First, some things by scholars. What we read as one book, Genesis, is really a mashup of at least three sources, often called the Elohist, Yahwist and Priestly (the first two are not fully independent of each other). The older the book in the Bible, the more it is the result of being passed down […]
Imagine someone swinging an object around on a string. It makes a circle and what direction will it go if the person lets go? Don’t most people think the object will fly directly away from the center? A person with knowledge of physics knows it will travel in a less intuitive way. But even knowing […]
God: All right, you two, don’t do the one thing. Other than that, have fun. Adam & Eve: Okay. Satan: You should do the thing. Adam & Eve: Okay. God: What happened!? Adam & Eve: We did the thing. God: Guys THE REST OF THE OLD TESTAMENT God: You are my people, and you should not […]
I met a traveller from an antique land, Who said — “two vast and trunkless legs of stone Stand in the desert … near them, on the sand, Half sunk a shattered visage lies, whose frown, And wrinkled lips, and sneer of cold command, Tell that its sculptor well those passions read Which yet survive, […]
“”Sin creates [an inclination] to sin; it engenders vice by repetition of the same acts. This results in perverse inclinations which cloud conscience and corrupt the concrete judgment of good and evil. Thus sin tends to reproduce itself and reinforce itself, but it cannot destroy the moral sense at its root.””
Para. 1865, Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1994
The Seven Deadly Sins are really attitudes that underlie sins, whether mortal or venial, first identified by St. John Cassian (360 – 435) in his Conferences and refined by Pope St. Gregory the Great (540 – 604). They provide keys to understanding our faults and the actions that result, and a framework for self knowledge. If we understood how they factor into who we have become, we would understand much more about ourselves and our effect on others. The Seven Deadly Sins never occur as a list in the Bible, but occur many times individually.
Before even beginning a discussion of the Seven Deadly Sins, also known as “”capital sins,”” it may be useful to discuss a few differences among Christians on this subject. Some people feel it is better to take a more positive approach to faith and not dwell on sin. Others believe all sin is equally repugnant to God, and so any classification of sins is wrong. Still others just want to forget the whole thing since they are saved and God loves them and really doesn’t care about all this “”stuff.””
Inscribed in ancient times at the Oracle at Delphi: “”Know thyself.”” Self-knowledge follows closely behind the knowledge of God, and self-knowledge for anyone means knowledge of sin. “”My own heart shows me the way of the ungodly.”” Scripture says we are all sinners, and we don’t mind as long as the sins are nameless and faceless. When we name a sin found in ourselves (by Grace) it is as though we are confronted in the back alleys of our souls with furtive saboteurs and muggers who seek to prevent our union with God. The sudden self-revelation of a serious fault is one thing: the discovery of a deadly sin which we hate very much in others is worse. It is like finding out a spouse is unfaithful, or worse, that we have been blindly unfaithful to the Spouse of our soul.
The following pages on the deadly sins may lead to horrible discoveries. Bear in mind:
- Friends will almost never volunteer this information.
- If they do, we will not accept it.
- God forgives anything, even repeatedly, so do not be afraid.
A combination of good spiritual reading (nothing too recent), nearly constant prayer, and reflection on the repetitive patterns of life works well for naming our sins. Remarks made in job performance reviews and conversations with people who dislike us are especially revealing (Aristophanes). Our enemies usually lack the false charity to deny our sins. No wonder we are called to love them.
The human capacity for self-delusion is nearly limitless. We have all seen people claim great spirituality but do evil things and then ignore or rationalize them. Somehow we think we are immune to this phenomenon.
The Seven Deadly Sins – A List of Capital Sins
The table below lists The Seven Deadly Sins (vices) in the traditional order with the virtues against which they are sins. The history of this list goes back at least to Pope St. Gregory the Great and St. John Cassian, but while the list itself is not strictly biblical, the Bible proscribes all seven. If one or more of these doesn’t seem like a big sin to you, it almost certainly means you have already rationalized it. Work on that one first. By the way, there is no set list of virtues corresponding to these, what follows below reflect our choices.
If you need additional information on Dante’s views of these, it is after the table.
