The Lost Art of Catholic Drinking

There is Protestant drinking and there is Catholic drinking, and the difference is more than mere quantity. I have no scientific data to back up my claims, nor have I completed any formal studies. But I have done a good bit of, shall we say, informal study, which for a hypothesis like this is probably the best kind.

To begin with, what is Catholic drinking? It’s hard to pin down, but here’s a historical example. St. Arnold (580-640), also known as St. Arnulf of Metz, was a seventh-century bishop of Metz, in what later became France. Much beloved by the people, St. Arnold is said to have preached against drinking water, which in those days could be extremely dangerous owing to unsanitary sewage systems — or no sewage system at all. At the same time, he frequently touted the benefits of beer and is credited with having once said, “From man’s sweat and God’s love, beer came into the world.”

Wise words, and St. Arnold’s flock took them to heart. After his death, the good bishop was buried at a monastery near Remiremont, France, where he had retired. However, his flock missed him and wanted him back, so in 641, having gotten approval to exhume St. Arnold’s remains, they carried him in procession back to Metz for reburial in the Basilica of the Holy Apostles. Along the way, it being a hot day, they got thirsty and stopped at an inn for some beer. Unfortunately, the inn had just enough left for a single mug; the processionals would have to share. As the tale goes, the mug did not run dry until all the people had drunk their fill.

Now, I’m not saying that Catholic drinking involves miracles, or that a miracle should occur every time people get together to imbibe. But good beer — and good wine for that matter — is a small miracle in itself, being a gift from God to His creatures, whom He loves. And as G. K. Chesterton wrote in Orthodoxy, “We should thank God for beer and burgundy by not drinking too much of them.” In other words, we show our gratitude to God for wine and beer by enjoying these things, in good cheer and warm company, but not enjoying them to excess.

Just what constitutes excess is for each person to judge for himself. However, we now approach the main difference between Catholic drinking and Protestant drinking. Protestant drinking tends to occur at one extreme or another: either way too much or none at all, with each being a reaction to the other. Some people, rightly fed up with the smug self-righteousness of teetotalers, drink to excess. And teetotalers, rightly appalled at the habits of habitual drunkards, practice strict abstinence. It seems to occur to neither side that their reaction is just that: a reaction, and not a solution. If they considered it a bit, they might see a third way that involves neither drunkenness nor abstinence, yet is consistent with healthy, honest, humane Christian living.

Here we encounter Catholic drinking. Catholic drinking is that third way, the way to engage in an ancient activity enjoyed by everyone from peasants to emperors to Jesus Himself. And again, it is not just about quantity. In fact, I think the chief element is conviviality. When friends get together for a drink, it may be to celebrate, or it may be to mourn. But it should always be to enjoy one another’s company. (Yes, there is a time and place for a solitary beer, but that is the exception.)

For example: The lectures at the annual Chesterton conference are themselves no more important than the attendees later discussing those same lectures over beer and wine (we tend to adhere to Hilaire Belloc’s rule of thumb, which is to avoid alcoholic beverages developed after the Reformation). These gatherings occur between talks, during talks — indeed, long into the night — and we typically fall into bed pleasantly stewed. I cannot imagine a Chesterton conference without this. And yet I also know how detrimental it would be if we all stumbled back to our rooms roaring drunk.

Avoid each extreme — that’s how you drink like a Catholic. This is the art of Catholic drinking. There are plenty of our brethren who consider drinking somehow immoral, and there are plenty of others who think drinking must end with great intoxication. But the balanced approach — the Catholic approach — means having a good time, a good laugh, sometime a good cry, but always with joy and gratitude for God’s generosity in giving us such wonders as beer and burgundy. Remember that, and the lost art of Catholic drinking may not remain lost.

This article originally appeared in the November 2009 edition of Crisis


Sean P. Dailey has been the editor-in-chief of Gilbert Magazine. Prior to that he was a reporter and religion page editor for the NewsTribune in La Salle, Illinois, and a police reporter and education reporter for The State Journal-Register in Springfield, Illinois. A a veteran of the US Marine Corps, Sean lives in Springfield with his family.

  • Alissa Jean

    Nicely put. Going to a Protestant high school and then Catholic college, I have friends that fall into all of the above categories. The example of the Chesterson conferences is so true; first of all on the point of discussion being as important as lecture and secondly on the point of the importance of moderation.

  • jon

    This is indeed an “informal study” and it shows.
    How can this be even close to formal when the bible is not even considered? Isn’t this the instruction manual to your faith?

    “good beer — or good wine for that matter — is a small miracle in itself, being a gift from God to His creatures.”

    Unless there is a contextual bible verse that can prove this statement true, this “study” is hardly convincing. There’s so much more about this that makes my head spin but i’m trying the more light than heat thingy… so can someone tell me how quoting some random archbishop on his love for alcohol actually means that God says it is ok? After all this person is but a man and and all men are sinners… the bible is the word of God… what does it have to say?

  • Bolek

    To the previous poster – there is biblical evidence , Christ himself drank wine and it was even his first miracle to make wine!

