Thursday, May 23, 2013

"Drinkin' wine spo-dee-O-dee, drinkin' wine" Aquinas style

St. Thomas of Napa Valley by Donald DeMarco

For original document see:

The Sebastiani family has been making and selling wine in California for more than one hundred years. One of its Napa Valley wines bears the intriguing label, “Aquinas,” in honor of the Catholic Church’s greatest philosopher/theologian.

The choice of this label might raise some eyebrows. What is the “Angelic Doctor’s” name doing on a product that comes from the earth? What does intellectual speculation have to do with grapes?

Donny Sebastiani, Jr., the executive director of Don Sebastiani and Sons, has shed some light on the appropriateness of the label in a November 18, 2011 interview sponsored by the Aquinas Center at Ave Maria University and conducted by Joseph C. Trabbic. “Wine has a significant place in Catholicism,” he remarked. “You see people making and drinking wine in the Old Testament and New Testament. You see Jesus and his disciples drinking wine … With the ‘Aquinas’ label we saw a natural opportunity to have something with a bit of a Catholic aspect to it. Obviously we want to market ourselves to a wide consumer base, so you don’t want to beat people over the head with a big picture of a crucifix on the label. But the Aquinas wines are still a clear, less than subtle reference to our faith. It was a natural, obvious choice.” No doubt, the Angelic doctor, himself a rather robust man, would be pleased to hear this.

The Sebastiani family is being astute in recognizing the down-to-earth temper of Aquinas’ thought. St. Thomas had far more practical sense than many people give him credit for having. “Sorrow can be alleviated,” he advised, “by good sleep, a bath and a glass of good wine.” Connoisseurs of wine can be pleased that the wise Doctor of the Church inserted the adjective “good” before “wine.” There is an art to making good wine. Perhaps this is why Ernest Hemingway, another rather robust man, proclaimed that “Wine is the most civilized thing in the world” (although we may wonder whether this phrase came from Hemingway or from the wine).

What else did St. Thomas have to say about the consumption of wine? In his most compendious work, the Summa Theologica, he argues strongly for the appropriateness of using wine as a sacrament (Holy Communion). He reasons that wine is more in keeping with the effect of the sacrament, which is spiritual, since, as it is stated in Psalm 103, “wine may cheer the heart of man” (vinum laetificat cor hominis).

Aquinas fully recognizes the body/soul unity of the human being. Therefore, he honors the natural desire that we all have for pleasure. In fact, he states quite emphatically that “none can live without some sensible and bodily pleasure” (nullus posit vivere sine aliqua sensibili et corporali delectione – ST I-II, 34, 1).

St. Thomas is neither a Stoic who avoids all pleasure at all costs, nor an Epicurean who embraces all pleasure at every opportunity. He states that the purpose of the cardinal virtue, temperance, is to refine the way we enjoy bodily pleasures in order to facilitate a more enduring satisfaction (ST II-II, 141, 3). Virtue can allow us to get the most out of pleasure before pleasure takes something out of us.

Hilaire Belloc was very much in tune with Aquinas when he penned his famous encomium to wine:

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

 In Plato’s Symposium, there was plenty of wine at the table to loosen the tongues of the guests. As a result, they spoke eloquently and profoundly about love. In vino veritas. For Socrates, “wine does of a truth moisten the soul and lull our griefs to sleep … [and with small cups] we shall … be brought by gentle persuasion to a more sportive mood.” Friedrich Nietzsche, no friend of Socrates, had an expressed admiration for Bacchus. But his resulting love affair with intoxication led him to babbling and to Bedlam. Aquinas saw no reason why one could not enjoy wine and remain on the path to wisdom. “A man may have wisdom,” he wrote, not by abstaining from wine, but by abstaining from its immoderate use (ST II-II, 149, 3, ad 1). Wine and wisdom are compatible as long as they are both situated on the path of man’s destiny. Shakespeare put it more succinctly when he said, “Good wine is a good familiar creature if it be well used” (Othello).

God’s arrangement of all things is profoundly organic. Delectation can be an intimation of wisdom. It is interesting to note that the Latin word for wisdom (sapientia) is derived from the Latin word for taste (sapio). This analogical relationship between the sensuous and the spiritual is also evinced, many times in Scripture. In Ecclesiaticus, for example, we read, “My spirit is sweet above honey.” We also find this relationship expressed in Mario Soldati’s celebrated aphorism, “Wine is the poetry of the earth” (Il vino รจ la poesia della terra). Soldati was, in effect, echoing the thought of Louis Pasteur who agreed that “The flavor of wine is like delicate poetry.” It is said that when Dom Perignon first sipped bubbly Champagne, he exclaimed, “I am drinking the stars!”

