CHAPTER XVI — THE HUMAN ANIMAL
Prerequisites of mastery: Something to be mastered
The push of nature towards the goal of man is not sufficient to accomplish the fact of mastery. If he is to be master, man must at least know what mastery means. He must realize that perfect physical development, sharp intellectual gifts, a balance of powers are in themselves insufficient to make him a master. Put this splendid creature on a desert island and it is impossible for him to be a master for the simple reason that there is nothing to master. On the other hand, let an absent-minded bank teller, deceived by the familiar bars, wander into a lion’s cage and he, too, is faced with an impossibility of mastery, though for a different reason. In the first case there was nothing to master; in the second, the thing could not be mastered by this man.
Mastery, if it means anything, means to bring something or someone under our command. Unlike God we do not create our subjects; we must subdue them. That which is to be mastered must be presupposed to our action; granted the subject matter of opposition, there must be a capacity for mastering it if man is to be master.
Something that can be mastered
It may seem that we are laboring an obvious point here; but the point has been and is being missed, as happens so often with the obvious. It is a fact that man can be and must be a master if he is to remain a man. He is possessed of a complex nature whose elements will not live on equal terms; one or the other will take charge. The spirit pulls against the flesh and the flesh against the spirit now as in the days of Paul, indeed, as in all days since the expulsion of man from the garden of Eden. Here in America, we are officially dedicated to the ideal of freedom, which, if it be not meaningless, is a dedication to mastery. We refuse to entertain the idea of man subjecting himself to his equal or to his inferior. It is a political insistence flowing from Christianity’s supremely valuable contribution to Western philosophy, the concept of personality, of individual dignity and responsibility. The same concept is at the rock-bottom of Christian ethics; without it, these ethics have no meaning.
Modern protestations of slavery: Puritanism.
Yet, in spite of our political insistence on the concept of freedom, we have again and again denied freedom, for we have denied mastery. In the early days we denied freedom by denying the possibility of mastery, refusing to admit that there was something that could be mastered. The Puritans’ rigid gloom was well justified, granting-their principles: if man is utterly corrupt and an utterly helpless tool of a viciously unjust divinity, how can he be otherwise than sunk in gloom? The slave does not gloat over the chains that tie him down like a dog. What is there to fight about if there is no chance for mastery; what is the ground for rejoicing when there is no possibility of triumph? It is the hopeless slavery of a man who is beaten before he can strike a blow. The one thing he can do is resign himself to his fate, admitting his slavery, his lack of mastery.
In our modern days slavery is no less thoroughly championed, though on different grounds. Our modern contention is that a man cannot be a master because there is nothing for him to subdue. The modern slave-dealer insists that man is entirely one-sided, he is merely an animal; the one course open to him, then, is to give that animality its fullest development, its fullest play. If that be true, then we can no more be masters than can a cat or a worm.
The important point of all this is that none of it is true. Man is by his very nature free, he can fight and win. Man has a soul as well as a body; there is something to fight and subdue. This very truth makes the hell of slavery, to which the moderns have delivered men, just so much more bitter. Eventually the victims of this betrayal of humanity will realize that they could have been masters; later on, when the gilt wears off passion and leaves its dull baseness plain, they will see the extent of the swindle that has been perpetrated, a realization that is almost enough to destroy all hope. For then they will see that they have indeed sold their birthright for a mess of pottage, and that the pottage itself has spoiled. It has always been true that the stars are clearly visible from the depths; that it is the saint or the great sinner who has the real view of the splendor of God. So also it is the man who is sunk into the depths of slavery who can appreciate to the full the possible mastery which he has forfeited.
Catholic protestations of mastery: Vindications of history
There is an amusing angle to this constant denial of mastery in American history, an angle that seriously calls into question our boasted sense of humor. To appreciate it, you must remember that during that short span of our history Catholics have held fast to unchanging ethical and dogmatic truths; the Catholic position on purity, justice, lying, the sacredness of contracts is exactly the same today as it was when judges wore wigs. In Colonial days the Catholics were considered a corrupt people. They were fast, loose, immoral; to them any means were justified by the end, even murder and lying. They were not people with whom one could do business safely, for by their very principles, their contracts with Protestants were not binding. They were the children of the harlot of Babylon, unfit companions for God-fearing men, enemies of the Christian state, to be denied every share in community life. Today Catholics are considered hopelessly rigid, prudish, medieval. They demand altogether too much of human nature, even the impossible. They have never caught the full significance of the sacred catchword “business is business;” they are the enemies of pleasure, of full, free, joyous living. They try to fit every age into an ethical pattern of two thousand years ago instead of keeping up with the times by molding their ethics to the customs of an age.
