Abstinence: Wikis


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From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Abstinence is a voluntary restraint from indulging a desire or appetite for certain bodily activities that are widely experienced as giving pleasure. Most frequently, the term refers to abstention from sexual intercourse, alcohol or food. The practice can arise from religious prohibitions or practical considerations.

Abstinence has diverse forms. Commonly it refers to a temporary or partial abstinence from food, as in fasting. In the twelve-step program of Overeaters Anonymous abstinence is the term for refraining from compulsive eating, akin in meaning to sobriety for alcoholics. Because the regimen is intended to be a conscious act, freely chosen to enhance life, abstinence is sometimes distinguished from the psychological mechanism of repression. The latter is an unconscious state, having unhealthy consequences. Freud termed the channeling of sexual energies into other more culturally or socially acceptable activities "sublimation".


Abstinence in religion

Abstinence may arise from an ascetic element, present in most faiths, or from a subjective need for spiritual discipline. In its religious context, abstinence is meant to elevate the believer beyond the normal life of desire, to a chosen ideal, by following a path of renunciation.

For Jews, the principal day of fast is Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. For Muslims, the period of fasting lasts during the whole month of Ramadan, from dawn to dusk. Both Jews and Muslims abstain from pork in their regular diet. In Islam, pre-marital sex is prohibited. Many Christians (as well as other religions) prohibit pre-marital sex as well. Also, Catholics and Orthodox Christians abstain from food and drink for an hour prior to taking Holy Communion, and abstain from meat on Ash Wednesday and on Fridays during Lent. Many Traditionalist Catholics abstain all Fridays in the year. Catholics distinguish between fasting and abstinence; the former referring to the discipline of taking one full meal a day, and the latter signifying the discipline of eating no meat (fish is allowed). Some Protestants have preferred to abstain from drinking alcohol and the use of tobacco. Mormons abstain from certain foods and drinks by combining spiritual discipline with health concerns. Mormons also fast one day a month, for both spiritual and charitable reasons (the money saved by skipping meals is donated to the needy). The Seventh-day Adventist Church encourages the consumption of only clean meats as specified in Leviticus and strongly discourages the consumption of alcohol, smoking and the use of narcotics.[1]

In India, Buddhists, Jains, and Hindus abstain from eating meat on the grounds both of health and of reverence for all sentient forms of life. Total abstinence from feeding on the flesh of cows is a hallmark of Hinduism.

In medicine

In medicine, abstinence is the discontinuation of a drug, often an addictive one. This might, in addition to craving after the drug, be expressed as withdrawal syndromes. Abstinence from smoking is also recommended for those who undertake or have recently undertaken cosmetic surgery. The American Society of Plastic Surgeons (ASPS) said about this issue, in a paper about smoking and its affects on cosmetic surgery,

Total absistence from smoking during the peri-operative period still remains the best course of management in order to reduce the negative effects of smoking on wound healing and propensity towards skin necrosis.[2]

Types of abstinence


Fasting is primarily the act of willingly abstaining from some or all food, drink, or both, for a period of time. A fast may be total or partial concerning that from which one fasts, and may be prolonged or intermittent as to the period of fasting. Fasting practices may preclude sexual activity as well as food, in addition to refraining from eating certain types or groups of foods; for example, one might refrain from eating meat. A complete fast in its traditional definition is abstinence of all food and liquids except for water.

Vegetarianism is the practice of a diet that excludes meat (including game and slaughter by-products; fish, shellfish and other sea animals; and poultry).[3][4] There are several variants of the diet, some of which also exclude eggs and/or some products produced from animal labour such as dairy products and honey.


Sexual abstinence is the practice of voluntarily refraining from some or all aspects of sexual activity. Common reasons for practicing sexual abstinence include:

Tobacco smoking

Smoking cessation is the action leading towards the discontinuation of the consumption of a smoked substance, mainly tobacco, but it may encompass cannabis and other substances as well.


Teetotalism is the practice and promotion of complete abstinence from alcoholic beverages.