Wine is poetry. But there is a great deal of wine in poetry. The quintessence of the grape is irresistibly metaphorical. Was Omar Khayyam’s immortal phrase, “A loaf of bread, a jug of wine, and Thou,” an unintentional, though oblique, reference to the Mass? Christ referred to Himself as “the true vine.” It could also evoke the religious, social, and familial uses of wine in Judaism’s long history that dates back to biblical times.

Wine played a prominent role in Christ’s first miracle at Cana. In the immortal words of the poet Richard Crashaw, “The conscious water saw its God and blushed.” It symbolized a blessing for both the newlyweds and the family that marriage prefigures. Wine also played a prominent role at the Last Supper in signifying both Christ’s death and the lifeblood He would provide for his disciples. Italian families seem to have a special respect for the virtue of a good meal that is graced with wine: A tavola non s’invecchia (at the table no one ages). Wine can bless both hearth and home.

Wine that brings cheer to the heart and pleasure to our life can also evoke thanks to its Creator. How fitting, then, for a bottle of wine to bear the name “Aquinas,” for whom wine was not only a delectation, but a sacrament as well.

 Editor’s note: This article first appeared in the Spring issue of Canadian Observer (an Ottawa quarterly) and is reprinted by permission of the author.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

The Theology of the Bottle

The Theology of the Bottle by Todd Aglialoro, May 6, 2013

Original link:

When he wasn’t ideating Morlocks and alien tripods, H. G. Wells took a moment to snark that “Belloc and Chesterton have surrounded Catholicism with a kind of boozy halo.”

There’s something to that: Along with their other accomplishments as authors, speakers, and defenders of the Faith, Hilaire Belloc and G. K. Chesterton invented—or at least perfected in their time—the jolly melding of Church and tavern that celebrated God’s presence in creation from tabernacle to tankard.

Belloc, especially, was known to “put it away to infallible truth” often and with enthusiasm. He is best remembered as a lover of the fruit of the grape, authoring the Heroic Poem in Praise of Wine as well as a quatrain that appears in my Facebook feed roughly every six hours:

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

 That stanza appears to be an alternative to one that appears in his poem Heretics All, which Belloc works up during the long stroll to the Eternal City that he narrates in his masterpiece, The Path to Rome. I prefer that version—it scans better and there’s none of this very un-Bellocian “at least I’ve always found it so” business:

But Catholic men that live upon wine 
Are deep in the water, and frank, and fine; 
Wherever I travel I find it so, 
Benedicamus Domino. 

But those who recall Belloc only as a vinophile might be surprised to learn that he regarded not wine but beer as the supreme libation. As he explains in The Four Men:
[I]t was five miles since we had last acknowledged the goodness of God in the drinking of ale, which is a kind of prayer, as it says in the motto :
"Laborare est orare sed potare clarior" which signifies that work is noble, and prayer its equal, but that drinking good ale is a more renowned and glorious act than any other to which man can lend himself. And on this account it is that you have a God of Wine, and of various liquors sundry other Gods, that is, imaginations of men or Demons, but in the matter of ale no need for symbol, only that it is King. 
For liquor, though, Belloc seems to have harbored contempt. He claimed to have advised a friend with a drinking problem (perhaps Belloc himself, of course) not to quit cold turkey but to restrict himself to certain kinds of drink:
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 he promised to do, and all went well. He became a merry companion, and began to write odes. 
We arrive in this meandering fashion at our question: How do we distinguish between Bacchus and the Devil? For even if one’s vision of the Faith does not have a boozy halo above it, the fact remains that in both letter and spirit Catholicism does not conflate temperance with abstinence, as so many Protestant groups—whether in letter or spirit—do. In short, Catholics drink.

So, at what point do we cross the line from praising God with ale to praising the devil with drunkenness? 

Scripture endorses drinking wine to maintain good health (1 Tim. 5:23), to gladden the heart or help the suffering forget their woes (Sir. 31:27-28, Prov. 104:15, 31:6-7), and to celebrate festive events (John 2:1-10). It proscribes drunkenness (Eph. 5:18, Gal. 5:21, etc.), notes the slavery to alcohol that we might recognize as addiction (Is. 5:11, Titus 2:3), and warns that excessive drinking takes away understanding and leads to sin (Prov. 20:1, Is. 28:7, Hos. 4:11, Sir. 31:29-30).

It is curious, therefore, that we find teetotalism among Christians who preach sola scriptura, for the witness of Scripture distinguishes clearly between the use of alcohol and its abuse; between the permissibility of drinking—even its laudable usefulness—and the impermissibility, and potentially evil consequences, of drinking to excess.

