Seven Vices & Virtues: Gluttony and Temperance

Gluttony and temperance are polar opposites. Gluttony represents overindulgence. Temperance symbolizes an ability to exercise self-control. As simple as these definitions are, however, both words are a bit exotic and relatively unknown to contemporary audiences.


What familiarity there is for these terms calls to mind particular images. For gluttony, one almost certainly pictures a character like Friar Tuck from the Robin Hood saga. The jolly good Friar never had a shortage of ale, and his round belly was always ready for a feast. This love of food and drink makes him an obvious symbol of gluttony.


Temperance is a relatively unknown word for many younger people. It likely reminds older folks of temperance movements that sought to ban or limit alcohol. The American Temperance Society was a major force in the US with tens of thousands of members pledging to abstain from alcohol. Various temperance movements across the world have stood in opposition to Western tolerance of excessive drinking and general drunkenness.

These images point us in the right direction, but they merely scratch the surface. Being a gluttonous person is not about being overweight. Being a temperate person may or may not involve abstinence from alcohol.

Gluttony and temperance are about how you receive the greatest sensual pleasures of this life. Do you receive them with gratitude and in moderation? Do you enjoy these gifts only as needed to make life beautiful? Or do you lack self-control, tricking yourself into believing that more is better? Do you overindulge, destroying what is innately good and beautiful about who you are?

Gluttonous people lack the sensibility and wisdom to know when enough is enough. Gluttons lose perspective and are not honest with themselves. Instead of eating so that they might live, gluttons live so that they might eat. Consumption becomes the goal rather than a function to be controlled and enjoyed. A gluttonous lifestyle destroys a person’s overall health and beauty.

Temperate people, by contrast, have a deep appreciation for the greatest pleasures of this life. Out of respect for those gifts, they desire to acquire or enjoy no more of them than necessary. Knowing when to stop, temperate people radiate a true beauty that comes from being in control of themselves and respecting the needs of others.

With how much restraint do you enjoy life's greatest pleasures? Do you live in order to indulge in life’s pleasures? Or do you exercise self-control, allowing life's pleasures to sustain your existence? This Sunday at the College Church, we'll talk about how to identity gluttony and how to become a more temperate person.

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