Some common reasons for choosing teetotalism are religious, health, family, philosophical and/or social reasons, and, sometimes, as simply a matter of taste preference. When at drinking establishments, they either abstain from drinking or consume non-alcoholic beverages such as tea, coffee, water, juice, and soft drinks.

Contemporary and colloquial usage has somewhat expanded teetotalism to include strict abstinence from most "recreational" intoxicants (legal and illegal, see controlled substances). Most teetotaller organizations also demand from their members that they do not promote or produce non-alcoholic intoxicants.


A general abstinence from pleasures or leisures, either partial or full, may be motivated by ambition, career or general self-respect (excluding the point of view that even the latter examples may be regarded as sources of pleasure).

It is widely accepted that abstinence from addictive drugs gives successful outcome. However, it is not certain whether a general abstinence from pleasures of leisure yields higher productivity. Too much work generates stress and its potential adverse effects. Furthermore, the effort itself to achieve abstinence may consume willpower from its ultimate purpose. Total abstinence from pleasure or leisure is practically impossible and instead an individual work-life balance is necessary.


  1. ^ "Fundamental Beliefs". 2005. http://www.adventist.org/beliefs/fundamental/index.html. Retrieved 2006-03-07.  
  2. ^ Jewell, M.D., Mark L. (February 2007). "Smoking and Plastic Surgery". ASPS Patient Consultation Resource Book (ASPS). http://www.khouryplasticsurgery.com/download/Smoking_and_Plastic_Surgery.pdf. Retrieved 2008-07-13.  
  3. ^ "The Vegetarian Society - Definitions Information Sheet". The Vegetarian Society. http://www.vegsoc.org/info/definitions.html. Retrieved 2008-09-03.  
  4. ^ "Vegetarian". Compact Oxford English Dictionary. http://www.askoxford.com/concise_oed/vegetarian?. Retrieved 2008-06-15. "a person who does not eat meat for moral, religious, or health reasons. ['meat' is defined as 'the flesh of an animal as food']"  


Other related topics


Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From Wikiquote

Abstinence is a voluntary forbearance from indulging a desire or appetite for certain bodily activities that are widely experienced as giving pleasure. Most frequently, the term refers to abstention from sexual intercourse, alcohol, or food.


  • The great advantage of abstinence education is that it introduces teenagers to hypocrisy at an early age.
  • Let the fundamentalist Christians raise losers. I want my teenagers to have as much sex as they can possibly get.
  • If God wanted teenagers to be abstinent, puberty would begin at twenty.
  • Abstainer, n. A weak person who yields to the temptation of denying himself a pleasure.
  • All men cannot receive this saying, save they to whom it is given. For there are some eunuchs, which were so born from their mother's womb: and there are some eunuchs, which were made eunuchs of men: and there be eunuchs, which have made themselves eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven's sake. He that is able to receive it, let him receive it.
    • Jesus, Gospel of Matthew 19:11-12
  • Self denial is not a virtue: it is only the effect of prudence on rascality.
  • Usez, n'abusez point […] L'abstinence ou l'excès ne fit jamais d'heureux.
    • Translation: Use, do not abuse […] Neither abstinence nor excess ever renders man happy.
    • Voltaire, "Cinquième discours: sur la nature de plaisir", Sept Discours en Vers sur l'Homme (1738)


  • Condoms will break, but I can assure you that vows of abstinence will break more easily than condoms.
  • Complete abstinence is easier than perfect moderation.
    • Augustine of Hippo
    • Variant: To many, total abstinence is easier than perfect moderation.
  • My experience through life has convinced me that, while moderation and temperance in all things are commendable, abstinence from spiritous liquors is the best safeguard of morals and health.
  • The few bad poems which occasionally are created during abstinence are of no great interest.
  • Abstinence education gives young people the support they need in making the decision to postpone sexual activity until they are mature enough to handle the emotional, moral and financial responsibilities of parenthood. This is more than teaching kids to say no – it will help them preserve self-esteem and build character.