    The Archbishop maybe a mere man, but he is also a saint and amongst God. The miracle story was just a cute little anecdote, but don’t use it as an opportunity to brush off one of God’s holy saints!

  • Stuart M

    To the second poster:-

    As Catholics we do not believe in Sola Scriptura (the belief that scripture alone is enough)and so we do not need a specific bible passage.

    We follow tradition and the teachings of the Church fathers, Saints and Popes throughout history.

    and there is biblical evidence, as already mentioned. If Jesus, his mother and the apostles drank, why shouldn’t we?!

  • Charlie

    Written to TerrKate, who is questioning the faith:

    Just remember that God doesn’t send people to hell because He’s mean and sadistic. He sends them to hell because they hate Him and rebel against Him in their actions and intentions. He loves us and gives us every opportunity to requite that love by following Him, but instead we spit in his face and crucify Him over and over. “And why not?” we rationalize, “everybody else is doing it and they can’t all be going to hell.” Well, if they keep it up, they will be, but that’s not your concern anyway–you’re only job is to save YOUR soul.

    The miracle of our Catholic faith is that God Himself gave us these Truths (Divine Revelation) so that we could accept them and live by them and be happy forever. He gave us a Church hierarchy to pass them on to every generation. So trust your catechism and don’t worry so much about that empty slogan, “tolerance.” Believe the truths proposed by Holy Mother Church and show that you believe it by actually living it.

  • Christine

    Jesus sent us His Holy Spirit (The Consoler). The Holy Spirit gives us self-control. We are temples of The Holy Spirit. “Everybody is doing it” comes from moral relativism, a dimension of our contemporary spiritual warfare. The daily hour of power (Holy Hour/Eucharistic Adoration) used by J.P.II is artillery in the divine arsenal. Thirty days of the rosary, during the hour with the Blessed Sacrament exposed, has the power to overcome addiction.

  • Timothy

    Ephesians 5:18 Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit.

    When the Catholic tradition of drinking beer leads to debauchery there is a problem which I believe is sin. The question is then, are you allowing that sin to be an acceptable pleasure in your life? Look at the history of the Catholic church… what I see is debauchery among drinking men even when women are not present at all which leads to sexual immorality as well as a host of other sins.

    Unfortunately for drinkers even “Catholic drinkers”, scripture is God breathed and teaches us a whole lot more than any charlatan can offer in the way of itchy ears being gently scratched. For true Christ exhaltation, we use and rely on scripture and the Lord to ultimately sanctify and save us. It may be fine to have a few beers, but is it helpful? Are you leading anyone anywhere beneficial with your Catholic drinking, or are you actually tempting those who struggle to fall again into drunkeness.

    See if it pasts this test:
    1 COR 10:31 So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.

  • HsvsRsvsesv
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  • Adam

    “Give strong drink to him who is perishing, and wine to him whose life is bitter. Let him drink and forget his poverty and remember his trouble no more.” Proverbs 31:6-7

    Everything God made is good.

  • Jason Negri

    …I do not think it means what you think it does.

    Most of your article rings true when it describes and praises drink appropriately imbibed. But I don’t see why you call it “Catholic”. That word is not synonymous with “good”.

    I think you’re on even shakier ground when you label as “Protestant” the extreme of drinking past the point of hilarity to stinkin’, fallin’ down drunk. I mean, I know that teetotalorism (is that a word?) is historically identifiable with some strains of Protestantism who can’t distinguish use from abuse. But drunkenness is sinful according to all Christian denominations. So whence comes your assertion that drinking “way too much” is Protestant in nature? What is particularly “Protestant” about that?

  • Teevor

    As Justin Martyr said in his Second Apology,
    “Whatever things were rightly said among all men, are the property of us Christians.” We can extend this by analogy to say that whatever things are rightly done, are Christian things. We believe our Catholic faith contains the fullness of Christian truth. In affirming drinking in moderation as a good, we can indeed say it is Catholic.

    Insofar as insistence on teetotalism or drunkeness are a reaction against a misconception toward another extreme, they are a rebellion against the truth, and by implication, protestant. Here, then, we consider being Catholic not merely just a set of beliefs and doctrines but a whole way of living in accordance with the will of God.

    A protestant who enjoys moderate drinking is acting like a Catholic, just as when he reveres the scripture, composed and written down by the Catholic fathers of the Church. He only becomes a protestant when he adopts such innovations as sola scriptura.

    I wouldn’t take the article too seriously, though smilies/wink.gif

  • Steve Berg

    Where is the testimony of our very own expert on this and many other topics? Perhaps John Zmirak will weigh in and give us his explanation of what is involved in this important matter. Hopefully he, and the rest of the fine readers on this site are sitting back, appropriately Thankful, and perhaps even reverently sipping an alcoholic beverage, though one devised before the Reformation messed things up.

  • Jitpring

    jon, your excessive earnestness is pretty dire. Have a drink.

  • Jitpring

    Terrkate, get deeply into the Catechism (and hence also into Scripture).

    Also, read this:

    And consider this:

    “If we do not live as we think, we soon begin to think as we live.”

    -Fulton Sheen

    Have you grown morally flabby, which is now leading you to conform to the world and its dictatorship of relativism? Consider this very honestly, without any self-deception.