Vindications of facts
Odd, isn’t it? Still more odd, when it is realized that the accusers have always been the one hundred percent Americans of their time. Yet all the Catholic has done is to hold fast to essential, even obvious, truths. He has steadily maintained that man is man, has an intellect, a will, a spiritual soul, and that man alone is possessed of these priceless gifts. In the eyes of the Catholic, it is these things that distinguish a man from all else in the universe; these things can be, must be in the forefront of his life, his action, his thought if he is to be truly human. In a word, the Catholic’s crime has been to maintain that a man is a human being; not merely a helpless pawn, not merely an animal but a human animal who is master of his destiny.
Man has a body; he may have to apologize for the shape it is in, but not for the fact itself. There is nothing evil about it; it is part and parcel of him. But that body destroys itself when it takes charge of man’s life. Man has something to subdue — his lower nature; moreover he can subdue it. He is free precisely because he is man: and the principal work of his life is the maintenance of that mastery which is essential to the humanity of his life.
Man is not evil, he is not utterly corrupt and helpless because of his corruption. Nor have men nothing to subdue; men are not merely animals, as the moderns would have it. There is joy in life, great joy; but it is not merely animal joy. In spite of the uncouth mouthings of thc monk who was so terrified at his own weakness, in spite of the intellectual blasphemies of an arrant theologian of gloom, in spite of the unscientific dreams of pseudo-scientific philosophers and pseudo-philosophic scientists, man continues to be man. He can never escape from his humanity.
The city of Washington is honeycombed with slanting streets — the Avenues. They are a boon to taxi-drivers, shortening distances (there are no meters) and relieving all boredom as they converge en masse in circles. They are also, I am told, evidence of very intelligent planning. For the ordinary driver or the stranger in Washington, they are a source of that amazement that is induced by a sleight- of-hand trick. For instance, you start out for a walk down Pennsylvania Avenue. Of course you take the north side of the street to get a better view of the buildings; and suddenly the Avenue is gone from under your feet and you find yourself in the oddest places, perhaps gaping at the display of a second-hand furniture emporium. I have been witness to the complete befuddlement of a driver who found himself still on the same slanting street but going in a direction opposite to that in which he had started, with no reasonable explanation of the marvel. It has often struck me that these Avenues are graphic representations of the path of reason. It is so very easy to wander off that path and find oneself in the oddest errors. A Washingtonian, as the years bring him wisdom, learns to keep alert on these slanting streets; so also a reasonable man eventually learns that he can never cease his alertness if he is to keep to the path of reason.
The balance of reason
Reason demands a delicate balance between extremes. It is the peace-maker of human nature, so it is always a target for shafts from both sides, both extremes. Father Cormier, a saintly Dominican Master-General, once held a visitation in Rome. A visitation, for those unfamiliar with that democratic procedure, represents the opportunity given to every individual in a convent to express his mind on how things are running, how things should be run and what things should be stopped from running. In the course of this visitation, the Master-General heard that the procurator should be removed because the food was abominable, there was not enough of it and the members of the community were practically starved. He also heard that the procurator should be removed because the table was too rich, they were living like kings, the spirit of monastic observance was being undermined by his catering to positive gluttony. When the procurator came in, the Master-General outlined the double complaint; in answer to the procurator’s puzzled question as to what he should do, Father Cormier said: “Continue, continue. When you are attacked from both ends, you are probably not inclining too much to either one or the other.”
It is not only easy to embrace an extreme, there is a guarantee of assurance about it. There will always be applause for the extremist no matter which extreme he embraces; and there will always be a double opposition in store for the man who rejects both extremes. Moreover the medium of reason seems often an uncolorful, ordinary manner of procedure. Actually to embrace either extreme means a lack of balance. As an indication of how profound an impression is made on our minds by the garish colors of extremes, there is the fact that we introduce something of these extremes even in our thinking about the moderate refusal of extremes. Certainly there is a lack of balance in our general thinking about temperance. The very word calls to mind the fanatical reformer or tavern brawls. But whether we speak of temperance in the sense of teetotalism or of sottishness, we always think of temperance in terms of drink alone.
