Chapter Thirty Nine
Making allowance for the infirmities of different persons, we believe that for the daily meal, both at the sixth and the ninth hour, two kinds of cooked food are sufficient at all meals; so that they who perchance cannot eat of one, may make their meal of the other. Let two kinds of cooked food, therefore, be sufficient for all the members. And if there be fruit or fresh vegetables, a third may be added. Let a pound of bread be sufficient for the day, whether there be only one meal or both dinner and supper. If they are to eat supper, let a third part of the pound be reserved by the cellarer and be given at supper.
If, however, the work has been especially hard, it is left to the discretion and power of the abbot or abbess to add something, if they think fit, barring above all things every excess, that a monk be not overtaken by indigestion. For nothing is so contrary to Christian character as overindulgence, as our Lord says: "See that your hearts be not burdened with overindulgence" (Lk 21:34).
Let the same quantity of food, however, not be served out to young children but less than to older ones, observing measure in all things.
But let all except the very weak and the sick abstain altogether from eating the flesh of four-footed animals.
"For nothing is so opposed to Christian character as overindulgence."
This seems like an awfully bold claim for our Father Benedict to insert nonchalantly into the Rule. Perhaps he's utilizing hyperbole to emphasize "Our Lord's words, 'See that your hearts be not burdened with overindulgence,'" but what if he isn't? Why would he claim that this behavior holds the highest rank among things that oppose the development of the Christian character?
For an answer to this question I turn to a concept that would have been central to St. Benedict's thinking as a monk in the 6th century. It is an understanding of human formation that comes from the Egyptian desert fathers, and was popularized in the generation or so after our Father Benedict through St. Gregory the Great. It is the notion of the deadly passions (sins).
Evagrius Ponticus was a late 4th century Egyptian monk and ascetic from whom we learn about eight deadly passions that form a logismos, or train of thought. For Evagrius, each passion leads a person further and further away from what is real, beginning with the most basic needs of survival and moving to the essence of what makes us distinctly human (i.e., the capacity for divine union). His formulation of this train of thought begins, as does every other formulation of the deadly passions, with gluttony, which is the first among the "Passions of Desire." These are ways we misuse our natural impulses, and they also include fornication and love of money. Then come the "Passions of Reaction", which are passions directed against others and include depression, anger, and listlessness (later, accidie). Finally, Evagrius lists two "Passions of Sense of Self", which are a fantasy of self: vainglory and pride.
So, back to Chapter 39 and our Father Benedict's claim that "nothing is so opposed to the Christian character as over-indulgence." Over-indulgence, or gluttony, is the gateway passion. It is the most basic and easiest misuse of our natural impulses. But as such, it has the power to divert our path without us even knowing it and place us in a prison of the most base, least developed experience of a human being. Moving past gluttony, then, is essential if we are to be formed in the likeness of Christ and experience our true identity hidden in God.