    On the dictatorship of relativism, see this famous homily:

    There’s nothing funny about the situation into which you’ve allowed yourself to drift. Your eternal soul is indeed at stake.

  • SC Phelan

    Jason, it’s teetotalitarianism. A neologistic gift for my fellow Catholic drinkers.

  • Scott Johnston

    All the people of the earth will not find salvation unless they become Catholics. Does God hate people who are not Catholics???

    The Catholic Church does not teach this. Perhaps ironically, and from my perspective, the Catholic Church has the most rational and loving attitude toward those who have not had the opportunity to learn about Christ and to receive the gift of the Christian faith. Before I became Catholic in 1995, one of the things that bothered me about Christians was the seeming callousness about those who die never knowing Christ. Are they doomed to hell because through no fault of their own they were born in the wrong place on the planet to ever have heard of Jesus???

    Well, as I discovered, the Catholic Church has a reasonable and very loving explanation for this problem. Catholicism teaches that all who are saved are indeed saved by Christ through His Church–the Catholic Church. But, this salvation can be implicit. In other words, a person who through no fault of his own has never had the opportunity for an explicit acceptance or denial of Christian faith, is not by this fact alone doomed to hell. This would be opposed to love and make a mockery of the belief that God creates all human persons out of love. No one goes to hell who did not in some serious way willingly reject God in their life and persist in this rejection through to their death.

    The Cathechism 1037 includes:

    God predestines no one to go to hell; for this, a willful turning away from God (a mortal sin) is necessary, and persistence in it until the end. In the Eucharistic liturgy and in the daily prayers of her faithful, the Church implores the mercy of God, who does not want “any to perish, but all to come to repentance”

    Please also see this “Faith Fact” by Catholics United for the Faith at CUF’s web site:

    Indeed, according to the Catholic faith, no one is damned unless they are personally culpable for their damnation. God is not arbitrary and does not create human persons for hell. A person can only go their by his own choice. And a person who does not have the opportunity for explicit acceptance of the Christian faith can still be saved. But, any in this category who are saved, are in fact saved by Christ and through the Catholic Church, even though they are not explicitly aware of this.

  • Scott Johnston

    [This is the comment that I originally intended for the title above.]

    This post calls to my mind the different approaches various Christians can have toward the possibility of a human person’s being genuinely transformed from within by grace, i.e., to be made holy.

    Catholics believe there is genuine hope for sanctity. Grace does not merely put a label on us, “saved.” Rather, it remakes us from within. Through the grace-enabled acquisition of supernatural virtue, we can be transformed and made anew in Christ.

    What does this have to do with “Catholic drinking?”

    Well, as Catholics we realize that virtue–built up by our freely cooperating repeated acts and with the assistance of grace in our souls–really is possible. There is hope for a virtue-focused life here below. A practical consequence of this is that just because something can be abused does not mean there is no hope for ever being able to use it in a wholesome, holy way. We realize that drink can be used in moderation because virtuous living (both natural and supernatural) is possible for everyone in this life. And with virtue, while we must always be prudent, we need not be excessively fearful of the use of things like alcohol. If we are reasonable, prudent, prayerful, close to God, and responsible, we can drink and be merry (not being drunkards) and do so without sin!

    Without a clear grasp of how grace transforms the soul and makes virtue possible in this life one would be likely to see something like alcohol only in two extremes, either as a substance that we must avoid altogether or that we must inevitably fall prey to by inordinate intoxication.

  • BenK

    This is a particularly good example of ‘Catholics behaving badly.’ The article doesn’t address the billions of Protestants who have lived over the centuries and their varied approach to drink; it simply identifies the extremes of alcohol consumption and without even an anecdote to explain, asserts that these putative sins are Protestant. Roman Catholics who write like this should be disciplined by the Church.

  • Sean

    Ah yes. I remember well the joys of Catholic drinking. I remmember my drunken Catholic uncle giving my aunt a black eye, my drunken Catholic neighbor leaving his wife and three kids and let’s not forget those cheerful Catholic DWI’s leaving death in their wake. I have a long list of misery left behind by joyful Catholic drinking. If soberness is a protestant virtue maybe we should add it to the Catholic catechism.

  • Cavaliere

    God gave us a free will but yet we are told God’s will be done not mine.

    Terrkate, we indeed have free will and we ought freely to choose God’s will if we desire to be truly happy. But God does not compel us to follow His will. Since God is the highest good it follows that His will for us will be what is best for us. When we choose to ignore His will and follow our own we are in fact telling God we know better than He what is good for us. Still He does not stop loving us.

    Perhaps this might be better explained by way of analogy. Fr. Corapi tells the story of his younger sister who wanted to go to a high school football game with some friends and ride in a friends car. The mother told her she could go to the game but she could not go in the friends car. His sister persisted all week and each time her mother said “no.” Finally on the day of the game the sister snuck away with the friends and went in the car which was involved in a crash and his sister died.

    In this case his mother knew what was best for her daughter but she could not force the daughter to do something she was committed to doing. By her disobedience the young girl died. Undoubtedly her mother suffered incredible grief and certainly loved her lost daughter but that could not change the circumstances that she was gone.

