Circular Letter: Lent 2004

Temperance: Restraining Strength that Beautifies the Soul

In the Work of the Holy Angels the members are encouraged to strive to acquire seven special virtues which will help them to achieve a more intimate union with the holy angels. These are: Fidelity, Humility, Obedience, Charity, Silence, Temperance and the Imitation of Mary.


St. Gregory of Nyssa writes in his treatise On Virginity, “The chariot-master, if the young horses which he has to drive will not work well together, does not urge a fast one with the whip, and rein in a slow one; nor, again, does he let a horse that shies in the traces or is hard-mouthed gallop his own way to the confusion of orderly driving; but he quickens the pace of the first, checks the second, reaches the third with cuts of his whip, till he has made them all breathe evenly together in a straight career. Now our mind in like manner holds in its grasp the reins of this chariot of the body…

It will curtail immoderate lengths in either direction, and so will be careful to replenish where there is much lack. The inefficiency of the body from either cause will be that which it guards against; it will train the flesh, neither making it wild and ungovernable by excessive pampering, nor sickly and unstrung and nerveless for the required work by immoderate mortification. That is temperance’s highest aim; it looks not to the afflicting of the body, but to the peaceful action of the soul’s functions” (St. Gregory of Nyssa, On Virginity, ch. 22).

Temperance, the Mark of the Man in Opus Angelorum

Temperance, the sixth character trait in the Opus Angelorum, should be a distinguishing mark of its members. For it is a virtue presupposed in every close collaboration with the holy angels. Now, “temperance” is a word with many meanings. All have to do with the idea of moderation and restraint. Broadly speaking, temperance refers to any virtuous action by which we restrain the impetuous tendencies of our nature which are inclined to pursue any particular good for the sake of the delight found therein, rather than for the sake of the final goal. Divine charity alone is dispensed from this restraint, for we ought to love God without measure, supremely above all things. The love of God is the standard by which all other virtues are measured.

Pure Spirits and Pure Hearts

Whatever is loved in God and for His sake is virtuous and holy; whatever is loved in opposition to God is vicious! Having neither bodies nor emotions, it is impossible to ascribe chastity or purity in a univocal sense to the angels. Nonetheless, we can speak of created spirits as being “pure” or “impure” insofar as they–definitively at the time of their trial in the beginning–ordered everything either in a holy fashion unto God or in an egocentric fashion unto self. The “purity” of the holy angels encourages us to live similarly wholly for God, to seek Him in all things. The impure soul seeks itself in all things, without ordering them properly to God and eternal life. Irresolution in this matter leaves a door open in the heart, whereby the soul is more easily assailed by the manifold seductions of the impure spirits.

How important it is to strive after purity of heart which, “consists in having nothing in the heart (will) which is in however small a degree opposed to God and the operation of His grace. This exercise is the first, the shortest and the surest means towards the attainment of perfection, because God is ready to bestow all manner of graces upon us, provided we put no obstacles in their way. Now it is by purifying our heart that we clear away everything that hinders the work of God. When all impediments are removed, it is inconceivable what wonderful effects God produces in the soul” (Lallement, Spiritual Doctrine, III, I, art. 1-2).

Striving for purity of heart is, moreover, one of the best means for countering venial sin. Whereas by mortal sin, one rejects God as the end of one’s life, in the case of venial sin, the sinner continues to love God above all things, but immoderately lingers and indulges unfittingly in the delightfulness of creatures. It is precisely this disorder which purity of heart counters and overcomes. This effort disposes our heart to cultivate a deep and fruitful union with the holy angels. Not surprisingly, “of all the exercises of the spiritual life, there is none against which the devil directs more opposition than the study of purity of heart” (ibid., art. 2,4). The practice of purity of heart, furthermore, facilitates an effective discernment of spirits. This is evident in St. Ignatius of Loyola’s first two rules for the discernment of spirits which we loosely rephrase as follows:

Rule 1: In the case of the impure of heart, the customary tactic of the evil spirit is to put before them illusory gratifications, prompting them to imagine sensual delights and pleasures, the better to hold them and make them grow in their vices and sins. With such persons, the good spirit employs a contrary tactic through their rational power of moral judgment causing pain and remorse in their consciences.

Rule 2: In the case of those striving intensely for purity of heart, purging away their sins and ascending from good to better in the service of God our Lord, the mode of acting on them is contrary to that described in the first rule. For them it is connatural to the evil spirit to gnaw at them, to sadden them, to thrust obstacles in their way, disquieting them with false reasons for the sake of impeding progress. It is connatural to the good angel to give courage and active energy, consolation, tears, inspirations and a quiet mind; to give ease of actions and take away obstacles for the sake of progress in doing good.

