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19 January 24

‘Eat not to dullness; drink not to elevation – Bro Benjamin Franklin

The word temperance conveys the idea of self-control. Unfortunately, it is usually now associated only with abstinence from alcohol or other intoxicants. The Greek word is best translated by the word ‘mastery’ which indicates full control over self and the things which one may desire.

Temperance is a virtue of self-mastery and is less about restraining one’s desires and more about choosing the optimal desires. It is derived from the Latin temperature, to mingle in due proportions; to qualify. Faith, Hope, and Charity are theological virtues because they orient us to God. Prudence, Fortitude, Justice and Temperance are moral virtues because they orient us to others in the human community.

In the philosophical school that arose as a legacy of the work and thought of Thomas Aquinas, temperance can be defined as the modulation of attraction for the sake of right relationship. According to Aquinas, temperance is ‘that virtue which keeps man’s sensitive appetite within the bounds of reason so that it may not be carried away by pleasures, particularly those that refer to the sense of touch in those acts that are necessary for
the conservation of bodily life’.

Temperance seems to be closely related to Sophrosyne, the ancient Greek concept of an ideal of excellence of character and soundness of mind, which when combined in one well-balanced individual leads to other qualities, such as temperance, moderation, prudence, purity, and self-control.

To the Greeks, to behave oneself in a temperate way is the opposite of being passionate. We are all familiar with the exhortation in our ritual to keep one’s passions and prejudices within due bounds.

‘Moderation in all things’ is an extrapolation of Aristotle’s Doctrine of the Golden Mean (presented in Nicomachean Ethics). His ethic works around finding the mean – or middle–ground between excess and deficiency. An example would be his presentation of courage being the happy medium between the extremely of rash action and the deficiency of cowardice, in respect to a person’s possible action in the face of danger.

Temperance is not so much about repressing desire but about channelling the mind and heart positively, placing it at the service of the right relationship to oneself, other brethren, the society in which we live and God.

Temperance refers to interior order and unity. It is about ‘directing reason’ in a broad sense and disposing of the various parts into a unified and ordered whole. If the virtue of temperance does limit and restrain desire, it is as a result deeper and more meaningfully good.

Temperance is often misunderstood as proposing a purely negative ideal of repression and constraint. On the contrary, temperance is a positive and attractive virtue which is urgently needed in modern society.

Temperance, like any other virtue, is fundamentally affirmative. It permits a person to become a master of themselves and puts order into one’s emotions, affections, likes and desires. In short, it ensures equilibrium in the use of material goods and helps to aspire to a higher good. The expression ‘well-tempered’ is often used to express the idea of solidity and consistency. Temperance is fundamentally about self-mastery.

It is the due restraint upon our affections and passions, which renders the body tame and governable and frees the mind from the allurements of vice. It is illustrated in old masonic manuscripts by a woman pouring a liquid from a pitcher into a cup. This virtue should be the constant practice of every mason.

Freemasonry looks at the internal rather than the external qualities of a man, temperance looks at the person instead of the action. It suggests a person should look inward and points toward a realisation of an order in oneself. Temperance enables the cultivation of one’s inner space. Self-discipline, the antithesis of self-love, takes the form of due self-discipline, including all that the Greek comprehended – soberness, temperance, and chastity; the temper of sobriety in judgment and in the estimation of self; the habit of restraint in the indulgence of desire and in the enjoyment of pleasure. The aim of self-discipline is the cultivation of moral and spiritual power through the process of strengthening, renewing and educating the will. The end of discipline is freedom and unhindered dominion of the spirit in the personality.

As men and masons, temperance reminds us that authentic pleasure and freedom are found not in acquiring and consuming, but in the right relationship with God, our brethren and the broader society in which we live.


By W Bro Steve Lourey 


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