Seven deadly sins explained

For other uses see Seven deadly sins (disambiguation).

The seven deadly sins, also known as the capital vices or cardinal sins, are a classification of the most objectionable vices that were originally used in early Christian teachings to educate and instruct followers concerning (immoral) fallen man's tendency to sin. They are: lust, gluttony, greed, sloth, wrath, envy and pride. The Catholic Church divided sin into two principal categories: "venial", which are relatively minor, and could be forgiven through any sacramentals or sacraments of the church, and the more severe "capital" or mortal sin. Mortal sins destroyed the life of grace, and created the threat of eternal damnation unless either absolved through the sacrament of confession, or forgiven through perfect contrition on the part of the penitent. Beginning in the early 14th century, the popularity of the seven deadly sins as a theme among European artists of the time eventually helped to ingrain them in many areas of Christian culture and Christian consciousness in general throughout the world. One means of such ingraining was the creation of the mnemonic "SALIGIA" based on the first letters in Latin of the seven deadly sins: superbia, avaritia, luxuria, invidia, gula, ira, acedia.[1]

There is nowhere in the Christian Bible that a specific list of the Seven Deadly Sins is given, although lists of virtues contrasted with lists of sins are found in certain books of the New Testament, such as the Epistle to the Galatians. The modern concept of the Seven Deadly Sins is linked to the works of the 4th century monk Evagrius Ponticus, who listed eight "evil thoughts" as follows (Refoule, 1967):

Gluttony; fornication; avarice; sorrow; anger; discouragement; vainglory; pride.

The first three of these sins, as Refoule explains, link to lustful appetite; anger links with the irascible; and vainglory and pride link with the intellect. Some years after Ponticus, in 590 AD, Pope Gregory I (Pope Gregory the Great) would revise this list to form the more common "Seven Deadly Sins".

Listings of the sins since Gregory the Great

Listed in the same order used by both Pope Gregory the Great in the 6th century, and later by Dante Alighieri in his epic poem The Divine Comedy, the seven deadly sins are as follows: Latin: '''''luxuria''''' (extravagance, later lust), Latin: '''''gula''''' (gluttony), Latin: '''''avaritia''''' (greed), Latin: '''''acedia''''' (sloth), Latin: '''''ira''''' (wrath), Latin: '''''invidia''''' (envy), and Latin: '''''superbia''''' (pride). Each of the seven deadly sins has an opposite among the corresponding seven holy virtues (sometimes also referred to as the contrary virtues). In parallel order to the sins they oppose, the seven holy virtues are chastity, temperance, charity, diligence, patience, kindness, and humility.

The identification and definition of the seven deadly sins over their history has been a fluid process and the idea of what each of the seven actually encompasses has evolved over time. This process has been aided by the fact that they are not referred to in either a cohesive or codified manner in the Bible itself, and as a result other literary and ecclesiastical works referring to the seven deadly sins were instead consulted as sources from which definitions might be drawn. Part II of Dante's Divine Comedy, "Purgatorio", has almost certainly been the best known source since the Renaissance.

The modern Roman Catholic Catechism lists the sins as: "pride, avarice, envy, wrath, lust, gluttony, and sloth or acedia, ".[2]

The sins

Lust (Latin, Latin: ''luxuria'')

See main article: Lust. Lust (or lechery) is usually thought of as excessive thoughts or desires of a sexual nature. Giving in to lusts can lead to sexual or sociological compulsions and/or transgressions including (but not limited to) sexual addiction, fornication, adultery, bestiality, rape, perversion, and incest.Dante's criterion was "excessive love of others," which therefore rendered love and devotion to God as secondary. In "Purgatorio", the penitent walks within flames to purge himself of lustful/sexual thoughts and feelings.

Gluttony (Latin, Latin: ''gula'')

See main article: Gluttony. Derived from the Latin gluttire, meaning to gulp down or swallow, gluttony is the over-indulgence and over-consumption of anything to the point of waste. In the Christian religions, it is considered a sin because of the excessive desire for food, or its withholding from the needy.[3]

Depending on the culture, it can be seen as either a vice or a sign of status. Where food is relatively scarce, being able to eat well might be something to take pride in (although this can also result in a moral backlash when confronted with the reality of those less fortunate). Where food is routinely plentiful, it may be considered a sign of self-control to resist the temptation to over-indulge.

Medieval church leaders (e.g., Thomas Aquinas) took a more expansive view of gluttony,[3] 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 six ways to commit gluttony, including:

Greed (Latin, Latin: ''avaritia'')

See main article: Greed. Greed (or avarice, covetousness) is, like lust and gluttony, a sin of excess. However, greed (as seen by the church) is applied to the acquisition of wealth in particular. St. Thomas Aquinas wrote that greed was "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. "Avarice" is more of a blanket term that can describe many other examples of greedy behavior. These include disloyalty, deliberate betrayal, or treason, especially for personal gain, for example through bribery. Scavenging and 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 profits from soliciting goods within the actual confines of a church.