Deadly Sin * **
|Humility||Seeing ourselves as we are and not comparing ourselves to others is humility. Pride and vanity are competitive. If someone else’s pride really bothers you, you have a lot of pride.|
|Generosity||This is about more than money. Generosity means letting others get the credit or praise. It is giving without having expectations of the other person. Greed wants to get its “”fair share”” or a bit more.|
|Love||“”Love is patient, love is kindâ€¦”” Love actively seeks the good of others for their sake. Envy resents the good others receive or even might receive. Envy is almost indistinguishable from pride at times.|
|Kindness||Kindness means taking the tender approach, with patience and compassion. Anger is often our first reaction to the problems of others. Impatience with the faults of others is related to this.|
|Self control||Self control and self mastery prevent pleasure from killing the soul by suffocation. Legitimate pleasures are controlled in the same way an athlete’s muscles are: for maximum efficiency without damage. Lust is the self-destructive drive for pleasure out of proportion to its worth. Sex, power, or image can be used well, but they tend to go out of control.|
|Faith and Temperance||Temperance accepts the natural limits of pleasures and preserves this natural balance. This does not pertain only to food, but to entertainment and other legitimate goods, and even the company of others.|
|Zeal||Zeal is the energetic response of the heart to God’s commands. The other sins work together to deaden the spiritual senses so we first become slow to respond to God and then drift completely into the sleep of complacency.|
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MTV did a special in August 1993 on the Seven Deadly Sins which involved interviewing various well-known entertainers from the music and television industry. They pretty much all agreed these were not vices and the list was “”dumb.”” (Sigh) Oh well.
(Details: The MTV title was “”Seven Deadly Sins: An MTV News Special Report””; PBS showed it as “”Alive TV.”” First aired on MTV on August 11, 1993. PBS first aired it on August 20, 1993. If you have a copy, please
Additional information (based on requests from readers):
Which one of the Seven Deadly Sins is most popular?
|Of the seven deadly sins, this ONE is my biggest failing:|
The Seven Deadly Sins never occur as a formal list in the Bible. Some people say they can all be found in Matthew’s Gospel (chapters 5 through 7), but they are not in a simple list there. Others submit Proverbs 6:16-19, but this is a different list, covering pride, lies, murder, evil plans, swiftness in sin, lies again, causing conflict. Clearly not the same.
These sins were identified as a group around the same time as the Bible was being translated into a single language. Rather than these sins being identified in a single place in the Bible, they are found all through it, from Genesis to Revelation. The letters of the New Testament mention all of these, and many others as well. The Catechism has many Scriptural references in the section that lists the “”Seven Deadly Sins.”” It is well to remember that the Scriptures come from the Jewish and Christian Churches, not the other way around. In both cases, faith preceded the writing.
Lent is a special time of self-examination and thought about how we live. More on Lent.
Dante Alighieri (1265 – 1321) was a Catholic layman who wrote “”The Divine Comedy,”” which is really three epic poems in Italian: “”Inferno,”” “”Purgatorio,”” and “”Paradiso,”” which are about Hell, Purgatory, and Heaven/Paradise, respectively. In “”Purgatorio,”” Dante places each of the seven sins on a level, with the higher levels closer to Paradise and the lower ones closer to Hell. The numbers in parentheses, in the above table, indicate the level where they are found in “”Purgatorio.”” Dante considers these sins as offenses against love, and groups them accordingly:
Perverted Love: Pride, Envy, Wrath/Anger
Insufficient Love: Sloth
Excessive Love of Earthly Goods: Avarice/Greed, Gluttony, Lust
Dante seems to have had a well-formed conscience. His emphasis on love, in the sense of Christian charity, is impressive. That is not to claim some sort of sainthood, but his ideas were very much in keeping with the teaching of the Catholic Church at a time when the practice of the clergy often fell short of the doctrine.
The Dao – A little article considering the The Seven Deadly Sins from a somewhat Daoist perspective.
St. Thomas Aquinas
The Reverend Barthlolomew de la Torre, O.P. wrote the following on August 22, 2003:
“”Thank you for your excellent web page on the Seven Deadly Sins. A principal classical text not to be omitted is that of St. Thomas Aquinas’s Summa Theologiae.
Pax et fides.
Fr. Bartholomew de la Torre, O.P.
St. Dominic dedicated himself to promoting “”pax et fides””, “”peace and faith””, because without peace, the faith cannot flourish, and he described himself as pursuing this goal by “”singing and gentleness, preaching, imploring and weeping”” (cf. M.-H. Vicaire, O.P., St. Dominic and His Times, pp. 62 and nt. 7, 146, 147 and nt. 80).””
