The Catholic Church and Alcohol

RNS asks: “Feeling guilty about drinking? Well, ask the saints.” The author, a self-described ‘historical theologian,’ discusses “the role that pious Christians played in developing and producing alcohol. What I discovered was an astonishing history.” It seems that the Church has made some outstanding contributions to the production of alcoholic beverages.

While the author notes that people were drinking wine long before Jesus, he claims “it was monks who largely preserved viniculture [sic] in Europe. Religious orders such as the Benedictines and Jesuits became expert winemakers.” Since the Church was by far the greatest landowner in Europe, there is something to this. Also, few people outside the Church had the leisure time to pursue such hobbies.

The author also credits the Church with the California wine industry, since its good shepherds brought grapes to the New World. The Church also gets credit for the hard stuff: “Whiskey was invented by medieval Irish monks, who probably shared their knowledge with the Scots during their missions.”

While our ‘historical theologian’ regales us with tales of how the Church produced fine wines and liqueurs, he says nothing of the Church’s consumption of alcohol. But the Holy Spirit guiding the Church also imbibed far more spirits than anyone else. Historically, no other group had as many alcoholics, and this is still largely true today. Being drunk and out of your mind is not a major impediment to the work, and even has a number of collateral benefits. I should note that Martin Luther, who was an incredibly prolific author, also derived a great deal of inspiration from alcohol.

What else did the Church do?

The article says nothing about this. But I got to thinking, what other great products did the Church produce? For example, the tiny Protestant sect of Shakers became world famous for their furniture. Various sects of Buddhist monks developed advanced types of martial arts. But as far as I know, those serving St. Christopher and St. Joseph produced no great medical breakthroughs. The Church was by far the world’s largest employer, and employed a huge share of educated adults. What did they accomplish with all these valuable resources?

Religious orders of the Church greatly advanced the state of the art in conducting inquisitions. They spent centuries inventing and perfecting instruments of torture. The Church invented waterboarding, which in many circles is still considered a state of the art tool for conducting inquiries. It invented the rack and other tools for maximizing pain over extended periods of time. It did a great deal of experimentation to perfect its “acts of faith” - usually left untranslated as auto de fé. Monks learned how to build and maintain fires that would maximize the victim’s pain, while maximizing the pleasure of godly Churchmen through sight, sound, and smell.

The author’s label of ‘historical theologian’ brings one other thing to mind. The Church invented the term ‘propaganda,’ and did a great deal to advance and implement the state of the art. For example, the difference between a historian and a ‘historical theologian’ is basically a lot of propaganda/bullshit. The present article is a very minor example.


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