Seven deadly sins
The seven deadly sins, also known as the capital vices or cardinal sins, is a grouping and classification of vices. 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 hubristic pride, greed, lust, malicious envy, gluttony, wrath and sloth. There is a parallel tradition of seven virtues.
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. Evagrius' pupil John Cassian brought that tradition to Europe with his book The Institutes. 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 people how to avoid evil and embrace the good as is evident in treatises, paintings, sculpture decorations on churches. Peter Brueghel the Elder's prints of the Seven Deadly Sins and extremely numerous other works show the continuity of this tradition into the modern era.
- 1 History
- 2 Historical and modern definitions, views and associations
- 3 Historical sins
- 4 Catholic seven virtues
- 5 Confession Patterns
- 6 In art
- 7 Cultural references
- 8 See also
- 9 References
- 10 Further reading
- 11 External links
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 doth the LORD hate: yea, seven are an abomination unto him", namely:
- A proud(vain) look
- A lying tongue
- Hands that shed innocent blood
- A heart that deviseth wicked acts
- Feet that be swift in running to mischief
- A false witness that speaketh lies
- He that soweth discord among brethren
Another list, 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". 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.
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 wisdom."
Origin of the currently recognized Seven Deadly Sins
- 1 Γαστριμαργία (gastrimargia) gluttony
- 2 Πορνεία (porneia) prostitution, fornication
- 3 Φιλαργυρία (philargyria) avarice
- 4 Ὑπερηφανία (hyperēphania) hubris – sometimes rendered as self-overstimation
- 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), thus becoming part of the Western tradition's spiritual pietas (or Catholic devotions), as follows:
- 1 Gula (gluttony)
- 2 Luxuria/Fornicatio (lust, fornication)
- 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:
- 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. Gregory's list became the standard list of sins. Thomas Aquinas uses and defends Gregory's list in his Summa Theologica.
Historical and modern definitions, views and associations
Most of the capital sins, with the sole exception of sloth, are defined by Dante Alighieri as perverse or corrupt versions of love for something or another. It is widely held that the capital sins from lust to envy may be associated with pride, which has been labeled as the father of all sins, etc.
Lust, or lechery (Latin, "luxuria" (carnal)), is intense longing. It is usually thought of as intense or unbridled sexual desire, which leads to fornication, adultery, rape, bestiality, and other immoral sexual acts. However, lust could also mean simply desire in general; thus, lust for money, power, and other things are sinful.
Lust subverts propriety. Examples include Anna Karenina abandoning her husband and son because she lusted after another man, and the besotted Vronsky abandoning his honorable career.
"Lust is the ultimate goal of almost all human endeavour, exerts an adverse influence on the most important affairs, interrupts the most serious business, sometimes for a while confuses even the greatest minds, does not hesitate with its trumpery to disrupt the negotiations of statesmen and the research of scholars, has the knack of slipping its love-letters and ringlets even into ministerial portfolios and philosophical manuscripts".
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.
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.
Because of these scripts, gluttony can be interpreted as selfishness; essentially placing concern with one's own impulses or interests above the well-being or interests of others.
The table manner of beginning to eat at the same time is practiced in order to induce feelings of humanism among family members, so that, when famine or war comes, they will follow a humanistic approach, putting the well-being of the family above all else.
Medieval church leaders (e.g., Thomas Aquinas) took a more expansive view of gluttony, arguing that it could also include an obsessive anticipation of meals, and the constant eating of delicacies and excessively costly foods. Aquinas went so far as to prepare a list of five ways to commit gluttony, comprising:
- Laute – eating too expensively
- Studiose – eating too daintily
- Nimis – eating too much
- Praepropere – eating too soon
- Ardenter – eating too eagerly
Out of these ardenter is often considered the most serious, since it is extreme attachment to the pleasure of mere eating, which can make the committer eat impulsively; absolutely and without qualification live merely to eat and drink; lose attachment to health-related, social, intellectual, and spiritual pleasures; and lose proper judgement: an example is Esau selling his birthright for ordinary food of bread and pottage of lentils. His punishment was that the "profane person . . . who, for a morsel of meat sold his birthright," we learn that "he found no place for repentance, though he sought it carefully, with tears." [Gen 25:30]
Greed (Latin, avaritia), also known as avarice, cupidity or covetousness, is, like lust and gluttony, a sin of desire. However, greed (as seen by the Church) is applied to an artificial, 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.