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1911 encyclopedia

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From LoveToKnow 1911

ABSTINENCE (from Lat. abstinere, to abstain), the fact or habit of refraining from anything, but usually from the indulgence of the appetite and especially from strong drink. "Total abstinence" and "total abstainer" are associated with taking the pledge to abstain from alcoholic liquor (see Temperance). In the discipline of the Christian Church abstinence is the term for a less severe form of Fasting.

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Bible wiki

Up to date as of January 23, 2010

From BibleWiki

Inasmuch as abstinence signifies abstaining from food, the Bible narrative points to the first instance wherein such a course of conduct was imposed by law (Gen 2:16, 17). The obvious purpose of this mandate was to lead the moral head of the human race to recognize the necessary dependence of creature upon Creator. The hour which witnessed the transgression of this law marked an increase in the debt which the creature owed the Creator. Adam's disobedience rendered all men criminal, and liable to the necessity of appeasing God's justice. To meet this new exigency nature dictated the necessity of penance; positive legislation determined the ways and means whereby this natural obligation would best be concreted. The chief results of this determination are positive statutes concerning fasting and abstinence. Laws relating to fasting are principally intended to define what pertains to the quantity of food allowed on days of fasting, while those regulating abstinence, what refers to the quality of viands. In some instances both obligations coincide; thus, the Fridays of Lent are days of fasting and abstinence. In other instances the law of abstinence alone binds the faithful; thus ordinary Fridays are simply days of abstinence. The purpose of this article is to trace the history of ecclesiastical legislation regarding the law of abstinence, as well as to examine the motives which underlie this legislation.



Fasting implying abstinence was ordained by law for the Day of Atonement (Lev 16:29 sq.). The ceremony incident to this feast was observed by the Jews on the fifth day before the feast of Tabernacles. From evening of the ninth until evening of the tenth day labour and eating were strictly prohibited. Besides this passage the sacred narrative contains many others which show how adversity moved the Jews to assume the burden of fasting and abstinence in a spirit of penance (Jdg 20:26; Jth 6:20; Joel 50:14; ii, 15). Moreover, the Jews abstained on the ninth day of the fourth month, because on that day Nabuchodonosor captured Jerusalem (Jer 52:6); on the tenth day of the fifth month, because on that day the temple was burned (Jer 52:12 sq.); on the third day of the seventh month, because on that day Godolias had been murdered (Jer 41:2); and on the tenth day of the tenth month, because on that day the Chaldees commenced the siege of Jerusalem (2Kg 25:1 sq.). They were told that fidelity to these regulations would bring joy, gladness, and great solemnities to the house of Juda (Zech 8:19). During the month of new corn they were obliged to spend seven days without leaven, and to eat the bread of affliction in memory of their delivery from Egypt (Deut 16:3). In addition to those indications concerning the seasons of abstinence amongst the Jews, the sacred text contains passages regarding the ways and means whereby the law of abstinence assumed more definite shape amongst them. After the deluge God said to Noe: "Everything that moveth upon the earth shall be a meat for you, saving that flesh with blood you shall not eat" (Gen 9:3, 4; similar passages are contained in Lev 7:26 sq.; xvii, 14 sq.; Deut 12:15,16). A prohibition whereby corn, oil, wine, and the first-born of herds and cattle are forbidden in towns is set forth in Deut 12:17. Priests were forbidden to drink any intoxicant lest they die (Lev 10:9). The eleventh chapter of Leviticus contains a detailed enumeration of the various beasts, birds, and fish that fall under the ban. Such were reputed unclean. Abstinence from things legally unclean was intended to train the Israelites in the pursuit of spiritual cleanness.

