Chesterton’s Rule of Drinking

_54377673_3367338We Catholics know how to enjoy a good drink. But alcohol, like any good thing, can be abused, and it has the potential to turn into the hell of alcoholism if we do not exercise temperance.

So is there a good rule of thumb for making sure we do not abuse drink? There sure is, and it is provided by the inimitable G.K. Chesterton, who has something to say about everything. Here’s his advice on enjoying drink safely.

Drink because you are happy, but never because you are miserable. Never drink when you are wretched without it, or you will be like the grey-faced gin-drinker in the slum; but drink when you would be happy without it, and you will be like the laughing peasant of Italy. Never drink because you need it, for this is rational drinking, and the way to death and hell. But drink because you do not need it, for this is irrational drinking, and the ancient health of the world.

In other words, don’t drink to find happiness, drink to enhance the happiness you already have. Cheers!

23 Responses to “Chesterton’s Rule of Drinking”

  1. Thank you very much for this quote! “Omar and the sacred vine” is one of my favourite chapters in Chesterton’s “Herectics”, but the last sentences touch me the most:
    “And at the high altar of Christianity stands
    another figure, in whose hand also is the cup of the vine. “Drink” he
    says “for the whole world is as red as this wine, with the crimson of
    the love and wrath of God. Drink, for the trumpets are blowing for
    battle and this is the stirrup-cup. Drink, for this my blood of the new
    testament that is shed for you. Drink, for I know of whence you come
    and why. Drink, for I know of when you go and where.””

  2. I come from a family with a history of alcoholism, so I honestly never touched the stuff until I was in my 30’s. My wife’s family is very much into their Scottish and Irish heritage. Her mother taught the traditional Irish dance in 4-H and her brother is an accomplished musician who’s played in a few Irish pubs around Boston. We were at a pub in Chicago the first time I tried Guinness.

    In 2009, we traveled to Ireland and it was the first time I actually tried whiskey (Bushmills). A young man who had been my brother-in-law’s roommate when he lived in Dublin, gave me this same advice. He said, “I never drink whiskey when I’m down. I only go to whiskey in the good times. Because, drinking to pick yourself up is how you end up an alcoholic”. I don’t think our friend was aware that was Chesterton’s advice.

    I have to admit, I’ve broken that rule once. But, I generally reserve it for the good times.

  3. I think it’s incredibly important to differentiate between substance abuse and substance dependence. The former, I believe, is what Chesterton is talking about. The latter is a recognized disease that is not at all based in moral failures. Alcoholics will tell you that their worlds changed the minute they first consumed alcohol, and that has nothing to do with intemperance.

    • But, as a recovering alcoholic myself, I can say there is good practical advice in not drinking when you are “down”. Anyone can become an alcoholic if they drink too much, and for the wrong reasons. It isn’t only genetic.

  4. From Chesterton’s friend Hillaire Belloc:
    “Wherever the Catholic sun doth shine,
    There’s always laughter and good red wine.
    At least I’ve always found it so.
    Benedicamus Domino!”

  5. Cuff of Coppee Reply

    Chesterton’s view is a little different than what Proverbs states:

    Proverbs 31:6 “Give strong drink to them that are sad: and wine to them that are grieved in mind: Let them drink, and forget their want, and remember their sorrow no more. ”

    In full Christian context and my favorite Bible verse about wine:
    Ecclesiasticus 31:

    Fire trieth hard iron: so wine drunk to excess shall rebuke the hearts of the proud. [32] Wine taken with sobriety is equal life to men: if thou drink it moderately, thou shalt be sober. [33] What is his life, who is diminished with wine? [34] What taketh away life? death. [35] Wine was created from the beginning to make men joyful, and not to make them drunk.

    [36] Wine drunken with moderation is the joy of the soul and the heart. [37] Sober drinking is health to soul and body. [38] Wine drunken with excess raiseth quarrels; and wrath, and many ruins. [39] Wine drunken with excess is bitterness of the soul. [40] The heat of drunkenness is the stumblingblock of the fool, lessening strength and causing wounds.

    [41] Rebuke not thy neighbour in a banquet of wine: and despise him not in his mirth. [42] Speak not to him words of reproach: and press him not in demanding again.

  6. Some tips from Spain:

    1 Never drink without eating a little something (this is the origin of tapas)
    2 If you are planning to drink a lot (ie, you want to visit several bars), drink stuff with low alcohol content.
    3 Do not mix beberages. Stick to one, whatever.
    4 In the old days, when you had to drink a lot, you previously had the precaution of taking a spoonful of olive oil (it coats the stomach and so limits alcohol absorbtion).
    5 Drinking is a social thing: you drink with your friends, not for the sake of drinking, but as a by product of being together and enjoy the company.
    6 It seems that in the anglo saxon world, the fun is to drink until you fall. This is the fun. This is very wrong and impaires seriously your health.
    7 People who get drunk is because they do not know “drinking” (“no saben beber”)

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