Chapter 40: The Proper Amount of Drink

1 Everyone has his own gift from God, one this and another that (1 Cor 7:7). 2 It is, therefore, with some uneasiness that we specify the amount of food and drink for others. 3 However, with due regard for the infirmities of the sick, we believe that a half bottle of wine a day is sufficient for each. 4 But those to whom God gives the strength to abstain must know that they will earn their own reward. 5 The superior will determine when local conditions, work or the summer heat indicates the need for a greater amount. He must, in any case, take great care lest excess or drunkenness creep in. 6 We read that monks should not drink wine at all, but since the monks of our day cannot be convinced of this, let us at least agree to drink moderately, and not to the point of excess, 7 for wine makes even wise men go astray (Sir 19:2).
8 However, where local circumstances dictate an amount much less than what is stipulated above, or even none at all, those who live there should bless God and not grumble. 9 Above all else we admonish them to refrain from grumbling.

Commentary by Philip Lawrence, OSB, Abbot of Christ in the Desert

Food and drink! All of us eat and drink. Often we do not even think much about what we eat and drink because it is simply something that we do. Of course, we do notice if someone is enormously overweight or terribly thin. The extremes draw our attention. Saint Benedict is quite clear in his teaching: “each one has his own gift from God! It is there with some uneasiness that we specify the amount of food and drink for others.”

With food, there should not be indigestion! With drink, there should not be drunkenness. In many countries, it would be most surprising to have the monks drink wine every day. In Italy it is taken for granted that monks drink wine every day. Saint Benedict is very aware of the tradition that monks should not drink wine at all, but for his monks he insists only on moderation. This is a striking way of dealing with the challenges of drink in a monastery. It is very typical of Saint Benedict. If something is not sinful and not necessarily harmful to the monk, then one looks at moderation and necessity.

If there is a need, the monks eat the flesh of four-footed animals. The monk should eat and drink to the measure that God gives him, neither more nor less. Abstinence is a gift and if one has it, he should thank the Lord. If there is not enough wine and the monks must go without, let them thank the Lord. It all seems very straightforward and very prudent. Of course, it would be easier, in many ways, simply to forbid alcohol, to set a food regulation that could not be changed, or to set all kinds of other rule and regulations. Saint Benedict never does that in his Rule. He is pointing in the direction of God and giving sound and practical advice about how to live–but it never seems imposed from on high.

We end this chapter with another admonition against grumbling. Saint Benedict always gets upset when he thinks that the monks might grumble. He recognizes grumbling as what it really is: spiritual sickness and a turning away from the path of our Lord Jesus. It is preferring ourselves to God. It is a negative use of our energies.

Let us ask that we might know our own measure, that we might listen to the Lord calling us and that we may never grumble, no matter what the situation.