De Bibendo -- Prolegomena (How Drinking Will Save The World, If It Is Done Beautifully)

Do not quench the Spirit.
Do not despise prophetic utterances.
Test everything; retain what is good.
Refrain from every kind of evil.
May the God of peace make you perfectly holy
and may you entirely, spirit, soul, and body,
be preserved blameless for the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.

-1st Thessalonians 5:19-23, from the Epistle of the 2nd Sunday of Advent

Blessings this Advent Season!

Brothers and Sisters, as an early Christmas present, I am going to cut to the chase: I love pompous, entirely-too-long titles. I especially love them if they use Latin unnecessarily. So when I decided to start a series of posts fleshing out the talk that got me the gig here on Catholic Beer Club (shout out to Theology on Tap Wichita!), I decided to take heed of that immortal saying of Plato and/or some 90's motorcycle exhaust company: go big or go home!

So beyond the fact the title uses Latin (it just means "On Drinking"), and that the title is incredibly long, it is more than likely arrogant to decide your writing is worthy of a multi-part series after writing a grand total of one post. Nonetheless, my guess is that the good folks at CBC did not ask me to write because I am a shrinking violet, so please forgive and enjoy simultaneously my baroque inability to write economically!

Prolegomena

As I concluded my post last time, the end for which we drink makes a world of difference. If we drink to enjoy (and thus come to know) creation, that is an entirely different act than if we drink to escape (and thus forget) creation, even if the the two acts look considerably the same. But even if the two acts are actually different, a question persists: why does it matter that they are different? More specifically to our purpose, why is it important for Catholics to drink one way and not the other? 

As the Scripture above implies, as people who are awaiting the coming of our Sovereign Lord Jesus Christ, we are to be different than those who do not expect His advent. And if Catholics make the conscious decision to drink to enjoy rather than escape, to drink to remember rather than forget, I argue that this is a very practical way to be different. However, notice that St. Paul is not compelling us to imbibe some Gnostic vision of world-hatred. If we are called to "test everything" and "retain what is good," then we are not being commanded to shrug off the world as utterly lost. Instead, we are called to be perfectly Holy, not only in spirit and soul, but in our bodies as well. We are not called to be out-of-this-world, but instead, Holy in the midst of this world.

So if holiness is not hatred of the world, what is it? Holiness indeed is to be "set apart," but again, the force of this passage does not envisage an escape from the world. And yes, I purposely meant to use that word escape once more. We have already pointed out that one should not use alcohol to escape the world, so how can it be the case that one can attempt to escape the world through not using alcohol as well?

To answer this, we must take a momentary digression (you knew this was coming) into the world of ethics. Too many folks have a "light-switch" understanding of life. By this, I mean they think in hard and fast binaries: true-false, good-bad, etc., just like a light-switch is either "on" or "off." Those same people may be surprised that a Catholic blog, of all places, is going to argue against this "black-and-white" vision of the world. But to argue against this understanding of things is not to embrace relativism. Instead, it is to give a fuller account of how reality works. 

One further digression: the question about truth is incredibly interesting (St. Thomas says truth is the intellect becoming adequate to the object it is attempting to know--which allows gradations of adequacy of the intellect to the object, which allows for things like progressively coming to better understandings that do not totally invalidate prior understandings, or multiple perspectives having mutual beneficial insights without embracing relativism,  etc.). However, I will stay on task by focusing only on the question of morality. Even in this regard, I am going to have to behave myself and not bring up some fascinating points I am tempted to talk about (for instance, Plato pointing out that, for any evil to effectively occur in life, it must be admixed with some good--"absolute evil" wouldn't even wake up in the morning or be organized enough to commit a crime--OK, I will only bring it up a little). 

To get back to the first digression, the light-switch version of ethics causes all sorts of unnecessary problems in the moral life. People will get into gridlocked debates about which "side" of an issue is correct, precisely because the issues appear to them as a zero sum game where only one side can be wrong.