The virtue of mastery — temperance
That is quite unjust to temperance. This virtue of mastery has for a field of battle all of the pleasures whose allure may draw man off the course of reason. It is not to be conceived of in terms of a puritanical enemy of pleasure; nor is it to be greeted by the sigh of a man arising from a Lenten breakfast. It is not the enemy of sense pleasures in their human limitations; it is their enemy only in their bestial excesses. It is a virtue. That is, it is a good habit proclaiming present and past mastery of reason, protecting, as well as predicting, the humanity of future actions.
Temperance does not attack sense pleasures; rather it guarantees them. It imposes the norm of reason on the mild or concupiscible appetite of man; it guarantees that the goal of man, the good of reason, will not suffer interference from sense appetite in its own search for sense good. In a word, it protects that happy medium of reason which is the absolutely essential condition for peace and progress in human life. Its goal is not repression or inhibition; it does not frown down all that is attractive in life. Rather it insists on the full freedom that can be given only by control, the control of reason.
Temperance does not speak so softly as to be unheard; nor does it shout so loud that it deafens its listeners. By its very nature, it is moderate; perhaps that is why it goes unnoticed in a crowd and can so easily be taken for granted. Its note of moderation runs through all of human action, all of human passion because the note of reason must run through all of these things. In this sense, temperance is not a special virtue, but a condition of all virtue. In the same sense fortitude’s firmness, justice’s rectitude, and prudence’s rationality are notes of all human actions precisely because they are human, reasonable; for these things are the notes of reason.
: Its position as a virtue
But, taken more strictly, temperance is a special virtue: it has its own proper work to do. We can see this quite easily by comparing it with the work of the other virtues. Justice establishes the order of reason in external things; within the world of man, the interior world, the order of reason is not established by the strictly moral virtues, it is conserved. And it must be conserved not only against all that might drive a man from reason, through fear or recklessness (the work of fortitude), but also against what might coax a man away from reason, i.e., from the pleasures that are moderated by the virtue of temperance. In a word, fortitude and temperance protect the mastery of man’s reason against the impediments offered by his double sense appetite. Those which arise from his irascible or emergency appetite are taken care of by courage; those from the concupiscible or mild appetite are handled by temperance.
The passions can be compared quite closely to the sled-dogs of Arctic travel. These dogs are powerful, indispensable for man’s travel, with great staying power and a marvellous capacity for work; but let them get out of control, and they are vicious enemies more seriously threatening the life of man than the freezing cold and heavy snows which, normally, they enable him to escape. The passions, too, are powerful things, indispensable for man’s travel to his goal. They have tremendous staying power and great capacity for work. But let them get out of control, and they are the most vicious enemies a man can have, threatening not only his life, but his very humanity. The difference is that the passions are at home in harness; that is where they belong, they are human passions, designed of their very nature to obey reason.
Temperance works to moderate the passions of the concupiscible appetite; but indirectly it also moderates the emergency appetite, and from this double moderation proceeds the moderation of human acts. In a real sense, then, the conserving action of temperance is a radical thing. You will remember, in the preceding volume, it was pointed out that emergency passion depends on and arises from mild or concupiscible passion; so that a man who had no love whatsoever could not hope, be reckless or angry. In handling the prior passions, temperance makes no little contribution to the regulation of the consequent passions of the emergency appetite.
The point is important, particularly in view of many of our modern reform methods. We are attempting the hopeless when we disregard the prior passions and try to cope with their consequences. There is an inherent contradiction in our policy of championing the necessity of unrestricted natural appetite in academic circles, while we put policemen on corners and laws on the books to thwart the consequences of such “naturalness”. To spoil a child, thereby cultivating uncontrolled concupiscible passion in it, and at the same time to be furious, embarrassed or puzzled at the outbreaks of temper, fear or despair, is to wonder why the roof falls down when we tear out the foundations.
If we wish to state the objects of temperance concretely, we could say that it deals directly with the passions seeking or enjoying sensible good, i.e., the passions of love, desire and joy; by way of consequence, it deals indirectly with sorrow at the absence of these goods. Its remote material, the forest upon which it draws for the lumber of its house, is the use of things that are necessary for the conservation of nature; the planed lumber which goes into the home of temperance is the love, desire and pleasure which come from the use of those things so necessary to nature; while the completed mansion is moderate love, desire and pleasure in those necessary things.
