Theologians & Wine
Wine is important in all the major religions of the world. Particularly, if we analyze the relationship in the context of the Bible and Christianity, we observe that wine has been extensively narrated in the Bible. Based on the strong relationship, some theologians believe and permit moderate consumption of wine. They think that wine can enhance their spiritual energy.
Further, they suggest that wine is a gift from God, and it would be an expression of ingratitude if we abstained from experiencing its spiritual and joyful effects. However, in their opinion, wine consumption beyond what is normal or acceptable is an abuse of God’s gift. Therefore, moderation should be practiced in wine consumption. However, there are some Christian theologians who recommend complete abstinence from wine and consider its consumption a source of evil for the soul.
Following are the opinions of many major Christian theologians from different ages.
Saint Cyprian (ca. 210-258)
Saint Cyprian was a prominent theologian in the early period of Christianity. He was the Bishop of Carthage and helped many Christians migrate to North Africa during a time when persecution of Christians was common practice in Rome. He later fell victim to Roman persecution and was executed.
He was among one of the early theologians who encouraged wine consumption, specifically in the Eucharist ritual commemorating Jesus’ last supper with his disciples. He believed that in following the practice of wine consumption, one becomes truly faithful to the teachings of Christianity and genuinely follows the practices of Jesus Christ.
Similarly, he also narrated the teachings of Apostle Paul, who also believed that wine consumption was an act of obedience in the practice of the Eucharist. Based on these precedents in Christianity, Saint Cyprian commanded his followers to consume wine during the celebration of the Eucharist.
Apart from quoting the earlier Christian traditions about wine consumption, his opinion was that “For Cyprian, wine was a sign of God’s blessing, and the absence of wine was a lack of spiritual grace.” This means that wine is a blessing from God that can significantly enhance the spiritual strength of the consumer. His teachings indicated that with the resurrection of Jesus, the earth would be renewed, and then Jesus would sit with his followers to drink wine.
In this regard, he also said, “And you should understand that the warning we have been given is this: in offering the cup, the teachings of the Lord must be observed, and we must do exactly as the Lord first did Himself for us — the cup which is offered up in remembrance of Him is to be offered mixed with wine. For instance, as Christ says: I am the true vine. It can never be supposed that the blood of Christ is water; it is wine. And it is, therefore, obviously impossible that Christ’s blood, by which we have been redeemed and quickened, should be present in the cup when in the cup there is no wine; wine signifies the blood of Christ.”1
He further believed that refusing wine was equal to going away from Jesus’s teachings. Apart from religion, he also argued that wine has good health benefits. It not only relaxes people, but also gives them a break from the cares and troubles of routine life.
Saint Irenaeus (ca. 130-202)
Saint Irenaeus was a prominent Greek Christian theologian who propagated Christianity in the regions of present day France. He properly defined orthodoxy and struggled against the heresy traditions of Christianity.
Being a minister in Gaul, Irenaeus supported wine consumption. He wrote a book titled ‘Against Heresies’ to discuss several heresies in the prevailing Christian teachings and practices. In part five of the book, he argued in favor of consuming wine, specifically in celebrating the Eucharist.
Like Cyprian, he also suggested that wine is a gift from God and has beneficial effects on our bodies. He says, “Just as bread and wine, as God’s gifts, nourish and strengthen our physical bodies, so bread and wine can be sanctified by God’s word in the Eucharist and become the body and blood of Christ for us.” This means that wine strengthens our bodies and, as a sanctified drink has spiritual effects as well.
Clement of Alexandria (ca. 150-215)
Clement of Alexandria was a theologian and philosopher who taught at the Catechetical School of Alexandria. He was an expert in classical Greek philosophy and later converted to Christianity. His disciples included Origen and Alexander of Jerusalem.
Clement of Alexandria advocated wine drinking in suitable seasons. In his book “Paedagogus,” he detailed the practices of wine drinking. However, he preached that wine should never be abused, and adolescents should keep themselves away from wine. Additionally, for Clement of Alexandria, people should enjoy the pleasing effects of wine, specifically in the cold weather. He also believed in the health benefits of wine. He argued that wine relaxes and brings a sense of enjoyment to the mind. He considered wine a gift from God; however, this gift should only be enjoyed in moderation.
