QUESTION 150: OF DRUNKENNESS
We must now consider drunkenness. Under this head there are four points
(1) Whether drunkenness is a sin?
(2) Whether it is a mortal sin?
(3) Whether it is the most grievous sin?
(4) Whether it excuses from sin?
Article 1: Whether drunkenness is a sin?
Objection 1: It would seem that drunkenness is not a sin. For every sin has a
corresponding contrary sin, thus timidity is opposed to daring, and
presumption to pusillanimity. But no sin is opposed to drunkenness.
Therefore drunkenness is not a sin.
Objection 2: Further, every sin is voluntary [*Augustine, De Vera Relig. xiv].
But no man wishes to be drunk, since no man wishes to be deprived of the
use of reason. Therefore drunkenness is not a sin.
Objection 3: Further, whoever causes another to sin, sins himself. Therefore,
if drunkenness were a sin, it would follow that it is a sin to ask a man
to drink that which makes him drunk, which would seem very hard.
Objection 4: Further, every sin calls for correction. But correction is not
applied to drunkards: for Gregory [*Cf. Canon Denique, dist. 4 where
Gratian refers to a letter of St. Gregory to St. Augustine of Canterbury]
says that "we must forbear with their ways, lest they become worse if
they be compelled to give up the habit." Therefore drunkenness is not a
On the contrary, The Apostle says (Rm. 13:13): "Not in rioting and
I answer that, Drunkenness may be understood in two ways. First, it may
signify the defect itself of a man resulting from his drinking much wine,
the consequence being that he loses the use of reason. In this sense
drunkenness denotes not a sin, but a penal defect resulting from a fault.
Secondly, drunkenness may denote the act by which a man incurs this
defect. This act may cause drunkenness in two ways. In one way, through
the wine being too strong, without the drinker being cognizant of this:
and in this way too, drunkenness may occur without sin, especially if it
is not through his negligence, and thus we believe that Noah was made
drunk as related in Gn. 9. In another way drunkenness may result from
inordinate concupiscence and use of wine: in this way it is accounted a
sin, and is comprised under gluttony as a species under its genus. For
gluttony is divided into "surfeiting [Douay:,'rioting'] and drunkenness,"
which are forbidden by the Apostle (Rm. 13:13).
Reply to Objection 1: As the Philosopher says (Ethic. iii, 11), insensibility
which is opposed to temperance "is not very common," so that like its
species which are opposed to the species of intemperance it has no name.
Hence the vice opposed to drunkenness is unnamed; and yet if a man were
knowingly to abstain from wine to the extent of molesting nature
grievously, he would not be free from sin.
Reply to Objection 2: This objection regards the resulting defect which is
involuntary: whereas immoderate use of wine is voluntary, and it is in
this that the sin consists.
Reply to Objection 3: Even as he that is drunk is excused if he knows not the
strength of the wine, so too is he that invites another to drink excused
from sin, if he be unaware that the drinker is the kind of person to be
made drunk by the drink offered. But if ignorance be lacking neither is
excused from sin.
Reply to Objection 4: Sometimes the correction of a sinner is to be foregone, as
stated above (Question , Article ). Hence Augustine says in a letter (Ad Aurel.
Episc. Ep. xxii), "Meseems, such things are cured not by bitterness,
severity, harshness, but by teaching rather than commanding, by advice
rather than threats. Such is the course to be followed with the majority
of sinners: few are they whose sins should be treated with severity."
Article 2: Whether drunkenness is a mortal sin?
Objection 1: It would seem that drunkenness is not a mortal sin. For Augustine
says in a sermon on Purgatory [*Serm. civ in the Appendix to St.
Augustine's works] that "drunkenness if indulged in assiduously, is a
mortal sin." Now assiduity denotes a circumstance which does not change
the species of a sin; so that it cannot aggravate a sin infinitely, and
make a mortal sin of a venial sin, as shown above (FS, Question , Article ).
Therefore if drunkenness /is not a mortal sin for some other reason,
neither is it for this.
Objection 2: Further, Augustine says [*Serm. civ in the Appendix to St.