A precise notion of the object of temperance can be had by a glance over our shoulder at fortitude. Fortitude looks primarily at the supreme danger of death, because every virtue aims at the highest perfection of its faculty; if a man can face the danger of death, of course he can face lesser dangers. In the same way, temperance aims at the moderation of the supreme pleasure; the man who can keep the supreme pleasures in hand can, without difficulty, control the lesser pleasures.
Really there is no room for argument as to which are the greatest of sense pleasures. Nature has treated us as children, taking no chance on our mistaking the less important for the more important. Just as a child can accurately judge the preference of the parent by the reward or threat attached to this or that particular work, so we can judge the intentions of nature by the reward or threat attached to this or that particular act. Sense pleasures are the rewards of nature attached to the things that nature particularly wants done; as an act is more intimately connected with an end principally intended by nature, its attached pleasure is greater. Consequently, the acts connected with nature’s two great ends of conservation of the species and of the individual carry with them the greatest of sense pleasures. Because the species is much more directly intended by nature throughout the physical world, it is precisely in the acts conservative of the species that the supreme sense pleasure is found.
St. Thomas summarizes all this briefly when he says that temperance, principally and properly, moderates the pleasures of the sense of touch; secondarily it moderates all lesser pleasures insofar as they have reference to this fundamental pleasure of touch. But notice that he insists it is moderation, not destruction, of pleasure which is accomplished by temperance. An oversight of this distinction is at the bottom of a very common mistake. Thus, it is insisted, with an ominous seriousness, that none of these things are to be done for the pleasure of doing them, we are not, for example to eat for the pleasure of eating. So with the best of intentions a person starts to eat for the glory of God or for nourishment; he has been very careful, locked all the doors and windows, posted his guards — but there stands pleasure in the very midst of his good intentions, grinning its carefree grin. Of course pleasure comes in. There is a sense of pleasure necessarily and naturally connected with the very use of the necessities of life. Temperance does not touch that pleasure; it cannot touch it. Temperance does not blast out any part of our nature; it does not ask that we keep a few drops of castor oil on our tongue all the time to counteract the natural pleasure of eating. It insists on moderation in those things that add to the essential pleasure, that make that natural use a still greater source of pleasure.
As a matter of fact, to place any one of these acts merely for the acts themselves, solely for the pleasure of it, is psychologically an extremely difficult thing for the ordinary individual. It is when we are very hungry that food tastes particularly good; the pleasure is meted out by nature in proportion to the demand of nature for this particular act. It is a long job to accomplish the perversion that would enable us to eat for the joy of eating. It demands that we twist nature badly; the effort and time necessary for that well-accomplished perversion will leave us no doubt of its evil. But until we have that assurance of perversion the pleasure of these natural acts does not represent any considerable material for worrying purposes.
If we remember that temperance is not a destroyer of pleasure we shall soon see that it is not a repellent, worrisome thing. It is by no means a constant source of irritation designed to keep us constantly unhappy. Rather, it has an air of tranquil beauty about it, like the beauty of a calm sea, a Swiss valley farm seen from a mountain top, or a child’s face immediately after a bath. Christ’s calming of the storm at sea was more than a gesture of protection and comfort for the apostles; it was a miniature of temperance executed by a divine hand.
The material of temperance can most readily and moat thoroughly disturb the tranquillity of the soul of a man. These things are so close to the fibres of a man’s being that any disorder in them is a fundamental disorder for the whole man. They, above all other things, can besmirch the beauty of a man’s soul, for they are the least in man and drag him down to the lowest level, like the basest of metals mingling with the purity of gold. They represent the common link between man and the animal world; they can easily become heavy enough to drag man down to the level of his fellow animals.
Conditions for the integrity of mastery:
Love of the beauty of temperance — “honesty”
But temperance is a source of beauty in a more positive way. A human nose is a thing of beauty if there is not too much of it; the very essence of beauty is proportion, a rich, brilliant order. Temperance has as its striking note precisely the note of moderation, of order, of proportion. Moreover, it is a brilliant order; it is the order of reason shining through the lowest things in man, giving them a consecration, a halo, a striking elevation like that given a speck of dust caught in a ray of sunlight. It is true that temperance is not the greatest of the virtues; but it is one of the most lovable. It does not reach out directly to the high, divine things, nor to the great goods of the whole community of men. It does not face the tremendous dangers and difficulties as does courage; it is not even the most useful in the lives of other men. The fact is that temperance is an intensely personal virtue, as beauty is an intensely personal thing. It walks through life as humbly busy as a housewife; every minute of every day it has work to do keeping the house of a man’s soul in order.
