A deadly sin Mennonites seldom talk about

Jan 26, 2015 by

Print Friendly

It may be true that the body is only a temporary thing, but that’s no excuse for stuffing your body with food, or indulging it with sex. Since the Master honors you with a body, honor him with your body! . . . The physical part of you is not some piece of property belonging to the spiritual part of you. God owns the whole works. So let people see God in and through your body. — I Corinthians 6 (The Message)

It seems ironic that Mennonites, highlighted in one of the world’s largest books on self denial and suffering, Martyrs Mirror, have 400 years later become known for the popularity of their great books about mouth-watering food.

Mennonite Community Cookbook

Mennonite Community Cookbook

Best sellers like the Mennonite Community Cookbook (an old classic), the More With Less cookbook (our favorite), Mennonite Country Style Recipes (so useful and practical), the Fix-It and Forget-It series (a New York Times bestseller), and more recently, Mennonite Girls Can Cook, have far outsold books on other topics by Mennonite authors. Good eating is both our delight, associated with good hospitality and great fellowship, and one of our downfalls.

I love a well prepared meal, and believe occasional feasts can be a great thing, especially the special ones Jesus told us to invite the hungry and the less invited to. But what Jesus and the prophets condemn is “faring sumptuously every day.” In other words, they condemn making every meal about living to eat rather than eating to live. I, for one, need to learn to balance occasions of celebrative and joyful feasting with other times of reflective fasting, of doing without or doing with less, out of respect for creation and for the world’s desperately poor.

Meanwhile, what overall message are we Mennos giving about temperance and self control? It’s not that we never talk about overeating, we regularly joke about it, and, like most other North Americans, lament how it’s making us overweight and unhealthy, a deadly sin indeed. While we may not overtly condone gluttony, as in the German fressa, the animal-like devouring of food (in contrast to essa, the grateful partaking of daily fare), we seldom find ourselves denouncing it.

In his Summa Theologica, St. Thomas Aquinas writes that there are five ways to commit gluttony (from the Latin gluttire, meaning to gulp down), e.g., “an over-indulgence and over-consumption of food, drink or wealth items to the point of extravagance or waste; a misplaced desire of food or its withholding from the needy,” as follows:

  • Laute — eating food that is too luxurious, exotic, or costly
  • Nimis — eating food that is excessive in quantity
  • Studiose — eating food that is too daintily or elaborately prepared
  • Praepropere — eating too soon, or at an inappropriate time
  • Ardenter — eating too eagerly (Wikipedia)

Clearly we could use some more emphasis on over-eating as among the deadliest of our sins, right up there with lust, wrath, greed, sloth, pride and envy.

In the words of the 19th-century Russian Bishop Ignatius Brinchaninov:

Wise temperance of the stomach is a door to all the virtues. Restrain the stomach, and you will enter Paradise. But if you please and pamper your stomach, you will hurl yourself over the precipice of bodily impurity, into the fire of wrath and fury, you will coarsen and darken your mind, and in this way you will ruin your powers of attention and self-control, your sobriety and vigilance.

Harvey Yoder is an ordained pastor and member of Family of Hope, a small Virginia Mennonite Conference house church congregation. He blogs at Harvspot, where this first appeared.


Comments Policy

Mennonite World Review invites readers’ comments on articles. To promote constructive dialogue, editors select the comments that appear, just as we do with letters to the editor in print. These decisions are final. Writers must sign their first and last names; anonymous comments are not accepted. Comments do not appear until approved and are posted during business hours. Comments may be reproduced in print, and may be edited if selected for print.

  • Harvey Yoder

    Maybe we need to form some Carboholics Anonymous groups in the church.

  • Lisa Schirch

    I am really glad you wrote this. Where is the church listening process on addictive eating, on consumption? Why are some within the church willing to continually point fingers at what they see as the sins of others, while ignoring the sins of overconsumption of which most of us are guilty?

    • Conrad Hertzler

      Why? Because we are all in the process of being sanctified and none of us have a completely wholesome approach to sin. In our minds, some sins are more “sinful” than others. Intellectually, we might know that this is not true but practically, we fall short. Also, in this process of sanctification, most of the time it’s easier to see the sins of others than our own sins.