    Similarly when we sin we distance ourselves from God and when we commit mortal sin we separate ourselves entirely. Rightly understood, God does not send anyone to Hell but we send ourselves by our sins.

    As to your comment about the disease of alcoholism, the Bible tells us that disease entered the world through original sin, not because God willed it. Have Faith and pray for understanding to these difficult questions that are troubling you. Seek the counel of a good priest and above all please do not walk away from the true Faith because, like those in the Gospel, you find certain teachings troubling or difficult. found

    Sean, as to the article itself, Slainte!

  • Sarah L

    As Justin Martyr said in his Second Apology,
    “Whatever things were rightly said among all men, are the property of us Christians.” We can extend this by analogy to say that whatever things are rightly done, are Christian things. We believe our Catholic faith contains the fullness of Christian truth. In affirming drinking in moderation as a good, we can indeed say it is Catholic.

    Insofar as insistence on teetotalism or drunkeness are a reaction against a misconception toward another extreme, they are a rebellion against the truth, and by implication, protestant. Here, then, we consider being Catholic not merely just a set of beliefs and doctrines but a whole way of living in accordance with the will of God.

    A protestant who enjoys moderate drinking is acting like a Catholic, just as when he reveres the scripture, composed and written down by the Catholic fathers of the Church. He only becomes a protestant when he adopts such innovations as sola scriptura.

    Well put. So, please, enough of the references to Catholics who were obviously not treating alcohol in a manner worthy of one who professes to follow Christ–who not only turned water into wine, He made it into really good wine. I don’t think he would have done so if he saw alcohol in all its forms as an evil snare and if he considered social (convivial) drinking (in moderation) to be a slippery slope. I like Teevor’s explanation (hence my quoting him above). Maybe, though, it wouldn’t hurt to simply call teetotalitarianism (thank you, SC Phelan!) and drinking to excess “Non-Catholic Drinking”–rather than “Protestant drinking.” So, those who don’t treat alcohol rightly are not drinking as Catholics, since they’re not drinking in a manner that Christ would approve. But non-Catholics who do treat alchohol rightly can be said to be drinking in a Catholic (i.e. just) manner–or a manner based on truth, which makes it Catholic.

  • Nick M

    Sean, you fail to make a distinction between drinking and acts done while drunk. It seems to me that most people who would do such things while drunk, probably would require little coaxing to do them when sober either. I went to a Catholic college for 4 years. In that time, we drank alot. In all those 4 years, however, I was never witness to a single instance of intoxicated violence, or even of a verbal fight. In fact, drinking usually took place in a very mirthful context and only added to the joviality of the occasion. I admit that there are people who ought not to drink, just as there are people who ought not to do any number of things, simply because they can’t do it responsibly. But that does not make drinking wrong any more than it makes driving wrong. And I only reiterate the scriptural support of responsible use of alcohol that has been mentioned before. As an aside, I take issue with classifying alcoholism as a disease, but that’s just my opinion..

  • Augustine

    As a Brazilian, I’ve always been confused by the American attitude about drinking, in that it seemed to me that they’d drink for drunkenness’ sake, whereas I was used to drinking beer as an excuse to get together with friends and chat for hours on end, especially about the only important subjects: religion and politics, in particular accompanied by snacks or barbecue. I’ve never met any Brazilian who counted the days until his 18th birthday to go binge-drinking either.

    Well, this article seems to confirm my observations and suggests that the reason lies on Brazil being a Catholic country and the US, a Protestant/Puritanical country. Definitely plausible.

  • Clinton

    This is a really silly article and i had to comment. While in the beginning, I just thought it was amusing, reading the comments later on made me realize how seriously some people take this stuff.

    First of all the distinction between Catholic and Protestant (drinking) is really superficial, and to use a saint to justify it is even more stupid. Have most Catholics who drink even heard of this unknown saint? So, what’s the point of bringing him in? And contrasting Catholic with Protestant drinking is not only insulting to Protestants, but downright deceitful.

    The article also belittles those Catholics who may have chosen to live a life of abstinence, for whatever reason.

    So here are my own personal reasons….growing up in a staunch Catholic (beer drinking) family, I a made a commitment at an early age not to drink beer as a sign of my commitment to the Lord. How does your article make me feel?

    Point # 2. I know of many many Catholics who have gone the other extreme and are worse than alcoholics. I have seen many of my Catholic friends families destroyed because of alcohol and alcoholism has impacted my own family as well. Where’s the moderate Catholic drinking here?

    Point#3: I know of many godly Protestants (those who drink and don’t drink) and don’t fit either extreme.

    Point#4: To all those people giving Jon, the second commentator a hard time, “Is sola scriptura” all you can think of? This shows that you hardly spend time thinking and have only Sola Scriptura to say to anyone who asks for a BIble verse. I am not even sure if Jon is a Protestant. And for that matter, Scripture does not take an either/or position. Of course the people of Jesus’ day and He Himself partook of wine. But Scripture also has several warnings against being drunk. And the amount of alcohol people had in their wine/etc in those days was nowhere near what we have in drinks today. Which is why with good caution, the Church herself advises us not to be drunk.