Yet, it is a constant inspiration to other men, as beauty always is. It is a refreshing touch of the breath of God’s order, like the gust of a cool breeze on a summer day. It is a tranquil prophecy of a beauty awaiting us, or a reminder of beauties that have been carelessly mislaid, beauties that can be won, or re-won, by everyone. There is, therefore, no great mystery in Christ’s choice of his most beloved disciple; there is no real psychological puzzle in the humble fascination that kept Magdalen so very close to Mary the Virgin. Beauty has always been loved by men who were made for order, even by the greatest of men — the man Who also was God.
Recoil from the disgrace of baseness — shamefacedness
A keen appreciation of this beauty of temperance is quite essential for the perfection of the acts of temperance. To be truly temperate a man must have, first of all, a love of the beauty of temperance, a love that Thomas calls “honesty.” In a larger sense honest or honorable does not express an idea different than that of virtue; indeed, it is not different from the humanly beautiful, the humanly useful, or the humanly delightful. But in this special sense, in which Thomas uses the word, honesty looks directly at the beauty of temperance and falls in love with it. His keen appreciation of that beauty makes a man recoil from the disgrace, the baseness of intemperance; it gives him what Thomas calls “shamefacedness.” This is the thing that makes the memories of a sinner so bitter; that, in its preparatory state, makes the steps of the saint so very careful. It is this saving sense of shame that makes the knowledge of our evil by those close to us so very painful; they know us so well, their judgment of us is so accurate that our shame is almost a constant thing.
We are made for beauty, even for divine beauty. We are in love with beauty even when we have destroyed it in ourselves. When that beauty is wiped out of the life of a man, he has lost a priceless treasure; when the sense of loss of the beauty is completely gone from the heart of a man, he has gone far along the road towards surrendering his humanity. He has cut off one last link binding him to the moderation of reason that must be the keynote of human life.
Temperance, however, is not an empty-headed beauty, highly decorative but socially intolerable. As we get to know her better, we find a solid common-sense and a profundity that distracts even from her beauty. One of the great slanders against her common sense persistently arises from the practice of mortification. It is no doubt astonishing to an outsider to hear that mortification is not a condemnation of sense pleasure but a recognition of its intrinsic worth and desirability. Our Lenten penances do not come about because we look on these pleasures as somehow suspect or even possibly evil; it is precisely because we insist upon their innate honesty that these penances have such a particular significance.
Double defect of mastery: By deficiency — insensibility
Distinction from self-denial
The condemnation of sense pleasure as evil was the slimy error of the Manicheans which Dominic stamped on as vigorously as a man would stamp on a snake. The Puritans’ repulsion to any expression of the mild or concupiscible passions came from the same unclean error. The athlete in training is not inhuman because he limits his social engagements; the invalid recovering from typhoid fever is not condemning food when he abstains from corned-beef and cabbage in spite of his great hunger. Why then should the penitent be suspect of inhumanity when, for greater health of soul, he denies himself something on the physical plane? This is not a kind of angelism that attempts to deny the physical in man; it is a surrender of something good in itself for higher ends. Indeed it is nothing more than that profound common sense which dictates an entirely different diet for the nun dedicated to contemplation and the brawny bricklayer whose contemplation fights with the fatigue of his body for a place in his life.
Opposition to nature
The condemnation of pleasure as evil belongs to the unwholesome vice that Thomas calls “insensibility.” It is the vice of people who shudder at natural pleasures as somehow uncouth and demeaning. The shudder is, of course, directed against nature itself and the ends of nature: but nature refuses to be embarrassed by the snub. As a matter of fact, such an attitude has no claim whatever to the superior airs it flaunts; there is nothing of piety or religion about it, its calm acceptance of men’s respect is a sheer swindle. It is rather an object of pity, or even of contempt.
By excess — intemperance: Its puerility
At the other extreme is the puerile sin of intemperance, a blind plunge into the dark depths of the pleasures of taste and touch. It is puerile. Not that it is common among children — quite the contrary; but it makes children of men who should long since have ceased to be children. The appetites of the intemperate are themselves spoiled children, paying no attention to the commands of reason; and as a consequence these men miss the sublime order and beauty of temperance. Their appetites are given their own way, become more and more imperious, more and more insistent on their own immediate objects to the disregard and ruin of all else. The corrective measures for these unruly appetites are the same as corrective measures for unruly children, i.e., coercion. For being resisted, the appetite is corrected, brought under the moderation of reason. Where that coercion is not applied, the house of the intemperate man’s soul is comparable to a house full of children where the parents have lost absolutely all authority; or, more tragically, it is like a country devastated by civil war.
