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  • Writer's pictureAndrew Comiskey

Temperance: Life and Love on Course: Day 38

‘The primary and essential meaning of temperance…is this: to dispose various parts into one unified and ordered whole.’ (The Four Cardinal Virtues, Josef Pieper, p. 146)

‘The discipline of temperance…is the saving and defending realization of the inner order of man…The natural urge toward sensual enjoyment, manifested in delight in food and drink and sexual pleasure, is the echo and mirror of man’s strongest natural forces of self-preservation…But for the very reason that these forces are closely allied to the deepest human urge toward being, they exceed all other powers of mankind in their destructive violence once they degenerate into selfishness.’ (The Four Cardinal Virtues, Josef Pieper, p. 150)

‘By preserving order in man himself, temperance creates the indispensable prerequisite for both the realization of actual good and the actual movement of man toward his goal. Without it, the stream of the innermost human will-to-be would overflow destructively beyond all bounds, it would lose its direction and never reach the sea of perfection. Yet temperance itself is not the stream. But it is the shore, the banks, from whose solidity the stream receives the gift of straight unhindered course, of force, descent, and velocity.’ (The Four Cardinal Virtues, Josef Pieper, p. 175)

Temperance is the muscle we employ to become chaste. Put another way, it is the marrow and joints we need to help integrate us. Sexual integration--chastity--is a subset of the greater personal order governed by temperance. Temperance summons our weaker parts, helps join them with others, and activates them. You could say temperance ‘trains’ our unused members in righteousness as to improve body function. As such, the Holy Spirit is the Spirit of temperance--‘self-control’--as St. Paul describes it, enabling us as Jesus’ followers to increasingly discover the order God intends for our humanity.

Temperance is rich with psychological meaning. Drawing from 1 Corinthians 12 in which St. Paul describes how the body of Christ is composed of diverse ‘members’ who must cooperate in order for the Church to be whole, so our little ‘temples’ need each part alive and well for personal wholeness. For example, emotional integration. A good counselor might help a person integrate certain emotions, darker, difficult ones, often paired with painful life experiences, that one struggles to accept. A wise person said: ‘Neuroses are a substitute for legitimate suffering.’

I have found this to be true. I need help from God and other to explore painful events and emotions; when I do this in the light of love, I am able to integrate, say, legitimate anger and sorrow. I also am free to own difficult aspects of my history as part of me, now in the Light. Temperance helps me to order my emotions rightfully; it is ‘the solidity from which the stream receives the gift of a straight, unhindered course.’

Though we should not reduce temperance to mere restraint of sensual passion, Pieper recognizes that the powers of life and love, namely eating and having sex, need ongoing ‘tempering’ as for the ‘will-to-be’ to achieve its best end. I love how he describes temperance as the riverbed and banks that help guide and goad our ‘streams’, an apt metaphor for our most basic appetites. I am aware of many who frame temperance as the drying up of the stream. May it never be! Temperance helps us to harness these good, troublesome currents in a way that leads to life. Temperance insists that we live fully in the light of our desires, integrating them as wholly as possible in ourselves.

Temperance rescues us from selfishness. It trains us in self-awareness, to know our self-gift--its offering and limits--so we can love people better. What orders our personal temples frees us to build up God’s living, ever-growing temple--the Church. Marvelous. For the sake of the Bride, we need the gift and the goal of temperance more than ever.

‘Jesus, temper our gift of self. Where we are dormant, awaken us; where we are fearful, steady us; where we race ahead of You, slow us; where we lag, quicken us. You know in full the ordering that we need. Holy Spirit of temperance, integrate us and grow us in the self-awareness that helps us to offer ourselves well for the building up of Your body.’

‘Jesus, thank You that we are first and foremost citizens of Your Kingdom. Your saving purposes, the plans of Your heart, endure forever (Ps. 33:11). Patriotism and its partisan interests must bow before “Your will be done.” “The eyes of the Lord are on those who fear You, who hope in Your unfailing love” (Ps. 33:18).’


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