Seven deadly sins

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The seven deadly sins, also known as the capital vices or cardinal sins, is a Western religious grouping and classification of vices.[1] This grouping emerged in the fourth century AD and was used for Christian ethical education and for confession. Though the sins have fluctuated over time, the currently recognized list includes pride, greed, lust, envy, gluttony, wrath and sloth. There is a parallel tradition of seven virtues.

The seven deadly sins are called "capital" because they are the origins of other vices.

The Holy Spirit and the Seven Deadly Sins . Folio from Walters manuscript W.171 (15th century)

The tradition of seven deadly sins as we know it today originated with the desert fathers, specifically Evagrius Ponticus. Evagrius identified seven or eight evil thoughts or spirits that one needed to overcome.[2] Evagrius' pupil John Cassian brought that tradition to Europe with his book The Institutes.[3] The idea of seven basic vices or sins was fundamental to Catholic confessional practices as evidence in penitential manuals as well as sermons like "The Parson's Tale" from Chaucer's Canterbury Tales. This connection is also clear in how Dante's Purgatory is arranged according to the seven deadly sins. The concept of seven deadly sins was used throughout the medieval Christian world to teach young people how to avoid evil and embrace the good as is evident in treatises, paintings, sculpture decorations on churches.[1] Works like Peter Brueghel the Elder's prints of the Seven Deadly Sins as well as Edmund Spencer's The Faerie Queene show the continuity of this tradition into the modern era.


Biblical Antecedents[edit]

The seven deadly sins in their current form are not found in the Bible, however there are biblical antecedents. One such antecedent is found in the Book of Proverbs 6:16-19. Among the verses traditionally associated with King Solomon, it states that the Lord specifically regards "six things the Lord hateth, and seven that are an abomination unto Him", namely:[4]

  1. A haught disdainfull look
  2. A lying tongue
  3. Hands that shed innocent blood
  4. A heart that devises wicked plots
  5. Feet that are swift to run into mischief
  6. A deceitful witness that uttereth lies
  7. Him that soweth discord among brethren[5]

Another list,[6] given this time by the Epistle to the Galatians (Galatians 5:19-21), includes more of the traditional seven sins, although the list is substantially longer: adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, idolatry, sorcery, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies, envyings, murders, drunkenness, revellings, "and such like".[7] Since the apostle Paul goes on to say that the persons who practice these sins "shall not inherit the Kingdom of God", they are usually listed as (possible) mortal sins rather than capital vices.[8]

Greco-Roman Antecedents[edit]

While the seven deadly sins as we know them did not originate with the Greeks or Romans, there were ancient precedents for them. Aristotle's Nichomachean Ethics lists several positive, healthy human qualities, excellences, or virtues. Aristotle argues that for each positive quality there are two negative vices that are found on each extreme of the virtue. Courage, for example, is the human excellence or virtue in facing fear and risk. Excessive courage makes one rash, while a deficiency of courage makes one cowardly. This principle of virtue found in the middle or "mean" between excess and deficiency is Aristotle's notion of the golden mean. Aristotle lists virtues like courage, temperance or self-control, generosity, "greatness of soul," proper response to anger, friendliness, and wit or charm.

Roman writers like Horace extolled the value of virtue while listing and warning against vices. His first epistles says that "to flee vice is the beginning of virtue, and to have got rid of folly is the beginning of widsom."[9]

An allegorical image depicting the human heart subject to the seven deadly sins, each represented by an animal (clockwise: toad = avarice; snake = envy; lion = wrath; snail = sloth; pig = gluttony; goat = lust; peacock = pride).

Origin of the currently recognized Seven Deadly Sins[edit]

The modern concept of the seven deadly sins is linked to the works of the fourth-century monk Evagrius Ponticus, who listed eight evil thoughts in Greek as follows:[10][11]

  • 1 Γαστριμαργία (gastrimargia) gluttony
  • 2 Πορνεία (porneia) prostitution, fornication
  • 3 Φιλαργυρία (philargyria) avarice
  • 4 Ὑπερηφανία (hyperēphania) hubris – sometimes rendered as self-esteem[12]
  • 5 Λύπη (lypē) sadness – in the Philokalia, this term is rendered as envy, sadness at another's good fortune
  • 6 Ὀργή (orgē) wrath
  • 7 Κενοδοξία (kenodoxia) boasting
  • 8 Ἀκηδία (akēdia) acedia – in the Philokalia, this term is rendered as dejection

