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Gluttony as Madness
We are more than Goldfish
…pleasure is twofold. One belongs to the soul, and is consummated in the mere apprehension of a thing possessed in accordance with desire; this can also be called spiritual pleasure, e.g. when one takes pleasure in human praise or the like. The other pleasure is bodily or natural, and is realized in bodily touch, and this can also be called carnal pleasure.
ST, I-II, q72 A2
Sins of the Flesh?
All sin occurs in a spiritual sense, because it requires our consent. Our consent is an act of the will, which is by its nature spiritual. So what does Aquinas mean when he distinguishes between sins of the spirit and sins of the flesh?
It has more to do with our appetites. According to St. Thomas there are 3 appetites within man: the natural, the sensitive, and the intellectual. When it comes to all the other deadly sins previously mentioned, the intellectual appetite and such pleasures was being addressed. Aquinas notes this especially when discussing greed. He explains that there is no actual sensual pleasure one receives from touching or amassing money - rather its in the mind that one derives a type of pleasure in excess in spiritual sins.
Some objected to Pope Francis’ message about the sins of the flesh not being as serious as the other spiritual sins. However, what he said is consistent with St. Thomas’ ranking of the sins. Spiritual sins, because they are related to our intellectual appetite demonstrate a corruption of our nature in the very place where we find a dignity distinct from animals. Its in this sense that Aquinas teaching must be understood around the gravity of the 7 deadly sins. But an added nuance could be offered here - all of them are deadly. And, as Mary suggests in Fatima, the sins of the flesh are common amongst humanity. In this sense, perhaps Our Lady was explaining that the sins of the flesh were more common-sins when one was committing mortal sin. In either case, both those statements from Mary and from Pope Francis, and St. Thomas Aquinas are reconcilable. My suggestion - lets just move on and reflect on the ugliness of sin so that we can address it appropriately
Typically gluttony is not seen as a sin in our culture. The only time it might be is when we are speaking about dieting and self-care. Within the Church, perhaps it is considered on days of fasts not being properly observed. But rarely do we reflect on gravity or deadliness of this particular sin - that is - how it brings death to our relationship with Christ. There is a sort of gap in our thinking on this sin, and I’d like to in part fill that gap with wisdom from the Church.
Consider for a moment Herod’s sin, where he became drunk and in a lustful and inebriated moment made a commitment to cut off the head of St. John the Baptist. In short, Gluttony kills the prophets, and the prophetic voice of Christ Himself in our mind. Although we are addressing a sensual appetite, it does have an impact on the intellectual one. When we allow our flesh to hijack our rational-powers of the soul, the mind can enter a type of madness - a madness that persecutes the prophets and Christ Himself.
We are not only dealing with food here - we are dealing with the abuse of drugs, alcohol, and any substance that gives our flesh some pleasure. Here we become hedonists, we seek pleasure as the ultimate good of our nature. But pleasure was only meant to be a side effect to the good - not the end.
I might like to posit how it affects our relationships as a way to examine our conscience in this matter.
(1) Rejection of God
When one eats to excess we are perhaps latently denying their own humanity - we become creatures who disregard the deeper longings of the intellectual appetite which only ultimately rests in God’s Divine Good (himself). In this, we attempt to fill an infinite gap within our soul, with donuts. Or to put it more sadly, we take the throne of God, built in our soul for Christ alone, and pile it up with donuts and bacon. Truly it isn’t much different than 30 pieces of silver. While this behavior can be addictive, and difficult to break, the automatic unconscious response in these acts is to replace rest in God with rest in food.
(2) Rejection of ourselves
We are also rejecting ourselves here - we are rejecting what makes us different than the beasts. Self-control, is an ability to control the impulses that arise from our sensual appetites for the sake of some other higher good - these dimensions help us transcend the world of the beast. But we could become like that gold-fish that eats itself to death - both literally for us, or perhaps in terms of mortal sin. What does it mean to place the intellect into such darkness - what does that mean about ourselves?
(3) Neglect of the poor
When we consider the Richman, in Jesus’ story of Lazarus, we might begin to realize that as we feed ourselves, we neglect the practical and spiritual needs of the poor. Do they even come to mind? Is there any type of solidarity for them?
It seems to me that gluttony is more than having an extra snack after dinner, or being unhealthy. It is an altar where we sacrifice our rational-soul in order to herald our flesh in excess. It really does reek havoc on our relationships with God and our neighbor, and can thrust us into an identity crisis in regard to our own humanity. We are more than gold-fish.
Check out this brief video on Gluttony