Gluttony: The Forgotten Sin
Written and Media by Ben Casey.
So gluttony is eating a lot, right? Well, the short answer to that question is no and the long answer is sometimes. The truth is that not all overeating is gluttony and not all gluttony is overeating. Originally, gluttony was defined by Pope Gregory the Great as eating or drinking before a meal, to gratify taste, expensively, in excess or with too much eagerness. While this might seem very strict, Saint Alphonsus Liguori later said that “it is not a fault to feel pleasure in eating… But it is a defect to eat, like beasts, through the sole motive of sensual gratification, and without any reasonable object. Hence, the most delicious meats may be eaten without sin, if the motive is good and worthy of a rational creature; and, in taking the coarsest food through attachment to pleasure, there may be a fault.” So basically, a person following God eats to live while a glutton lives to eat.
So what happened to gluttony? Why is this sin so overlooked these days?
Well, that wasn’t always the case. In the 2nd century, a Greek theologian made a list of 8 sins he believed summed up the wickedness of human passions. Pope Gregory the Great shortened it to 7 and this list came to be known as the Seven Deadly Sins. One thing, however, rarely changes throughout the different incarnations of the Seven Deadly Sins; gluttony is the first sin listed.
It’s clear that the early church had a great distaste for gluttony, and many believe this is the result of the Roman tradition of binging and purging during feasts to continuously make room for more. However, most pagan Romans frowned upon the act. Others theorize that the “love feasts” of the early church invited overconsumption and that preaching the dangers of gluttony was the answer to that practice.
Either way, the early church and the medieval church cared a lot that their congregations weren’t gluttons. So why don’t Christians hear about the dangers of gluttony today as much as they hear of the dangers of lying or sex before marriage?
Our society is very consumer based. The customer is always right. People benefit from others consuming and so a focus on gluttony as a sin isn’t profitable. Being raised in a culture of selling has desensitized the average American Christian to the idea of overconsumption or of being addicted to the common act of eating and drinking.
Is there a solution to this problem? What can be done to not just stop gluttony, but encourage the opposite, self-control?
The clear active solution is fasting. Fasting is the act of abstaining from all or some kinds of food or drink for a period of time. It is an easy way to test self-control and to learn how to be more reliant on God than on the physical world. Jesus advised his disciples to fast, not openly, but in secret (Matthew 6:16-18). Other tips for fasting include planning out very specific diets and meals, weaning yourself off caffeine in the days prior and avoiding media for the duration of the fast.
The problem with gluttony is greater than getting fat or inconveniencing others. Gluttony gives the world we live in and all its pleasures more weight than the eternal one we all need to be looking toward. Hopefully, though, with some fasting and some prayer, we can all remember gluttony in name without acting on it.