Order in the Pursuit of Purity of Heart

In the pursuit of purity of heart, a certain order of acquisition ought to be observed.

First, we should note every habitual venial sin, renounce it and proceed to correct it. Habits of unrepented venial sins bring about a dulling of the spiritual ear to the admonitions of the holy angel, such that the soul is more inclined to lend an ear to the assuaging voice of the tempter.

Secondly, the exercise of purity of heart makes us more sensitive to all the disordered movements of the heart, making it possible to address and amend them.

Thirdly, closely aligned to this, purity of intention makes us vigilant over our thoughts, allowing us to regulate them according to charity.

Fourthly, the pure of heart are receptive and docile to the motions of grace, to the inspirations (admonitions) of the holy angel. With this help, the pure of heart make rapid progress in the way of God (cf. ibid., art. 3,1).

Temperance, the Cardinal Virtue

How true is the aphorism: you must learn to walk before you can learn to run! Unless we learn to exercise dominion over our lower faculties, we shall scarcely ever gain any great dominion over the higher faculties of our soul. The virtue of temperance, strictly speaking, deals with the dominion of the most basic emotions of joy (pleasure) and sadness, insofar as they are related to the sense of touch, including the sense of taste. Temperance tames man’s non-rational, sensual appetites for food, drink and sexual activity. It has the humble but important task of moderating and bringing these appetites under the sway of reason. How wisely God has so created and ordered the universe and man’s nature that the more natural an action is, the more pleasurable it is. Moreover, among the natural actions, those which are most necessary are simultaneously those which include the greatest pleasure. And by contrast, the more an action deviates from nature, the more it brings sadness.As temperance increases, pleasure is better and more easily ordered by the intellect and integrated into the divine plan. Under the guidance of temperance, delights become moral goods that are proper and fitting to the well being of man. Sadness, too, is moderated and virtuously integrated into one’s life. The emotional life is more than ever humanized and ennobled.Since eternal happiness is the end towards which human life is ultimately ordered, it would be strange if pleasures, including the corporal ones, had to be banished from our life in this world. Hence, the reasonable and measured use of pleasure is virtuous, while the direct rejection of pleasure on its own account falls under the sin of insensibility

Virtue is the Mean between Excesses

Virtue lies in the middle between the extremes of excess and defect. The mean is not measured by material standards; it is not mediocrity. Rather, it must correspond to the spiritual values of the dignity and the exalted goal of the human life. Thus, the conditions of life or a special purpose may call for a stricter standard. Fasting, for example, demands that we temporarily renounce the necessary quantity of food and drink to do penance or to attain to the dominion over the soul’s lower faculties. And holy chastity demands from those not married perfect continence.Man’s most basic needs, physically speaking, deal with nourishment and the conservation of the human race. Temperance helps man regulate and integrate the pleasure of food and drink in such a way that one does not deviate from right reason, from self-dominion or from the service of God. Temperance helps restrain and regulate the sexual drive, so that it always serves the common good of humanity, whether by its proper use within marriage or by its virtuous renunciation for those not married, be they single or consecrated persons. The right measure of the cardinal virtue of temperance need not be sought in the least common denominator. Temperance does not demand that we live on bread and water, nor that we limit ourselves merely to the bare essentials. If this were true, temperance would not be a virtue of the middle, of moderation, but tend radically to an extreme. Such a defective position smacks of a certain Manichean rejection of the true goodness of the body together with its proportionate pleasures.

No, the measure of right reason proper to all the virtues is not the minimum necessary, but rather the measure which contributes and sustains the well-being of man (cf. Summa Theo. I-II.141,6,2m). This measure must take into consideration the individual’s age, his state of life and the circumstances of time and place. The measure of temperance fitting during Lent would not be appropriate for a wedding feast.

The normal Christian practices temperance when he behaves himself well, which can only mean that he neither acts contrary to his reason nor fails to exercise the proper self-control.

Striving Towards More Perfect Goals

Just as there is a measure of physical exercise befitting common folk, so too is there a more demanding measure of exercise that befits competitive athletes. Similarly, some souls feel the call to strive more vigorously upwards towards the perfection of the reign of God by embracing the evangelical counsels, so as to become more and more like God: “Be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect!” (Mt 5:48). It behooves these souls to understand that there is a second order of cardinal virtues which are specifically distinct and more demanding than the common cardinal virtues: “Here prudence, by contemplating the things of God, counts as nothing all things of the world, and directs all the thoughts of the soul to God alone; temperance, so far as nature allows, neglects the needs of the body; fortitude prevents the soul from being afraid of neglecting the body and rising to heavenly things; and justice consists in the soul giving a wholehearted consent to follow the way thus proposed” (Summa Theo. I-II.61,5c).

