What is gluttony and are all pleasure-seeking activities wrong?


I recently stumbled upon a Wikipedia article on the Seven Deadly Sins, one of which is gluttony.  I had always thought of gluttony as an immoderate consumption of food, but Catholicism apparently expands this definition to include:

1) eating too soon
2) eating with condiments
3) eating too expensively
4) eating with pleasing the palate in mind

Is there any truth to such assertions?  They do give some biblical support in the article, but none of it, to me at least, seems to suggest that all such situations in each category are sinful.  I could very well be wrong; is eating an afternoon snack, using catsup, going out to eat, or eating comfort food really sinful?

On a side note, the Church asserts that (4) is sinful because pleasure-seeking is in mind.  Are all activities with this purpose sinful?


The Catholic Encyclopedia cites Joseph Rickably as defining gluttony as eating "too soon, too expensively, too much, too eagerly, too daintily." It isn't quite the same as your list. As a matter of fact, I couldn't find anything forbidding the use of condiments other than one Catholic writer's discussion on monastic living, "We notice that the traces of this passion are in us when perchance, having been invited to eat by one of the brothers, we are not content to eat the food with the condiment with which it was seasoned by our host but demand with importunate and unbridled boldness that something be poured on it or added to it." [John Cassian, Fifth Conference: On the Eight Principle Vices]. Thus the complaint isn't the use of condiments, but the lack of contentment with what has been served.

Catholicism has a history of frowning on pleasurable activities if they do not have some other purpose. This is why they take a stance against the use of contraceptives. To a Catholic, a husband and wife having sex should include the potential for producing a child. That sex is pleasurable is a given, but they oppose doing something solely for the pleasure of doing it. The same conclusion is reached for eating and drinking. When eating and drinking is done to sustain the body, it will be pleasurable to eat, but it has a purpose. To eat just for the pleasure of the taste is considered wrong.

In the Old Testament, "gluttony" is the translation of the word zalal. The word means someone who is morally loose or has no restraint. So in "Do not mix with winebibbers, or with gluttonous eaters of meat; for the drunkard and the glutton will come to poverty, and drowsiness will clothe a man with rags" (Proverbs 23:20-21), the person without restraint on his appetite will become poor and lazy. But the word can have broader applications. "And they shall say to the elders of his city, 'This son of ours is stubborn and rebellious; he will not obey our voice; he is a glutton and a drunkard'" (Deuteronomy 21:20). The charge being brought is that the son has no restraint -- he does as he pleases whether it comes to eating or any other fleshly appetite. A man without restraint ends up in shame (Proverbs 28:7).

The New Testament also condemns the unrestrained gratification of our bodies' desires. "Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world--the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life--is not of the Father but is of the world" (I John 2:15-16). Such pursuit of whatever a person might crave characterized the Gentile society. "For we have spent enough of our past lifetime in doing the will of the Gentiles--when we walked in lewdness, lusts, drunkenness, revelries, drinking parties, and abominable idolatries" (I Peter 4:3). We often think of lewdness and lust referring to sexual sins, and it does, but the application is much broader; it refers to any pursuit of strong desires without morality giving restraint, so it can include an unbridled appetite. "For many walk, of whom I have told you often, and now tell you even weeping, that they are the enemies of the cross of Christ: whose end is destruction, whose god is their belly, and whose glory is in their shame -- who set their mind on earthly things" (Philippians 3:18-19).

Sometimes the lack of restraint isn't in general. Some people have good control most of the time, but on certain things, they "pig out," such as with sweets. "Have you found honey? Eat only as much as you need, lest you be filled with it and vomit" (Proverbs 25:16). An important aspect of Christianity is self-control (Acts 24:25; I Peter 1:5-8; Galatians 5:22). We must not excuse or cave into our weaknesses. "Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may obtain it. And everyone who competes for the prize is temperate in all things. Now they do it to obtain a perishable crown, but we for an imperishable crown. Therefore I run thus: not with uncertainty. Thus I fight: not as one who beats the air. But I discipline my body and bring it into subjection, lest, when I have preached to others, I myself should become disqualified" (I Corinthians 9:24-27).

This doesn't mean that we can't enjoy life's pleasures. "I know that nothing is better for them than to rejoice, and to do good in their lives, and also that every man should eat and drink and enjoy the good of all his labor -- it is the gift of God" (Ecclesiastes 3:12-13). The problem comes in when pleasure is our sole focus. "Let your conduct be without covetousness; be content with such things as you have" (Hebrews 13:5). "And having food and clothing, with these we shall be content" (I Timothy 6:8). The pursuit of pleasure can cause us to lose our caution. "When you sit down to eat with a ruler, consider carefully what is before you; and put a knife to your throat if you are a man given to appetite. Do not desire his delicacies, for they are deceptive food" (Proverbs 23:1-3).

Agur once prayed: "Remove falsehood and lies far from me; give me neither poverty nor riches -- feed me with the food allotted to me; lest I be full and deny You, and say, "Who is the LORD?" Or lest I be poor and steal, and profane the name of my God" (Proverbs 30:8-9). He understood that there is a danger in having too much as well as having too little. When people have everything they want, they have a tendency to rebel. "When you have eaten and are full, then you shall bless the LORD your God for the good land which He has given you. Beware that you do not forget the LORD your God by not keeping His commandments, His judgments, and His statutes which I command you today, lest-when you have eaten and are full, and have built beautiful houses and dwell in them; and when your herds and your flocks multiply, and your silver and your gold are multiplied, and all that you have is multiplied; when your heart is lifted up, and you forget the LORD your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt, from the house of bondage" (Deuteronomy 8:10-14).

The way to avoid over-indulgence is to keep restraint. Eat because you are hungry, not because you want something tasty in your mouth. "Woe to you, O land, when your king is a child, and your princes feast in the morning! Blessed are you, O land, when your king is the son of nobles, and your princes feast at the proper time -- for strength and not for drunkenness!" (Ecclesiastes 10:16-17). Because when we allow lusts to dominate our thoughts, we become ripe pickings for sin. This was the trap the Israelites fell into. God supplied them all the food that they needed; yet, it became not enough. "Now the mixed multitude who were among them yielded to intense craving; so the children of Israel also wept again and said: 'Who will give us meat to eat? We remember the fish which we ate freely in Egypt, the cucumbers, the melons, the leeks, the onions, and the garlic; but now our whole being is dried up; there is nothing at all except this manna before our eyes!'" (Numbers 11:4-6). Their lust caused them to put God on trial. "And they tested God in their heart by asking for the food of their fancy" (Psalm 78:18). The result was their own deaths because God gave them what they asked for and they gorged themselves to death on it. "Now a wind went out from the LORD, and it brought quail from the sea and left them fluttering near the camp, about a day's journey on this side and about a day's journey on the other side, all around the camp, and about two cubits above the surface of the ground. And the people stayed up all that day, all night, and all the next day, and gathered the quail (he who gathered least gathered ten homers); and they spread them out for themselves all around the camp. But while the meat was still between their teeth, before it was chewed, the wrath of the LORD was aroused against the people, and the LORD struck the people with a very great plague. So he called the name of that place Kibroth Hattaavah, because there they buried the people who had yielded to craving" (Numbers 11:31-34).

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