The Old Testament furnishes several instances of celebrated personages who betook themselves to this chastisement of the flesh. David kept fast on account of the child born of the wife of Urias (2Kg 12:16); Esther humbled her body with fasts (Esth., xiv, 2); Judith fasted all the days of her life (Jdg 8:6); Daniel ate neither bread nor flesh till the days of three weeks were accomplished (Dan 10:3), and Judas Machabeus and all the people craved mercy in tears and fasting (2 Macc 13:12). Moreover, Esdras commanded a fast by the river Ahava (Esd 8:21). The King of Ninive proclaimed a fast in Ninive whereby neither man nor beasts should taste anything, whether of food or drink (Jonah 3:7). Moses (Ex 34:28) and Elias (1 Kg 19:8) spent forty days in abstinence and fasting. Finally, the Pharisee in the Temple declared that he fasted "twice in a week" (Lk 18:12). Apropos of this passage Duchesne says that Monday and Thursday were days of fasting among the pious Jews ("Christian Worship", London, 1903, 228).


In the first portion of his Gospel St. Matthew relates how Christ passed forty days in the desert, during which time neither food nor drink passed his lips. No doubt this penance of the God-man was not only expiatory, but also exemplary. True, Christ did not explicitly define the days nor the weeks wherein his followers would be obliged to fast and abstain. At the same time his example, coupled with his reply to the disciples of the Baptist, is an evidence that the future would find his followers subjected to regulations whereby they would fast "after the bridegroom had been taken away". The only piece of clearly defined legislation concerning abstinence embodied in the New Testament was framed by the Council of Jerusalem, prescribing "abstinence from things sacrificed to idols, and from blood, and from things strangled" (Acts 15:29). Nevertheless the Acts of the Apostles give evidence of a tendency on the part of the Church, as an organized body, to prepare the way for important events by abstinence and fasting (Acts 13:3; xiv; 22). In fine, St. Paul sets forth the necessity of abstinence when he says that "everyone striving for the mastery must abstain from all things (1Cor 9:25); and "let us exhibit ourselves as the ministers of Christ in labours, watchings, and fastings " (2Cor 6:5), which he had often practiced (2Cor 11:27).


Throughout the Latin Church the law of abstinence prohibits all responsible subjects from indulging in meat diet on duly appointed days. Meat diet comprises the flesh, blood, or marrow of such animals and birds as constitute flesh meat according to the appreciation of intelligent and law-abiding Christians. For this reason the use of fish, vegetables, mollusks, crabs, turtles, frogs, and such-like cold-blooded creatures is not at variance with the law of abstinence. Amphibians are relegated to the category whereunto they bear most striking resemblance. This classification can scarcely preclude all doubt regarding viands prohibited by the law of abstinence. Local usage, together with the practice of intelligent and conscientious Christians, generally holds a key for the solution of mooted points in such matters, otherwise the decision rests with ecclesiastical authority. Furthermore, on many fasting days during the year the law of abstinence bars the use of such viands as bear some identity of origin with flesh meat. For this reason eggs, milk, butter, cheese, and lard are interdicted (St. Thomas, Summa, II-II, Q. cvii, art. ult., ad 3). The Church enjoins the ways and means whereby her subjects must satisfy the obligation of doing penance inculcated by natural law. Many of the Fathers allude to the exercise of ecclesiastical authority in reference to the obligation of abstinence. The disciplinary canons of various councils bear witness to the actual exercise of authority in the same direction. Texts of theology and catechisms of Christian doctrine indicate that the obligation of abstaining forms an element in one of the Commandments of the Church. Satisfaction for sin is an item of primary import in the moral order. Naturally enough, abstinence contributes no small share towards the realization of this end. As a consequence, the law of abstinence embodies a serious obligation whose transgression, objectively considered, ordinarily involves a mortal sin. The unanimous verdict of theologians, the constant practice of the faithful, and the mind of the Church place this point beyond cavil. They who would fain minimize the character of this obligation so as to relegate all transgressions, save such as originate in contempt, to the category of venial sin are anathematized by Alexander VII [Cf. Prop. 23, ap. Bucceroni, Enchiridion Morale, 145 (Rome, 1905)]. In fine, the Trullan synod (can. 58, ap. Hefele, "History of the Councils of the Church", V, 231, Edinburgh, 1896) inflicts deposition on clerics and excommunication on laymen who violate this law. Furthermore, theologians claim that a grievous sin is committed as often as flesh meat is consumed in any quantity on abstinence days (Sporer, Theologia Moralis super Decalogum, I, De observ. jejunii, # 2, assert. II), because the law is negative, and binds semper et pro semper. In other words, the prohibition of the Church in this matter is absolute. At times, however, the quantity of prohibited material may be so small that the law suffers no substantial violation. From an objective standpoint such transgressions carry the guilt of venial sin. Moralists are by no means unanimous in deciding where the material element of such minor disorders passes into a material disorder of major importance. Some think that an ounce of flesh meat suffices to constitute a serious breach of this law, whereas others claim that nothing short of two ounces involves infringement of this obligation. Ordinarily, the actual observance of the law is confined to such circumstances as carry no insupportable burden. This is why the sick, the infirm, mendicants, labourers, and such as find difficulty in procuring fish diet are not bound to observe the law as long as such conditions prevail.


