Friday, December 06, 2013

When to drink wine - The Instructor on drinking

This is a continuation of my series on Clement of Alexandria and his book, "The Instructor." If you are new to this series or are unfamiliar with Clement and his book, you may want to first read the introduction to this series. You may also want to read the introduction to Book 2 of The Instructor as it give advice on how to understand Clement and his writings.
"'Use a little wine,' says the apostle to Timothy, who drank water, 'for thy stomach’s sake;' most properly applying its aid as a strengthening tonic suitable to a sickly body enfeebled with watery humours; and specifying 'a little,' lest the remedy should, on account of its quantity, unobserved, create the necessity of other treatment. The natural, temperate, and necessary beverage, therefore, for the thirsty is water. This was the simple drink of sobriety, which, flowing from the smitten rock, was supplied by the Lord to the ancient Hebrews. It was most requisite that in their wanderings they should be temperate." (Clement of Alexandria, The Instructor, Book 2, Chapter 2)
This, in a nutshell, is Clement's counsel on whether or not to drink wine: that water should be preferred for temperance sake and wine used only when necessary for medicinal purposes, and then, only a little. Clement believed that we were called to a life of moderation and temperance for which water was the best drink tending towards both. That being said, he goes on to give advice on drinking wine based on our season of life.
"I therefore admire those who have adopted an austere life, and who are fond of water, the medicine of temperance, and flee as far as possible from wine, shunning it as they would the danger of fire. It is proper, therefore, that boys and girls should keep as much as possible away from this medicine. For it is not right to pour into the burning season of life the hottest of all liquids—wine—adding, as it were, fire to fire. For hence wild impulses and burning lusts and fiery habits are kindled; and young men inflamed from within become prone to the indulgence of vicious propensities; so that signs of injury appear in their body, the members of lust coming to maturity sooner than they ought." (Clement of Alexandria, The Instructor, Book 2, Chapter 2)
As children are maturing into adulthood, their bodily and hormonal changes can play havoc with their passions and desires which, because of their youth, they may not be readily able to control. To pour the intoxicating influences of wine upon these already inflamed passions is a recipe for disaster. How many young people have perpetrated crimes against themselves and others through the influence of intoxicating drink? How many young people have had sex or spread sexually transmitted diseases  when drunk that they might not have had they been in their right mind and in control of their rational faculties? Wine and strong drink is like fuel to an already lit fire for young people and should be avoided at all cost.
"And in the case of grown-up people... it suits divine studies not to be heavy with wine. 'For unmixed wine is far from compelling a man to be wise, much less temperate,' according to the comic poet. But towards evening, about supper-time, wine may be used, when we are no longer engaged in more serious readings. Then also the air becomes colder than it is during the day; so that the failing natural warmth requires to be nourished by the introduction of heat. But even then it must only be a little wine that is to be used; for we must not go on to intemperate potations." (Clement of Alexandria, The Instructor, Book 2, Chapter 2)
As mature men and women we are to live lives of purpose; spending our days applying our talents, skills, and intellectual facilities to the business of life and other worthy pursuits. To be dulled through intoxicating drink does not aid us in fulfilling a purposeful life. The day spent drinking can easily lead to a life of dissipation. How can one maintain focus when their mind is under the influence of wine? However, after the day's work is done a little wine can serve to warn the body and cheer the soul. However, one must still guard against intemperance lest they find themselves indulging in strong and exotic drinks leading to greater intemperance. Wine and other strong drinks should never define our lives or our lifestyles rather they should be defined by our purposes and our pursuits.
"Those who are already advanced in life may partake more cheerfully of the draught, to warm by the harmless medicine of the vine the chill of age, which the decay of time has produced. For old men’s passions are not, for the most part, stirred to such agitation as to drive them to the shipwreck of drunkenness. For being moored by reason and time, as by anchors, they stand with greater ease the storm of passions which rushes down from intemperance. They also may be permitted to indulge in pleasantry at feasts. But to them also let the limit of their potations be the point up to which they keep their reason unwavering, their memory active, and their body unmoved and unshaken by wine. People in such a state are called by those who are skilful in these matters, acrothorakes. It is well, therefore, to leave off betimes, for fear of tripping." (Clement of Alexandria, The Instructor, Book 2, Chapter 2)
As we advance in to old age and the requirements of our daily life have diminished, and when a life spent in perfecting moderation and temperance has made itself evident, them we should not begrudge such for a more cheerful indulgence in wine. For those who have trained their passions and desires through a life dedicated to moderation and temperance are not as susceptible to the influences of wine as those who are just beginning the process of disciplining their soul. However, even here, care must be taken to not partake of wine to the point where we loose our reason or the control over our intellectual and physical faculties. For why should wine be our undoing or the mocker of our lives?

In fine, wine itself is not evil nor our enemy. Our real enemy is the passions and desires that wage war against our soul. All influences, be they wine or other vices, that serve to enrage or promote such passions and desires should be avoided at all costs. Paul warns us to, "flee from youthful lusts and pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace, with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart." (2 Timothy 2:22) How can one pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace while at the same time inciting and inflaming the soul through strong drink? Such pursuits are inconsistent with each other. Let us choose one and use the other only as moderation and temperance would dictate.

David Robison

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