The Virtue of Temperance

As we grew up and studied religion, mostly in the form of the Baltimore Catechism, we learned about “the virtues”.  They relate to the formation of one’s character and the development of these characteristics was a guide to living life as a good and holy person.  They were taught alongside the “deadly sins” which, when practiced, led to an unholy life and opened the gates of hell for us.  The traditional biblical lists of virtues included the Theological Virtues of Faith, Hope and Charity, and the Moral Virtues of Prudence, Justice, Temperance and Fortitude.  While they don’t get a lot of attention these days, we think they still have value for anyone who wants to live their life as a good and holy person.  In fact, when they are understood we think most people will find that they make sense and can provide useful guidance in the way we live our lives.

This week we decided to expand on just one of the virtues and arbitrarily picked Temperance.  There are common phrases that suggest something about the meaning of temperance, e.g. “moderation in all things” or its antithesis “too much of a good thing”.  As with all virtues, temperance is about taking control of our natural tendencies or desires and to channel them into the good they can do and avoid the damage that they can do when used improperly.

Temperance is often associated with the use of alcohol.  It garnered much attention in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries through the efforts of Carrie Nation and the Women’s Christian Temperance Union.  Their approach was to ban alcohol altogether.  They were successful in getting a constitutional ban on production and use of alcohol, leading to the era of prohibition.  That amendment was later repealed.  Alcohol seems to be a good place to start considering temperance because the effect of extremes is obvious on the lives of so many people.  In effect, prohibition was an extreme – no alcohol use at all.  The other extreme is drunkenness and overuse.  For those with a tendency toward overuse, temperance would dictate the other extreme, as the only way to control use.  For many of us temperance suggests something in the middle.  Medical research indicates that a limited use of alcohol can be good for health.  It can be a source of pleasure and, used with care, is a way of winding down a bit at the end of a stressful day.

I don’t find alcohol especially useful in reducing stress.  Mostly, I drink it because I like it – all kinds of it – beer, wine and liquor.  There was a time in my life when I drank several drinks almost every day.  It was a source of concern for Rita, who rarely drinks.  As I listened to Rita I realized that it was probably not good for me and I made a conscious decision to limit myself most days to some wine with dinner, except on Sundays when I have a drink before and wine with dinner.  I believe that this is a proper use of alcohol for me and seldom make exceptions.  With time we have become more concerned about living healthy lives that include exercise and healthy eating.  Control of my alcohol use is part of my/our desire to remain healthy, to be able to travel together and to enjoy our time together for as many years as possible.

The use of language in many places in this society has change dramatically in recent decades.  In films, on television and walking down the street, I hear language that I was always careful not to use in the presence of our children or grandchildren.  The once-banned 4-letter words are often every other word.  Comedians tell jokes involving sex just because it’s easy – people will laugh just because it’s “sex”.  I think there is much about sex to make us laugh, but I’ve heard little of it from comedians.  There are other words that simply imply a lack of respect for others.  I think sometimes that it is just easier to use foul language than to find something intelligent to say in a situation.  For a while I was letting my language slip into the habits of our culture, when Rita reminded me that I was slipping into language that I know is disrespectful to her and others, not to mention disgusting, I made a promise out of respect to her and myself to consciously think before I issue words that I once would not have used.  In so doing, I don’t have to worry about slipping in front of my grandchildren.

Usually, this is the point where we would switch to Rita, but not this time.  As we were discussing this post we were reminded that, while I am by nature intense about everything I do, she is much more laid back and naturally temperate in everything.  She loves to have shoes, but never buys too many.  Her language is controlled and she is bothered by the language her former students use on Facebook.  If her language deteriorates even a little, it is clear that she has been pushed too far.  So we decided to give her a pass this week.  We’ll find another virtue for her to share.

Temperance can be applied in all areas of our lives.  It is probably easiest to discover those areas where we are not living it.  When work becomes such a demand that it interferes with a healthy marital relationship, temperance would call for making changes to bring back balance.  When playing or watching sports becomes an obsession that dominates whole weekends and leaves no time for spouse or family, temperance calls us to reevaluate.  When the life of the family is dominated by children’s activities, it may suggest a need for change.  If shopping is taking too much time and money, to the detriment of other parts of your marriage and family life, think temperance!

Temperance, except in some addictions, is not about going to the extreme of totally giving up something that is good and pleasurable.  It is not “no golf”, but maybe “less golf”.  Most of us need to work, but is there a way to reduce hours spent on the job?  Might the children reduce the number of activities they pursue?  Temperance always goes back to the phrase “moderation in all things”.

Has some area of your life become intemperate?  Do you have a story about bringing balance back to your marriage and family?  Please leave a message below.

Bob & Rita’s book:  Forever and a Day:  An Invitation to Create a Marriage that Lasts a Lifetime, is available on  Also available for Kindle and Nook.  Check out our Marriage Enrichment Programs at

Retirement can be a time of stress for marriages.  Has your parish or group considered an enrichment program for seniors?  Check out our program:  Aging Joyfully Together.


About Rita & Bob Boeke

Rita Boeke has experience teaching scripture and with her husband Bob has experience in enriching marriages through workshops and retreats. They post a weekly blog at and co-authored Forever and a Day: An Invitation to Create a Marriage that Lasts a Lifetime.
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One Response to The Virtue of Temperance

  1. Roy Savery says:

    Great article. To be successful we need to live a balanced life.

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