Tuesday, December 29, 2020

Chrysostom on Wine

I recently came across the following passage from John Chrysostom (A.D. 347-407) in his 57th homily on the Gospel of Matthew on the topic of wine, drunkenness, and the use of God's creation. 

"For instance, I hear many say, when these excesses happen, 'Would there were no wine.' O folly! O madness! When other men sin, dost thou find fault with God’s gifts? And what great madness is this? What? did the wine, O man, produce this evil? Not the wine, but the intemperance of such as take an evil delight in it. Say then, 'Would there were no drunkenness, no luxury;' but if thou say, 'Would there were no wine,' thou wilt say, going on by degrees, 'Would there were no steel, because of the murderers; no night, because of the thieves; no light, because of the informers; no women, because of adulteries;' and, in a word, thou wilt destroy all.

"But do not so; for this is of a satanical mind [1 Tim. 4:1-5]; do not find fault with the wine, but with the drunkenness; and when thou hast found this self-same man sober, sketch out all his unseemliness, and say unto him, Wine was given, that we might be cheerful, not that we might behave ourselves unseemly; that we might laugh, not that we might be a laughingstock; that we might be healthful, not that we might be diseased; that we might correct the weakness of our body, not cast down the might of our soul.

"God honored thee with the gift, why disgrace thyself with the excess thereof? Hear what Paul saith, 'Use a little wine for thy stomach’s sake, and thine often infirmities' [1 Tim. 5:23]. But if that saint, even when oppressed with disease, and enduring successive sicknesses, partook not of wine, until his Teacher suffered him; what excuse shall we have, who are drunken in health? To him indeed He said, 'Use a little wine for thy stomach’s sake;' but to each of you who are drunken, He will say, 'Use little wine, for thy fornications, thy frequent filthy talking, for the other wicked desires to which drunkenness is wont to give birth.' But if ye are not willing, for these reasons, to abstain; at least on account of the despondencies which come of it, and the vexations, do ye abstain. For wine was given for gladness, 'Yea, wine,' so it is said, 'maketh glad the heart of man' [Ps. 104:15]; but ye mar even this excellence in it. For what kind of gladness is it to be beside one’s self, and to have innumerable vexations, and to see all things whirling round, and to be oppressed with giddiness, and like those that have a fever, to require some who may drench their heads with oil?"

Chrysostom's arguments here are very similar to the arguments made later by John Calvin in his Institutes of the Christian Religion (see here). Calvin wrote, "Let this be our principle, that we err not in the use of the gifts of Providence when we refer them to the end for which their author made and destined them, since he created them for our good, and not for our destruction." (3.10.2).

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