Temperance Print
By Joseph Pieper   
Tuesday, 04 March 2014

What have the words “temperance” and “moderation” come to mean in today’s parlance? The meaning of “temperance” has dwindled miserably to the crude significance of “temperateness in eating and drinking.” We may add that this term is applied chiefly, if not exclusively, to the designation of mere quantity, just as “intemperance” seems to

 indicate only excess. Needless to say, “temperance” limited to this meaning cannot even remotely hint at the true nature of temperantia, to say nothing of expressing its full content. Temperantia has a wider significance and a higher rank: it is a cardinal virtue, one of the four hinges on which swings the gate of life. Nor does “moderation” correspond to the meaning and rank of temperantia. Moderation mainly relates to admonishing the wrathful to moderate their anger. Though the moderation of anger belongs to the realm of temperantia, it is only a part of it. If we leave the tepid atmosphere of a moral theology mistrustful of all passion to enter the more realistic and bracing climate of the Summa Theologica, we find, surprisingly, that the passio of anger is defended rather than condemned. Further: the current concept of moderation is dangerously close to fear of any exuberance. We all know that the term “prudent moderation” tends to crop up when the love of truth or some other generous impulse threatens to take an extreme risk. This emasculated concept of moderation has no place in a doctrine which asserts that the love of God – fountainhead of all virtues –‘knows  neither mean nor measure.


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