(1) Friday

From the dawn of Christianity, Friday has been signalized as an abstinence day, in order to do homage to the memory of Christ suffering and dying on that day of the week. The "Teaching of the Apostles" (viii), Clement of Alexandria (Strom., VI, 75), and Tertullian (De jejun., xiv) make explicit mention of this practice. Pope Nicholas I (858-867) declares that abstinence from flesh meat is enjoined on Fridays. There is every reason to conjecture that Innocent III (1198-1216) had the existence of this law in mind when he said that this obligation is suppressed as often as Christmas Day falls on Friday (De observ. jejunii, ult. cap. Ap. Layman, Theologia Moralis, I, iv, tract. viii, ii). Moreover, the way in which the custom of abstaining on Saturday originated in the Roman Church is a striking evidence of the early institution of Friday as an abstinence day.

(2) Saturday

As early as the time of Tertullian, some churches occasionally prolonged the Friday abstinence and fast so as to embrace Saturday. Tertullian (De jejunio, xiv) calls this practice continuare jejunium -- an expression subsequently superseded by superponere jejunium. Such prolongations were quite common at the end of the third century. The Council of Elvira (can. xxvi, ap. Hefele, op. cit., I, 147) enjoins the observance of one such fast and abstinence every month, except during July and August. At the same time the fathers of Elvira abrogated the "superposition" which had up to that time been obligatory on all Saturdays (Duchesne, op. cit., 231). Moreover, Gregory VII (1073-85) speaks in no uncertain terms of the obligation to abstain on Saturdays, when he declares that all Christians are bound to abstain from flesh meat on Saturday as often as no major solemnity (e. g. Christmas) occurs on Saturday, or no infirmity serves to cancel the obligation (cap. Quia dies, d. 5, de consecrat., ap. Joannes, Azor. Inst. Moral. I, Bk. VII, c. xii). Various authors have assigned different reasons to account for the extension of the obligation so as to bind the faithful to abstain not only on Fridays, but also on Saturdays. Some hold that this practice was inaugurated to commemorate the burial of Christ Jesus; others that it was instituted to imitate the Apostles and Disciples of Christ, who, together with the Holy Women, mourned the death of Christ even on the seventh day; while others claim that it owes its origin to the conduct of St. Peter, who passed Saturday in prayer, abstinence, and fasting, to prepare to meet Simon Magus on the following day (Acts 8:18 sq.; cf. Migne, P. L. XLIX, coll. 147, 148). Though the Roman Pontiffs have constantly refused to abrogate the law of abstaining on Saturday, special indults dispensing with the obligation have been granted to the faithful in many parts of the world.

