The Fathers: Moderation, Excess and Addiction

The  Desert Fathers and Patristic authors all lived long before people spoke about addiction, but they certainly knew the behavior and how to deal with it.

In the 5th Century, St Diadochos of Photiki  wrote these words about drunkenness:

 “When watered in due measure the earth yields a good, clean crop from the seed sown in it; but when it is soaked with torrential rain it bears nothing but thistles and thorns. Likewise, when we drink wine in due measure, the earth of the heart yields a clean crop from its natural seed and produces a fine harvest from what is sown in it by the Holy Spirit. But if it is soaked through excessive drinking, the thoughts, it bears will be nothing but thistles and thorns.”   (The Philokalia, Kindle Loc. 7927-31)

Even the strictest of ascetics advocated moderation and self-control in alcohol use, rather than demanding total abstinence.  But, for some, it is exactly self-control which they cannot manage and so they need the guidance and support of others to keep them sober.  The 12th Century Saint, Peter of Damaskos, says the very purpose of Christian community and having a father confessor is to learn not to rely on our own strength and will in the fight against temptation, but to learn the value of community and support in the spiritual warfare against self-indulgence.

“For this reason the enemy does everything he can to disrupt our state of stillness and make us fall into temptation. And if he finds us in some way lacking in faith, wholly or partially trusting in our own strength and judgment, he takes advantage of this to overcome us and to take us captive, pitiful as we are.”   (THE PHILOKALIA, Kindle Loc. 28056-68)

Our personal judgment can be faulty.  Addicts are known for relying on self-will constantly, failing to seek the assessment, wisdom and advice of others.  When it comes to our situation in the 21st Century, we are still as human as they were in the Patristic Age.  We can be misled by our own self-willfulness into thinking we are not doing things to excess, that we have not yet crossed boundaries of decency and moderation.  This self-reliance helps to make us captives of our own thinking, slaves to ourselves, and thus addiction is born.

Who has woe?
Who has sorrow?
Who has contentions?
Who has complaints?
Who has wounds without cause?
Who has redness of eyes?
Those who linger long at the wine,
Those who go in search of mixed wine.

Do not look on the wine when it is red,
When it sparkles in the cup,
When it swirls around smoothly;
At the last it bites like a serpent,
And stings like a viper.
Your eyes will see strange things,
And your heart will utter perverse things.
Yes, you will be like one who lies down in the midst of the sea,
Or like one who lies at the top of the mast, saying:
“They have struck me, but I was not hurt;
They have beaten me, but I did not feel it.
When shall I awake, that I may seek another drink?”

(Proverbs 23:29-35)

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