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Should Christians Drink Alcohol?

Quotes about should Christians drink alcohol from throughout Christian History.


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Hermas, c. A.D. 161

For as vinegar and wine, when mixed in the same vessel, do not give the same pleasure [as wine alone], so grief mixed with the Holy Spirit does not produce the same entreaty [as the Holy Spirit alone]. (Shepherd of Hermas II:10:2)

For empty jars quickly become sour, and the goodness of the wine is gone. So also the devil goes to all the servants of God to try them. As many, then, as are full in the faith, resist him strongly, and he withdraws from them, having no way by which he might enter them. He goes, then, to the empty, and finding a way of entrance, into them, he produces in them whatever he wishes, and they become his servants. (Shepherd of Hermas II:12:5)

Clement of Alexandria, c. A.D. 190

For the vine produces wine as the Word produces blood, and both drink for health to men; wine for the body, blood for the spirit. (The Instructor I:6)

"It is good, then, neither to eat flesh nor to drink wine" [Rom. 14:21], as both [Paul] and the Pythagoreans acknowledge. For … the fumes arising from them being dense, darken the soul. If one partakes of them, he does not sin. Only let him partake temperately, not dependent on them, nor gaping after fine fare. For a voice will whisper to him, saying, "Destroy not the work of God for the sake of food" [Rom. 14:20] For it is the mark of a silly mind to be amazed and stupefied at what is presented at vulgar banquets, after [having tasted] the rich fare which is in the Word. (The Instructor II:1)

"Use a little wine," says the apostle to Timothy, who drank water, "for your stomach's sake," most properly applying its aid as a strengthening tonic suitable to a sickly body enfeebled with watery humors. And he specified "a little," lest the remedy should, on account of its quantity, unobserved, create the necessity of other treatment. (The Instructor II:2)

The natural, temperate, and necessary beverage, therefore, for the thirsty is water. This was the simple drink of sobriety, which flowed from the smitten rock and was supplied by the Lord to the ancient Hebrews. It was most requisite that in their wanderings they should be temperate. (The Instructor II:2)

I therefore admire those who have adopted an austere life, and who are fond of water, the medicine of temperance, and flee as far as possible from wine, shunning it as they would the danger of fire. It is proper, therefore, that boys and girls should keep as much as possible away from this medicine. For it is not right to pour into the burning season of life the hottest of all liquids—wine—adding, as it were, fire to fire. …

   The breasts and organs of generation, inflamed with wine, expand and swell in a shameful way, already exhibiting beforehand the image of fornication; and the body compels the wound of the soul to inflame, and shameless pulsations follow abundance, inciting the man of correct behavior to transgression; and hence the voluptuousness of youth overpasses the bounds of modesty. And we must, as far as possible, try to quench the impulses of youth by removing the Bacchic fuel of the threatened danger …

   And in the case of grown-up people, let those with whom it agrees sometimes partake of dinner, tasting bread only, and let them abstain wholly from drink; in order that their superfluous moisture may be absorbed and drunk up by the eating of dry food. For constant spitting and wiping off perspiration, and hastening to evacuations, is the sign of excess, from the immoderate use of liquids supplied in excessive quantity to the body. And if thirst come on, let the appetite be satisfied with a little water.

   Those who are already advanced in life may partake more cheerfully of the draught, to warm by the harmless medicine of the vine the chill of age, which the decay of time has produced. For old men's passions are not, for the most part, stirred to such agitation as to drive them to the shipwreck of drunkenness. For being moored by reason and time, as by anchors, they stand with greater ease the storm of passions which rushes down from intemperance. They also may be permitted to indulge in pleasantry at feasts. But to them also let the limit of their potations be the point up to which they keep their reason unwavering, their memory active, and their body unmoved and unshaken by wine. (The Instructor II:2)

It suits divine studies not to be heavy with wine. "For unmixed wine is far from compelling a man to be wise, much less temperate," according to the comic poet. But towards evening, about supper-time, wine may be used, when we are no longer engaged in more serious readings. Then also the air becomes colder than it is during the day; so that the failing natural warmth requires to be nourished by the introduction of heat. But even then it must only be a little wine that is to be used; for we must not go on to intemperate potations. (The Instructor II:2)

Sorry for the last sentence in this next quote. I left it in century-old English. You can probably figure out what it's saying. There were a lot of beliefs about how the body worked that weren't very accurate 1800 years ago. Christians were not immune to believing those things.