Thank you so much for providing the link! For those unacquainted with Catholic orders, O.P. indicates the “”Ordo Praedicatorum”” (Latin) or “”Order of Preachers””, otherwise known as the Dominicans, founded by St. Dominic. St. Thomas Aquinas joined the Dominicans in 1244. It is worth noting that St. Dominic’s approach to heresy (false teaching), was to teach and debate, rather than take up arms. The text linked above shows how St. Thomas Aquinas argued various points about Pride and the other Seven Deadly Sins. It is worth reading it all, but is of a style rarely seen. It takes patience.
Bishop Sheen spoke on a television show, Life is Worth Living, in the U.S. from 1951 to 1957, and the “”Bishop Sheen Program”” from 1961 to 1968. He wrote 96 books and a very large number of articles and columns, including entries in encyclopedias. In his book, The Seven Capital Sins (albaâ€“house.com), he made a connection between the Seven Deadly Sins and the last words of Jesus on the Cross. These assignments are listed here in the order set by Bishop Sheen in addresses from February 26 to April 7, 1939. The connection is not always obvious, so the book is highly recommended for further reading.
Words from the Cross
|Wrath/Anger||“”Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.””|
|Envy||“”This day you shall be with me in Paradise.””|
|Lust||“”Woman, behold your son… son, behold your mother.””|
|Pride||“”My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?””|
|Sloth||“”It is finished.””|
|Avarice/Greed||“”Father, into Your hands I commend My spirit.””|
C.S. Lewis might well be considered a modern-day Dante. Try reading “”The Great Divorce,”” a short little book, and compare it to “”The Divine Comedy.”” Lewis, as a professor of medieval literature, would have been familiar with Dante’s work.
Narnia and the Seven Deadly Sins – Dr. Don W. King, Department of English, Montreat College
Donna Hatsuko Reedy wrote the following on May 18, 2000:
“”I enjoyed your site; it’s quite informative. Just wanted to add another text to your reading list: Christopher Marlowe’s Doctor Faustus. The entire play revolves around issues of salvation, and there’s this great scene in which the seven deadly sins are paraded for Faustus. It’ll make a great addition to your already well-supported site.””
Thank you for the suggestion! I’ve put a link to the on-line text here for our readers.
The Tragical History of D. Faustus
Alan Sickler wrote the following on April 26, 2000:
“”I was reading your page on the “”Seven Deadly”” sins and thoroughly enjoyed your definitions of the sins; even better though was the literary occurrences of this that you outlined. However, I was perplexed as to why you failed to mention Spenser’s “”The Faerie Queene””; This work is one of the greatest Middle English / Renaissance pieces ever written, and it is maybe the greatest occurance of the seven deadly sins. I forget which book they are in, but Spenser characterizes each deadly sin as a person – using physiognomy tradition to visualize the vices, and he even models this parade of sins after the pilgrims in Chaucer’s “”Canterbury Tales””. Gluttony rides a fat pig which is symbolic of his nature and etc etc. I don’t know if you’ve read the Faerie Queen or not, but its maybe the most vital occurance of the seven deadly sins – a must read for an enthusist like yourself. Thanks for your time – I enjoyed your site thoroughly.””
I will read it soon, but for now I’ve posted your kind and helpful comments, as well as a link to a Spenser site and “”The Faerie Queene.””
From another kind visitor:
I read through some of your sources for articulations of the 7 deadly sins. One of which was Edmund Spenser’s The Faerie Queene. The scenario where the 7 Deadly sins are shown is FQ I.IV.1-37 (that’s FQ Book 1, Canto 4, stanzas 1-37). Thought you might appreciate this.
–Scott M. Williams>
Thomas Merton wrote a prayer to ask for help against the Seven Deadly Sins. It is found on page 44 of “”New Seeds of Contemplation.”” Much of his focus is on the illusions we have about ourselves, and how to let God clear these away.
In the play: Getting Away With Murder (or The Doctor is Out), Patrick Phenicie says the following characters appear to represent the seven deadly sins. Here are the characters and sins:
As you may have noticed, the names seem to form anagrams of the sins (or contain the anagram; some are obvious, some are less so). Patrick and I were unable to figure out how the name “”Laimorgos”” fits into Sonheim’s naming scheme, but Christopher Sabatowich has an idea: Vassili Laimorgos can be rearranged (with some letters omitted) to form the word “”smï¿½rgï¿½s,”” which is Norse/Swedish for “”bread and butter,”” as in “”smorgasbord.”” In English, “”smorgasbord”” can be applied as a “”varied collection”” of anything, and Gluttony does not apply (exclusively) to food.