Its gravity compared to cowardice
Intemperance is an immature sin but it is not an insignificant sin. Objectively it is graver than cowardice, the defect of courage. The coward, after all, has much more excuse than the intemperate man; he is escaping from the serious dangers of death, so at least he is trying to conserve his life — surely a much more necessary thing than the satisfaction of the desire for pleasure. The prospect of pleasure does not paralyze a man’s mind as does great fear. There is, too, an element of regret in cowardice, a regret that increases with the increase of fear; but the intemperate man becomes more breathlessly willing as his passion approaches a white heat. Granted that in the abstract there is much more distaste attached to the objects of intemperance than to those of cowardice; but in the concrete the opposite is true, for the increase in willingness is automatically a decrease in distaste. And it is worth while remembering that human actions are never in the abstract, always in the concrete.
The odds are always in favor of the intemperate man. He can always and easily find a remedy. As a matter of fact, he has constant practice in his battle against these impediments to the control of reason, and he can enter that battle with none of the tremors that danger inspires, for there is no danger involved. On the other hand, the poor coward comes face to face with the danger of death all of a sudden; that is, he has had no practice sessions, and the exercise of courage here and now, in these circumstances, will be decidedly dangerous.
Degree of disgracefulness
However, intemperance is not the greatest of sins. In fact, it is not at all the one distinctive mark that separates the sheep from the goats; while mortally sinful, it is of the lesser type of mortal sin, for in it there is less of that formal aversion to God that is the determinant of gravity and which is so pronounced in the spiritual sins of pride and envy. You might say that the intemperate man approaches even his sins shamefacedly. And no wonder. These sins do have the greatest infamy and shame attached to them. It is a shame so great as to be, in a sense, contagious; a temperate man, forced to watch a glutton gorge himself, gets up from the table feeling a little sick, a pure man forced into even momentary contact with a libertine feels himself a little besmirched. This, you understand, is no justification for the hypocrite gathering up his skirts as he carefully circles around the penitent sinner. The question here is not of contact with penitents but of contact with sin; and it is one of the marvels of grace and self-denial that shines out so brightly from the lives of the Sisters of the Good Shepherd that they can be so obviously unbesmirched who, for the love of their Master and in spite of their own great love of purity, spend all of a lifetime in contact with the leprosy of uncleanness.
From what we have seen of the beauty of temperance, it is not hard to understand something of the ugliness of the sins of intemperance. These sins befoul a man for they are directly opposed to the proportion, the moderation which allows reason to shine through the things common to man and brutes, glorifying them with the glory of humanity. These sins shut off that transforming light of reason and plunge man into a world of darkness, of monstrous distortion and of unholy delights that ultimately destroy him. Of course a man can get hardened to such a world for a while. He can get used to such a darkness to the extent of blinding himself to all light; he can so accustom himself to uncleanness as to overlook the slime that clings to him. But all this is only for a time; eventually, perhaps too late, something of his pitiable condition will dawn upon his drugged mind. Then only the all- powerful grace of God will save him from despair. Meanwhile the objective baseness and disgrace is rather increased than decreased by his careless acceptance of them.
All that we have said in this chapter has been an exposition of the virtue of mastery and its opposite, the virtue of temperance and the vice of intemperance. In the next few chapters we shall go into the different species of the virtue and the connected virtues one by one and in considerable detail. In this chapter I should like to mention these other virtues, more by way of mapping out the immediately future study than by way of exposition of these virtues. In other words, this brief mention will be an attempt, in a rough, general way, to familiarize us with the country we are about to explore; and, at the same time, it will give us a glimpse of the perfection of the order of St. Thomas’ procedure.
Species of mastery: In works conserving the individual: abstinence and sobriety
In works conserving the species: chastity and purity
The different species of temperance cover the pleasures that draw men away from reason, particularly the greatest of these sense pleasures. Thus the pleasures attached to the natural works by which the individual is conserved are the material of abstinence and sobriety: the one moderating the pleasures of food, the other those of drink. The pleasures attached to works conservative of the species are taken care of by chastity and purity; the one taking care of the substance of these acts, the other of the surrounding circumstances.