This is nothing less than the closer imitation of Christ, to which He invited the rich young man (cf. Lk 18:22). Not everyone has the grace and call to consecrated and complete chastity for the sake of the Kingdom of God (cf. Mt 19:12). However, each one should recognize and embrace that kind of temperance which is proper to his state in life.

True Malice of the Vice of In Temperance

Vice consists essentially in acting against right reason, against the light of Faith. The sinfulness of all forms of intemperance, therefore, consists not in the pleasure, but in indulging in these in a measure or way that is contrary to reason and the Faith. Beyond these actions there are furthers actions–pleasurable or not–which are not only unreasonable, but which are also directly opposed to reason and undermine its very capacity. Such actions are especially evil, since they attack man at the very root of his natural dignity: his capacity to think and love as a person. This is the case with the excessive use of alcohol and even more so with drugs and narcotics. For a mild use of alcohol does not debilitate the mind, whereas the latter do. Some drugs, like LSD, directly attack the reasoning faculty of man, while others, like marijuana, attack the volitional center of the brain.

Other mildly habit-forming items, like coffee and tea, do not directly attack man in his rational dignity. Indeed, the case may be that they help man to focus his thoughts. Still, in the measure that they become a habituation, they too may indirectly impede man’s complete freedom. Of course, other vicious habits do too: overeating cloys the mind; the inordinate indulgence of sex blinds the spirit. And again, it is more than a tautology to say that lounging in bed also makes for a lazy mind and an indulgent will: “The sluggard says, ‘There is a lion in the road! There is a lion in the streets!’ As a door turns on its hinges, so does a sluggard on his bed” (Prov 26:13-14).

The Parts of Temperance

Three different kinds of parts are attributed to the cardinal virtues: the integral parts, the subjective parts and the potential parts.

The Integral Parts of Temperance

“The integral parts of a virtue are the conditions, the concurrence of which are necessary for the virtue” (Summa Theo. II-II 143,1c). Temperance has only two integral parts: the sense of shame and the sense of honor (“honestas”) whereby one loves the beauty of temperance.

By the sense of shame one instinctively recoils from the baseness and disgracefulness of conduct that is contrary to temperance. This natural response is felt interiorly in the mirror of conscience. The individual sees that the disgrace of sin consists in the deformity of the will, desiring base things. On a secondary level, the shame blushes at the thought of punishment and public exposure. Shame is all the greater where the evil deformity in question is the fruit of one’s own conduct. This is why public exposure has a deterrent effect especially to sensuous faults. This also explains why it is easier to sin while on vacation: one is far away from home, from those whose esteem is important to the individual.When children in Confession admitted to having stolen something, one confessor was wont to ask if they did this while others were watching. Invariably, the answer was “No!” “But don’t you realize,” the confessor continued, “that your Guardian Angel is always with you and watching?” If souls would but advert to the presence of God and their angel, many a sin would be avoided.The sense of honesty or honor is the natural penchant of man to prefer that which is truly good and virtuous; this is ingrained in nature. We naturally desire not only the final end of happiness but also those good things which are conducive to true happiness.

The sense of honesty (honor) is linked to man’s natural esteem of moral rectitude and beauty. Man’s conduct is beautiful when it manifests and reflects with clarity and proportion the truth about man in his relation to God, the world and self (cf. Summa Theo. II.II.145,2c).

The low state to which temperance has been reduced in modern society can be seen in the fact that both the noble sense of shame and honesty are openly flaunted and undermined. In the early part of the twentieth century, the enemies of Christianity in the Western world, seeing that the Faith could not be weakened by the sword, changed tactics and began to advocate the ideal of “nakedness”, an ideal that was to be preached in the name of health, athletics and freedom. As a result, the sense of shame has been largely reduced in the Western world, and thus, one of the shields against unchastity was stripped away.

As St. Francis de Sales points out: “There is no easier way to ruin love than to degrade it to base and earthly things…Such unions as are concerned with animal pleasures and passions not only do not help towards the production and preservation of love but they are very harmful and weaken it to an extreme degree…’Between spiritual and bodily pleasures there is this difference,’ says St. Gregory. ‘Bodily pleasures arouse desire before we get them but disgust once we have obtained them. On the other hand, spiritual pleasures arouse disgust before we obtain them and pleasure once we have obtained them'” (Treatise on Divine Love, Bk. I, ch.10, pp. 81a, 80, 81b; Pope St. Gregory, Hom. in Evang. Bk. II, hom.36, n.1 [PL 76,1266]).