(3) Lent

In point of duration, as well as in point of penitential practices, Lent has been the subject of many vicissitudes. In the days of St. Irenaeus (177-202) the season of penance preceding Easter was of rather short duration. Some fasted and therefore abstained from flesh meat etc. for one day, others for two days, and others again for a greater number of days. No distinct traces of the quadragesimal observance are discernible until the fourth century. The decrees of the Council of Nicaea in 325 (can. v, ap. Hefele, op. cit., I, 387) contain the earliest mention of Lent. Thenceforward ecclesiastical history contains numerous allusions to those forty days. Nevertheless, the earliest references to the quadragesimal season indicate that it was then usually considered a time of preparation for baptism, or for the absolution of penitents, or a season of retreat and recollection for people living in the world. True, fasting and abstinence formed part of the duties characterizing this season, but there was little or no uniformity in the manner of observance. On the contrary, different countries adopted a different regime. At Rome it was customary to spend but three weeks, immediately before Easter, in abstinence, fasting, and praying (Socrates, H. E., V, 22). Many attempts were made to include Holy Week in Quadragesima. The attempt succeeded at Rome, so that thenceforward the Lenten season consisted of six weeks. During these six weeks Sundays were the only days not reached by the law of fasting, but the obligation to abstain was not withdrawn from Sundays. As a consequence, the Lenten season numbered no more than thirty-six days. Hence St. Ambrose (Serm. xxxiv, de Quadrag.) notes that the beginning of Lent and the first Sunday of Lent were simultaneous prior to the reign of Gregory I. In the seventh century four days were added. Some claim that this change was the work of Gregory I; others ascribe it to Gregory II (Layman, loc. cit.). Duchesne (op. cit., 244) says that it is impossible to tell who added four days to the thirty-six previously comprised in the Lenten season. It is likely, at all events, that the change was made so as to have forty days in which to commemorate Christ's forty days in the desert. Be this as it may, the Church has never deviated from the ordinance of the seventh century whereby the Lenten season comprises forty days over and above Sundays.

(4) Ember Days

The beginning of the four seasons of the year is marked by Ember Week, during which Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday are days of fasting and abstinence. Ember Week occurs after the first Sunday of Lent, after Pentecost, after the feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross, and after the third Sunday in Advent. According to some writers the Ember Days in December were introduced by the Apostles as a preparation for the ordinations which occurred during that month (Layman, loc. cit.). The scriptural basis for this practice is to be found in Acts 13:2 sq. The summer Ember Days were observed during the octave of Pentecost (St. Leo I, Sermo ii, de Pentecost.), and the autumn Ember Days in September (Idem, Sermo viii, De jejunio septimi mensis). In the False Decretals (c. 840-50) Pope Callistus (217-22) is made to add a fourth week. We decree, he says, that the fast which you have learned to keep three times yearly, shall henceforward be made four times a year (Epist., Decr. lxxvi, cap., i; Migne, P. G., X, 121). St. Jerome, in his commentary on the eighth chapter of Zachary, believes that the Ember Days were instituted after the example of the Jews, who fasted and abstained four times during the year, as noted in the preceding paragraph. St. Leo I (Sermo vii, De jej. sept. mensis) considers that the purpose of penance during Ember Week is to urge the faithful to special efforts in the cause of continency. The two views are entirely compatible.

(5) Advent

Radulphus de Rivo (Kalendarium eccles. seu de observations canonum, Prop. xvi) and Innocent III (De observ. jej., cap. ii) testify that the Roman Church appointed a period of fasting and abstinence as a preparation for the solemnization of Christmas. Traces of this custom are still to be found in the Roman Breviary indicating the recitation of ferial prayers during Advent just as on days of fasting and abstinence. Radulphus de Rivo (loc. cit.) remarks that the Roman Church appointed the first Sunday after St. Catharine's feast as the beginning of Advent.