They were translated into the Latin of Western Christianity (largely due to the writings of John Cassian),[13][14] thus becoming part of the Western tradition's spiritual pietas (or Catholic devotions), as follows:[15]

  • 1 Gula (gluttony)
  • 2 Fornicatio (fornication, lust)
  • 3 Avaritia (avarice/greed)
  • 4 Superbia (hubris, pride)
  • 5 Tristitia (sorrow/despair/despondency)
  • 6 Ira (wrath)
  • 7 Vanagloria (vainglory)
  • 8 Acedia (sloth)

These "evil thoughts" can be categorized into three types:[15]

  • lustful appetite (gluttony, fornication, and avarice)
  • irascibility (wrath)
  • mind corruption (vainglory, sorrow, pride, and discouragement)

In AD 590 Pope Gregory I revised this list to form the more common list. Gregory combined tristitia and acedia, vanagloria and superbia, and added envy.[16][17] Gregory's list became the standard list of sins. Thomas Aquinas uses and defends Gregory's list in his Summa Theologica.[18]

Historical and modern definitions[edit]


Main article: Lust

Lust, or lechery (Latin, carnal "luxuria"), is an intense and uncontrolled desire. It is usually thought of as uncontrolled sexual wants, which leads to adultery, rape, bestiality, and other unnatural and immoral sexual acts. However, the word was originally a general term for desire. Therefore, lust could include the uncontrolled desire for money, food, fame, or power.

In Dante's Purgatorio, the penitent walks within flames to purge himself of lustful thoughts and feelings. In Dante's Inferno, unforgiven souls of the sin of lust are blown about in restless hurricane-like winds symbolic of their own lack of self-control to their lustful passions in earthly life.


Main article: Gluttony

Gluttony (Latin, gula) is the overindulgence and overconsumption of anything to the point of waste. The word derives from the Latin gluttire, meaning to gulp down or swallow.

In Christianity, it is considered a sin if the excessive desire for food causes it to be withheld from the needy.[19]

Because of these scripts, gluttony can be interpreted as selfishness; essentially placing concern with one's own interests above the well-being or interests of others.

Medieval church leaders (e.g., Thomas Aquinas) took a more expansive view of gluttony,[19] arguing that it could also include an obsessive anticipation of meals, and the constant eating of delicacies and excessively costly foods.[20] Aquinas went so far as to prepare a list of six ways to commit gluttony, comprising:

  • Praepropere – eating too soon
  • Laute – eating too expensively
  • Nimis – eating too much
  • Ardenter – eating too eagerly
  • Studiose – eating too daintily
  • Forente – eating wildly


Main article: Greed
1909 painting The Worship of Mammon by Evelyn De Morgan.

Greed (Latin, avaritia), also known as avarice, cupidity or covetousness, is, like lust and gluttony, a sin of excess. However, greed (as seen by the Church) is applied to a very excessive or rapacious desire and pursuit of material possessions. Thomas Aquinas wrote, "Greed is a sin against God, just as all mortal sins, in as much as man condemns things eternal for the sake of temporal things." In Dante's Purgatory, the penitents were bound and laid face down on the ground for having concentrated too much on earthly thoughts. Hoarding of materials or objects, theft and robbery, especially by means of violence, trickery, or manipulation of authority are all actions that may be inspired by Greed. Such misdeeds can include simony, where one attempts to purchase or sell sacraments, including Holy Orders and, therefore, positions of authority in the Church hierarchy.

As defined outside Christian writings, greed is an inordinate desire to acquire or possess more than one needs, especially with respect to material wealth.[21]


Main article: Sloth (deadly sin)

Sloth (Latin, acedia) can entail different vices. While sloth is sometimes defined as physical laziness, spiritual laziness is emphasized. Failing to develop spiritually will lead to becoming guilty of sloth. In the Christian faith, sloth rejects grace and God.

Sloth has also been defined as a failure to do things that one should do. By this definition, evil exists when good people fail to act.

