Summary: The third part of The Seven Deadly Sins looks at the sin of gluttony
Evagrius of Pontus, a Christian monk and ascetic whose ideas may have inspired St. John Cassian’s list of eight sins, gives us a very poetic, but comprehensive definition of the sin of gluttony: “Gluttony is the mother of lust, the nourishment of evil thoughts, laziness in fasting, obstacle to asceticism, terror to moral purpose, the imagining of food, sketcher of seasonings, unrestrained colt, unbridled frenzy, receptacle of disease, envy of health, obstruction of the (bodily) passages, groaning of the bowels, the extreme of outrages, pollution of the intellect, weakness of the body, difficult sleep, and gloomy death.”
Scripture concurs. Proverbs 23:20-21 warns us not to “join those who drink too much wine or gorge themselves on meat, for drunkards and gluttons become poor, and drowsiness clothes them in rags.” Proverbs 28:7 declares that “he who keeps the law is a discerning son, but a companion of gluttons disgraces his father.” Proverbs 23:2 advises us to “put a knife to your throat if you are given to gluttony,” and although that might seem a little too extreme, it is definitely indicative of how severely God views the sin of gluttony, which Merriam-Webster defines as excess in eating or drinking.
Why is gluttony a sin, though? Because gluttony is more than simply overeating (or overdrinking). It is abusing God’s gifts. Food, which is one gift, is necessary for good health, but when we overeat we abuse it and harm our bodies, which are another gift. Secondarily, gluttony leads to other sins like sloth. Daniel (of the den of lions fame) understood that.
King Nebuchadnezzar, who once ruled the Babylonian Empire, sent his army marching into Jerusalem one day (see Daniel 1:1-16). After securing a tremendous victory, they returned to Babylon with a bunch of prisoners in tow, among whom was Daniel, a devout, God fearing teenager. Soon after, Nebuchadnezzar instructed his ministers to select handsome, healthy and intelligent young men from among the captives and bring them to the palace in order to teach them Babylonian culture and traditions, so that they could be of use in his service. Daniel was one of those who were chosen.
Right off, Daniel faced a problem. Nebuchadnezzar had dictated that the new trainees were to be served the same food and wine that was served on the royal table. While this would have flattered most young men, Daniel was aghast. He was a vegetarian who drank only water and he resolved to consume nothing the king was offering. Why? Not merely because the food would probably have been offered to idols (a good enough reason for him to refuse), but because the richness of the food would have led to laziness, which in turn would have ended his powerful prayer life. (Ever try praying on a full stomach? Or doing anything else for that matter?)
Why do we become gluttons?
There are few things that are as difficult to manage as our appetites for pleasure and we seem to want to be self-indulgent in all aspects of it. The primary victim of these excesses is our self.