Wherever the Catholic sun doth shine
There’s always laughter and good red wine.
Wherever I travel I find it so,
— Hilaire Belloc
While I was in Nashville, Tennessee, studying at Vanderbilt Divinity School for my Master of Theological Studies, I attended a very traditional, Anglo-Catholic Episcopal Church in, somewhat paradoxically, a very spare and somewhat modernist building. Its Rector commented at one point that Anglicans value the gifts of God in Creation, and in particular, “like a glass of good port, a pipe of good tobacco, and a good steak!”
I think he would have been much in accord with the thoughts of Belloc, noted above, and also the author of theoldjamestownchurch blog entry linked above, who happens to be a (Facebook) friend of mine, as well as a fellow-priest, albeit of a different traditional Anglican jurisdiction.
I grew up in a teetotaling Methodist household (to the point that I used to tease my devoutly Methodist mother about Christ “turning the water into Welsh’s grape juice” in the Wedding at Cana), so it was something of a relief to find myself in a Church which does not frown upon imbibing, intrinsically, so long as one does so in moderation.
The fact is, Anglicans are not Puritans, nor should we mimic Puritanism. We celebrate the good gifts God has given us in His good Creation, beer, wine, and spirits included – celebrate them, not misuse or abuse them. As C.S. Lewis put it,
“Temperance is, unfortunately, one of those words that has changed its meaning. It now usually means teetotalism. But in the days when the second Cardinal virtue was christened ‘Temperance’, it meant nothing of the sort. Temperance referred not specially to drink, but to all pleasures; and it meant not abstaining, but going the right length and no further. It is a mistake to think that Christians ought all to be teetotallers; Mohammedanism, not Christianity, is the teetotal religion.
“Of course it may be the duty of a particular Christian, or of any Christian, at a particular time, to abstain from strong drink, either because he is the sort of man who cannot drink at all without drinking too much, or because he wants to give the money to the poor, or because he is with people who are inclined to drunkenness and must not encourage them by drinking himself. But the whole point is that he is abstaining, for a good reason, from something which he does not condemn and which he likes to see other people enjoying.
“One of the marks of a certain type of bad man is that he cannot give up a thing himself without wanting everyone else to give it up. That is not the Christian way. An individual Christian may see fit to give up all sorts of things for special reasons — marriage or meat, or beer, or the cinema; but the moment he starts saying the things are bad in themselves, or looking down his nose at other people who do use them, he has taken the wrong turning…”
Those of us who are clerics, in particular, should strive to set a good example for our flock; and needless to say, if we become intoxicated to the point that we become indiscreet or lose control of our faculties, that is not setting a good example. But conviviality and good cheer are a different matter, as this blog post explains:
“The teaching of Holy Scripture on the question of alcohol consumption is pretty easy to understand. On the one hand, habitual drunkenness is condemned, but alcohol: 1) consumed in small amounts for health reasons; and 2) consumed in larger and sometimes mildly to moderately intoxicating amounts on celebratory occasions is considered a gift of God. See Prov. 20:1; Psalm 104:15; the [Wedding at Cana linked] above, I Tim. 5:23 and Eph. 5:18 for representative texts from the Old and New Testaments.”
When it comes to Anglicans – a branch of the Church Catholic, whether our neo-Calvinist party, on the one hand, or our Roman and Orthodox brethren, on the other, agree or not – our history is one in which conviviality figures largely. Both in England and America, Anglicans have not been afraid to enjoy the fruit of the vine or the barley-field, a pipe of Old Dominion leaf, or a well-laden groaning board (*).
In any case, the point is to enjoy such pleasures responsibly, in moderation: to exercise temperance, that is, in the old fashion. Some may not be able to manage this, and so, of course, should abstain entirely (no less a personage than the famous General Robert E. Lee, a model of self-discipline, temperance, and sobriety if ever there was one, once commented that “I like whiskey. I always did, and that is why I never drink it”).
But if one understands oneself and one’s limitations, and honours them appropriately, there is no intrinsic reason to deny oneself the good gifts of God’s good Creation, be one clergy or lay. And as the linked blog post points out, it may even be an opportunity for evangelism:
“I know for a fact that when we left that establishment, we had planted seeds in the minds of some – ‘Here were some Christians drinking beer, not shunning us, and friendly besides.’ Exactly what Jesus did when he attended the feasts that earned him the scorn of the Pharisees... Those who object to collared Anglican clergymen showing up at the local pub or microbrewery need to take the matter up with Jesus, and explain to him exactly why it was inappropriate for him to do what he did at the wedding in Cana.”
To which I can only add, Amen!
* It is arguable whether “groaning board” originally referred to a “board” (trestle table) so heavy with delicious foods piled upon it that the wood itself groaned with the strain, or whether consumption of too much of said tasty victuals (usually pronounced “vittles”) resulted in groaning on the part of those partaking – possibly both – but either way, it refers to the enjoyment of good food in substantial quantity!