Sloth (Latin, tristitia or acedia("without care")) refers to a peculiar jumble of notions, dating from antiquity and including metal, spiritual, pathological, and physical states. It may be defined as habitual disinclination to exertion.
In his Summa Theologica, Saint Thomas Aquinas defined sloth as "sorrow about spiritual good".
Spiritually, acedia first referred to an affliction attending religious persons, especially monks, wherein they became indifferent to their duties and obligations to God. Mentally, acedia, has a number of distinctive components of which the most important is affectlessness, a lack of any feeling about self or other, a mind-state that gives rise to boredom, rancor, apathy, and a passive inert or sluggish mentation, Physically, acedia is fundamentally associated with a cessation of motion and an indifference to work; it finds expression in laziness, idleness, and indolence.
Sloth includes ceasing to utilize the seven gifts of grace given by the Holy Spirit (Wisdom, Understanding, Counsel, Knowledge, Piety, Fortitude, and Fear of the Lord); such disregard may lead to the slowing of one's spiritual progress towards eternal life, to the neglect of manifold duties of charity towards the neighbor, and to animosity towards those who love 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."
Unlike the other capital sins, which are sins of committing immorality, sloth is a sin of omitting responsibilities. It may arise from any of the other capital vices; for example, a son may omit his duty to his father through anger. While the state and habit of sloth is a mortal sin, the habit of the soul tending towards the last mortal state of sloth is not mortal in and of itself except under certain circumstances.
Emotionally and cognitively, the evil of acedia finds expression in a lack of any feeling for the world, for the people in it, or for the self. Acedia takes form as an alienation of the sentient self first from the world and then from itself. Although the most profound versions of this condition are found in a withdrawal from all forms of participation in or care for others or oneself, a lesser but more noisome element was also noted by theologians. From tristitia, asserted Gregory the Great, "there arise malice, rancour, cowardice, [and] despair..." Chaucer, too, dealt with this attribute of acedia, counting the characteristics of the sin to include despair, somnolence, idleness, tardiness, negligence, indolence, and wrawnesse, the last variously translated as "anger" or better as "peevishness". For Chaucer, human's sin consists of languishing and holding back, refusing to undertake works of goodness because, he/she tells him/her self, the circumstances surrounding the establishment of good are too grievous and too difficult to suffer. Acedia in Chaucer's view is thus the enemy of every source and motive for work.
Sloth not only subverts the livelihood of the body, taking no care for its day-to-day provisions, but also slows down the mind,halting its attention to matters of great importance. Sloth hinders the man in his righteous undertakings and thus becomes a terrible source of human's undoing.
In his Purgatorio Dante portrayed the penance for acedia as running continuously at top speed.
Dante describes 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.
Wrath (Latin, ira) can be defined as uncontrolled feelings of anger, rage, and even hatred, often revealing itself in the wish to seek vengeance. Wrath, in its purest form, presents with injury, 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 wrath can manifest in different ways, including impatience, hateful misanthropy, revenge, and self-destructive behavior, such as drug abuse or suicide.
"People who fly into a rage always make a bad landing."
According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, the neutral act of anger becomes the sin of wrath when it's directed against an innocent person, when it's unduly strong or long-lasting, or when it desires excessive punishment. "If anger reaches the point of a deliberate desire to kill or seriously wound a neighbor, it is gravely against charity; it is a mortal sin." (CCC 2302) Hatred is the sin of desiring that someone else may suffer misfortune or evil, and is a mortal sin when one desires grave harm. (CCC 2302-03)
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.
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).
Envy (Latin, invidia), like greed and lust, is characterized by an insatiable desire. Malicious envy is similar to jealousy in that they both feel discontent towards someone's traits, status, abilities, or rewards. A difference is that the envious also desire the entity and covet it.
Envy can be directly related to the Ten Commandments, specifically, "Neither shall you covet... anything that belongs to your neighbour."( a statement that may also be related to greed). Dante defined envy 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".
