This morning I read the following passage from Lewis’ Mere Christianity, which was first given as a series of radio talks in the 1940s. The chapter deals with the Cardinal virtues, and his comments on temperance were of particular interest to me:
In the days when the second Cardinal virtue was christened ‘Temperance,’ it meant… going to the right length and no further.
One great piece of mischief has been done by the modern restriction of the word Temperance to the question of drink. It helps people to forget that you can be just as intemperate about lots of other things. A man who makes his golf or his motor-bicycle the center of his life, or a woman who devotes all her thoughts to clothes or bridge or her dog, is being just as ‘intemperate’ as someone who gets drunk every evening. Of course, it does not show on the outside so easily… But God is not deceived by externals.
Most of us have no issues with bridge or “motor-bicycles”, but modernize Lewis’ examples and apply them to food and T.V. and it hits closer to home. Gluttony and sloth are sins, too. Because many of us have not been taught the full meaning of the word ‘temperance,’ we are still in danger of being an intemperate people. We live in a culture of excess, and showing restraint–going the right length and no further–in all areas is of great importance.
Lewis makes another good point in his discussion of virtues:
There is a difference between doing some particular just or temperate action and being a just or temperate man. Someone who is not a good tennis player may now and then make a good shot. What you mean by a good player is a man whose eye and muscles and nerves have been so trained by making innumerable good shots that they can now be relied on. They have a certain tone or quality which is there even when he is not playing… In the same way a man who perseveres in doing [temperate] actions gets in the end a certain quality of character. Now it is that quality rather than the particular actions which we mean when we talk of a ‘virtue.’
This distinction is important for the following reason. If we thought only of the particular actions, we might encourage… wrong ideas.
1) We might think that, provided you did the right thing, it did not matter how or why you did it–whether you did it willingly or unwillingly, sulkily or cheerfully, through fear of public opinion or for its own sake. But the truth is that right actions done for the wrong reason do not help to build the internal quality or character called a ‘virtue,’ and it is this quality or character that really matters.
2) We might think that God wanted simply obedience to a set of rules: whereas He really wants people of a particular sort.
May we be known as those people of a particular sort, marked by the spiritual fruit of self-control in a world that encourages over-indulgence.