As it turns out, they can both be wrong! Aristotle (yep, you knew I was going to bring him up as well), in his brilliant Nicomachean Ethics,  points this out when talking about soldiers in a battle. It would seem like the worst thing a soldier could be is a coward, and thus many folks are prone to say that fear is wicked, and thus its opposite, fearlessness, is an unqualified good in every circumstance. But Aristotle notes that this is definitively not the case. First of all, soldiers totally lacking fear might do something stupid, like charge an enemy position when they are completely outnumbered. Not only that, it is patently false that many truly heroic soldiers, the last people you would call cowards, felt no fear at all in the midst of battle. Instead, what Aristotle argues is that the proper response to fear is somewhere in the middle between an extremity (cowardice) and a deficiency (foolhardiness). That mean between the two, courage, is what Aristotle names a virtue. 

So to return to our example, the reason both infatuation-with-the-world and abhorrence-of-the-world can both be a temptation to escapism rests in the fact that the former is an excessive posture toward the world, and the later is a deficient posture toward the world. St. Paul is calling us to a virtuous posture toward the world: no matter what situation we might find ourselves in, there is a mean by which we relate to the world that defies every excess and deficiency. 

So if we are called to do all things virtuously, what I am hoping to do in the following posts is set out what it means to drink virtuously. What better way to do this than to ruminate on the seven classical virtues in relationship to drinking?

My contention is this: if we reflect on what it means to drink virtuously, and apply our findings in the way we drink "in but not of" the world, we will find a practical means to "give flesh" to our Life in Christ. To modify the words of a hymn, they will know we are Christian by the way we drink. I hope you will join me as we explore this together! 

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Well, as it turns out, my idea of including a beer suggestion at the end of a post has caught on a bit. This of course is unfortunate (for me, not for the other two--they make great suggestions), because that means I should keep up what I have started. That will teach me the wages of showing initiative! 

My suggestion is a bit circuitous (you are starting to pick up on this theme in my writing, eh?) so bear with me. The Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe was two days ago--so you are expecting me to choose a Mexican beer. But lets face it, Mexican beer is best in the summer. So the next logical place I thought of when I thought of the Patroness of the Americas was none other than--Wisconsin. Yep, the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe in the United States is in La Crosse, Wisconsin, and if there is one state that makes me think of beer its Wisconsin (well, beer AND cheese together, but do you want a beer suggestion that sorta works with the season or not?).

 

One of my absolute favorite beers of all time is from Wisconsin: Spotted Cow by New Glarus brewery. However, there are two problems with this beer suggestion: 1) it too is a more summer-esque beer, and more importantly 2) it is pretty much only available in the general area of Wisconsin (and thus not here in Kansas).

 

So to choose a beer I am rather sure everyone can take a stab at, I suggest drinking a number of beers from Leinenkugel, which is equal parts fun to say and fun to drink (and far more widely available). But a problem still remains--my favorite beer from Leinenkugel is their Sunset Wheat, which by no means is an exclusively summer beer, but it is not the first thing you think of around the Advent/Christmas season. What is a self-proclaimed beer snob with a sense of the liturgical calendar supposed to do?

Well, as you all know, the 3rd Sunday of Advent is Gaudete Sunday, when Priests the world over (should) be putting on Rose (NOT PINK!) vestments. The Sunday is named after the "rejoice!" Antiphon in the Latin, but the idea is that in the midst of a penitential season, the liturgy still finds a place for joy in preparing for the great joy of Christmas. So in my mind, Sunset Wheat, with its hint of apricot, is a perfect way to "sneak in" some joy during Advent, preparing for the great joy of Christmastide. And if you asked me the difference between this beer and a sillier/trendier "fruit flavored" beer, I would say it is similar to the difference between rose and pink vestments. The untrained tongue or eye wouldn't notice the difference for a million bucks, but to those with discerning taste, the gap between gaudy and gaudete is infinite while remaining subtle, and is indicitive of the love the Priest or Brewer puts into their craft.

Convoluted, yes, but I stand behind my suggestion. Blessings this Advent!