QUESTION 149: OF SOBRIETY
We must now consider sobriety and the contrary vice, namely drunkenness.
As regards sobriety there are four points of inquiry:
(1) What is the matter of sobriety?
(2) Whether it is a special virtue?
(3) Whether the use of wine is lawful?
(4) To whom especially is sobriety becoming?
Article 1: Whether drink is the matter of sobriety?
Objection 1: It would seem that drink is not the matter proper to sobriety.
For it is written (Rm. 12:3): "Not to be more wise than it behooveth to
be wise, but to be wise unto sobriety." Therefore sobriety is also about
wisdom, and not only about drink.
Objection 2: Further, concerning the wisdom of God, it is written (Wis. 8:7)
that "she teacheth sobriety [Douay: 'temperance'], and prudence, and
justice, and fortitude," where sobriety stands for temperance. Now
temperance is not only about drink, but also about meat and sexual
matters. Therefore sobriety is not only about drink.
Objection 3: Further, sobriety would seem to take its name from "measure"
[*'Bria,' a measure, a cup; Cf. Facciolati and Forcellini's Lexicon]. Now
we ought to be guided by the measure in all things appertaining to us:
for it is written (Titus 2:12): "We should live soberly and justly and
godly," where a gloss remarks: "Soberly, in ourselves"; and (1 Tim. 2:9):
"Women . . . in decent apparel, adorning themselves with modesty and
sobriety." Consequently it would seem that sobriety regards not only the
interior man, but also things appertaining to external apparel.
Therefore drink is not the matter proper to sobriety.
On the contrary, It is written (Ecclus. 31:32): "Wine taken with
sobriety is equal life to men; if thou drink it moderately, thou shalt be
I answer that, When a virtue is denominated from some condition common
to the virtues, the matter specially belonging to it is that in which it
is most difficult and most commendable to satisfy that condition of
virtue: thus fortitude is about dangers of death, and temperance about
pleasures of touch. Now sobriety takes its name from "measure," for a man
is said to be sober because he observes the "bria," i.e. the measure.
Wherefore sobriety lays a special claim to that matter wherein /the
observance of the measure is most deserving of praise. Such matter is the
drinking of intoxicants, because the measured use thereof is most
profitable, while immoderate excess therein is most harmful, since it
hinders the use of reason even more than excessive eating. Hence it is
written (Ecclus. 31:37,38): "Sober drinking is health to soul and body;
wine drunken with excess raiseth quarrels, and wrath and many ruins." For
this reason sobriety is especially concerned with drink, not any kind of
drink, but that which by reason of its volatility is liable to disturb
the brain, such as wine and all intoxicants. Nevertheless, sobriety may
be employed in a general sense so as to apply to any matter, as stated
above (Question , Article ; Question , Article ) with regard to fortitude and
Reply to Objection 1: Just as the material wine intoxicates a man as to his body,
so too, speaking figuratively, the consideration of wisdom is said to be
an inebriating draught, because it allures the mind by its delight,
according to Ps. 22:5, "My chalice which inebriateth me, how goodly is
it!" Hence sobriety is applied by a kind of metaphor in speaking of the
contemplation of wisdom.
Reply to Objection 2: All the things that belong properly to temperance are
necessary to the present life, and their excess is harmful. Wherefore it
behooves one to apply a measure in all such things. This is the business
of sobriety: and for this reason sobriety is used to designate
temperance. Yet slight excess is more harmful in drink than in other
things, wherefore sobriety is especially concerned with drink.
Reply to Objection 3: Although a measure is needful in all things, sobriety is
not properly employed in connection with all things, but only in those
wherein there is most need for a measure.
Article 2: Whether sobriety is by itself a special virtue?
Objection 1: It would seem that sobriety is not by itself a special virtue.
For abstinence is concerned with both meat and drink. Now there is no
special virtue about meat. Therefore neither is sobriety, which is about
drink, a special virtue.
Objection 2: Further, abstinence and gluttony are about pleasures of touch as
sensitive to food. Now meat and drink combine together to make food,
since an animal needs a combination of wet and dry nourishment. Therefore
sobriety, which is about drink, is not a. special virtue.
Objection 3: Further, just as in things pertaining to nourishment, drink is
distinguished from meat, so are there various kinds of meats and of
drinks. Therefore if sobriety is by itself a special virtue, seemingly
there will be a special virtue corresponding to each different kind of
meat or drink, which is unreasonable. Therefore it would seem that
sobriety is not a special virtue.
On the contrary, Macrobius [*In Somno Scip. i, 8] reckons sobriety to be
a special part of temperance.
I answer that, As stated above (Question , Article ), it belongs to moral
virtue to safeguard the good of reason against those things which may
hinder it. Hence wherever we find a special hindrance to reason, there
must needs be a special virtue to remove it. Now intoxicating drink is a
special kind of hindrance to the use of reason, inasmuch as it disturbs
the brain by its fumes. Wherefore in order to remove this hindrance to
reason a special virtue, which is sobriety, is requisite.
Reply to Objection 1: Meat and drink are alike capable of hindering the good of
reason, by embroiling the reason with immoderate pleasure: and in this
respect abstinence is about both meat and drink alike. But intoxicating
drink is a special kind of hindrance, as stated above, wherefore it
requires a special virtue.