Augustine's works]: "Whenever a man takes more meat and drink than is
necessary, he should know that this is one of the lesser sins." Now the
lesser sins are called venial. Therefore drunkenness, which is caused by
immoderate drink, is a venial sin.
Objection 3: Further, no mortal sin should be committed on the score of
medicine. Now some drink too much at the advice of the physician, that
they may be purged by vomiting; and from this excessive drink drunkenness
ensues. Therefore drunkenness is not a mortal sin.
On the contrary, We read in the Canons of the apostles (Can. xli, xlii):
"A bishop, priest or deacon who is given to drunkenness or gambling, or
incites others thereto, must either cease or be deposed; a subdeacon,
reader or precentor who does these things must either give them up or be
excommunicated; the same applies to the laity." Now such punishments are
not inflicted save for mortal sins. Therefore drunkenness is a mortal sin.
I answer that, The sin of drunkenness, as stated in the foregoing
Article, consists in the immoderate use and concupiscence of wine. Now
this may happen to a man in three ways. First, so that he knows not the
drink to be immoderate and intoxicating: and then drunkenness may be
without sin, as stated above (Article ). Secondly, so that he perceives the
drink to be immoderate, but without knowing it to be intoxicating, and
then drunkenness may involve a venial sin. Thirdly, it may happen that a
man is well aware that the drink is immoderate and intoxicating, and yet
he would rather be drunk than abstain from drink. Such a man is a
drunkard properly speaking, because morals take their species not from
things that occur accidentally and beside the intention, but from that
which is directly intended. In this way drunkenness is a mortal sin,
because then a man willingly and knowingly deprives himself of the use of
reason, whereby he performs virtuous deeds and avoids sin, and thus he
sins mortally by running the risk of falling into sin. For Ambrose says
(De Patriarch. [*De Abraham i.]): "We learn that we should shun
drunkenness, which prevents us from avoiding grievous sins. For the
things we avoid when sober, we unknowingly commit through drunkenness."
Therefore drunkenness, properly speaking, is a mortal sin.
Reply to Objection 1: Assiduity makes drunkenness a mortal sin, not on account of
the mere repetition of the act, but because it is impossible for a man to
become drunk assiduously, without exposing himself to drunkenness
knowingly and willingly, since he has many times experienced the strength
of wine and his own liability to drunkenness.
Reply to Objection 2: To take more meat or drink than is necessary belongs to the
vice of gluttony, which is not always a mortal sin: but knowingly to take
too much drink to the point of being drunk, is a mortal sin. Hence
Augustine says (Confess. x, 31): "Drunkenness is far from me: Thou wilt
have mercy, that it come not near me. But full feeding sometimes hath
crept upon Thy servant."
Reply to Objection 3: As stated above (Question , Article ), meat and drink should be
moderate in accordance with the demands of the body's health. Wherefore,
just as it happens sometimes that the meat and drink which are moderate
for a healthy man are immoderate for a sick man, so too it may happen
conversely, that what is excessive for a healthy man is moderate for one
that is ailing. In this way when a man eats or drinks much at the
physician's advice in order to provoke vomiting, he is not to be deemed
to have taken excessive meat or drink. There is, however, no need for
intoxicating drink in order to procure vomiting, since this is caused by
drinking lukewarm water: wherefore this is no sufficient cause for
excusing a man from drunkenness.
Article 3: Whether drunkenness is the gravest of sins?
Objection 1: It would seem that drunkenness is the gravest of sins. For
Chrysostom says (Hom. lviii in Matth.) that "nothing gains the devil's
favor so much as drunkenness and lust, the mother of all the vices." And
it is written in the Decretals (Dist. xxxv, can. Ante omnia):
"Drunkenness, more than anything else, is to be avoided by the clergy,
for it foments and fosters all the vices."
Objection 2: Further, from the very fact that a thing excludes the good of
reason, it is a sin. Now this is especially the effect of drunkenness.
Therefore drunkenness is the greatest of sins.