It is fitting, then, that some apply wine by way of medicine, for the sake of health alone, and others for purposes of relaxation and enjoyment. For first wine makes the man who has drunk it more benevolent than before, more agreeable to his companions, kinder to his domestic servants, and more pleasant to his friends. But when intoxicated, he becomes violent instead. For wine being warm, and having sweet juices when duly mixed, dissolves the foul excrementitious matters by its warmth, and mixes the acrid and base humours with the agreeable scents. (The Instructor II:2)

It has therefore been well said, "A joy of the soul and heart was wine created from the beginning, when drunk in moderate sufficiency" [Ecclesiasticus 31:27]. It is best to mix the wine with as much water as possible, and not to drink it like water, and so get enervated to drunkenness … For both are works of God. So the mixture of both, of water and of wine, lead together to health, because life consists of what is necessary and of what is useful. With water, then, which is the necessary of life and to be used in abundance, there is also to be mixed the useful. (The Instructor II:2)

But the miserable wretches who expel temperance from conviviality think excess in drinking to be the happiest life. But their life is nothing but revel, debauchery, baths, excess, urinals, idleness, drink. You may see some of them half-drunk, staggering, with crowns round their necks like wine jars, vomiting drink on one another in the name of good fellowship. Others, full of the effects of their debauchery, dirty, pale in the face, livid, and still above yesterday's bout pouring another bout to last till next morning. It is well, my friends, it is well to make our acquaintance with this picture at the greatest possible distance from it and to frame ourselves to what is better, dreading lest we also become a like spectacle and laughingstock to others. … 

   Such a life as this (if life it must be called, which is spent in idleness, in agitation about voluptuous indulgences, and in the hallucinations of debauchery) the divine Wisdom looks on with contempt, and commands her children, "Do not be a winebibber, nor spend your money in the purchase of flesh; for every drunkard and fornicator shall come to beggary, and every sluggard shall be clothed in tatters and rags" [Prov. 23:20] For every one that is not awake to wisdom, but is steeped in wine, is a sluggard. (The Instructor II:2)

The lover of wine, who despises the Word Himself, and has abandoned and given himself to drunkenness. You see what threatening Scripture has pronounced against him. … "Whose are red eyes? Those, is it not, who tarry long at their wine, and hunt out the places where drinking goes on?" [Prov. 23:29-30]. Here he shows the lover of drink to be already dead to the Word, by the mention of the bloodshot eyes,a mark which appears on corpses, announcing to him death in the Lord. For forgetfulness of the things which tend to true life turns the scale towards destruction. With reason therefore, the Instructor, in his care for our salvation, forbids us, saying "Drink not wine to drunkenness." (The Instructor II:2)

Special regard is to be paid to decency … so that we are to drink without contortions of the face, not greedily grasping the cup … nor from intemperance are we to drain the cup in one drink, nor sprinkle the chin, nor splash the garments while gulping down all the liquor at once; our face all but filling the bowl, and drowning in it. For the gurgling occasioned by the drink rushing with violence and being drawn in with a great deal of breath … while the throat makes a noise through the rapidity of ingurgitation, is a shameful and unseemly spectacle of intemperance. … Do not haste to mischief, my friend. Your drink is not being taken from you. … Your thirst is satiated, even if you drink slower, observing decorum, by taking the beverage in small portions, in an orderly way. (The Instructor II:2)

"Be not mighty," he says, "at wine; for wine has overcome many" [Ecclesiasticus 31:25] The Scythians, the Celts, the Iberians, and the Thracians, all of them warlike races, are greatly addicted to intoxication and think that it is an honorable, happy pursuit to engage in. But we, the people of peace, feasting for lawful enjoyment, not to wantonness, drink sober cups of friendship, that our friendships may be shown in a way truly appropriate to the name. (The Instructor II:2)

In what manner do you think the Lord drank when He became man for our sakes? As shamelessly as we? Was it not with decorum and propriety? … For rest assured, he also drank wine, for he, too, was man. And he blessed the wine, saying, "Take, drink; this is my blood"—the blood of the vine. …

   And that he who drinks ought to observe moderation, he clearly showed by what he taught at feasts. He did not teach affected by wine.