6. Vigils

In former times the clergy assembled in church, on the eves of great festivals, and chanted the divine office. In like manner the laity also repaired to their churches and passed the time in watching and praying. Hence the term vigil. Innocent III (op. cit., i) mentions the vigils of Christmas, the Assumption, and the Apostles (28 June). It is likely that the obligation of abstaining on the vigils of Pentecost, St. John Baptist, St. Lawrence, and All Saints was introduced by custom (cf. Azor., op. cit., VII, xiii), for, according to Duchesne (op. cit., 287), the element of antiquity is not the fasting, but the vigil. Formerly, the obligation of abstaining on vigils was anticipated as often as a vigil fell on Sunday. This practice is still in vogue.

(7) Rogation Days

These days occur on the Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday preceding the Ascension. Mamertus, Bishop of Vienne, introduced (some time before 474) the custom of reciting the Litanies on these days. He also prescribed fasting and abstinence thereon. This practice was extended to the whole of Frankish Gaul in 511 by the first Council of Orléans (can. xxvii). About the beginning of the ninth century Leo III introduced the Rogation Days into Rome (Duchesne op. cit., 289). An almost similar observance characterizes the feast of St. Mark, and dates from about the year 589 (Duchesne, op. cit., 288).


According to the vagaries of the Manicheans, Montanists. and Encratites, flesh meat is intrinsically evil and merits the most rigorous kind of prohibition. Keenly sensible of this heterodoxy, the Church of Christ has not based her ordinances enjoining abstinence on any such unwarranted assumption. As the exponent of revelation, the Church knows and teaches that every creature in the visible universe is equally a work of the divine wisdom, power, and goodness, which defy all limitations. This is why the first pages of the inspired text indicate that the Creator "saw all the things that he had made and they were very good" (Gen 1:31). St. Paul is, if anything, still more explicit in condemning the folly of those sectaries, though they originated after his day. "Now, the Spirit manifestly says that in the last times some shall depart from the faith, giving heed to spirits of error, and doctrines of devils . . . forbidding to marry, to abstain from meats which God hath created to be received with thanksgiving by the faithful and by them that know the truth. For, every creature is good, and nothing to be rejected that is received with thanksgiving" (1 Tim 4:1, 2, 3). Neither is the Church, in her legislation on abstinence, animated by any such gross superstition as influences the adherents of Brahmanism or Buddhism. Moved by their theories regarding the transmigration of souls, they are logically induced to abstain from eating the flesh of animals, lest they should unconsciously consume their parents or friends. In consequence of those notions their diet is vegetarian. So rigorous is the law prescribing this diet that transgressions are visited with social and domestic ostracism. At the same time this ultra conservatism has not been espoused by all who share the doctrine regarding the transmigration of souls. Many of them have not hesitated to temper their belief in this creed with a mitigated form of abstinence from flesh meat.

Eagerness to harmonize her disciplinary regime with the exigencies of the Mosaic legislation did not prompt the Church in shaping the measures which she set before her children in regard to abstinence. Though the Law of Moses embodies a detailed catalogue of forbidden viands, Christ abrogated those prohibitions when the Law was fulfilled. The Apostles, assembled in the Council of Jerusalem, gave definite shape to their convictions concerning the passing of the Old Law, as well as to their divinely founded right to shape and mould the tenor of ecclesiastical legislation so as best to meet the spiritual needs of those entrusted to their charge (Acts 15:28, 29). Nevertheless, legislation alone is well-nigh powerless in attempting to change abruptly the current of traditions and prejudices, when they are so deeply rooted in national institutions as to form an important factor in the growth and development of a nation. This was precisely the sort of problem that confronted the missionary enterprises of the Apostles. Their converts were recruited from Paganism and Judaism. Though Jews and Gentiles were doubtless sincere in their conversion to the new religion, previous habits of thought and action had left more than superficial traces in their character. As a consequence, many Jewish converts were unwilling to forego the Mosaic law concerning unclean meats, while Gentile converts could see no reason whatsoever for adopting the tenets of Judaism. This diversity of sentiment paved the way to misunderstanding, and all but open rupture, in various communities of the early Church. This is why St. Paul speaks so unequivocally regarding the lawfulness of all meats, but recommends due consideration for those Christians whose conscience will not brook this liberty (Rom., xiv; Gal 3:28; Rom., ii). Centuries of Christian life have so greatly simplified this matter that it is now well-nigh impossible to realize how there could then have been anything more than a passing controversy. At the same time it is well to bear in mind that in the beginning of the present era the Apostles were called upon to deal amicably with those who based their conservatism on the traditions of two thousand years of adhesion to the Mosaic legislation.