T. Nickson writes: “”Vassili Laimorgos is a Greek Name – Vassili links with the Greek word for King and Laimorgos translates literally as Glutton. Sondheim was being clever!””
George Balanchine (Dance)
CiCi Houston writes: I found this website very useful for a current project I am working on. Perhaps it would be of interest to your readers to hear how this list has crept into the arts. The New York City Ballet had a production entitled “”Seven Deadly Sins.”” It was originally choreographed by George Balanchine in Europe around 1933 for Tilly Losch. He restaged it in the late 50’s for Allegra Kent, and in both productions Lotte Lenya participated. The ballet focused on Anna 1 and Anna 2. Lotte (1) was the talking half, and would order around Allegra (2), the silent but dancing half. 1 would make 2 commit the sins, or set double standards. For instance, one famous picture of the ballet shows Lotte with an ice cream cone (a clever disguise for the microphone she sang into) pointing a finger at Allegra, who is on the floor pushing herself through a series of stretches and exercises under Lotte’s rule. I’m sure there is much more information than what I have access to, but I’m sure that readers interested in this will enjoy gaining the extra knowledge on a rather hidden piece of work (it was never restaged since Allegra last performed it), whether they approve of the concept or not.
Thanks again for the useful website – CiCi Houston
Thank you, CiCi!
Other Helps Toward Virtue and Peace
I recently had the experience of going to Sacramento to meet with lawmakers on some key legislation of interest to the Catholic bishops. To be clear, I vote but otherwise do not get very political. I also do not associate with bishops and would never normally do such a thing, especially because while I agree with all the Catholic Church teaches, I do not accept that I must therefore be a Democrat. Why did I do it? Because I have to go outside my comfort zone, and because I believe the legislation we were going to promote was right in the light of our faith. So I went, but what did I find?
I met with two assemblymen, and the aides to two Senators. One Democrat, three Republican (these were my assignments, not choices). I found the Democrat uninteresting and unopen. There was no discussion, he simply stated his positions and told us to “”have the priests tell people they need to pay more taxes.”” It is the Republicans that interested me.
Most of the bills were for the poor or prisoners. Compassionate release for prisoners with terminal illnesses, making it possible for youth released from detention to be mainstreamed into public schools (if not a danger), removing restrictions on vehicle worth for those in work programs, and a few others. These were things that would generally save modest amounts of money, reduce government, and make life better for a few people in a few cases. Nothing earth shattering. I felt the legislators listened, and got the message, but were afraid to damage their brand. These were (mostly) bills that they could have reached out to Democrats on (I would have) and said, “”this is a no-brainer, it is obviously the right thing to do, and I am not afraid to agree with you.””
Another Republican senator, with whom I did not meet, was reported to have said, “”you Catholics come here and ask for support, but then your bishops support the Democrats.”” Many of my fellow “”lobbyists”” were young Catholics, 18 – 23, and they got it. But the older ones dismissed this senator as unfair, even after the Mandate. They are stuck as Democrats and cannot let go. The Republicans are stuck in their own brand and cannot let go. And they cannot work together. If there is to be cooperation across the aisles, at a time when America needs it most, perhaps it needs to come from the young Catholics I met, who only care passionately about the issues, not their identities as Democrats or Republicans.
And will there ever be a candidate they can support?
A recent question posted in Reddit by an atheist asked about Catholic feelings regarding the healthcare mandate (Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act).Â Most of the responses dealt withÂ why the Church is against abortion or how they feel individually aboutÂ the law or paying a tax that goes toward something evil.Â I would like to take a different direction.
I am tightly bound into a Body in a mystical way: the Body of Christ, whom I love. In forcing the Church to participate in Abortion or other evils, we believe the government is forcing Jesus to go against His conscience, or at least dragging him along. It makes God an accomplice to evil, which is unacceptable. Imagine the person you admire most being forced to assist in what you consider a great evil.
My taxes have been used to fund all kinds of evils perpetrated by the government, although often to pay for things I consider pointless and foolish. This does not require my consent for the wrong done, and I am compelled under force of law to render unto Caesar. In fact, Jesus himself gave this command. But under the mandate, Catholic institutions must participate in evil in a more direct way, and these institutions are an extension of the Body of Christ, very visible and very active. For a Catholic institution to provide contraceptives or abortions is a scandal, in that it promotes evil from a teaching and authoritative position. It is certainly a scandal that Catholic politicians are forcing the Church into this position.