Apart from the physical effects, Clement of Alexandria believed that wine also had spiritual effects. In this regard, he stated, “As the furnace proveth the steel blade in the process of dipping, so wine proveth the heart of the haughty.”
The quote reveals that wine has cleansing effects, bringing out the true nature of human beings. He further suggested that wine is never responsible for human evil, but it’s the heart that causes evil in human beings. While he supported drinking wine for health and spiritual benefits, he also cautioned the misuse of drinking. He strongly advocated moderation in wine drinking.
Saint Chrysostom (ca. 347-407)
Saint Chrysostom was one of the early church’s preachers. He served as the Archbishop of Constantinople. Apart from being a learned Christian scholar, he was very popular for his preaching and public lectures. He opposed the use of authority in any form on believers.
Saint Chrysostom advocated and consumed wine for its health and spiritual benefits. He was against the idea that wine can be a source of evil in human beings. He firmly believed that wine positively affects the human body and spirit. In this regard, he argued, “Wine was given to make us cheerful, not to make us behave shamefully; to make us laugh, not a laughing-stock; to make us healthy, not sick; to mend the weakness of the body, not to undermine the soul.”2 Based on this quote we can argue that Saint Chrysostom believed wine makes us cheerful and healthy. Additionally, wine is one way to overcome physical weakness, or sickness.
He also believed that God created wine; hence it can be considered a gift from God. He refused to accept that wine causes evil in human beings. In this context, he argued that the issue is not with the wine itself, but with those who over-consume and abuse it. In summary, he supported the idea of moderation in wine, and only in moderation can one truly enjoy this gift of God.
Saint Augustine (ca. 354-418)
Saint Augustine was a theologian and philosopher who served as Bishop of Hippo Regius in Numidia, Roman North Africa. He authored many books, including The City of God, On Christian Doctrine, and Confessions.
Saint Augustine also defended the practice of drinking wine in the face of constant opposition. He strongly opposed the idea that wine is an evil drink and has negative effects on human health and conduct. However, like most of the famous theologians in history, he believed that wine should be considered a gift from God and advocated moderation. In this context, he argued that “Christians honor their Creator by enjoying his gifts without abusing them.”2
Further, he believed that wine has positive effects on the human body. He argued, “In many instances, wine is necessary for human beings. Wine strengthens the stomach, renews one’s energy, warms the cold-blooded body, and is poured onto wounds, bringing healing. It chases away sadness and weariness of the soul. Wine brings joy, and for companions, it fuels one’s pleasure for conversations.”2
This means that for Saint Augustine, wine has a beneficial effect on the human stomach. It is also a source to renew the body’s energy, and warms the body in the cold. Further, it can aid in healing wounds. At the same time, wine also has positive mental effect, and can relieve people from sadness and exhaustion. Above all, for Saint Augustine, wine is a good source of pleasure and enhances the charm of conversations.
Saint Martin of Tours (ca. 316-397)
Saint Martin of Tours was the third Bishop of Tours. He was one of the most popular Christian saints in France. He is credited with developing viticulture in the region of Touraine, France. He was born in Italy, but spent his life in France. Martin was a minister in the region of Tours, also famous for wine.
It is believed that “Martin not only spurred on the development of viticulture in his region but is also responsible for grafting the Chenin Noir vine from the wild Chenin vine found in the Touraine forests.”There are also legends about his wine drinking. It is believed that empty wine jars were replenished at his grave. Further, one interesting thing about Saint Martin is that wine merchants considered him their patron saint. He also upheld the view that wine is a great gift from God; therefore, it must be celebrated and enjoyed.
Saint Benedict of Nursia (ca. 480-547)
Saint Benedict of Nursia was a patron saint of all of Europe. He is mainly known for the rules he devised for the monastic order named after him. These rules were mainly related to sleeping, eating, drinking wine, and wearing clothes. In the context of wine, he believed it was unrealistic to ban it, specifically in the Italian culture.
Though he did not encourage his monks to drink wine, he allowed them to have a moderate quantity for its positive effects, specifically for the sick. He allowed almost a quarter of today’s liters for daily use. However, this quantity could be increased, keeping in mind the conditions and the place of habitation. In the summer season, a manual worker could increase his intake of wine. Nonetheless, moderation in drinking was a mandatory rule for Saint Benedict.