Continency, clemency, modesty
The virtues connected with temperance — as friendship, gratitude, and so on are connected with justice — moderate the internal and external movements of the soul towards some good. Thus for the movements of the will obsessed by passion there is the virtue of continency; for the movements of the sense appetite against things, there is clemency; towards things modesty. Modesty itself is of several kinds: modesty of soul or humility; modesty of body; and, finally, modesty in externals. In the next few chapters we shall investigate each of these virtues and in so doing we shall see more of the deeper beauty of the virtue of temperance.
By way of summary of this chapter it is well to notice that however mastery is denied to man — whether by a denial of the possibility or of the material of mastery — the results are inevitably the results of intemperance. If a man believes it is hopeless to fight, he will surrender; and surrender here means acceptance of slavery to the sense appetite. If he is convinced there is nothing to fight against, that he should embrace the sense appetite without restraint, then every last barrier to the free play of those passions is removed. In each case the result is the result of intemperance, with all of its ugliness, all of its degrading implications for human nature.
Implications of the denial of mastery: For the truth of human nature
And these implications are definitely degrading. Actual intemperance itself means that for all practical purposes, a man is only half a man; that half of him which is animal. The reasons alleged as justification of intemperance broadcast the same unflattering lie: in one case insisting that man is totally corrupt; in the other that he is not a man at all. Thus intemperance, both in theory and in practice, is an open confession of the inhumanity of man.
For the maturity of human nature
There is always an implication of immaturity in sins of intemperance; an insistence that a man pay as little attention to reason as an adolescent pays to the wisdom of experience; a contention that man has no more possibility of putting order in his life than has a child as yet incapable of reasoning. Intemperance argues, in other words, that human nature cannot take care of itself, cannot induce order, proportion, moderation in its own house.
For the dignity of human nature
For the beauty of human nature
And that is no less than a denial to human nature of the one solid ground it has for dignity and self-respect; for it is a denial to man of the command of his own life. The human individual is thus robbed of that personal responsibility, that personal control, that personal reward or punishment that is wrapped up with the inherent dignity of human personality; of course he is denied the possibilities of human beauty. Obviously it is impossible for such a man to let the light of reason break through his animal nature to give it a consecrated halo, which is its right as a sharer in the domain of reason; and which reason itself has as a reflection of the light of divine reason, divine wisdom.
The difficult condition of mastery — battle
There are reasons for a man’s surrender of his mastery and his return to slavery. Perhaps one of the most outstanding of those reasons is the difficult condition attached to the victory of temperance, that is, the condition of battle. It is a peculiarly difficult battle, for its end is not to destroy an enemy, or break the power of an opponent; rather it is to keep intact all the power and energy of the opposition and put it to work under control. It demands a fight, a severe fight, a constant fight; and, too frequently, it means many and many a failure. A man can escape the fight either by joining the opposition or by abandoning all hope; either way he surrenders the prize that makes the fight worth while, the prize of mastery. Perhaps another, somewhat less tangible, reason for man’s surrender of his human ideals is the very darkness of the world of intemperance; the lens of our eye will not register this beauty in the darkness and we have no infra-red camera of spiritual discernment to reveal it to us. Indeed, we have become so blind to beauty that even physical beauty must be hacked to pieces by a tape-measure before we dare to give it its palm.
The champion of man as man
The Church today, as in the Colonial days, as indeed in all days, is the champion of temperance. In one age she was mocked as the slatternly mother of looseness, of ungodliness, of frivolity and pleasure; in another age she is mocked as the narrow, sour-faced advocate of conservatism, rigidity, prudishness, angelism. As a matter of fact she is none of these things. She is the champion of the humanity of man. She insists now, as she always has, that man is a rational animal, that is, he is a human animal. He has a body as well as a soul; both integral parts of his composite nature. He has a body, but it is a human body; therefore, by its very nature, it is to be subject to the rule of all things human, to reason. Today, as in all days, she insists on the note of beauty in human life and action which is moderation, because in this age, as in every age, she insists on the characteristic note of reason in the living of human life. She stands by the fundamental truth, that the human animal is a master. She will continue to urge men to fight for that mastery, to refuse to give it up whatever the sacrifice demanded for its maintenance, because she knows that a man cannot cease to be a master without at the same time ceasing to be a man.