    So that was my 2 cents. A seemingly harmless article that can incite a lot of passions, bitterness and unnecessarily cause misinformation, division etc etc

    For all the “Jesus drank wine” people, isn’t the exhortation of St. Paul really something to keep in mind here: “for I will not eat meat….if it offends my brother”. What matters more here? Isn’t it love and the Body?

  • Kamilla

    After reading some of these responses, I wonder if we couldn’t use a, “Lost Art of Catholic Humour” article?


  • Cavaliere

    After reading some of these responses, I wonder if we couldn’t use a, “Lost Art of Catholic Humour” article?

    You’ve got that right Kamilla.

    To those who have chosen abstinence for whatever reason, I applaud you. Growing up around an alcoholic I can appreciate your intentions. But they are beside the point of the article.

    Many monastic communities are vegetarian or at least mostly so. This does not mean they are opposed to eating meat, far from it, but they have chosen to do so for more noble reasons.

    Personally I like the story about St. Arnulf. And if you liked this article I would suggest reading Hilare Belloc’s “The Path to Rome.” It if full of wonderful tales and examples of “Catholic drinking.”

  • JWesley

    The comments above (re: “really silly”) make important points that are routinely ignored by Catholic apologists (certainly the “Johnny one notes” among them who tiresomely harp on a few shopworn digs taken at the favorite Protestant whipping boy). Apologists rely on caricature, foil, and simplistic argument when they routinely club Protestantism with their mighty white-knuckled grip on the truth. Were they to cultivate a sophisticated understanding of the very complex, nuanced traditions that comprise Protestantism, they would not be able to make their triumphalistic arguments quite so summarily. Indeed, history would get in the way for them all too much.
    Yes, yes, the article was meant to be tongue in cheek. Granted. But it does point to serious flaws in the sophistry and bag of cheap shots that are the stock in trade of the apologists. Catholicism deserves better.

    A Protestant who drinks in moderation and always in community with anyone else who will join him.

  • Mack Hall

    The judgmentalism of the unhappy ruins every merry party. Someone’s alcoholic grandpa was not drunk and abusive because he was a Catholic; he was drunk and abusive because of (a) physiological traits over which he had no control or (b) weakness of character. Sean’s delightful article expresses a Chesterton / Lewis / Tolkien / Christian ideal of enjoying all of God’s blessings.

  • John Faucher

    The article makes instinctive sense to me, although it’s easy to criticize such a sweeping generalization as “Catholic” versus “Protestant” drinking.
    I grew up in an atheistic household with an alcoholic mother. Drinking always loomed over me as a specter, and I saw myself swinging on a pendulum from gross alcohol abuse in college to years of teetotaling in my 20s while under the influence of 12-step groups. Today, almost 50, I see the wisdom in drinking a little bit: I avoid being holier-than-thou, I don’t wake up with headaches, and I’m at peace with my mother.
    This migration also follows my religious migration: active in Protestant churches as a teen, 12-step groups (influenced greatly by Swedenborgians and other Protestant groups, much less so by Catholicism) in my 20s, convert to Catholicism in my late 30s.

  • Trealach

    One certainly does NOT need biblical reference or evidence, though such biblical evidence exists, that God created a miracle in (Beer and) Wine ……ask ANY Irishman!![smiley=tongue] but at least let’s be factual …. it was Guinness that God created, not beer[smiley=wink]

  • Brandy

    When we drink, we get drunk.
    When we get drunk, we fall asleep.
    When we fall asleep, we commit no sin.
    When we commit no sin, we go to heaven.
    So, let’s all get drunk, and go to heaven!
    –Old Irish toast


  • Clinton

    The comments above (re: “really silly”) make important points that are routinely ignored by Catholic apologists (certainly the “Johnny one notes” among them who tiresomely harp on a few shopworn digs taken at the favorite Protestant whipping boy). Apologists rely on caricature, foil, and simplistic argument when they routinely club Protestantism with their mighty white-knuckled grip on the truth. Were they to cultivate a sophisticated understanding of the very complex, nuanced traditions that comprise Protestantism, they would not be able to make their triumphalistic arguments quite so summarily. Indeed, history would get in the way for them all too much.
    Yes, yes, the article was meant to be tongue in cheek. Granted. But it does point to serious flaws in the sophistry and bag of cheap shots that are the stock in trade of the apologists. Catholicism deserves better.

    A Protestant who drinks in moderation and always in community with anyone else who will join him.

    JWesley, I think this article would be a poor example of Catholic apologetics. I certainly don’t think Sean intended it as that and was supposed to be more “tongue in cheek” like you suggested. As someone who is himself a revert from Protestantism, I think there are many more important doctrinal “issues” dividing Catholics and Protestants, addressed by several excellent Catholic apologists.

    Using this article to dismiss any form of Catholic apologetics is a disservice to those important issues and the critical matter of whether the Catholic claim is true or not.

