“Be not among drunkards or among gluttonous eaters of meat, for the drunkard and the glutton will come to poverty, and slumber will clothe them with rags.” -Proverbs 23:20-21
Gluttony is one of the seven capital sins. The word “gluttony” is derived from the Latin gluttire, which means “to gulp down or swallow.” It means extravagant or wasteful overindulgence of food, drink, or other items of wealth. It’s corresponding virtue is Temperance.
Origin of Gluttony
When we think of Gluttony we are more likely to think of someone who eats way too much, a pig. However, during the ascetic Middle Ages, church leaders including Pope Gregory I had an expansive and more in-depth view of gluttony. Pope Gregory described the following ways by which one can be gluttonous, and provided corresponding biblical verses to support them.
1. Time. Eating before meal time in order to appease the palate. In 1 Samuel 14:24-27 Jonathan ate honey even though his father Saul commanded that no food should be eaten before the evening.
2. Quality. Seeking delicacies to satisfy taste. When the Israelites were escaping Egypt, they asked, “Who shall give us flesh to eat? We remember the fish which we did eat in Egypt freely; the cucumbers and the melons, and the leeks and the onions and the garlic,” (Num 11:4,5) Even though God had provided them manna (bread) to eat, they wanted better food. For this God later punished them.
3. Stimulant. Stimulating the palate with sauces and seasonings. Two of Eli the high priest’s sons made the sacrificial meat in a way contrary to the proper method.
4. Quantity. Eating or hoarding an excessive amount of food. In Ezekiel 16:49, “Behold, this was the iniquity of thy sister Sodom, pride, fulness of bread, and abundance of idleness was in her and in her daughters, neither did she strengthen the hand of the poor and needy.”
5. Eagerness. Being too eager to eat, even when eating the proper amount. Esau, son of Adam and Eve and brother to Jacob sold his birthright for a pot of soup.
During Pope Gregory’s times gluttony was considered to be the least serious of the seven sins, with pride being the most serious. However, it is still a capital sin that, as was believed, would have serious punishments.
Around AD 1308, roughly 600 years after the time of Pope Gregory I, a man named Dante Alighieri wrote the Divine Comedy. In the first part, The Inferno, Dante and his guide Virgil visit the gluttonous during their journey through Hell. This circle is flush with trash and it perpetually rains polluted, nasty rain with hailstones. Here the lustful and gluttonous, whose sins involved an obsession with bodily pleasure, are punished in a way that is appropriate to their sin. They excessively pursued pleasure in life and now wallow in an overabundance of that which disgusts.
Among these sinners lurks fearsome Cerberus, the monstrous three-headed dog of the underworld. Dante and Virgil escape by slinging mud into the dogs mouth, who, being a glutton as well, eats it and grows quiet.
Modern Day Gluttony
Today the term gluttony takes on a more specific and singular meaning: overeating. As you can tell, Pope Gregory I’s view was an ultra-conservative definition of what it means to be gluttonous. By these standards it would be difficult to not be gluttonous, especially in today’s world. Are we really being gluttonous if we have a snack before dinner time? Or cook with spices and seasonings?
While Pope Gregory I’s view seems out dated, it may still have some relevance. After all, if you look at the obesity rates in our country, gluttony certainly is a problem. Perhaps we could use a little medieval motivation.
The True Problem
The medieval definition of Gluttony is broad, and the contemporary one is narrow. So what, really, is gluttony? What is the problem behind it? Coming from the Christian perspective, we should turn to Scripture for answers. With gluttony, the real problem isn’t food or a lack of willpower, but the affection of our hearts. In Genesis 3:4-6, we see that the root of all sin is a disaffection for God:
“You will not certainly die,” the serpent said to the woman. “For God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”
When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it.
Satan used the fruit of the tree as a way to drive a wedge between man and God. He tricked Eve into thinking that eating the fruit would bring them into a greater identity and existence other than being a child of God. Satan bid them eat and become gods themselves. Even though they had plenty of food in the garden of Eden, it wasn’t enough.
Gluttony is based on the lie that food is more pleasurable than God. Therefore, when we look to food for pleasure instead of God, or when we think that eating good food can be more pleasurable than a relationship with God, we are being gluttonous. Gluttony is not a lack of willpower, but is itself religious in nature. It is the service, devotion, and worship of the pleasure of food instead of God.
“Their end is destruction, their god is their belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things” -Phil. 3:19
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