Friday, March 02, 2012


~~ "Temperance is simply a disposition of the mind which binds the passion."
--St Thomas Aquinas

Are you in the habit of moderating your indulgence of appetites, desires, and passions? If you are, then congratulations! You are practicing Temperance.

Too bad most people are not with you on that. In fact, it seems that this particular virtue, that Plato called the "principle of subduing desires and living moderately," has fallen on hard times in today's "free" world.

Our Founders built upon timeless ideas and concepts to create a system where freedom and control would actually work hand-in-hand. They built our foundation upon the notion of the Civil Society—the same idea expressed by Socrates, Plato, Hobbes, Locke, and so many others. Essentially, the Civil Society ensures relatively peaceful coexistence among free people—ensured through social pacts or contracts. Pulling from Locke, our Founders knew that civic rights and virtues came from natural law... in other words, the Creator.

Plato, for his part, knew that the excessive freedom of a democracy leads to the loss of moral and intellectual standards, and will result in societal (and personal) anarchy. He also knew that this resulting anarchy—born of a lack of self-control and wisdom—leads to the establishment of tyranny and the loss of freedom. In fact, according to Plato, where there is too much freedom, the people are easily influenced by emotional speeches and their “votes” are easily bought by the charismatic demagogues who will then use the people’s own votes to reduce freedom. I’m sure Plato also observed the delicious irony in this concept.

Many others throughout history, perhaps especially those divinely inspired, have called for people to curb their own inner Id. Intuitively, we know that it is not good to give ourselves everything we want. Still more dangerous, then, for a society to have all it wants.

~~ "For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your... knowledge with self-control, self-control with endurance, endurance with devotion..." St Peter (2 Peter, 1:5-6) ~~

Something that seems to be missing today is the voluntary restraint of freedom in the name of being civil, and it is plain to see that this is closely related to the virtual collapse of our societal moral code. Nowadays, we do things because we CAN, often with no regard for the moral and social implications; and that is an abuse of freedom, plain and simple. Withholding something that you CAN do... or moderating it to a smaller something... this is a noble and fulfilling talent that is all too often lost today.

This is, I am sure, one of many reasons that men turn to God. Those who are self-aware enough to actually realize their limitations can exceed those limitations by calling for His help. We’ve seen this brilliantly displayed throughout history. Painters, musicians, writers, scientist (yes), and even regular folks have done things that clearly were beyond their obvious or ostensible abilities.

The atheist will argue that of course these people had the abilities, and ascribing it to God is only a psychological booster for them. I’m more inclined toward the wisdom in this verse from Matthew, 19:26: Jesus looked at them and said, “For human beings this is impossible, but for God all things are possible.”

To segue from exhibiting great and amazing abilities back to curbing our excesses, I point to our Founders again. They were, if nothing else, very self-aware and quite demonstrably cognizant of their own shortcomings. They leaned on the Creator and they counted heavily on the good graces of their fellow citizens when crafting this experimental government. The motivation is clear for John Adams' famous quote: “Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.”

~~ “Ask God for temp'rance. That's th' appliance only Which your disease requires.” --William Shakespeare ~~

The success, then, of our Republic is reliant in no small part upon Temperance. Our system will not work with unbridled freedom. Chaos and anarchy develop, followed closely by overstepping government. Using freedom for something more than it was meant to be (by our Founders and certainly also by our God) is like the use of spray paint by the "huffing" teenagers: something useful turned to something harmful.

The catch-22 here is that true Temperance comes only from the self, and in a society, from a group of individual selves. Government imposed Temperance is nothing of the sort. It is, instead, tyranny.

~~ "Temperance to be a virtue must be free, and not forced."

--Cyrus Augustus Bartol ~~

So, just like our society, our personal system will also not work with unbridled freedom; and when it breaks down and is added to many others’ breaking down, we see the result in society. So we need look no farther than our own mirror to see where lies most of the ills that plague us enlightened modern folks: an individual loss of Temperance that carries directly to a societal one.

What a dilemma! To be free and to stay free, we must make ourselves curb freedoms. Seems paradoxical at first glance… but not at second glance. Giving it just a moment’s thought tells us that it is not a paradox at all. Temperance is inextricably and tightly tied to Free Will. It is a simply profound truth (as most truths are).

~~ "If you find honey, eat only what you need, lest you have your fill and vomit it up." Proverbs, 25:16 ~~

We, individually, have been eating too much honey, and we see the results of that in the rivers of vomit running through our society. So, once again we find that the answer to this issue is found, like so many others, within the individual and not the collective. It is yet another timeless lesson from our God and from our Founders. A lesson that, unfortunately, our leftist brethren simply will not learn. To succeed, a society must empower the individual above all else. From that, very good things will come to everyone.

A team starts with individuals and ends with individuals. Without the one, the many will fail every time—and so, the one must be free to do all that can be done; and also free to restrain from doing that which one's individual conscience and God say should not be done.

~~ "Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable." St Paul (1 Corinthians, 9:25) ~~

As I practice my own personal Temperance during this Lenten season, I try my best to remember that I do it for a greater good. In fact, we would all do well to keep that in mind. As we saw with yesterday’s tragic, devastating, and absolutely heartbreaking news about the death of the mighty Andrew Breitbart, we are—none of us—long for this world. Practicing that which gets us closer to St Paul’s “imperishable wreath” is just good business for the soul.

~~ "Do not conform yourselves to this age but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and pleasing and perfect." St Paul (Romans, 12:2) ~~

I’ll close this with a few random quotes on Temperance that I just really liked. Peace to your spirit.


“Temperance is moderation in the things that are good and total abstinence from the things that are foul.” --Frances E. Willard

“Abstinence is easier than temperance." --Seneca

“Abstinence is the surety of temperance." --Plato

“Temperate temperance is best; intemperate temperance injures the cause of temperance." --Mark Twain

“Abstinence is as easy to me as temperance would be difficult.” --Samuel Johnson

"I drive my body and train it, for fear that, after having preached to others, I myself should be disqualified." St Paul (1 Corinthians, 9:27)


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Such a great piece! Abstinence IS easier than temperance unfortunately. I learn that every year after Lent when I go back to wine every day! Great reminder on this cardinal virtue.

2/3/12 10:10  

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