    Best, Clinton

  • Chrissy G

    I’ve seen this kind of “Catholic drinking” in my family (Italian Catholics) and at my Jesuit college. Drinking to the point where you need taking care of, or you are prone to saying/doing things without realizing the consequences, is overdoing it. My rule of thumb is this: if you know how to drink with your parents, your professors, and your priest, then you know how to drink in moderation.

  • John Zmirak

    I found the article delightful, if taken lightly. However, there have surely been many Protestants with a wholesome attitude toward drinking (the Lutheran beer makers, for instance, and even the Puritans themselves, who WEREN’T teetotalers). Conversely, I’ve known plenty of Catholics from those countries where the genes for alcoholism abound whose abuse of liquor is desperate and depressing–giving plenty of work to the worthy Pioneers, who swear off all liquor not as an evil, but a GOOD which they willingly renounce (it’s like celibacy, only much more painful I imagine) in reparation for those who abuse it.

    That said, I think the single best argument for moderation in drink is that if you abuse it, you’ll end up having to give it up altogether.

    More, of course, on these subjects in “The Bad Catholic’s Guide to Wine, Whiskey and Song” (see where I explore Temperance, Prohibition, Alcoholics Anonymous, and the monastic origins of most forms of drink. I hope it’s a sober exploration.


  • Dominic Mary

    You may want to read ‘A Drink Called Happiness – The New Wine of Dominican Spirituality’ . . . a good guide to Catholic Drinking, perhaps; and to remember that

    ‘Where’er the Catholic sun doth shine,
    There’s always laughter, and good red wine.
    At least, I’ve always found it so :
    Benedicamus Domino !’

  • Lucien

    The problem with the argument is that there isn’t any evidence given in support of the claim. No evidence was presented to show that Protestants are more extremist, and no evidence was offered to demonstrate that Catholics are not.

    Neither was there any justification for why “Catholic” drinking is normatively communal.

  • Lucien
  • Luc Saucier

    Right you are, Lucien and John Faucher. Mr. Dailey’s article appears to me like yet another attempt to compare the virtues of Catholics versus Protestants, with an conclusion as predictable as the Pope’s stand on the validity of Lutheran sacrements. But without any data to support his views, the anecdotal hearsay he proffers in regard to Protestants is questionable as well. Sensible drinking is a matter of personal choice, whatever the Faith you adhere to, period.

  • Luc Saucier
  • J Morehouse

    While I commiserate with those who have seen ill effects of alcoholism, I likewise commiserate with those who, to quote our Lord, would not laugh when the bridegroom was with them. Alcoholic beverages add to the joy of a celebration (in moderate amounts) and are healthy (in moderate amounts).

    Excepting theological virtues, virtue is always in the mean. Woot woot for Aristotle and St. Thomas! Courage, for example, is halfway between cowardice and foolhardiness. A 90-year-old woman would be courageous to cross a busy street in Manhattan, whereas a 25-year-old athlete would be cowardly not to. Each person must measure the risks and benefits, in order to make a prudent decision.

    For a few people, this may mean no alcohol at any time. This might be the virtuous path. For most people, a larger question is at stake. Can’t we learn moderation? God’s creation is entirely GOOD. Evil is a perversion or “privation” of that goodness. Wine and beer are good; drunkenness is a perversion.

    In my experience, Protestantism tends to view certain aspects of society, or of God’s creation in general, as inherently evil. One ought not to dance, because it might lead to premarital sex. (Or as Garrison Keillor said of the Amish, “One ought not have premarital sex, because it might lead to dancing…”). As regards alcohol, the implication is that one ought not to drink, ever, because alcohol itself is a sin or an evil. The Kathars, Jansenists, and others with similar heresies were all condemned by the Church, not because the members were not holy, but because God’s creation is itself very good and not to be spurned as evil. Historically, organized Protestant denominations often espoused these heretical ideas.

    Today, with the murky waters of Evangelicalism, it’s hard to talk about a Protestant doctrine, because, as Mark Noll from Wheaton College put it bluntly, there really isn’t one doctrine, there are innumerable doctrines which vary from person to person. I mention this, because some Protestant readers above were offended that we Catholics did not understand their personal feelings about alcohol. This is silly, just as much as it would be silly to expect us to know their favorite color and then be upset when we said blue and it was actually cerulean. Get over your hurt.

    Anyhow, I digress.

    In his tract “On Christian Doctrine,” St. Augustine of Hippo (who, by the way, ought to be considered a Church Father by all Christians) differentiates between things we enjoy for their own sake, and things we enjoy for the sake of something else. In this case, if we enjoy alcohol for its own sake, we will likely become alcoholics. This is a sin. However, if we enjoy it for the sake of friendship, conversation, and conviviality, we will avoid excess.

    Ultimately, it is the religious duty of a Catholic to enjoy life for God’s sake, and I don’t intend a euphemism here. Out of gratitude for God, enjoy the things he created for you and gave to you! We Catholics don’t enjoy wine for its own sake; instead we enjoy it because we enjoy life and each other, and because all things are a gift from a loving — and perhaps even mirthful, to cite G.K. Chesterton — God.