Sloth (Latin, Latin: ''acedia'')

See main article: Sloth (deadly sin). More than other sins, the definition of sloth has changed considerably since its original inclusion among the seven deadly sins. In fact it was first called the sin of sadness or despair. It had been in the early years of Christianity characterized by what modern writers would now describe as melancholy: apathy, depression, and joylessness — the last being viewed as being a refusal to enjoy the goodness of God and the world God created. Originally, its place was fulfilled by two other aspects, acedia and sadness. The former described a spiritual apathy that affected the faithful by discouraging them from their religious work. Sadness (tristitia in Latin) described a feeling of dissatisfaction or discontent, which caused unhappiness with one's current situation. When Thomas Aquinas selected acedia for his 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 sloth as being the "failure to love God with all one's heart, all one's mind and all one's soul." He also described it as the middle sin, and as such was the only sin characterised by an absence or insufficiency of love. In his "Purgatorio", the slothful penitents were made to run continuously at top speed.

The modern view of the vice, as highlighted by its contrary virtue of zeal or diligence, is that it represents the failure to utilize one's talents and gifts. For example, a student who does not work beyond what is required (and thus fails to achieve his or her full potential) could be labeled slothful.

Current interpretations are therefore much less stringent and comprehensive than they were in medieval times, and portray sloth as being more simply a sin of laziness or indifference, of an unwillingness to act, an unwillingness to care (rather than a failure to love God and his works). For this reason sloth is now often seen as being considerably less serious than the other sins, more a sin of omission than of commission.

The sloth, a South American mammal, was named after this sin by Roman Catholic explorers.

Wrath (Latin, Latin: ''ira'')

See main article: Wrath. Wrath (or anger or "Rage") may be described as inordinate and uncontrolled feelings of hatred and anger. These feelings can manifest as vehement denial of the truth, both to others and in the form of self-denial, impatience with the procedure of law, and the desire to seek revenge outside of the workings of the justice system (such as engaging in vigilantism) and generally wishing to do evil or harm to others. The transgressions borne of vengeance are among the most serious, including murder, assault, and in extreme cases, genocide. 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". In its original form, the sin of wrath also encompassed anger pointed internally rather than externally. Thus suicide was deemed as the ultimate, albeit tragic, expression of wrath directed inwardly, a final rejection of God's gifts.

Envy (Latin, Latin: ''invidia'')

See main article: Envy. Like greed, envy may be characterized by an insatiable desire; they differ, however, for two main reasons. First, greed is largely associated with material goods, whereas envy may apply more generally. Second, those who commit the sin of envy resent that another person has something they perceive themselves as lacking, and wish the other person to be deprived of it. Dante defined this as "love of one's own good perverted to 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".[4]

Pride (Latin, Latin: ''superbia'')

See main article: Pride. In almost every list pride (or hubris or "vanity") is considered the original and most serious of the seven deadly sins, and indeed the ultimate source from which the others arise. It is identified as a desire to be more important or attractive than others, failing to acknowledge the good work of others, and excessive love of self (especially holding self out of proper position toward God). Dante's definition was "love of self perverted to hatred and contempt for one's neighbor." 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. Vanity and narcissism are prime examples of this sin. In Dante's Divine Comedy, the penitents were forced to walk with stone slabs bearing down on their backs in order to induce feelings of humility.

Biblical references

Proverbs 6:16–19

In Proverbs 6:16–19, it is stated that "(16) These six things doth the Lord hate: yea, seven are an abomination unto him:" (quotes from King James Version (KJV) translation of the Bible). These are:

While there are seven of them, these sins are considerably different in outward appearance from the seven deadly sins list that arose later. The only sin which is clearly on both lists is pride. "Hands that shed innocent blood" could be taken to refer to wrath. However, it is possible to imagine a case where cold blooded murder of an innocent would be one of the "hated things" without necessarily being an example of wrath. Practices such as abortion, genocide, and euthanasia can be arguably covered under this umbrella of "hands that shed innocent blood".

The remaining five of the "deadly sins" do not have even this loose correspondence to the "hated things", even if it is easy to imagine how they might lead someone to acting in one of the ways described in "Proverbs". As previously stated, there is nowhere in the Bible where the traditional "seven deadly sins" are located or listed, although they are all condemned in various parts, along with several others. These "deadly sins" are not necessarily worse than any others that are listed. The New Testament shows that it only takes one sin, which is an act of disobeying God's law, to separate man from a perfect God, placing him in need of redemption and salvation.

