“Fulness of bread was the occasion of Sodom’s sin.”
Robert South, “On Matthew 17:21” (c. 1675)
Sodom’s sin was not restricted to the acts we know as sodomy, although unnatural coition was a striking indication of the deeper evil that gripped that city on the plain. Sodom’s deeper evil was luxury, by which is meant profusion, extravagance and excess, and luxury is evil because it goes beyond what is called for. There is no call for luxury, whether by nature, or by reason, or by God, and this is why luxury is rebellion against all three.
In the ancient authors, the word luxuria often denotes vegetation that is overgrown, so the metaphoric sin of luxuria is overgrown power, overgrown wealth, and the overgrown appetites that can be cultivated and gorged when power and wealth are overgrown. Condemning the luxuria that overwhelmed Rome after its defeat of Carthage, St. Augustine said that the Romans had not used their overgrown power and wealth “as honest men should do; that is, modestly, soberly, temperately, and religiously.” The Romans had, St. Augustine said, used their overgrown power and wealth to cultivate and gorge luxurious appetites. After the defeat of Carthage, the purpose of the Rome’s legions was,
“that hence you might keep up your unreasonable expenses, in seeking out an infinite variety of pleasures, and so give birth unto those exorbitances in your prosperities, which would heap more mischiefs upon you than ever befell you by your enemies.”
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It was the prophet Ezekiel who said that Sodom’s sin began with the luxury of overabundant food, or what he called “fullness of bread.” The Sodomites had a fullness of bread because the plain of Jordan, in which that city stood,
“was well watered everywhere . . . even as the garden of the Lord . . .”
Nature calls for food sufficient to nourish the body. Reason calls for food sufficient to extend hospitality. But where there is “fullness of bread,” the natural purpose of nourishment and the rational purpose of hospitality give way to the extravagant and uncalled for luxuries of banquets and bacchanalias. They give way to gratuitous feasts for which there is no call, other than the call of greedy gluttons clamoring for a feast.
Fullness of bread also leads to idleness, since men grow frivolous and lazy when they no longer perceive the possibility that they might miss a meal. The pinch of hunger is evil, but a vivid perception of the possibility that he might feel the pinch of hungry is, for man, a good and necessary thing. Which is why Ezekiel wrote,
“Behold, this was the iniquity of thy sister Sodom, pride, fulness of bread, and abundance of idleness . . .”
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Modern political economy holds that abundance of idleness is evil only insofar as it causes a want of bread, and that a society arranged to combine abundance of idleness and fullness of bread is a very admirable society. Marxism, for instance, holds that the character of men will improve when they no longer perceive the possibility that they might miss a meal. Far from making them frivolous and lazy, fullness of bread will make men like unto gods.
Isaac Watts expounded the older and opposite doctrine in a hymn that Ezekiel would have approved.
“In works of labor, or of skill,
I would be busy too;
For Satan finds some mischief still
For idle hands to do.”
Nature, reason and God all tell us that that labor calls for rest; but idleness is excess rest. Idleness is rest that is uncalled for. Idleness is luxuriant rest, and it has fell consequences, just like every other luxury. This is because idleness permits the pursuit of pleasure, pleasures pale, and the pursuit of pleasure is therefore an endless chase after new and increasingly piquant pleasures. This is what St. Augustine meant when he said that the overgrown power and wealth of Rome caused the Romans to fall into the trap of luxury and chase an “infinite variety of pleasures.”
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Thus the unnatural coition for which Sodom is remembered was, as my epigraph says, occasioned by “fullness of bread.” The Sodomites prospered on the fertile Jordan plain, and because they prospered, they fell into the trap of luxury. Fullness of bread betrayed them into idleness, idleness betrayed them into the pursuit of pleasure, and the pursuit of pleasure at last betrayed them into the piquant pleasure of sodomy.
You will recall that when the Sodomites beat on Lot’s door, demanding to bugger the angles that Lot had hospitably sheltered within, Lot offered them two virgin daughters on which to slake their hideous lust. But the hideous lust of the Sodomites had grown far too luxuriant to be slaked by the insipid thrill of gang raping Lot’s two daughters. So they refused Lot’s offer and went on insisting that they be permitted to bugger the angels.
When they beat on Lot’s door and made this demand, the Sodomites reached the end of the luxurious road. They had long ago escaped—or at least so they thought—the curse wherein Adam and his sons were told, “in the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread.” No doubt they thought this because the plain on which they dwelt appeared “even as the garden of the Lord,” and because it supplied them with “fulness of bread.”
But the Sodomites should have pondered how the apparent garden in which they dwelt comported with another line in Adam’s curse, specifically the line that reads,
“cursed is the ground for thy sake; in sorrow shalt thou eat of it all the days of thy life.”
They should have pondered that Adam’s curse no doubt applies to prosperous as well as penurious ground. If there is a sorrow for the sons of Adam who sit down to scanty suppers, there must also be a sorrow for the sons of Adam who sit down to luxurious banquets. And the sorrow of those sons who sit down to luxurious banquets is that, bursting with bread, they must travel the road to Lot’s door. With nothing better to do, they will at last beat on that door, howling with hideous lust, and demand to bugger an angel.
And that is indeed cause for sorrow.
) City of God, I, 16.
) “Against Idleness and Mischief,” in Divine Songs Attempted in Easy Language, for the Use of Children (1715)