   And that it was wine which was the thing blessed, he showed again, when he said to his disciples, "I will not drink of the fruit of this vine, till I drink it with you in the kingdom of my Father."

   But that it was wine which was drunk by the Lord, He tells us again, … "For the Son of man," he says, "came, and they say, 'Behold a glutton and a wine-bibber, a friend of publicans'" [Matt. 11:19] Let this be held fast by us against those that are called Encratites [a gnostic sect started by Tatian, Justin's disciple, when he apostasized]. (The Instructor II:2)

Women, claiming to try to be graceful, that their lips may not be rent apart by stretching them on broad drinking cups … drink in an unseemly way out of alabastra quite too narrow in the mouth. They throw back their heads and bare their necks indecently, as I think. They distend the throat in swallowing, gulping down the liquor as if to make bare all they can to their companions. They hiccup like men, or rather like slaves, and revel in luxurious riot.

   Nothing disgraceful is proper for man, who is endowed with reason; much less for woman to whom it brings modesty even to reflect of what nature she is. "An intoxicated woman is great wrath," it is said, as if a drunken woman were the wrath of God. Why? "Because she will not conceal her shame" [Ecclesiasticus 26:8].  For a woman is quickly drawn down to licentiousness, if she only set her choice on pleasures. And we have not prohibited drinking from alabastra … But by no manner of means are women to be allotted to uncover and exhibit any part of their person, lest both fall, the men by being excited to look, they by drawing to themselves the eyes of the men. (The Instructor II:2)

But if any necessity arises, commanding the presence of married women, let them be well clothed—on the outside by raiment, on the inside by modesty. But as for such as are unmarried, it is the extremest scandal for them to be present at a banquet of men, especially men under the influence of wine. (The Instructor II:7)

For we are not to delineate the faces of idols, we who are prohibited to cleave to them … nor drinking cups, being temperate [meaning avoiding drunkenness, not drinking, as Clement recommends wine for those older than youth]. (The Instructor III:11)

Jerome, A.D. 390 - 420

Let your breath never smell of wine lest the philosopher's words be said to you: "Instead of offering me a kiss you are giving me a taste of wine." Priests given to wine are both condemned by the apostle and forbidden by the old Law. Those who serve the altar, we are told, must drink neither wine nor shechar. Now every intoxicating drink is in Hebrew called shechar whether it is made of corn or of the juice of apples, whether you distill from the honeycomb a rude kind of mead or make a liquor by squeezing dates or strain a thick syrup from a decoction of corn. Whatever intoxicates and disturbs the balance of the mind avoid as you would wine. I do not say that we are to condemn what is a creature of God. The Lord himself was called a "wine-bibber," and wine in moderation was allowed to Timothy because of his weak stomach. I only require that drinkers should observe that limit which their age, their health, or their constitution requires. But if without drinking wine at all I am aglow with youth and am inflamed by the heat of my blood and am of a strong and lusty habit of body, I will readily forego the cup in which I cannot but suspect poison. The Greeks have an excellent saying which will perhaps bear translation:

   "Fat bellies have no sentiments refined." (Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, series 2, vol. VI, "The Letters of St. Jerome," Letter 52 "To Nepotian")

On this, perhaps, Tatian the chief of the Encratites [Tatian, Justin's disciple, apostasized to gnosticism after Justin's death, forming a sect called the Encratites] endeavours to build his heresy, asserting that wine is not to be drunk, since it was commanded in the law that the Nazarites were not to drink wine, and now those who give the Nazarites wine are accused by the prophet. (Commentaries in Amos, from Ante-Nicene Fathers, vol. II, "Fragments of Tatian" 10)

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