According to the most widely accepted view, only pride weighs down the soul more than envy among the capital sins.
The negative version of pride (Latin, superbia), which is also known as hubris (from ancient Greek ὕβρις), or futility, 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 possessing the irrational belief that one is automatically and essentially better than others, failing to acknowledge the accomplishments of others, inflated self-importance, and excessive admiration of the personal self (especially forgetting one's limits and faults as a human being); it is also understood to include vainglory (Latin, vanagloria), which is unjustified boasting.
Pride is generally viewed to be capable of leading to the other deadly sins, and it is generally viewed to being able to father directly and/or indirectly all sin.
C.S. Lewis writes, in Mere Christianity, that pride is the "anti-God" state, the position in which the ego and the self are directly opposed to God: "Unchastity, anger, greed, drunkenness, and all that, are mere fleabites in comparison: it was through Pride that the devil became the devil: Pride leads to every other vice: it is the complete anti-God state of mind."
In Ancient Athens, hubris was used to refer to insolent contempt that can cause one to use violence to shame the victim (this sense of hubris could also characterize rape ). Aristotle defined hubris as shaming the victim, not because of anything that happened to the committer or might happen to the committer, but merely for the committer's own gratification. The word's connotation changed somewhat over time, with some additional emphasis towards a gross over-estimation of one's abilities.
Dante's definition of pride was "love of self perverted to hatred and contempt for one's neighbour".
Hubris is associated with more intra-individual negative outcomes and is commonly related to expressions of aggression and hostility (Tangney, 1999). As one might expect, hubris is not always associated with high self-esteem but with highly fluctuating or variable self-esteem. Excessive feelings of hubris have a tendency to create conflict and sometimes terminating close relationships, which has led it to be understood as one of the few emotions with no clear positive or adaptive functions (Rhodwalt, et al.).
While hubris is generally thought to be committed by individuals, it can be committed by groups. Discrimination is often the result of group pride.
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. Perhaps the best-known example is the story of Lucifer, whose pride filled him with so much evil that he forced a third of the other angels to worship him, causing 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 to keep their heads bowed.
Acedia (Latin, acedia "without care") (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.
Pope Gregory combined this sin with sloth for his list. 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.
Acedia is currently defined in the Catechism of the Catholic Church as spiritual sloth, which would be believing that spiritual tasks to be too difficult.
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, that it retains today. 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
The Catholic Church also recognizes seven virtues, which correspond inversely to each of the seven deadly sins.
|Greed||Avaritia||Charity (or, sometimes, Generosity)†||Caritas (Liberalitas)|
†This virtue is generally considered to be the greatest and the most important of all.
Confession is the act of admitting the commission of a sin to a religious official, who in turn will advise the person on what he or she should do afterwards.
According to a 2009 study by a Jesuit scholar, the most common deadly sin confessed by men is lust, and for women, pride. 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.
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 other 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 wrath or a lack of passion as with 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.
- luxuria / Lust 
- gula / Gluttony
- avaritia / Greed
- acedia / Sloth
- ira / Wrath
- invidia / Envy
- superbia / Pride
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
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. Many of these images come from contemporary Dutch aphorisms.
Spenser's work, which was meant to educate young people to embrace virtue and avoid vice, includes a colourful depiction of the House of Pride. Lucifera, the lady of the house, is accompanied by advisers who represent the other seven deadly sins.
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
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.
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.
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- The Divine Comedy ("Inferno", "Purgatorio", and "Paradiso"), by Dante Alighieri
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- The Concept of Sin, by Josef Pieper
- The Traveller's Guide to Hell, by Michael Pauls & Dana Facaros
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- The Faerie Queene, by Edmund Spenser
- The Seven Deadly Sins Series, Oxford University Press (7 vols.)
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|Wikimedia Commons has media related to The Seven Deadly Sins.|
- Catholic Catechism on Sin
- Medieval mural depictions - in parish churches of England (online catalog, Anne Marshall, Open University)
- Stranger, An Allegorical Tale of the Seven Deadly Sins, ISBN 9781311073846