As far as dead western authors go, Aristotle is arguably one of the most read and still influences us in many ways. One of his enduring concepts is “the golden mean.” In Eudemian Ethics he develops this idea that somewhere between two extremes lies virtue. Like, between cowardice and recklessness would be found proper courage. Between lavishness and miserliness would be proper stewardship. You get the idea.
Thomas Aquinas liked the idea (he was sort of a fan of Aristotle in general) and thought that Christian ethics were in keeping with the golden mean. It’s in the Summa Theologica. (Apparently Thomas had a hard time finding a mean between brevity and thoroughness…..)
It’s a great theory. But, as Yogi Berra opined, “In theory there is no difference between theory and practice. In practice there is.”
You see, we seem to have a hard time living that way. Yet we still talk about it like it is possible. We call it “balance.” We are all pursuing this mythical balance. Balance between work and home. Balance between wife and kids. Balance between this and that. Yet we never seem to achieve it.
But we try, even down to the level of certain items. We want cookies, but we understand that a whole bag is probably excessive. So we think we should ration them. We can have 3. Everyday. We write ourselves a prescription and take them like medicine.
G.K. Chesterton commented on this phenomena in relation to wine.
The sound rule in the matter would appear to be like many other sound rules—a paradox. Drink because you are happy, but never because you are miserable. Never drink when you are wretched without it, or you will be like the grey-faced gin-drinker in the slum; but drink when you would be happy without it, and you will be like the laughing peasant of Italy. Never drink because you need it, for this is rational drinking, and the way to death and hell. But drink because you do not need it, for this is irrational drinking, and the ancient health of the world. (from Heretics)
And from George Benard Shaw.…
The dipsomaniac and the abstainer are not only both mistaken, but they both make the same mistake. They both regard wine as a drug and not as a drink.
Even more important than what Gilbert thinks about it is what the church thinks….
Sure, I have heard the “balance” myth proclaimed in the pulpit. I’ve probably even done it myself. But the church doesn’t teach it. Not in the liturgy, not in the church calendar.
We have feasts and fasts. Not much balance there. Sounds a bit bipolar, almost. But it’s the way it is. Advent and Lent are penitential seasons of fasting. Easter and Christmas are seasons (not just days) of feasting.
It follows and grows out of the feasts in the Old Testament. God did not prescribe a bunch of fasts because arguably, life was tough enough. A good feast was an exception to the normal course of events.
Sometimes we need to cut loose. Sometimes we need to reign it in. Somewhere in the middle, there may be balance, but we don’t live there very often .