Of Gluttony and how a Man shall know when he sinneth not in Eating and Drinking, and when he sinneth venially, and when deadly
STILL mayest thou see more in this image, though it be dark, namely, sensual love to thyself, in gluttony, sloth and lechery. These fleshly likings make a man full beastly, and far from the inward savour of the love of God and from the clear sight of spiritual things. But thou wilt say that thou must needs eat and drink and sleep, which thou canst not do without liking, therefore thou thinkest this liking is no sin.
As unto this I say: That if in eating, drinking and other takings of necessaries for thy body, thou observe and keep measure; which is that thou do but what is needful for nature, and thou receivest or admittest no further pleasure or delight in the taking, than the nature of the thing doth needs bring with it; and all this thou dost not of purpose to please thy sensuality, but for ghostly delight which thou feelest in thy soul, and the upholding of thy body in the service of God, I grant that for a truth thou then sinnest right nought therein, but mayest well eat and sleep in that manner as thou hast mentioned.
Soothly and without doubt I am full far from knowing how to do better in this point, and further from doing of it, for to eat I have by kind or nature, but to skill how to eat, I cannot but by the grace of God. St Paul had this cunning by the grace of God, as he saith himself thus: I am cunning in all things, through Him that strengtheneth me; for I can hunger, and I can eat, I can with plenty, and I can with poverty, I can do all things. St. Austin saith thus to our Lord: Lord, thou hast taught me that I should take meat as a medicine: hunger is a sickness of my nature, and meat is a medicine thereof. Therefore the liking and delight that cometh therewith, and accompanieth eating, inasmuch as it is natural, and followeth of necessity, it is no sin; but when it passeth into lust, and into a voluntary and sought or intended pleasure, then it is sin.
A hard thing to distinguish the pleasure in eating from necessity.
Therefore here lieth all the mastery and skill to be able to distinguish wisely need from lust and voluntary liking, being so knit together that the one cometh with the other. So that it is hard to take the one (which is the meat or drink) as need requireth, and to reject or not to admit the other, namely, the voluntary and willingly admitted lust and liking, which often cometh under the colour of need.
A man may lawfully admit the pleasure felt in the taking of meat, so he take it not for the pleasure's sake, nor make the pleasure to be the end or cause of the taking of it; but necessity to be the cause, and the pleasure as a thing necessarily accompanying it; and perhaps too as a thing that makes the meat more grateful to a weak stomach and so digestible. A general will and purpose to love and serve God keeps us from the guilt of mortal sin in these failings.
Nevertheless, sith it is so, that need is the ground of this, and that need is no sin; for be a man never so holy, it behoveth him to eat, and drink and sleep; therefore the lust and liking that cometh under the colour of this need, and often exceedeth this need, is the less sin. For it is true that he who chooseth lust and the liking of his flesh, and delight in welfare of meat or drink, as the full rest of his heart that he would never have any other life nor other bliss, but live ever in such lust of his flesh, if he might, it is no doubt but he sinneth deadly; for he loveth his flesh more than God. But he that lieth in deadly sin of pride or envy, or such other, he is so blinded by the devil, that for the time he hath no power of his free will, and therefore he cannot well withstand fleshly likings when they come, but falleth down willingly to them, as a beast doth to carrion; and inasmuch as he hath no general will before to God principally, because that he is in deadly sin, therefore the lust of gluttony into which he falleth easily, is to him deadly sin, for he maketh no resistance either general or special. But another man or woman, who being in grace or charity, hath alway a good general will to God in his soul, whether he sleep or wake, eat or drink, or whatsoever good deed he doth, so that it be not evil in itself; by the which will and desire he chooseth God above all things, and had rather forbear all things in the world, than anger his God for love of Him. This will, though it be but general, is of so great virtue through the grace of our Lord Jesus, that if he fall by frailty in lust and in liking of meat and of drink, or of such other infirmity, either by exercise, in eating too much, or too often, or too greedily, or too lusty and delicately, or too often before the set times of eating, it saveth and keepeth him from deadly sin. And this is truth, as long as he is in charity in his other works, and keepeth his general will in all that he doth; and especially if anon after such his miscarriage he acknowledge his own wretchedness and cry for mercy, and be in purpose specially to withstand such fleshly lusts for the time to come. For our Lord is good and merciful, and forgiveth right soon these venial sins and miscarriages, or excesses about meat and drink (by reason that the occasions of them are hardest to eschew, because of the necessity there is of seeking and taking of them for the upholding of our corporal lives and healths) unto an humble soul.
The ground of gluttony cannot be taken away.
And these stirrings and likings of gluttony, among all other sins, are most excusable and least perilous. And therefore thou shalt not rise against the ground of this sin as thou shalt against the ground of all other sin, for the ground of this sin is only natural need and necessity, the which thou canst not eschew, unless thou shouldst do worse, namely, slay this need (as many unwise persons do, by destroying their bodies or healths), whereas they should only slay the thief and spare the true man. That is to say, slay unreasonable lust and sensual voluntary liking, and spare and keep natural liking and corporal ability, and they do not so. But against all other sins thou shalt arise to destroy, not only deadly sins and the greater venials, but also against the ground of them by suppressing the stirrings and motions of them, and also avoiding the occasions and motives and incentives to them as much as thou canst; but this thou canst not do here with all thy skill, for thou canst not live without meat and drink, but thou mayest live without lechery or carnal pleasure if thou wilt, and never better than when without it. And therefore thou shalt not fly only the deeds of it (namely, the doing of any external thing against chastity) but also thou shalt suppress and destroy within thee all mere inward and mental desires against the virtue of chastity (the which mental desires or thoughts are sometimes only venial sins, and sometimes mortal); but also thou shalt labour against the ground of the said sin, and seek to destroy the feeling and the rising of fleshly stirrings.
The ground of sins must be destroyed by spiritual labour as well as corporal.
But this travail and labour against the ground of lechery must be spiritual, by prayers and spiritual virtues, and not by bodily penance only; for wot thou well, that if thou fast and watch and scourge thyself, and do all that thou canst, thou shalt never have cleanness and chastity without the gift of God, and without the grace or virtue of humility. Thou shalt sooner kill thyself, than kill fleshly stirrings and feelings of lust and lechery, either in thy heart or in thy flesh, by any bodily penances; but by the grace of Jesus, in an humble soul, the ground may be much stopped and destroyed, and the spring may be much dried, the which will cause true chastity in body and in soul.
The same may be said of pride and of covetousness, and of such other, for thou mayest live though thou wert not proud at all, nor covetous, nor luxurious, and therefore thou shalt labour to destroy the very feelings of them as much as thou canst, and so seek to cleanse and take away the very ground of those sins. But in gluttony it is otherwise, because the ground thereof, which is natural appetite and need, must remain as long as thou livest, therefore must thou only arise and fight against the unreasonable desires of thy natural appetite therein, the which do creep in under pretense, and by occasion of the said just and reasonable need; smite these unreasonable stirrings, and keep the ground whole.