Martin Luther (1482-1546)
Martin Luther was a German priest, theologian and author. He was a primary figure in the Protestant Reformation.
Martin Luther was named after “the patron saint of wine, Saint Martin of Tours.”2 His wife was famous for brewing beer. They even received wine as a wedding gift. In Wittenberg, Martin Luther was given wine as pay for his preaching. Both husband and wife had a cellar for wine and beer. It was part of Martin Luther daily routine to drink wine, and he openly expressed his liking for wine, as well as beer.
Once, he wrote to his wife that “You must wonder how long I am likely to stay, or rather how long you will get quit of me. . . . I keep thinking what good wine and beer I have at home, as well as a beautiful wife, or shall I say, Lord?” This makes it clear that he strongly loved wine and beer. Like most theologians, he also believed that wine is a special gift from God. Luther was very expressive in defense of wine drinking.
He openly opposed those who forbade the use of wine. He argued, “Wine and women bring sorrow and heartbreak, they make a fool of many and bring madness, ought we, therefore, to pour away the wine and kill all the women? Not so. Gold and silver, money and possessions bring much evil among the people. Should we, therefore, throw it all away? If we want to eliminate our closest enemy, the one most harmful to us, we would have to kill ourselves.
We have no more harmful enemy than our own heart.” This means that, like most theologians who encouraged the practice of wine in moderation and thought that wine is not evil in itself, Martin Luther also believed that the human heart matters more than wine. For him, wine is not evil in itself, but it is the human that can abuse this unique gift of God. Like Saint Cyprian, he also supported the practice of drinking wine during the celebrations of the Eucharist. However, he was not in favor of drunkenness and gluttony.
John Calvin (ca. 1509-1564)
John Calvin was a French theologian and reformer who was part of the Protestant Reformation.
John Calvin was similar to Martin Luther in his beliefs about wine. He argued that “And we have never been forbidden to laugh, or to be filled, . . . or to delight in musical harmony, or to drink wine.” This means that wine is like other amusements and has never been forbidden in Christianity. Further, he believed that wine was a good source of joy and merriment.
In his commentary on Psalm 104:15, he states, “In these words, we are taught, that God not only provides for men’s necessity, and bestows upon them as much as is sufficient for the ordinary purposes of life, but that in his goodness he deals still more bountifully with them by cheering their hearts with wine and oil. Nature would certainly be satisfied with water to drink; therefore, the addition of wine is owing to God’s superabundant liberality.
Bread would be sufficient to support the life of man, but God over and above . . . bestows upon them wine and oil. God shows himself a foster-father sufficiently bountiful in providing bread, his liberality appears still more conspicuous in giving us dainties. As the prophet in this account of the divine goodness in providence makes no reference to the excesses of men, we gather from his words that it is lawful to use wine not only in cases of necessity but also thereby to make us merry.”
This shows that John Calvin believed that wine is not only allowed in the case of need, but can also be used as a source of joy.
He further believed that through wine, one could experience the goodness of God. However, he was also in support of moderate consumption of wine. He believed that forbidding wine is an unbiblical act, and forbidding wine deprives one of God’s kindness. Like Martin Luther, John Calvin would also receive payments and gifts in the form of wine. The Council of Geneva would provide him “perhaps 250 gallons” annually as his allotment of wine.
Want to read more? Try these books!
- Clarke, G. W. (Ed.). (1984). The Letters of St. Cyprian of Carthage. Newman Press.
- Kreglinger, G. H. (2016). The spirituality of wine. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing.
- Clement of Alexanderia. (2002). Leiden.
- Cassian, J. (1997). Conferences. Paulist Press.
- Luther, M. (1908). The Letters of Martin Luther. Macmillan and Company, limited.
- Roland H. B. (1950). Here I stand: A life of Martin Luther. Abingdon Press.
- Calvin, J. (1960). Institutes of the Christian religion. Philadelphia.
- Calvin, J. (1847). Commentary on the Book of Psalms. Calvin Translation Society.
- Calvin, J. (2004). Golden booklet of the true Christian life. Baker Books.