Edmund Burke (1729-1797) wrote in Present Discontents (II. 78) "No man, who is not inflamed by vain-glory into enthusiasm, can flatter himself that his single, unsupported, desultory, unsystematic endeavours are of power to defeat the subtle designs and united Cabals of ambitious citizens. When bad men combine, the good must associate; else they will fall, one by one, an unpitied sacrifice in a contemptible struggle."

Over time, the "acedia" in Pope Gregory's order has come to be closer in meaning to sloth. The focus came to be on the consequences of acedia rather than the cause, and so, by the 17th century, the exact deadly sin referred to was believed to be the failure to utilize one's talents and gifts.[citation needed] Even in Dante's time there were signs of this change; in his Purgatorio he had portrayed the penance for acedia as running continuously at top speed.


Main article: Wrath

Wrath (Latin, ira), also known as "rage", may be described as inordinate and uncontrolled feelings of hatred and anger. Wrath, in its purest form, presents with self-destructiveness, violence, and hate that may provoke feuds that can go on for centuries. Wrath may persist long after the person who did another a grievous wrong is dead. Feelings of anger can manifest in different ways, including impatience, revenge, and self-destructive behavior, such as drug abuse or suicide.

Wrath is the only sin not necessarily associated with selfishness or self-interest, although one can of course be wrathful for selfish reasons, such as jealousy (closely related to the sin of envy). Dante described vengeance as "love of justice perverted to revenge and spite". People feel angry when they sense that they or someone they care about has been offended, when they are certain about the nature and cause of the angering event, when they are certain someone else is responsible, and when they feel they can still influence the situation or cope with it.[22]


Main article: Envy
EnvyArch in the nave with a gothic fresco from 1511 of a man with a dog-head, which symbolizes envy (Dalbyneder Church (da), Denmark)

Envy (Latin, invidia), like greed and lust, is characterized by an insatiable desire. Envy is similar to jealousy in that they both feel discontent towards someone's traits, status, abilities, or rewards. The difference is the envious also desire the entity and covet it.

Envy can be directly related to the Ten Commandments, specifically, "Neither shall you desire... anything that belongs to your neighbour." Dante defined this as "a desire to deprive other men of theirs". In Dante's Purgatory, the punishment for the envious is to have their eyes sewn shut with wire because they have gained sinful pleasure from seeing others brought low. Aquinas described envy as "sorrow for another's good".[23]


Main article: Pride
Building the Tower of Babel was, for Dante, an example of pride. Painting by Pieter Brueghel the Elder

Pride (Latin, superbia), or hubris (Greek), is considered, on almost every list, the original and most serious of the seven deadly sins: the source of the others. It is identified as believing that one is essentially better than others, failing to acknowledge the accomplishments of others, and excessive admiration of the personal self (especially holding self out of proper position toward God); it also includes vainglory (Latin, vanagloria) which is unjustified boasting. Dante's definition of pride was "love of self perverted to hatred and contempt for one's neighbour". In Jacob Bidermann's medieval miracle play, Cenodoxus, pride is the deadliest of all the sins and leads directly to the damnation of the titulary famed Parisian doctor. In perhaps the best-known example, the story of Lucifer, pride (his desire to compete with God) was what caused his fall from Heaven, and his resultant transformation into Satan. In Dante's Divine Comedy, the penitents are burdened with stone slabs on their necks which force them to keep their heads bowed.

Historical sins[edit]


Main article: Acedia

Acedia (Latin, acedia) (from Greek ἀκηδία) is the neglect to take care of something that one should do. It is translated to apathetic listlessness; depression without joy. It is related to melancholy: acedia describes the behaviour and melancholy suggests the emotion producing it. In early Christian thought, the lack of joy was regarded as a willful refusal to enjoy the goodness of God; by contrast, apathy was considered a refusal to help others in time of need.

When Thomas Aquinas described acedia in his interpretation of the list, he described it as an uneasiness of the mind, being a progenitor for lesser sins such as restlessness and instability. Dante refined this definition further, describing acedia as the failure to love God with all one's heart, all one's mind and all one's soul; to him it was the middle sin, the only one characterised by an absence or insufficiency of love. Some scholars[who?] have said that the ultimate form of acedia was despair which leads to suicide.


