Excerpt From Homily 57 of Saint John Chrysostom
On the Gospel of Saint Matthew 17:10-23
On Wine and Drunkenness
I am ashamed to say how many ills men and women suffer from luxury, but I leave it to their own conscience, which knows it all more perfectly. For what is viler than a woman drunken, or at all led away by wine? For the weaker the vessel, the more entire the shipwreck, whether she be free or a slave. For the free woman behaves herself unseemly in the midst of her slaves as spectators, and the slave again in like manner in the midst of the slaves, and they cause the gifts of God to be blasphemously spoken of by foolish men.
For instance, I hear many say, when these excesses happen, “Would there were no wine.” O folly! O madness! When other men sin, dost thou find fault with God’s gifts? And what great madness is this? What? did the wine, O man, produce this evil? Not the wine, but the intemperance of such as take an evil delight in it. Say then, “Would there were no drunkenness, no luxury;” but if thou say, “Would there were no wine,” thou wilt say, going on by degrees, “Would there were no steel, because of the murderers; no night, because of the thieves; no light, because of the informers; no women, because of adulteries;” and, in a word, thou wilt destroy all.
But do not so; for this is of a satanical mind; do not find fault with the wine, but with the drunkenness; and when thou hast found this self-same man sober, sketch out all his unseemliness, and say unto him, Wine was given, that we might be cheerful, not that we might behave ourselves unseemly; that we might laugh, not that we might be a laughingstock; that we might be healthful, not that we might be diseased; that we might correct the weakness of our body, not cast down the might of our soul.
God honored thee with the gift, why disgrace thyself with the excess thereof? Hear what Paul saith, “Use a little wine for thy stomach’s sake, and thine often infirmities”(Tim 5:23) But if that saint, even when oppressed with disease, and enduring successive sicknesses, partook not of wine, until his Teacher suffered him; what excuse shall we have, who are drunken in health? To him indeed He said, “Use a little wine for thy stomach’s sake;” but to each of you who are drunken, He will say, “Use little wine, for thy fornications, thy frequent filthy talking, for the other wicked desires to which drunkenness is wont to give birth.” But if ye are not willing, for these reasons, to abstain; at least on account of the despondencies which come of it, and the vexations, do ye abstain. For wine was given for gladness, “Yea, wine,” so it is said, “maketh glad the heart of man:”(Psalm 103) but ye mar even this excellence in it. For what kind of gladness is it to be beside one’s self, and to have innumerable vexations, and to see all things whirling round, and to be oppressed with giddiness, and like those that have a fever, to require some who may drench their heads with oil?
These things are not said by me to all: or rather they are said to all, not because all are drunken, God forbid; but because they who do not drink take no thought of the drunken. Therefore even against you do I rather inveigh, that are in health; since the physician too leaves the sick, and addresses his discourse to them that are sitting by them. To you therefore do I direct my speech, entreating you neither to be at any time over-taken by this passion, and to draw up as by cords those who have been so overtaken, that they be not found worse than the brutes. For they indeed seek nothing more than what is needful, but these have become even more brutish than they, overpassing the boundaries of moderation. For how much better is the ass than these men? how much better the dog! For indeed each of these animals, and of all others, whether it need to eat, or to drink, acknowledges sufficiency for a limit, and goes not on beyond what it needs; and though there are innumerable persons to constrain, it will not endure to go on to excess.
In this respect then we are worse even than the brutes, by the judgment not of them that are in health only, but even by our own. For that ye have judged yourselves to be baser than both dogs and asses, is evident from thence: that these brutes thou dost not compel to partake of food, beyond their measure; and should any one say, “Wherefore?” “Lest I should hurt them,” thou wilt reply. But upon thyself thou bestowest not so much as this forethought. Thus thou accountest thyself viler even than they are, and permittest thyself to be continually tossed as with a tempest.
For neither in the day of thy drunkenness only dost thou undergo the harm of drunkenness, but also after that day. And as when a fever is passed by, the mischievous consequences of the fever remain; so also when drunkenness is past, the disturbance of intoxication is whirling round both the soul and body; and while the wretched body lies paralyzed, like the hull of a vessel after a shipwreck, the soul yet more miserable than it, even when this is ended, stirs up the storm, and kindles the desire; and when one seems to be sober, then most of all is he mad, imagining to himself wine and casks, cups and goblets. And like as in a storm when the raging of the waters hath ceased, the loss by reason of the storm remains; so likewise here too. For as there of our freight, so here too is there a casting away of nearly all our good things. Whether it be temperance, or modesty, or understanding, or meekness, or humility, which the drunkenness finds there, it casts all away into the sea of iniquity.
But in what follows there is no more any likeness. Since there indeed upon the casting out the vessel is lightened, but here it is weighed down the more. For in its former place of wealth it takes on board sand, and salt water, and all the accumulated filth of drunkenness; enough to sink the vessel at once, with the mariners and the pilot.
That we may not then suffer these things, let us deliver ourselves from that tempest. It is not possible with drunkenness to see the kingdom of Heaven. “Be not deceived,” it is said, “no drunkards, no revilers, shall inherit the kingdom of God.”(Cor 6:9-10) And why do I speak of a kingdom? Why, with drunkenness one cannot see so much as the things present. For in truth drunkenness makes the days nights to us, and the light darkness. And though their eyes be opened, the drunken see not even what is close at hand.
And this is not the only frightful things but with these things they suffer also another most grievous punishment, continually undergoing unreasonable despondencies, madness, infirmity, ridicule, reproach.
What manner of excuse is there for them that pierce themselves through with so many evils? There is none.
Let us fly then from that pest, that we may attain both unto the good things here, and unto those to come, by the grace and love towards man of our Lord Jesus Christ, to whom be glory and might with the Father and the Holy Spirit, world without end. Amen.