  • Gosomisef
  • dugsdouct
  • Colfwoort
  • MarkRutledge

    Where’er the Catholic sun doth shine,
    There’s music and laughter and good red wine.
    At least I’ve always found it so.
    Benedicamus Domino!
    -Hilaire Belloc

  • Monks did invent Champagne…

    • Sean P. Dailey

      Conservatop, Belloc’s full rules, from The Path to Rome, goes: “I knew a man once that was given to drinking, and I made up this rule for him to distinguish between Bacchus and the Devil. To wit: that he should never drink what has been made and sold since the Reformation—I mean especially spirits and champagne. Let him (said I) drink red wine and white, good beer and mead—if he could get it—liqueurs made by monks, and, in a word, all those feeding, fortifying, and confirming beverages that our fathers drank in old time; but not whisky, nor brandy, nor sparkling wines, not absinthe, nor the kind of drink called gin.”

      This is tongue-in-cheek of course. I cannot imagine Belloc turning down a good French champagne.

      • Alan-fennelly

        That’s odd because, as ‘Conservotop’ said, it was benedictine monks who invented Champagne. Also, whisky and brandy were made before the reformation, quite often in monasteries.

      • Or a 50 year old brandy. 

  • As easy as drinking is to make light of,  it is the cause of many broken souls. The traditional Catholic moral theology understanding is that drinking is seriously evil  when the drinker becomes  so inebriated he can no longer make responsible moral decisions.  That pretty much includes all drinkers who have had  more than two or three drinks. Drinking often encourages anger and lust, and very often leads to an unchristian illicitness. Perhaps Mr. Dailey is better reminded of the alarming alcoholism numbers  in  Ireland before he makes light of alcohol use.

    • Sean P. Dailey

      Allan, respectfully, yes, while drinking to extreme excess is a sin, neither you nor anyone else can tell a person what, to him, may be excessive. But it certainly does not include “all drinkers who have had more than two or three drinks.” And what does the rate of alcoholism in Ireland have to do with it? And anger and lust may be encouraged by any number of things, not drink only.

      • Genevieve

        Sean, I saw this article reblogged recently, and I see that it’s two years old here, so I don’t know if you’ll reply. But I’d be curious to know what you mean by “pleasantly stewed.” I’ve always heard “stewed” used to just mean drunk, but it sounds like you’re trying to make a distinction here. If it’s only the distinction between being “pleasantly drunk” vs “roaring drunk”…honestly, they both pretty much sound like drunkenness to me. As far as I can see, the Scriptures and the Church have always condemned drunkenness itself, regardless of whether it was pleasant or not.

        Having heard way too many Catholics try to use Chesterton to justify drunkenness, I was honestly a bit disappointed that this seems to be more of the same. But if I’m not understanding what you meant, I’d be really glad to understand better.

    • Allan, alcohol itself does not bring out anger and lust. It does bring down your inhibitions, and if you have underlying anger or lust, that will come out. There is this old habit, where a father would invite the suitor of his daughter for a meal, and would give the young man enough to drink to get him drunk. Then he would watch how the young man behaved. Would he become aggressive, or loud, or would he calm down or become quiet? That would give him a clue as to how the suitor would treat his wife to be, and give him direction as to allow the suitor to see his daughter, or not. 
      Also, God would never give us something that inherently would cause us to sin. Yet Christ himself changed the water at the wedding into wine (and not just any wine, but probably the best there has ever been), and used wine when he instituted the Eucharist. 

      As a brewmaster myself, I have spent many an evening with a group of very erudite friends, who love the selection of foods and drinks my table always offers. I never have sent any of them home inebriated. I cannot even remember when I had too much to drink myself. Our conversations span a wide range, from the mundane to the philosophical to the divine, from very lighthearted to very serious. So from my experience, Catholic drinking is far from dead, far from a lost art.

      If you’re ever around, Allan, I’d love to invite you to my table as well, so you can see for yourself. I am certain we all would have a great time!

      • James Kabala

        ” There is this old habit”

        Old habit or urban legend?  I am fairly well-read and I never heard of any such custom.

    • Allan, you must be drinking wrong. Sure, if you slam three beers in a row beer-bong style, you will probably impair moral decision making. However, one can easily drink six to eight beers (it all depends on the person) over a period of time, while eating food, in the right environment, and never even get buzzed. This whole thing is akin to pointing out how many people are led astray by sins of lust and thus concluding that a husband and wife having joyous marital relations while creating another human life is to be frowned upon. Catholicism is not Jansenism, lets leave that to the Muslims and Calvinists… 

      •  I thought blaming Jansenism for everything was passe. I don’t drink, but I have often watched drinkers act like Neanderthals. There is a demonstrable link between drinking and crime. (BTY, why would anyone WANT to drink 6-8 beers)? I must admit, I do not understand the joys of drinking. I’m often wont to say the best wine to offer with dessert is a good coffee.

    • The Egyptian

       two or three drinks

      light weight ;>)

  • Paul

    Theory and wishful theory are always nice.  Reality overdoes it.  Then revisionism makes the theory the tradition and the reality Protestant!!!!

    Me thinks you are a theorist!  Or a Revisionist!

    Damned Chestertonians.  Trying to make him a saint now too!