Main article: Vanity
Conversion of the Magdalene' or 'Allegory of Modesty and Vanity by Bernardino Luini, c. 1520

Vainglory (Latin, vanagloria) is unjustified boasting. Pope Gregory viewed it as a form of pride, so he folded vainglory into pride for his listing of sins.

The Latin term gloria roughly means boasting, although its English cognate - glory - has come to have an exclusively positive meaning; historically, vain roughly meant futile, but by the 14th century had come to have the strong narcissistic undertones, of irrelevant accuracy, that it retains today.[24] As a result of these semantic changes, vainglory has become a rarely used word in itself, and is now commonly interpreted as referring to vanity (in its modern narcissistic sense).

Catholic seven virtues[edit]

The Catholic Church also recognizes seven virtues, which correspond inversely to each of the seven deadly sins.

Vice Latin Virtue Latin
Lust Luxuria Chastity Castitas
Gluttony Gula Temperance Temperantia
Greed Avaritia Charity (or, sometimes, Generosity) Caritas
Sloth Acedia Diligence Industria
Wrath Ira Patience Patientia
Envy Invidia Kindness Humanitas
Pride Superbia Humility Humilitas

Associations with demons[edit]

The Lanterne of Light, an anonymous English Lollard tract often attributed to Wycliffe (with dissent expressed regarding that conclusion),[25]:vii-xv[non-primary source needed] [dated info] paired each of the deadly sins with a demon who tempted people by means of the associated sin.[25]:60[non-primary source needed][verification needed][original research?] [dated info] According to this classification system, the pairings are as follows:[citation needed][verification needed][original research?]

In 1589, Peter Binsfeld again paired each of the deadly sins with a demon, in a slightly contrasting classification system, whereby the pairings are as follows:[26]:214f


According to a 2009 study by a Jesuit scholar, the most common deadly sin confessed by men is lust, and for women, pride.[27] It was unclear whether these differences were due to the actual number of transgressions committed by each gender, or whether differing views on what "counts" or should be confessed caused the observed pattern.[28]

In art[edit]

Dante's Purgatorio[edit]

The second book of Dante's epic poem The Divine Comedy is structured around the seven deadly sins. The most serious sins, found at the lowest level, are the abuses of the most divine faculty. For Dante and earlier thinkers, a human's rational faculty makes humans more like God. Abusing that faculty with pride or envy weighs down the soul the most. Abusing one's passions with anger or with a lack of passion in sloth also weighs down the soul but not as much as the abuse of one's rational faculty. Finally, abusing one's desires for to have one's physical needs met via greed, gluttony, or lust abuses a faculty that humans share with animals. This is still an abuse that weighs down the soul, but it does not weigh it down like other abuses. Thus, the top levels of the Mountain of Purgatory have the top listed sins, while the lowest levels have the more serious sins of wrath, envy, and pride.

  1. luxuria / Lust [29][30][31]
  2. gula / Gluttony
  3. avaritia / Greed
  4. acedia / Sloth
  5. ira / Wrath
  6. invidia / Envy
  7. superbia / Pride

Geoffrey Chaucer's "The Parson's Tale"[edit]

The last tale of the Canterbury Tales, the "Parson's Tale" is actually not a tale but a sermon that the parson gives against the seven deadly sins. This sermon brings together many common ideas and images about the seven deadly sins. This tale and Dante's work both show how the seven deadly sins were used for confessional purposes or as a way to identify, repent of, and find forgiveness for one's sins.

Peter Brueghel the Elder's Prints of the Seven Deadly Sins[edit]

The Dutch artist created a series of prints showing each of the seven deadly sins. Each print features a central, labeled image that represents the sin. Around the figure are images that show the distortions, degenerations, and destructions caused by the sin.[32] Many of these images come from contemporary Dutch aphorisms.[33]

Edmund Spenser's The Faerie Queene[edit]

Spenser's work, which was meant to educate young people to embrace virtue and avoid vice, includes a colorful depiction of the House of Pride. Lucifera, the lady of the house, is accompanied by advisers who represent the other seven deadly sins.

