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On Temperance

~ by Joanne Schinstock ~

This summer I’ve been reading In This House of Brede by Rumer Godden. The premise of the book centers on the protagonist, Phillipa Talbot, a middle-aged woman who leaves her job, her friends, and her London life-style to join a cloistered order of sisters in England. She leaves a romantic relationship and a high-powered government job to start this new life. Of course her friends do not understand and question why she would give up everything for such a radical life. Philipa Talbot is seeking an internal ordering and peace to her life. The House of Brede captures with honesty the journey a soul takes to achieve a temperate life.


In this story, Phillipa willingly discards her preferences and in loving obedience rejects temporal comforts. In doing so, she transforms, by grace, to fulfill her God-given vocation as a Roman Catholic nun. The process is slow and deliberate, and in the end, she arrives to happily do God’s work and with peace in her heart recognizes that she has nothing that is hers alone. I will not reveal the end and summarize the full story, but as Godden writes it, I recommend the story be read as a way to imbue your imagination with the experience of temperance in its realest form. 


As a faculty, we’ve finished reading Josef Pieper’s Four Cardinal Virtues this summer, and as we’ve done each year starting with prudence, followed by justice, then fortitude, and now temperance, our instructors will look to incorporate the virtue of temperance, when appropriate, in class lectures and activities. Pieper gives a primary definition of temperance as an action. He says it is “to dispose various parts into one unified and ordered whole” (146). Like Phillipa Talbot in In This House of Brede, I pray we will let the Holy Spirit show us where there is disorder and disunity, so that our teaching will be more coherent, so that our communication will be in harmony, and our souls will image for our students what Aquinas described as quies animi. Pieper quotes Aquinas and tells us that the “second meaning is “serenity of spirit’’ (147). Phillipa Talbot described this serenity of spirit when she said “perhaps it was the pulling up of her stakes, or claims, to her private loves, renouncing them, that had made room for these people in kind of universal love, without any claims” (Godden 24). Phillipa, a dynamic character, shows us the journey from pride to humility, or as Pieper contrasts curiositas to studiositas. Her story is one of redemption and a striving for holiness. 


A life of temperance means that the body and soul are united, and that she lives in harmony with herself demonstrating virtuous living that influences her community. Phillipa Talbot becomes a woman with true knowledge about herself, her Creator, and how she relates to others.

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