Other Biblical references

The list in Proverbs is not the only list of sins in the Bible. It does list them as "seven", but it is far from being an exhaustive listing of sins. Another list of sins is given in the (New Testament) book of "Galatians" 5:19-21. That list reads: (19) Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are these; Adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, (20) Idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies, (21) Envyings, murders, drunkenness, revellings, and such like: of the which I tell you before, as I have also told you in time past, that they which do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God.(KJV)Wrath is mentioned specifically, but linked with hate, includes the notions of hostility both acted upon and purely internalized.

Envy is part of the list in Paul's Epistle to the Galatians.

Greed is part of "selfish ambitions" from Galatians, but is also mirrored in Proverbs' "wicked plans."

Gluttony is evident in "drunkenness and revellings", but also implied as the contrary of the virtue in Galatians 5:23: "temperance" (self-control).

Sloth is not listed in Galatians, but it can be found in verses such as Proverbs 6:6-10, "How long will you sleep, O sluggard?" Laziness is addressed in many other verses, though not necessarily labeled obviously as sin. In I Corinthians 3:8, a man is to receive "according to his labors". Similarly in I Timothy 5:18, a laborer is worthy of his wages, with the implied converse being that the sluggard is not entitled to be fed or rewarded. He sins in living off others' labors.

Pride is mentioned in Proverbs 16:18: "Pride goeth before destruction and a haughty spirit before a fall." (KJV)

Catholic virtues

The Roman Catholic Church also recognizes Seven Virtues which correspond inversely to each of the seven deadly sins.

ViceVirtue
LustChastity
GluttonyTemperance
GreedCharity
SlothDiligence
WrathPatience
EnvyKindness
PrideHumility

Associations with demons

In 1589, Peter Binsfeld paired each of the deadly sins with a demon, who tempted people by means of the associated sin. According to Binsfeld's classification of demons, the pairings are as follows:

Pride (superbia)

Greed (avaritia)

Lust (luxuria)

Envy (invidia)

Gluttony (gula)

Sloth (acedia)

There are also other demons who invoke sin, for instance Lilith and her offspring, the incubi and succubi, invoke lust. The succubi sleep with men in order to impregnate themselves, so that they can spawn demons. The incubi sleep with women to lead them astray and to impregnate them with demon spawn.

Modern sins

On March 9, 2008 the Vatican newspaper published an interview with Bishop Gianfranco Girotti (head of the Apostolic Penitentiary, the Vatican body which oversees confessions and plenary indulgences), in which he listed seven modern social sins. These "social sins" include environmental pollution, genetic manipulation, obscene wealth, infliction of poverty, drug trafficking, morally debatable experiments, and violation of the fundamental rights of human nature. It is unclear to what extent these are intended to be new categories of deadly sin, and to what extent they are merely examples of sins. The American Catholic weekly America in its March 10, 2008 editorial blog has criticized the mass media's interpretation of the interview:

The Vatican's intent seemed to be less about adding to the traditional "deadly" sins than reminding the world that sin has a social dimension, and that participation in institutions that themselves sin is an important point upon which believers needed to reflect.

Cultural references

The seven deadly sins have long been a source of inspiration for writers and artists, from morality tales of the Middle Ages to modern manga series and video games.

Enneagram Integration

The Enneagram of Personality integrates the seven with two additional sins, deceit and fear. The Enneagram descriptions are broader than the traditional Christian interpretation and are presented in a comprehensive map.[5] [6]

Literary works inspired by the seven deadly sins

This too for certain know, that underneath
The water dwells a multitude, whose sighs
Into these bubbles make the surface heave,
As thine eye tells thee wheresoe'er it turn."
Fix'd in the slime they say: "Sad once were we
In the sweet air made gladsome by the sun,
Carrying a foul and lazy mist within:
Now in these murky settlings are we sad."
Such dolorous strain they gurgle in their throats.[8]

The remaining circles do not neatly map onto the seven sins. In "Purgatorio", the mountain is scaled in seven levels and follows the sin sequence of Aquinas (starting with pride).

Art and music

Film, television, comic books and video games

References

See also

Further reading

External links

Notes and References

  1. Book: Boyle, Marjorie O'Rourke. Loyola's Acts: The Rhetoric of the Self. 1997-10-23. (The New Historicism: Studies in Cultural Poetics,. 36). University of California Press. Berkeley. 978-0-520-20937-4. 100 - 146. Three: The Flying Serpent.
  2. http://www.vatican.va/archive/catechism/p3s1c1a8.htm#V Catechism of the Catholic Church
  3. Okholm, Dennis. "Rx for Gluttony". Christianity Today, Vol. 44, No. 10, September 11, 2000, p.62
  4. http://www.sacred-texts.com/chr/aquinas/summa/sum291.htm
  5. Maitri, The Enneagram of Passions and Virtues, pp.11-31
  6. Rohr, The Enneagram
  7. see Inferno, Canto VII
  8. Inferno, Canto VII.120-128, translated by H.F. Cary, courtesy Project Gutenberg