Kurt Weill and Bertolt Brecht's The Seven Deadly Sins[edit]

This work satirized capitalism and its painful abuses as its central character, the victim of a split personality, travels to seven different cities in search of money for her family. In each city she encounters one of the seven deadly sins, but those sins ironically reverse one's expectations. When the character goes to Los Angeles, for example, she is outraged by injustice, but is told that wrath against capitalism is a sin that she must avoid.

Paul Cadmus' The Seven Deadly Sins[edit]

Between 1945 and 1949, the American painter Paul Cadmus created a series of vivid, powerful, and gruesome paintings of each of the seven deadly sins.[34]

Cultural references[edit]

In the Simpsons Halloween special, Treehouse of Horror XVIII in the "Heck House" part, Ned Flanders, as the devil, takes Bart, Lisa, Milhouse, and Nelson on a tour of hell to warn them of the seven deadly sins on a magic globe such as Homer Simpson turning into a spaghetti after being a glutton, and Willie with his wrath kicking his tractor so hard, it turns into a transformer-like robot and cuts Willie's head off.[35]

In the Anime, Nanatsu no Taizai, also known as "The Seven Deadly Sins", it is shown that the main characters are based The Seven Deadly Sins such as: Meliodas (Wrath), Diane (Envy), Ban (Greed), King (Sloth), Gowther (Lust), Merlin (Gluttony), and Escanor (Pride).

In Dead Rising 3 there are 7 Psychopaths that each represent one of the 7 sins. Darlene Fleischermacher (Gluttony), Dylan Fuentes (Lust), Albert Contiello (Greed), Theodore Lagerfield Jr. (Sloth), Harry "Zhi" Wong (Wrath), Kenny Dermot (Envy), and Jherii Gallo (Pride).

In the popular Manga Fullmetal Alchemist, the 7 deadly sins are portrayed as 7 individual antagonist characters known as Homunculi; Envy, Lust, Gluttony, Sloth, Greed, Wrath (King Bradley) and Pride (Selim Bradley).

