Alcohol and the Church

It was only in the 18th century that the church took a serious stand against alcoholism. However, in most cases, this was not very successful due to the prevalence of disease in the available drinking water, as in the case of England, where almost all of the drinking water came from the river Thames. The church considered drunkenness equivalent to madness. To them, the loss of rationality and self-control associated with drunken behavior was a moral sin and a vice. However, this perspective was not universal. Montaigne wrote that drunkenness was "less malicious and harmful than the other [vices], which almost all clash more directly with society in general"7. It is interesting to note that the church solely condemned the consumption of distilled spirits. Religious scholars considered wine a form of grape juice, and supported by its consumption by important figures as mentioned in the Bible. The consumption of distilled spirits rose after the bubonic plague, or Black Death, decimated much of Europe. In a sense, the remaining population celebrated their survival. This time period has been described as an age of "ostentation, gluttony, self-indulgence and inebriation"8 , all of which are considered sins. Hence the papacy condemned alcoholism as an affront to God. The church however, was aware of the nature of alcoholism. Though at this time, alcoholism was not discovered to be a disease as it is now, the church did mention that those "so accustomed to drink that they fall into a swoon when they are deprived of it"9 be allowed some leniency. The central concern of the church was the loss of rationality, which might induce blasphemous behavior and damage to oneself.