Objection 3: Further, the gravity of a sin is shown by the gravity of its
punishment. Now seemingly drunkenness is punished most severely; for
Ambrose says [*De Elia et de Jejunio v] that "there would be no slavery,
were there no drunkards." Therefore drunkenness is the greatest of sins.
On the contrary, According to Gregory (Moral. xxxiii, 12), spiritual
vices are greater than carnal vices. Now drunkenness is one of the carnal
vices. Therefore it is not the greatest of sins.
I answer that, A thing is said to be evil because it removes a good.
Wherefore the greater the good removed by an evil, the graver the evil.
Now it is evident that a Divine good is greater than a human good.
Wherefore the sins that are directly against God are graver than the sin
of drunkenness, which is directly opposed to the good of human reason.
Reply to Objection 1: Man is most prone to sins of intemperance, because such
like concupiscences and pleasures are connatural to us, and for this
reason these sins are said to find greatest favor with the devil, not for
being graver than other sins, but because they occur more frequently
Reply to Objection 2: The good of reason is hindered in two ways: in one way by
that which is contrary to reason, in another by that which takes away the
use of reason. Now that which is contrary to reason has more the
character of an evil, than that which takes away the use of reason for a
time, since the use of reason, which is taken away by drunkenness, may be
either good or evil, whereas the goods of virtue, which are taken away by
things that are contrary to reason, are always good.
Reply to Objection 3: Drunkenness was the occasional cause of slavery, in so far
as Cham brought the curse of slavery on to his descendants, for having
laughed at his father when the latter was made drunk. But slavery was not
the direct punishment of drunkenness.
Article 4: Whether drunkenness excuses from sin?
Objection 1: It would seem that drunkenness does not excuse from sin. For the
Philosopher says (Ethic. iii, 5) that "the drunkard deserves double
punishment." Therefore drunkenness aggravates a sin instead of excusing
Objection 2: Further, one sin does not excuse another, but increases it. Now
drunkenness is a sin. Therefore it is not an excuse for sin.
Objection 3: Further, the Philosopher says (Ethic. vii, 3) that just as man's
reason is tied by drunkenness, so is it by concupiscence. But
concupiscence is not an excuse for sin: neither therefore is drunkenness.
On the contrary, According to Augustine (Contra Faust. xxii, 43), Lot
was to be excused from incest on account of drunkenness.
I answer that, Two things are to be observed in drunkenness, as stated
above (Article ), namely the resulting defect and the preceding act. on the
part of the resulting defect whereby the use of reason is fettered,
drunkenness may be an excuse for sin, in so far as it causes an act to be
involuntary through ignorance. But on the part of the preceding act, a
distinction would seem necessary; because, if the drunkenness that
results from that act be without sin, the subsequent sin is entirely
excused from fault, as perhaps in the case of Lot. If, however, the
preceding act was sinful, the person is not altogether excused from the
subsequent sin, because the latter is rendered voluntary through the
voluntariness of the preceding act, inasmuch as it was through doing
something unlawful that he fell into the subsequent sin. Nevertheless,
the resulting sin is diminished, even as the character of voluntariness
is diminished. Wherefore Augustine says (Contra Faust. xxii, 44) that
"Lot's guilt is to be measured, not by the incest, but by his
Reply to Objection 1: The Philosopher does not say that the drunkard deserves
more severe punishment, but that he deserves double punishment for his
twofold sin. Or we may reply that he is speaking in view of the law of a
certain Pittacus, who, as stated in Polit. ii, 9, ordered "those guilty
of assault while drunk to be more severely punished than if they had been
sober, because they do wrong in more ways than one." In this, as
Aristotle observes (Polit. ii, 9), "he seems to have considered the
advantage," namely of the prevention of wrong, "rather than the leniency
which one should have for drunkards," seeing that they are not in
possession of their faculties.
Reply to Objection 2: Drunkenness may be an excuse for sin, not in the point of
its being itself a sin, but in the point of the defect that results from
it, as stated above.
Reply to Objection 3: Concupiscence does not altogether fetter the reason, as
drunkenness does, unless perchance it be so vehement as to make a man
insane. Yet the passion of concupiscence diminishes sin, because it is
less grievous to sin through weakness than through malice.