    • Sean P. Dailey

      Yes, Paul, we are trying to get Chesterton’s Cause for sainthood opened up. We have this silly notion that when more than 200 people (and counting) have been inspird by Chesterton to abandon atheism and/or Protestantism and enter the Catholic Church, then Chesterton just might be a candidate for sainthood.

      So what do you have against Chesterton anywat?

      • Ed B.

        You can add me and my friend Dan to that list.
        Edit: the “became Catholic because of Chesterton” list, not as yet, the sainthood one. Hopefully someday though :).

    • Posthaste

      He was knighted by Pope Pius XI. I wouldn’t necessarily call him a saint but he does deserve a mention in the history of the Catholic Church. He was one of the great apologists in a time when atheism and nihilism were romancing the West. And he had a striking habit of winning his debates, even against the likes of Shaw and Nietzsche.

  • Anonymous Seminarian

    I disagree that conviviality (with those on earth, at least) is a quasi-essential aspect of ‘Catholic drinking’. There is as much wrong with having a beer alone as there is with eating chocolate alone, watching a sunset alone, reading a book alone, drinking coffee alone, or, pretty much, doing anything good alone. I think it is more often that people abuse alcohol in groups (which would not, however, justify a ‘only drink alone’ policy). I frequently drink alone; I had a beer earlier this afternoon (emphasis: A beer) while I read some of my homework about modernity and VAII, and it was quite awesome. In a little bit, I’ll be heading down to dinner to enjoy beer with my seminarian brothers and formators. My point is that, unlike a protestant conception which thinks alcohol is inherently evil, to Catholics it is, as it always has been, one of the basic goods of life–an ordinary part of your day–not something to obsess about.

    • Some Protestant

      You ought to be more careful throwing labels around like that. I’m not Catholic, so you would probably label me Protestant. However, I’m familiar with what scripture teaches in regards to alcohol and it mentions nothing of the sort that it is regarded inherently evil. Moderation is the key. Like much of Catholic doctrine, the Protestants you’re speaking of here are holding their own experiences and traditions equivalent, or even above, the authority of scripture. Now you can see why that causes such confusion.

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  • A great article and one that I will share on Facebook and Twitter. 

    When I was an undergraduate (1994), I took a course with an orthodox Jesuit priest. You could probably take a guess at who it was since there aren’t many orthodox Jesuits this side of Heaven. Ha! Nevertheless, I will never forget the lecture we received in the course one day about how beer and wine are God’s creations and how we should drink both in moderation. Somehow he got on this topic and we ended up never talking about Everlasting Man by Chesterton. I still remember the lecture to this day. He talked about the yeast and the barley with beer and the importance of growing the grapes properly. He even brought into the lecture how Jesus is the Vine. It was a great class! 

    In the same class, on another day, I remember we were reading C.S. Lewis’ – Miracles. So many of us were having a difficult time understanding it, especially chapter 4 – Nature and Supernature. The Jesuit priest happily explained it to us and then told us to go to the store, buy a six-pack of good German beer, and go to the park to read our C.S. Lewis and drink our beer doing it. He said that should help us understand it better. We all laughed. A student (the only one who was over the age of 21 and now a priest himself) said to the Jesuit, all of these students (I was 20 and two months from 21) are underage and cannot purchase the beer for themselves. Without skipping a beat and with that Jesuit wit and sarcasm he said, then you need to go out and buy it for them because understanding the Divine Law is more important than any Civil Law. The class was laughing hysterically and we all wanted our beer that afternoon. I don’t think any of us got any (I had beer at home), but it was fun being in that class. 

    I will leave you with this poem taught to me by an old friend who first turned me on to GOOD beer –  

    In Heaven there is no beer, 
    that’s why we drink it here, and 
    when we’re gone from here, 
    all our friend’s will be drinking all our beer. 

  • Flamen

    A Catholic moral theologian once said:
    He is not drunk who prostate lies but can once more to drink arise,
    But drunk is he who prostrate lies and can not drink and cannot rise.

    • Michael Paterson-Seymour

      Another said:
      He who drinks well sleeps well
      He who is sleeping cannot sin
      He who does not sin shall be saved

    • Olybrius

      That wasn’t a theologian. That was Thomas Love Peacock, in his novel “Headlong Hall”.

  • Joshua Horne

    I certainly agree that there’s a Catholic ideal for drinking, and that certain Protestant sects are teetotalers with questionable reasoning, but I’m not aware of this drunken Protestant segment to which Dailey refers. I’ve seen just as many intemperate Catholics as I have Protestants, or even non-Christians. I agree with Dailey’s ideal of drinking, but not the dichotomy that seems to group all Catholics as living up to that ideal, and at the same time seeming to condemn all Protestants as being ignorant of or poorly practicing it.

  • Sober7

    There are those who have a very legitimate disease of alcoholism that do need to abstain from alcohol. Many of them are Catholic and would love to drink as you suggest, in moderation, but they cannot. There should have been at least some mention of this segment of the population in your article.

    • D_Smith2020

      Indeed. Obviously, the author glossed right over that and the serious consequences alcoholism has produced throughout the ages in Catholic Households. RIP Chris Farley.

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