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Tucker, Shawn (2015). The Virtues and Vices in the Arts: A Sourcebook. Cascade. ISBN 1625647182. 
  2. ^ Evagrius (2006). Evagrius of Pontus: The Greek Ascetic Corpus translated by Robert E. Sinkewicz. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0199297088. 
  3. ^ Cassian, John (2000). The Institutes. Newman Press of the Paulist Press. ISBN 0809105225. 
  4. ^ [bible verse Proverbs 6:16–19]
  5. ^ "Deadly Sins: Are there any?". Life Hope and Truth. CHURCH OF GOD, A WORLDWIDE ASSOCIATION, INC. Retrieved 2015-09-27. 
  6. ^ "The Seven Deadly Sins Listed in the Bible". Retrieved 2015-09-27. 
  7. ^ Galatians
  8. ^ "Mortal and Venial Sin - Is it Biblical?". Retrieved 2015-09-27. 
  9. ^ Tilby, Angela (2013-04-23). The Seven Deadly Sins: Their origin in the spiritual teaching of Evagrius the Hermit. SPCK. ISBN 9780281062997. 
  10. ^ Evagrio Pontico, Gli Otto Spiriti Malvagi, trans., Felice Comello, Pratiche Editrice, Parma, 1990, p.11-12.
  11. ^ Evagrius of Pontus: The Greek Ascetic Corpus. Oxford: Oxford University Press. 2006-06-22. ISBN 9780199297085. 
  12. ^ In the translation of the Philokalia by Palmer, Ware, and Sherrard.
  13. ^ Remedies for the Eight Principal Faults
  14. ^ Cassian, St John (2000-01-03). The Institutes (First ed.). New York: Newman Press of the Paulist Press. ISBN 9780809105229. 
  15. ^ a b Refoule, F. (1967) "Evagrius Ponticus," In New Catholic Encyclopaedia, Vol. 5, pp. 644f, Staff of Catholic University of America, Eds., New York, NY, USA: McGraw-Hill.
  16. ^ DelCogliano, Mark (2014-11-18). Gregory the Great: Moral Reflections on the Book of Job, Volume 1. Cistercian Publications. ISBN 9780879071493. 
  17. ^ Tucker, Shawn R. (2015-02-24). The Virtues and Vices in the Arts: A Sourcebook. Cascade Books, an Imprint of Wipf and Stock Publishers. 
  18. ^ "SUMMA THEOLOGICA: The cause of sin, in respect of one sin being the cause of another (Prima Secundae Partis, Q. 84)". Retrieved 2015-12-04. 
  19. ^ a b Okholm, Dennis. "Rx for Gluttony". Christianity Today, Vol. 44, No. 10, September 11, 2000, p.62
  20. ^ "Gluttony". Catholic Encyclopedia. 
  21. ^ "The Free Dictionary". The Free Dictionary. April 1, 1987. Retrieved July 24, 2010. 
  22. ^ International Handbook of Anger. p. 290
  23. ^ "Summa Theologica: Treatise on The Theological Virtues (QQ[1] - 46): Question. 36 - Of Envy (four articles)". Retrieved January 2, 2010. 
  24. ^ Oxford English dictionary
  25. ^ a b Wycliffe, John [attr.] (1917) [ca. 1410][citation needed] The Lanterne of Lizt, ed. from ms. Harl. 2324, Lilian Mary Swinburn, Ed., London, UK: Early English Text Society (Printers, K. Paul, Trench, Trübner & Co., Ltd.).[non-primary source needed][dated info]
  26. ^ Bloomfield, Morton W. (1952) The Seven Deadly Sins, East Lansing, MI, USA:Michigan State College Press.
  27. ^ "Two sexes 'sin in different ways'". BBC News. February 18, 2009. Retrieved July 24, 2010. 
  28. ^ Morning Edition (February 20, 2009). "True Confessions: Men And Women Sin Differently". Retrieved July 24, 2010. 
  29. ^ Godsall-Myers, Jean E. (2003). Speaking in the medieval world. Brill. p. 27. ISBN 90-04-12955-3. 
  30. ^ Katherine Ludwig, Jansen (2001). The making of the Magdalen: preaching and popular devotion in the later Middle Ages. Princeton University Press. p. 168. ISBN 0-691-08987-6. 
  31. ^ Vossler, Karl; Spingarn, Joel Elias (1929). Mediæval Culture: The religious, philosophic, and ethico-political background of the "Divine Comedy". University of Michigan: Constable & company. p. 246. 
  32. ^ Orenstein, Nadine M., ed. (2001-09-01). Pieter Bruegel the Elder: Prints and Drawings. New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art. ISBN 9780300090147. 
  33. ^ Klein, H. Arthur (1963-01-01). Graphic Work of Peter Bruegel, the Elder: Reproducing 64 Engravings and a Woodcut After Designs By Peter Bruegel the Elder. (1st Edition / 1st Printing ed.). Dover Publications. 
  34. ^ "Paul Cadmus | The Seven Deadly Sins: Pride | The Metropolitan Museum of Art". Retrieved 2015-12-04. 

Further reading[edit]

  • Tucker, Shawn. The Virtues and Vices in the Arts: A Sourcebook, (Eugene, OR: Cascade Press, 2015)
  • Schumacher, Meinolf (2005): "Catalogues of Demons as Catalogues of Vices in Medieval German Literature: 'Des Teufels Netz' and the Alexander Romance by Ulrich von Etzenbach." In In the Garden of Evil: The Vices and Culture in the Middle Ages. Edited by Richard Newhauser, pp. 277–290. Toronto: Pontifical Institute of Mediaeval Studies.
  • The Divine Comedy ("Inferno", "Purgatorio", and "Paradiso"), by Dante Alighieri
  • Summa Theologica, by Thomas Aquinas
  • The Concept of Sin, by Josef Pieper
  • The Traveller's Guide to Hell, by Michael Pauls & Dana Facaros
  • Sacred Origins of Profound Things, by Charles Panati
  • The Faerie Queene, by Edmund Spenser
  • The Seven Deadly Sins Series, Oxford University Press (7 vols.)
  • Rebecca Konyndyk DeYoung, Glittering Vices: A New Look at the Seven Deadly Sins and Their Remedies, (Grand Rapids: BrazosPress, 2009)
  • Solomon Schimmel, The Seven Deadly Sins: Jewish, Christian, and Classical Reflections on Human Psychology, (New York: Oxford University Press, 1997)
  • "Doctor Faustus" by Christopher Marlowe

External links[edit]