“The Sin of Gluttony” – an Excerpt from Dangerous Passions, Deadly Sins by Dennis Okholm

The following is an excerpt from “Gluttony: Thought for Food,” chapter 2 from Dangerous Passions, Deadly Sins: Learning from the Psychology of Ancient Monks by Dennis Okholm.

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Gluttony is more than simply overeating and it is not merely fatness. Nor does gluttony merely consist of our desire for food, the consumption of it, or the pleasure we derive from eating it.

The sin of gluttony has to do with the manner in which we consume food, involving inordinate desire and immoderate pleasure. To be more specific, Evagrius, Cassian, Gregory, and Aquinas all delineate several aspects of gluttony that we can reduce to six. They involve both acts and thoughts (or attitudes).

One has to do with what we commonly think of as gluttony: gorging ourselves and not savoring a reasonable amount of food.

A second involves timing: eating at any other time than the appointed hour. For the eremitic monk this usually involved the one meal at none (i.e., 3:00 p.m.) or later. For the cenobite this involved eating with the community at the prescribed times.

The third aspect is anticipating eating with preoccupied, eager longing. The hermit who had his desires under control would not be checking the angle of the sun every fifteen minutes.

A fourth aspect was eating expensively—consuming costly foods.

A fifth aspect of gluttony involved discontent with common food—seeking after delicacies. Since nutritional values of foods were not known, it was considered unnecessary and distracting to seek variety in one’s diet. Being a “fussy eater” who is not satisfied with three varieties of cereal at hand might be a modern variation of this. These last two aspects are especially concerned with being content with what we have (cf. Phil. 4:11).

The final aspect of gluttony involved paying too much attention to food. While this last is not what we typically equate with gluttony, it certainly applies to our contemporary situation, perhaps even more so than gorging ourselves, for it informs us that it is as gluttonous to be overscrupulous about the food we eat (and how our body looks) as it is to overindulge ourselves. In fact, this overconcern can become idolatry of the creation.

One can see, then, that the evil of gluttony lies not in food itself nor in our need to eat it (with accompanying sensations of the palate), but in how we go about our eating and in the thought (or lack of thought) we give to our eating.

©2014 by Dennis Okholm. Published by Brazos Press. Unauthorized use of this material without express written permission is strictly prohibited.