The Catechism, accordingly, discusses alcohol in the context of the virtue of temperance, which is the rational governance of human appetites, ordered towards healthy moderation in all things:
The virtue of temperance disposes us to avoid every kind of excess: the abuse of food, alcohol, tobacco, or medicine (2290). 
As for locating that margin of excess, the line between use and abuse, I can think of no better maxim than St. Thomas’s (possibly apocryphal) counsel to “drink to the point of hilarity”—that is, to that point at which alcohol ceases merely lightening the spirit and begins diminishing its rational faculties, which are God’s very image and likeness within us. Beyond that point we also court sin and bad judgment, and may become stumbling blocks for others.

But let us not let abuse take away licit use. God made wine (and King Beer) to give us joy, and the habit of moderation in all things will make sure it remains servant and never master. It is good, and anyone who says different is abiding by a mere tradition of men.

(Todd Aglialoro is the acquisitions editor for Catholic Answers Press. He studied theology at Franciscan University, the University of Fribourg, and the International Theological Institute, and spent several years working in diocesan ministry before embarking on a career in Catholic publishing inin 2001. His writings have appeared in numerous print and web publications, including Crisis magazine, the National Catholic Register, and the American Spectator. A New Yorker by birth and New Englander by choice, Todd now lives in the San Diego area with his wife, seven children, and zero dogs.)

Monday, May 6, 2013

"Bourbon does for me what the piece of cake did for Proust."

Bourbon, Neat by Walker Percy

Posted November 28, 2001
This article appeared in the Fall 2001 issue of theClaremont Review of BooksClick here to send a comment.
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This is not written by a connoisseur of bourbon. Ninety-nine percent of bourbon drinkers know more about bourbon than I do. It is about the aesthetic of bourbon drinking in general and in particular of knocking it back neat.

I can hardly tell one bourbon from another, unless the other is very bad. Some bad bourbons are more memorable than good ones. For example, I can recall being broke with some friends in Tennessee and deciding to have a party and being able to afford only two-fifths of a $1.75 bourbon called Two Natural, whose label showed dice coming up 5 and 2. Its taste was memorable. The psychological effect was also notable. After knocking back two or three shots over a period of half an hour, the three male drinkers looked at each other and said in a single voice: "Where are the women?"

I have not been able to locate this remarkable bourbon since.

Not only should connoisseurs of bourbon not read this article, neither should persons preoccupied with the perils of alcoholism, cirrhosis, esophageal hemorrhage, cancer of the palate, and so forth—all real enough dangers. I, too, deplore these afflictions. But, as between these evils and the aesthetic of bourbon drinking, that is, the use of bourbon to warm the heart, to reduce the anomie of the late twentieth century, to cure the cold phlegm of Wednesday afternoons, I choose the aesthetic. What, after all, is the use of not having cancer, cirrhosis, and such, if a man comes home from work every day at five-thirty to the exurbs of Montclair or Memphis and there is the grass growing and the little family looking not quite at him but just past the side of his head, and there's Cronkite on the tube and the smell of pot roast in the living room, and inside the house and outside in the pretty exurb has settled the noxious particles and the sadness of the old dying Western world, and him thinking: "Jesus, is this it? Listening to Cronkite and the grass growing?"

If I should appear to be suggesting that such a man proceed as quickly as possible to anesthetize his cerebral cortex by ingesting ethyl alcohol, the point is being missed. Or part of the point. The joy of bourbon drinking is not the pharmacological effect of the C2H5OH on the cortex but rather the instant of the whiskey being knocked back and the little explosion of Kentucky U.S.A. sunshine in the cavity of the nasopharynx and the hot bosky bite of Tennessee summertime—aesthetic considerations to which the effect of the alcohol is, if not dispensable, at least secondary.

The pleasure of knocking back bourbon lies in the plane of the aesthetic but at an opposite pole from connoisseurship. My preference for the former is or is not deplorable depending on one's value system—that is to say, how one balances out the Epicurean virtues of evocation of time and memory and the recovery of self and the past from the fogged-in disoriented Western world. In Kierkegaardian terms, the use of Bourbon to such an end is a kind of aestheticized religious mode of existence, where as connoisseurship, the discriminating but single-minded simulation of sensory end organs, is the aesthetic of damnation.

Two exemplars of the two aesthetics come to mind: Imagine Clifton Webb, scarf at throat, sitting at Cap d'Antibes on a perfect day, the little wavelets of the Mediterranean sparkling in the sunlight, and he is savoring a 1959 Mouton Rothschild.

Then imagine William Faulkner, having finished Absalom, Absalom!, drained, written out, pissed-off, feeling himself over the edge and out of it, nowhere, but he goes somewhere, his favorite hunting place in the Delta wilderness of the Big Sunflower River and, still feeling bad with his hunting cronies and maybe even a little phony, which he was, what with him trying to pretend that he was one of them, a farmer, hunkered down in the cold and rain after the hunt, after honorable passing up the does and seeing no bucks, shivering and snot-nosed, takes out a flat pint of any Bourbon at all and flatfoots about a third of it. He shivers again but not from the cold.

Bourbon does for me what the piece of cake did for Proust.