Reply to Objection 2: The virtue of abstinence is about meat and drink,
considered, not as food but as a hindrance to reason. Hence it does not
follow that special kinds of virtue correspond to different kinds of food.
Reply to Objection 3: In all intoxicating drinks there is one kind of hindrance
to the use of reason: so that the difference of drinks bears an
accidental relation to virtue. Hence this difference does not call for a
difference of virtue. The same applies to the difference of meats.
Article 3: Whether the use of wine is altogether unlawful?
Objection 1: It would seem that the use of wine is altogether unlawful. For without wisdom, a man cannot be in the state of salvation: since it is written (Wis. 7:28): "God loveth none but him that dwelleth with wisdom," and further on (Wis. 9:19): "By wisdom they were healed, whosoever have pleased Thee, O Lord, from the beginning." Now the use of wine is a hindrance to wisdom, for it is written (Eccles. 2:3): "I thought in my heart to withdraw my flesh from wine, that I might turn my mind to wisdom." Therefore wine-drinking is altogether unlawful.
Objection 2: Further, the Apostle says (Rm. 14:21): "It is good not to eat
flesh, and not to drink wine, nor anything whereby thy brother is
offended or scandalized, or made weak." Now it is sinful to forsake the
good of virtue, as likewise to scandalize one's brethren. Therefore it is
unlawful to make use of wine.
Objection 3: Further, Jerome says [*Contra Jovin. i] that "after the deluge
wine and flesh were sanctioned: but Christ came in the last of the ages
and brought back the end into line with the beginning." Therefore it
seems unlawful to use wine under the Christian law.
On the contrary, The Apostle says (1 Tim. 5:23): "Do not still drink
water, but use a little wine for thy stomach's sake, and thy frequent
infirmities"; and it is written (Ecclus. 31:36): "Wine drunken with
moderation is the joy of the soul and the heart."
I answer that, No meat or drink, considered in itself, is unlawful,
according to Mt. 15:11, "Not that which goeth into the mouth defileth a
man." Wherefore it is not unlawful to drink wine as such. Yet it may
become unlawful accidentally. This is sometimes owing to a circumstance
on the part of the drinker, either because he is easily the worse for
taking wine, or because he is bound by a vow not to drink wine: sometimes
it results from the mode of drinking, because to wit he exceeds the
measure in drinking: and sometimes it is on account of others who would
be scandalized thereby.
Reply to Objection 1: A man may have wisdom in two ways. First, in a general way,
according as it is sufficient for salvation: and in this way it is
required, in order to have wisdom, not that a man abstain altogether from
wine, but that he abstain from its immoderate use. Secondly, a man may
have wisdom in some degree of perfection: and in this way, in order to
receive wisdom perfectly, it is requisite for certain persons that they
abstain altogether from wine, and this depends on circumstances of
certain persons and places.
Reply to Objection 2: The Apostle does not declare simply that it is good to
abstain from wine, but that it is good in the case where this would give
scandal to certain people.
Reply to Objection 3: Christ withdraws us from some things as being altogether
unlawful, and from others as being obstacles to perfection. It is in the
latter way that he withdraws some from the use of wine, that they may aim
at perfection, even as from riches and the like.
Article 4: Whether sobriety is more requisite in persons of greater standing?
Objection 1: It would seem that sobriety is more requisite in persons of
greater standing. For old age gives a man a certain standing; wherefore
honor and reverence are due to the old, according to Lev. 19:32, "Rise
up before the hoary head, and honor the person of the aged man." Now the
Apostle declares that old men especially should be exhorted to sobriety,
according to Titus 2:2, "That the aged man be sober." Therefore sobriety
is most requisite in persons of standing.
Objection 2: Further, a bishop has the highest degree in the Church: and the
Apostle commands him to be sober, according to 1 Tim. 3:2, "It behooveth
. . . a bishop to be blameless, the husband of one wife, sober, prudent,"
etc. Therefore sobriety is chiefly required in persons of high standing.
Objection 3: Further, sobriety denotes abstinence from wine. Now wine is
forbidden to kings, who hold the highest place in human affairs: while it
is allowed to those who are in a state of affliction, according to Prov.
31:4, "Give not wine to kings," and further on (Prov. 31:6), "Give strong
drink to them that are sad, and wine to them that are grieved in mind."
Therefore sobriety is more requisite in persons of standing.
I answer that, Virtue includes relationship to two things, to the
contrary vices which it removes, and to the end to which it leads.
Accordingly a particular virtue is more requisite in certain persons for
two reasons. First, because they are more prone to the concupiscences
which need to be restrained by virtue, and to the vices which are removed
by virtue. In this respect, sobriety is most requisite in the young and
in women, because concupiscence of pleasure thrives in the young on
account of the heat of youth, while in women there is not sufficient
strength of mind to resist concupiscence. Hence, according to Valerius
Maximus [*Dict. Fact. Memor. ii, 1] among the ancient Romans women drank
no wine. Secondly, sobriety is more requisite in certain persons, as
being more necessary for the operations proper to them. Now immoderate
use of wine is a notable obstacle to the use of reason: wherefore
sobriety is specially prescribed to the old, in whom reason should be
vigorous in instructing others: to bishops and all ministers of the
Church, who should fulfil their spiritual duties with a devout mind; and
to kings, who should rule their subjects with wisdom.
This suffices for the Replies to the Objections.