Daily experience testifies that the phenomena circumscribing the evolution of life in the material world are rooted in laws involving a process of transition from death unto life. "The struggle for existence and the survival of the fittest" is simply the dictum of science admitting the presence of this law in the animal kingdom. This law, so widespread in the material order. has been embodied in that economy wherein they who would imitate Christ must deny themselves, take up the cross, and follow Him. Hence, in molding her penitential discipline, the Church is inspired by the maxims and example of her Divine Founder. As a consequence, she is not the author of arbitrary measures in this matter; she simply frames her laws of abstinence to meet the exigencies of fallen nature. Darkness in the understanding, weakness in the will, and turbulence in the passions must ever remain to reveal the ravages: of sin in fallen man. Though the passions are destined to satisfy the legitimate cravings of human nature, and enable man to develop his being according to the dictates of reason, still they give unquestionable evidence of a vicious propensity to invade the domain of reason and usurp her sovereignty. In order to check this lawless invasion of the passions, and to subordinate their movements to the empire of reason, man is obliged to labor unceasingly; else he is sure to become the slave of unbridled passion. This is what St. Paul means when he says: "The flesh lusteth against the spirit, and the spirit against the flesh" etc. (Gal 5:17). The substance of certain viands, especially meat, renders inestimable service to man in his efforts to gain and retain the desired supremacy. This is what St. Jerome means when, quoting Terence, he says: Sine Cerere et Baccho, friget Venus (Cont. Jov., II, 6), or, to use the words of St. Thomas (II-II, q. cxlvii, art. 1), "the ardor of lust is dampened by abstinence from food and drink." Besides, abstinence exercises a salutary influence in leading man to suprasensible pursuits. For, according to St. Augustine (De oratione et jejunio, sermo ccxxx, de temp.), abstinence purifies the soul, elevates the mind, subordinates the flesh to the spirit, begets a humble and contrite heart, scatters the clouds of concupiscence, extinguishes the fire of lust, and enkindles the true light of chastity. This is summarized in the official message of the Church found in the Mass-preface used during Lent: "Who by bodily fasting suppresses vice, ennobles the mind, grants virtue and rewards." It is no exaggeration, therefore, to maintain that Christians must find in abstinence an efficacious means to repair the losses of the spirit and augment its gains. Inspired by such motives, the Church wisely prohibits the use of flesh meat at duly appointed times. Seemingly harsh, the law of abstinence, in its last analysis, serves to promote bodily and spiritual well-being. The mechanism of the body stamps man as an omnivorous animal. Hence, all nations have adopted a mixed diet. Nay. more, a priori and a posteriori reasons prove that the occasional interruption of meat diet conduces to bodily and spiritual health. In case of less rugged constitutions, the Church tempers the rigors of her legislation with the mildness of her dispensations. Finally, the experience of nineteen centuries proves that transgression of this law neither promotes health nor prolongs life. Hence, consummate wisdom and prudence, seeking to safeguard the welfare of soul and body, inspire the Church in her laws pertaining to abstinence. (See ADVENT; LENT)

Portions of this entry are taken from The Catholic Encyclopedia, 1907.

Simple English

Abstinence is a voluntary restraint from following a desire or appetite for certain bodily activities that are widely experienced as giving pleasure. Most frequently, the term refers to abstention from sexual intercourse, alcohol or food. The practice can arise from religious prohibitions or practical considerations.

In India, Buddhists, Jains, and some Hindus abstain from eating meat on the grounds both of health and of reverence for all sentient forms of life. Total abstinence from feeding on the flesh of cows is a hallmark of Hinduism.


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