false witness, 19Honor your father and mother, and, You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” 20The young man said to him, “All these I have observed; what do I still lack?” 21Jesus said to him, “If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” 22When the young man heard this he went away sorrowful; for he had great possessions.
Note that Jesus had given him a way to enter eternal life…one that the man asserts he already does.
He then asks, “what do I still lack?”…and Jesus says “If you would be perfect” (the NAB says complete)… It is this reply that causes the man to go away sorrowful.

I don’t think that we can say that this passage shows using temperance incorrectly. If the young man had not asked the follow-up question there would have been no problem.

What he asked though was (IMHO) to go beyond “temperance” and more into asceticism.

Just some thoughts.


  1. I am the Lord your God, thou shalt have no other gods before me.
  2. Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord your God in vain.
  3. Remember to keep holy the Sabbath day.
    **4. Honor thy Father and thy Mother.
  4. Thou shalt not murder.
  5. Thou shalt not commit adultery.
  6. Thou shalt not steal.
  7. Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor.
  8. Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s goods
  9. Thou shalt not covet your neighbor’s wife.**

When the young man asks which commandments, Jesus lists all the commandments that relate to the treatment of our neighbors, but lists none of the commandments that deal with our relationship with God. The young man may have wondered at this, knowing that he kept these neighborly commandments well, and perhaps thinking he kept the Godly commandments well also. Yet Christ did not list these. That may be why he felt prompted to ask, “what do I lack?”

Christ’s answer was to tell the young man to sell his possessions and give them to the poor, and then to come and follow Him. It wasn’t the part about helping his neighbors that the young man found difficult, as he did well to keep these commandments. It was the part about letting go of his possessions and following Christ. The implication here is that the young man placed his possessions before Christ (breaking the first commandment).

As a side note, Christ actually establishes His Divinity in the passage by implying that to keep the first commandments could be done by following Him, and that not following Him would be a violation of the first commandments.

As regards temperance, the passage is mixed. Remember that the body, too, is a created good, and the young man was neither guilty of adultery, nor lusting after his neighbor’s wife. Thus, he has temperance in some things, but not all things. So, it wouldn’t be that he lacks the virtue of temperance entirely, nor that he “misuses” temperance. Rather, it is that he is temperate in some things, but not in others.

Note, the young man isn’t greedy, as greed tends to lead one to theft (even if that comes in the form of usury), but the young man is not guilty of this either. Rather, I would say that he is proud. He probably worked hard to acquire his possessions, of which they are great. He therefore has much of himself invested there, and letting go of his possessions would be akin to letting go of his pride, his own self and self-worth. In this sense, he’s not only placed his possessions before God, but also placed himself before God, as his possessions represent himself. “Following” Christ would mean placing himself back into his correct place among things, as being second, and not first.


MrSnaith, Thank you for your explanation about the Rich Young Man.



I think of this passage in this way; Our Lord asks for 100% from us, most of us (like the young man) would rather barter for some more comfortable percentage.





I agree with this.
What we so often fail to grasp is that Jesus is asking, not for 100% success, but 100% commitment.
Of course even in this we tend to want to barter…



You are very welcome. :stuck_out_tongue: I’m just glad you found it helpful.


In The Book of Sirach, Chapter 11 Verse 18-19 states:

 A man may become rich through a miser's life, 
and this is his allotted reward:     
 When he says: "I have found rest,      
  now I will feast on my possessions,"      
  He does not know how long it will be    
till he dies and leaves them to others.


In The Book of Proverbs, Chapter 10 Verse 22 states:

It is the Lord's blessing that brings wealth,     
  and no effort can substitute for it.


In The Book of Proverbs, Chapter 23 Verse 4 states:

     Toil not to gain wealth,        
    cease to be concerned about it;


In The Book of Sirach, Chapter 40 Verse 17 states:

     Wealth or wages can make life sweet,      
 but better than either is finding a treasure.


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