The Subjective Parts of Temperance

The subjective parts of temperance are those virtues which focus on a more specific area of temperance. Abstinence (fasting) is the virtue by which we moderate our appetite and use of food and drink. It is opposed by gluttony, of which there are two types: the gourmand, whose inordinate pleasure is in the quantity, in swallowing; the gourmet, who titillates his palate with delicate, exquisite tastes.

Gluttony is generally not a mortal sin, since by it one does not normally turn away from God but only exceeds the measure \ (cf. Summa Theo. II-II 148,2c). Still, it is crucial to spiritual growth, as St. Gregory points out: “As long as the vice of gluttony has a hold on a man, all that he has done valiantly is forfeited by him; and as long as the belly is unrestrained, all virtue comes to naught” (Pope St. Gregory. Moral. 20,18)

Sobriety moderates the use of intoxicating beverages, while insobriety is a beast of excess. Chesterton observed that when booze is the party, then there is no real party. When by excessive drinking an individual voluntarily seeks to deprive himself of the use of his reason, he sins grievously.

Chastity is the principal virtue which moderates and regulates the sexual appetite: its use within marriage; complete continence outside of marriage. Chastity is a truly beautiful virtue, for by it the concupiscible appetite is not only made subject to reason, but by chastity the concupiscible appetite participates in and is thus conformed to right reason (cf. Summa Theo. II-II. 56,4c); it becomes spiritualized, thus assuming a very sublime human beauty. It is opposed to every form of sexual lust and depravity, whether of thought, desire or action.

The Potential Parts of Temperance

To the potential parts of temperance belong all those virtues which resemble temperance in its restraining and moderating manner. This aspect was discussed above when dealing with temperance in the broad sense. Here we only wish to consider three potential parts of temperance which are among the virtues most recommended by Christ in word and deed. Humility restrains our spiritual desire for greatness and excellence. Meekness restrains our irascible inclination to anger, while clemency mitigates (moderates) the will to exact strict justice through a wise spirit of mercy.

Now, many a soul–notwithstanding their great desire to imitate Christ in these virtues–regularly fall so short of the ideal. The reason for their failure may well lie in ungroomed sensuality. Since humility, meekness and clemency so resemble temperance in their manner and mode of operation, it may be expected that intemperate, sensual souls will often be vain, harsh and cruel. Surely, they will find considerable difficulty acquiring these virtues, for, if they have not yet learned to temper and moderate the passions of their concupiscible appetite, how do they expect to control the more vehement passions of the irascible appetite? Let me explain more fully. The devil, it is said, prefers to fish in murky waters.

Within the soul, murkiness is particularly an effect of sadness. Were temperance well rooted in the soul, it would not only moderate pleasures but also sadness. The intemperate soul who gives itself in bondage to pleasures will infallibly also be the slave of sadness. The more the soul is enslaved by pleasure and sadness, the more the tempter can manipulate it unwittingly, and the more the least renunciation will appear large and unbearable (this is the reason why temperance is so closely linked to veracity, and intemperance to inveracity, inasmuch as its root lies in subjective, exaggerated perception!). As a consequence, the renunciation of small pleasures and the bearing of small pains and discomforts (sadness) subjectively appear arduous. That is to say, the soul perceives them to be great evils. As such the soul opposes them with even greater aggressiveness and violence. This state of anger–all the more because it is based on a false, exaggerated perception of reality–makes meekness nearly impossible.

The Angel’s School of Virtue

The soul can remedy this disorder by taking to heart the Angel of Portugal’s two excellent counsels, which lead to perfect temperance, to purity of heart and charity, and to meekness and humility. Whoever practices these two counsels will not only make progress in these virtues but also in his personal bond with his Guardian Angel:

1. “Make of everything you can a sacrifice and offer it to God” (Memories of Sr. Lucy of Fátima, p.152). It is not only a point of offering difficult things, but of offering everything, even pleasant things. Thus, we should also offer our little pleasures to His glory. In this way they will become ordered and sanctified.

2. “Above all, accept and bear with submission, the suffering which the Lord will send you” (ibid.). This supernatural, sacrificial disposition will quickly teach us the value of sacrifice; it will bring temperance into our souls with respect both to pleasure and sadness. As a consequence, veracity will take up more perfect residence in our souls, the irascible appetite will calm down and we shall find it much easier to practice humility and meekness. The enemy will be confounded and friendship with the holy angel will flourish.

Fr. William Wagner, ORC

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