Fr. Hardon on Temperance.
The word temperance is derived from the Latin temperantia, which was used by Cicero to translate Plato's sophrosune, which meant restraint of the appetites and passions in accordance with right reason. As seen before, temperance is one of the four cardinal virtues, that moralists consider the most fundamental because it is the one on which the other three depend.
In the New Testament, the Greek noun sophrosune, is variously translated as "soberness" or "sobriety" when it occurs in the Acts of the Apostles and St. Paul. (1) The adjective sophron, translated indiscriminately as "sober... temperate...discreet," is listed among the attributes proper to people of mature age and to leaders in society.
For Christians, temperance in its physical aspects is related to the need for self-control of the body, regarded as a temple of the Holy Spirit. The teaching of the ancient Fathers of the Church, notably Origen, Ambrose, and Augustine, was synthesized in the Summa Theologica of Thomas Aquinas, whose treatment of the moral virtues remains the classic theological work on the subject. He places temperance into context as the virtue that controls our unruly desires, including the appetite for food and drink.
As fortitude controls rashness and fear in the face of the major pains which threaten to unbalance human nature, so temperance controls desire for major pleasures. And because pleasure follows from connatural activity, so therefore are pleasures the more vehement when they attend our most natural activities. They are those which serve the individual through food and drink, and the species through intercourse of male and female, and it is with them that temperance is properly engaged. They come from the sense of touch; hence we conclude that temperance, in its most precise sense, is concerned with tactile pleasures.
In its broader aspect, therefore, temperance spans the control of all pleasures, but by common usage the word is applied to restraint in the taking of food, and mainly of drink. A familiar synonym is sobriety, in the reference to a person being "sober" when he is not under the influence of intoxicants.
Moral theology teaches there are two ways of practicing temperance in the use of alcohol, either by moderation or by total abstinence. Both are approved by centuries of Christian practice, much as the practice of chastity is sanctioned by Christian morality, either by total abstinence, as with those who vow themselves to a life of celibacy, or by moderation, among the millions who marry and confine the enjoyment of sex pleasure to the married state. - Fr. Hardon Archives