1926: As a child watching my father in Birmingham, in the exurbs, living never to number 6 fairway of the New Country Club, him disdaining both the bathtub gin and white lightning of the time, agins his own Bourbon in a charcoal keg, on his hands and knees in the basement sucking on a siphon, a matter of gravity requiring check pressed against cement floor, the siphon getting going, the decanter ready, the first hot spurt in his mouth not spat out.

1933: My uncle's sun parlor in the Mississippi. Delta and toddies on a Sunday afternoon, the prolonged and meditative tinkle of silver spoon against crystal to dissolve the sugar, talk, tinkle, talk, the talk mostly political: "Roosevelt is doing a good job; no, the son of a bitch is betraying his class."

1934: Drinking at a Delta dance, the boys in bi-swing jackets and tab collars, tough talking and profane and also scared of girls and therefore safe in the men's room. Somebody passes around bootleg Bourbon in a Coke bottle. It's awful. Tears start from eyes, faces turn red. "Hot damn, that's good!"

1935: Drinking at a football game in college. UNC versus Duke. One has a blind date. One is lucky. She is beautiful. Her clothes are the color of the fall leaves and her face turns up like a flower. But what to say to her, let alone what to do, and whether she is "nice" or "hot"—a distinction made in those days. But what to say? Take a drink, by now from a proper concave hip flask (a long way from the Delta Coke bottle) with a hinged top. Will she have a drink? No, but that's all right. The taste of bourbon (Cream of Kentucky) and the smell of her fuse with the brilliant Carolina fall and the sounds of the crowd and the hit of the linemen in the single synthesis. 

1941: Drinking mint juleps, famed Southern drink, though in the Deep South not really drunk much. In fact, they are drunk so seldom that when, say, on Derby Day somebody gives a julep party, people drink them like cocktails, forgetting that a good julep holds at least five ounces of Bourbon. Men fall face-down unconscious, women wander in the woods disconsolate and amnesic, full of thoughts of Kahlil Gibran and the limberlost.

Would you believe the first mint julep I had I was sitting not on a columned porch but in the Boo Snooker bar of the New Yorker Hotel with a Bellevue nurse in 1941? The nurse, a nice upstate girl, head floor nurse, brisk, swift, good looking; Bellevue nurses the best in the world and this one was the best of Bellevue, at least the best looking. The julep, an atrocity, a heavy syrupy Bourbon and water in a small glass clotted with ice. But good!

How could two women be more different than the beautiful languid Carolina girl and this swift handsome girl from Utica, best Dutch stock? One thing was sure. Each was to be courted, loved, drunk with, with bourbon. I should have stuck with bourbon. We changed to gin fizzes because the bartender said he came from New Orleans and could make good ones. He could and did. They were delicious. What I didn't know was that they were made with raw egg albumen and I was allergic to it. Driving her home to Brooklyn and being in love! What a lovely fine strapping smart girl! And thinking of being invited into her apartment where she lived alone and here offering to cook a little summer and of the many kisses and sweet love that already existed between us and was bound to grow apace, when on the Brooklyn Bridge itself my upper lip began to swell and little sparks of light flew past the corner of my eye like St. Elmo's fire. In the space of thirty seconds my lip stuck out a full three quarter inch, like a shelf, like Mortimer Snerd. Not only was kissing out of the question but my eyes swelled shut. I made it across the bridge, pulled over to the curb, and fainted. Whereupon this noble nurse drove me back to Bellevue, gave me a shot, and put me to bed.

Anybody who monkeys around with gin and egg white deserves what he gets. I should have stuck with bourbon and have from that day to this.

* POSTSCRIPT: Reader, just in case you don't want to knock it back straight and would rather monkey around with perfectly good bourbon, here's my favorite recipe, "Cud'n Walker's Uncle Will's Favorite Mint Julep Receipt.
You need excellent bourbon whiskey; rye or Scotch will not do. Put half an inch of sugar in the bottom of the glass and merely dampen it with water. Next, very quickly—and here is the trick in the procedure—crush your ice, actually powder it—preferably in a towel with a wooden mallet, so quickly that it remains dry, and, slipping two sprigs of fresh mint against the inside of the glass, cram the ice in right to the brim, packing it with your hand. Finally, fill the glass, which apparently has no room left for anything else, with bourbon, the older the better, and grate a bit of nutmeg on the top. The glass will frost immediately. Then settle back in your chair for half an hour of cumulative bliss.
* * *

Excerpts from "Bourbon" from "Life in the South" from Signposts in a Strange Land by Walker Percy. Copyright (c) 1991 by Mary Bernice Percy. Reprinted by permissions of Farrar, Straus and Giroux, LLC.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Updated Seal

Here is our updated seal which takes into consideration our name change from St. Helena / OLG cigar club to St. Holger's Cigar Club.