Early church rules against drinking alcohol

Tertullian (c. 160-220 AD)

Tertullian strikingly compared the strong penalty of the Levitical priests to ministers in the Church. ‘For abstinence from wine withal has honourable badges of its own… So true is it, that such as shall have ministered in the Church, being not sober, shall “die”’.

(Tertullian, Fasts, Ch. 9, ‘From Fasts Absolute Tertullian Comes to Partial Ones and Xerophagies’, citing Leviticus 10:9)

Ecclesiastical Canons

‘42. Let a bishop, or presbyter, or deacon who indulges himself in dice [i.e. gambling] or drinking, either leave off those practices, or let him be deprived.
43. If a sub-deacon, a reader, or a singer does the like, either let him leave off, or let him be suspended; and so for one of the laity.
44. Let a bishop, or presbyter, or deacon who requires usury of those he lends to, either leave off to do so, or let him be deprived.’

(Ecclesiastical Canons 42-44)

‘42… This and the two following canons should be included in the number of the most ancient so-called apostolic canons. Their origin is unknown.’

(‘A History of the Christian Councils, From the Original Documents, To the Close of the Council of Nicæa, A.D. 325’, 1871 By Karl Joseph von Hefele, translated from German by William R. Clark)

Ambrose, Monica, and Augustine

Ambrose [337-397 AD] cited the Apostle Paul in 1 Timothy 3:2-10 and commented: ‘We note how much is required of us. The minister of the Lord should abstain from wine, so that he may be upheld by the good witness not only of the faithful but also by those who are without.’

(Ambrose, ‘On the Duties of the Clergy’, Book 1, Ch. 50)

Augustine [354-340 AD] wrote of his mother Monica how she most willingly abstained from drinking (after she formerly drank very little). Bishop Ambrose forbade it entirely and she was not at all reluctant to abstain as soon as she became aware.

Augustine said his mother previously ‘would never allow herself more than one little cup of wine, diluted according to her own temperate palate, which, out of courtesy, she would taste… she would distribute by small sips to those around; for she sought their devotion, not pleasure. As soon, therefore, as she found this custom to be forbidden by that famous preacher and most pious prelate, even to those who would use it with moderation, lest thereby an occasion of excess might be given to such as were drunken, and because these, so to say, festivals in honour of the dead were very like the superstition of the Gentiles, she most willingly abstained from it.’

(Augustine, ‘Confessions’, Book 6, Ch. 2)

‘… a man may be drunk on one occasion without being a drunkard. However, in the case of a righteous man, we require to account for even one instance of drunkenness.’

(Augustine, ‘Reply to Faustus the Manichæan’, Book 22, Ch. 44)

Synod of Laodicea (c. 363 AD)

‘No one of the priesthood, from presbyters to deacons, and so on in the ecclesiastical order to subdeacons, readers, singers, exorcists, door-keepers, or any of the class of the Ascetics, ought to enter a tavern.’

(Synod of Laodicea, Canon 24)

‘NEITHER members of the priesthood nor of the clergy, nor yet laymen, may club together for drinking entertainments.’

(Synod of Laodicea, Canon 55)

Compare the Apostle Peter’s admonition to Christians in general – ministers and laymen alike, about drunkenness, revelries, drinking parties, and such: ‘For we have spent enough of our past lifetime in doing the will of the Gentiles–when we walked in lewdness, lusts, drunkenness, revelries, drinking parties, and abominable idolatries. In regard to these, they think it strange that you do not run with them in the same flood of dissipation, speaking evil of you.’

(1 Peter 4:3-4)

Quinisext Council in Trullo (692 AD)

‘Let no cleric be permitted to keep a “public house.” For if it be not permitted to enter a tavern, much more is it forbidden to serve others in it and to carry on a trade which is unlawful for him. But if he shall have done any such thing, either let him desist or be deposed.’

(The Quinisext Council in Trullo, Canon 9)

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