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NPNF-212. Leo the Great, Gregory the Great
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Chapter XIX.

How those who use food intemperately and those who use it sparingly are to be admonished.

(Admonition 20.)  Differently to be admonished are the gluttonous and the abstinent.  For superfluity of speech, levity of conduct, and lechery accompany the former; but the latter often the sin of impatience, and often that of pride.  For were it not the case that immoderate loquacity carries away the gluttonous, that rich man who is said to have fared sumptuously every day would not burn more sorely than elsewhere in his tongue, saying, Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus, that he may dip the tip of his finger in water, and cool my tongue; for I am tormented in this flame (Luke xvi. 24).  By these words it is surely shewn that in his daily feasting he had frequently sinned by his tongue, seeing that, while burning all over, he demanded to be cooled especially in his tongue.  Again, that levity of conduct follows closely upon gluttony sacred authority testifies, when it says, The people sat down to eat and drink, and rose up to play (Exod. xxxii. 6).  For the most part also edacity leads us even to lechery, because, when the belly is distended by repletion, the stings of lust are excited.  Whence also to the cunning foe, who opened the sense of the first man by lust for the apple, but bound it in a noose of sin, it is said by the divine voice, On breast and belly shalt thou creep (Gen. iii. 14); as if it were plainly said to him, In thought and in maw thou shalt have dominion over human hearts.  That lechery follows upon gluttony the prophet testifies, denouncing hidden things while he speaks of open ones, when he says, The chief of the cooks broke down the walls of Jerusalem (Jer. xxxix. 9; 2 Kings xxv. 10)12761276    The designation (Rab-tabbachim) of Nabuzaradan, who acted for Nebuchadnezzar after the capture of Jerusalem, is rendered in the LXX. ἀρχιμάγειρος, i.e. Chief Cook..  For the chief of the cooks is the belly, to which the cooks pay observance with great care, that it may itself be delectably filled with viands.  But the walls of Jerusalem are the virtues of the soul, elevated to a longing for supernal peace.  The chief of the cooks, therefore, throws down the walls of Jerusalem, because, when the belly is distended with gluttony, the virtues of the soul are destroyed through lechery.

On the other hand, were it not that impatience commonly shakes the abstinent out of the bosom of tranquillity, Peter would by no means, when saying, Supply in your faith virtue, and in your virtue knowledge, and in your knowledge abstinence (2 Pet. i. 5), have straightway vigilantly added, And in your abstinence patience.  For he foresaw that the patience which he admonished them to have would be wanting to the abstinent.  Again, were it not that the sin of pride sometimes pierces through the cogitations of the abstinent, Paul would by no means have said, Let not him that eateth not judge him that eateth (Rom. xiv. 3).  And again, speaking to others, while glancing at the maxims of such as gloried in the virtue of abstinence, he added, Which things have indeed a show of wisdom in superstition and humility, and for not sparing of the body, not in any honour for the satisfying of the flesh (Coloss. ii. 25).  Here it is to be noted that the excellent preacher, in his argument, joins a show of humility to superstition, because, when the flesh is worn more than needs by abstinence, humility is displayed outwardly, but on account of this very humility there is grievous pride within.  And unless the mind were sometimes puffed up by the virtue of abstinence, the arrogant Pharisee would by no means have studiously numbered this among his great merits, saying, I fast twice in the week (Luke xviii. 12).

Thus the gluttonous are to be admonished, that in giving themselves to the enjoyment of dainties they pierce not themselves through with the sword of lechery; and that they perceive how great loquacity, how great levity of mind, lie in wait for them through eating; lest, while they softly serve the belly, they become cruelly bound in the nooses of vice.  For by so much the further do we go back from our second parent as by immoderate indulgence, when the hand is stretched out for food, we renew the fall of our first parent.  But, on the other hand, the abstinent are to be admonished ever anxiously to look out, lest, while they fly the vice of gluttony, still worse vices be engendered as it were of virtue lest, while they macerate the flesh, their spirit break out into impatience; and so there be no virtue in the vanquishing of the flesh, the spirit being overcome by anger.  Sometimes, moreover, while the mind of the abstinent keeps anger down, it is corrupted, as it were, by a foreign joy coming in, and loses all the good of abstinence in that it fails to guard itself from spiritual vices.  Hence it is rightly said through the prophet, In the days of your fasts are found your wills (Isai. lviii. 3, lxx.).  And shortly after, Ye fast for debates and strifes, and ye smite with the fists (Ibid.).  For the will pertains to delight, the fist to anger.  In vain, then, is the body worn by abstinence, if the mind, abandoned to disorderly emotions, is dissipated by vices.  And again, they are to be admonished that, while they keep up their abstinence without abatement, they suppose not this to be of eminent virtue before the hidden judge; lest, if it be perchance supposed to be of great merit, the heart be lifted up to haughtiness.  For hence it is said through the prophet, Is it such a fast that I have chosen?  But break thy bread to the hungry, and bring the needy and the wanderers into thine house (Ibid. 5).

In this matter it is to be considered how small the virtue of abstinence is accounted, seeing that it is not commended but for other virtues.  Hence Joel says, Sanctify a fast.  For indeed to sanctify a fast is to shew abstinence of the flesh to be worthy of God by other good things being added to it.  The abstinent are to be admonished that they then offer to God an abstinence that pleases Him, when they bestow on the indigent the nourishment which they withhold from themselves.  For we should wisely attend to what is blamed by the Lord through the prophet, saying, When ye fasted and mourned in the fifth and seventh month far these seventy years, did ye at all fast a fast unto Me?  And when ye did eat and drink, did ye not eat for yourselves, and drink for yourselves (Zach. vii. 5 seq.)?  For a man fasts not to God but to himself, if what he withholds from his belly for a time he gives not to the needy, but keeps to be offered afterwards to his belly.

Wherefore, lest either gluttonous appetite throw the one sort off their guard, or the afflicted flesh trip up the other by elation, let the former hear this from the mouth of the Truth, And take heed to yourselves, lest at any time your hearts be overcharged in surfeiting and drunkenness and cares of this world (Luke xxi. 34).  And in the same place there is added a profitable fear; And so that day come upon you unawares.  For as a snare shall it come on all them that dwell on the face of the whole earth (Ibid. 35).  Let the latter hear, Not that which goeth into the mouth defileth a man; but that which cometh out of the mouth, this defileth a man (Matth. xv. 11).  Let the former hear, Meat for the belly, and the belly far meats; but God shall destroy both it and them (1 Cor. vi. 13).  And again, Not in rioting and drunkenness (Rom. xiii. 13).  And again, Meat commendeth us not to God (1 Cor. viii. 8).  Let the latter hear, To the pure all things are pure:  but unto them that are defiled and unbelieving is nothing pure (Tit. i. 15).  Let the former hear, Whose God is their belly, and whose glory is in their own confusion (Philip. iii. 19).  Let the latter hear, Some shall depart from the faith; and a little after, Forbidding to marry, and commanding to abstain from meats, which God hath created to be received with thanksgiving of them which believe and know the truth (1 Tim. iv. 1, 3).  Let those hear, It is good neither to eat flesh nor to drink wine, nor anything whereby thy brother stumbleth (Rom. xiv. 21).  Let these hear, Use a little wine far thy stomach’s sake and thine often infirmities (1 Tim. v. 23).  Thus both the former may learn not to desire inordinately the food of the flesh, and the latter not dare to condemn the creature of God, which they lust not after.


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