Whether to thank the hosts for meals received?

Thomas Aquinas (?)

Summa Gastronomica Q. 98 – 

Only remaining fragment, found by Andreas Føllesdal in Immanuel Kant’s Nachlass among notes on the Transcendental Deduction of Judgements of Taste. Reconstructed and translated by Andreas Føllesdal June 1997.

Objection 1 It is said that it is wrong to thank the hosts and hostesses for great meals of celebration. This is a heathen custom known only ultima Thule – at the northern ends of the Earth, beyond the fringes of civilization.

Objection 2 Furthermore, at celebrations the food is typically delicious, and there is too much of it. We easily yield to temptation, and sin by eating too much.

Objection 3 Furthermore, though we should often give thanks, we must do so to the proper causes of joy, for instance to the primary author of a treatise such as Summa Gastronomica. Also, some others may also be thanked. Thus, when an author relies on sources, they may also be praised — as Didicus Stella notes, a dwarf standing on the shoulders of giants sees further than the giants themselves. Such giants may always be praised. But the hosts have only provided the food, which is not the cause of celebration but its means, and means that are now gone. Besides, the hosts may not have made the food themselves.

On the contrary Solomon says: This seemed to me good, that man should eat and drink and make merry on the fruit of his toil. (Eccles. V, 17). Expressing gratitude for goods received is rendering to hosts what is them due – the virtue of justice.

I answer that offering thanks to the hosts of great meals is in accordance with natural law. “Man has a natural inclination to […] live in society, and in this respect, whatever pertains to this inclination, belongs to the natural law.” As the Philosopher says, (Nic. Ethics IX), in order that man may do well, whether in the works of the active life, or in those of the contemplative life, he needs the fellowship of friends. The custom of offering thanks to the hosts for such great occasions of friendship and celebration is right and fitting and a great honour for those entrusted with the task. Indeed it is their right, regardless of ability.

Reply to Objection 1: (Of pagan roots) The fact that this practice is not known by European experts yet flourishes among peoples to the north is no objection. To the contrary, this shows how all peoples have the ability to know the truth of natural law (I lib. de Coelo, lect. xxii; II Sent., D. xiv, a. 2, ad lum). With St. Augustine (II De doctr. Christ., c. xl), we may hold that whatever truths are discovered among the pagans should be adapted by peoples elsewhere (Sum. theol., I, Q. lxxxiv, a. 5).

Reply to Objection 2: (Of eating as sin) Eating in splendour is no sin if it is in proportion with the occasion of celebration. Rather, it is appetite in accordance with reason. “One such act does no great harm, and certainly not for the whole of anyone’s life.” (q. 154, a. 2, ad 6.) For magnificent singular occasions such as the creation of doctores, or perhaps even marriage, proportionality requires exuberance, joy and lavishness among friends.

Reply to Objection 3: (Of only thanking those who cause the objects of celebration) Among the proper causes to be thanked are not only the agent himself, and those great predecessors he relies on, but also those without whom he would not have made his great achievement. Thus when a wife has supported him and made sacrifices through long ordeals, she has also contributed greatly to the cause of celebration. Furthermore, the parents of both agent and spouse have brought forth and fostered witty children with good souls (Wis., viii, 19). Surely they too are causes of the causes of achievement and worthy of great praise. Just like the giants, spouse and parents have also offered shoulders, but not for the agent to stand on, but to lean on and perhaps cry on.

It is thus right and fitting that they are doubly thanked as hosts, both for assisting the agent in achieving his great end, and for providing the means of celebration.