This is the objection: not as much that we are concerned about taxpayer funding of abortion, as that the Church is being forced to publicly accept and very nearly endorse what we believe to be evil. And because we are the Body of Christ, it (in a sense) forces God to participate in evil.
For the rest of this matter, we have seen it before, with Henry VIII of England or the Holocaust. The bishops can choose to fight and lose, compromise, obey under protest, agree, or willingly surrender all Catholic institutions that serve non-Catholics to business or the State. In the eyes of most non-Catholics, the bishops (and the Church) lost all moral ascendancy in the molestation crisis, so there will be little sympathy regardless of their decision. The majority of Catholics are Democrats (2008, previous), and bishops have individually supported Democratic candidates in quiet (or not so quiet) ways, just as Wolsey supported Henry VIII, and Innitzer supported Hitler in 1938. In the end, a pact with the devil does not end well. The institutional Church is at her weakest when aligned with power, whether kings, congress, business or wealthy patrons. We have not yet learned from history, and therefore must repeat it.
Question received today:
What is the most fundamental tenet of Christianity? Is it self salvation or service to others?
From a Catholic perspective, we would probably say the fundamental tenet of Christianity is Love. God is Love, so to truly Love is to embrace God. One cannot be close to God and not saved, and one cannot be close to God without being of service to others. Everything good comes from God; everything good comes from Love.
According to Frank Sheed, a great Catholic writer, we believe we are
saved in community, so the two options, self salvation and service to
others (the two greatest commandments), are inseparable.
John Donne’s Meditation 17 reflects this as well. We are together in this life.
When we look for a rule-based religion, we miss the point. Rules are simple and absolve us of the need to think, and they remove the need to truly love others. If God had wanted us to be fundamentally about rules, Jesus need not have lived among us, suffered, died, and rose. In the readings during the day today, we see Peter and John hurrying to the empty tomb, but John outran Peter. Once again, the last shall be first. John followed the rules, and did not enter the tomb. It would have made him unclean, and it was against the rules. When Peter arrived, he rushed in, as Love drove him to do. When John saw this, he entered, and believed.
The fundmental tenet of Christianity is Love. If we miss that, none of the rest matters.
In the book, How to Read Literature Like a Professor, the author points out the literary meanings behind seasons, weather, and character descriptions. Todayâ€™s Gospel, the healing of the paralytic lowered from the roof, has several interesting points worth noting. The most obvious, and perhaps most often remarked, is that Jesus forgives sins, which shocks the religious leaders, but then heals the paralytic as proof of his authority. Christians alreadyÂ depend upon and embrace the healing and forgiveness offered by Jesus,Â but what else can we learn here?
Other aspects of this story are significant for our own situation. There are four men who bring the paralytic to Jesus, but are blocked by the crowd. Who are these men, or whom do they represent, and why are there four (aside from practical concerns)? The number four often represents the whole world, so perhaps it reminds us that the whole world comes to Christ for healing and forgiveness. We know nothing of their motivations. These litter bearers are not described as friends or relatives. For all we know, they may have been servants or even paid to deliver the paralytic, perhaps by his mother. We do know they were highly motivated, and considered getting the man to Jesus as more important than a roof. Seeing this, Jesus did not comment on the faith of the paralytic, but on the faith of those who bore the man in need of saving, and this was enough.
The heresy of Pelagianism claimed that we can attain Heaven by our own efforts. One objection to infant baptism has been the lack of choice, and that the child should wait until they can choose on their own. But in todayâ€™s story, it is the faith of the bearers that matters, the paralytic never requests healing or forgiveness. In the gospels, Jesus sometimes takes the initiative and heals those who did not ask, or invites himself to a tax collectorâ€™s house, when all the man wanted was to see Jesus. This turns our sense of control upside down, as we want to be the prime mover. We decide when we will accept Christ or reform our lives. But it is God who calls first, and we can only choose to answer.
In this gospel story, the paralytic is presented before Jesus, and he both forgives and heals. When Jesus commands him to get up and walk, he does so. While God moves first, it is up to us to move next. He will forgive and heal, but we must carry on from there.
The necessity of infant baptism
Ask a question about why Catholics baptize babies and the response is often â€œin case they die.â€ Leaving aside the questions about the fate of unbaptized children for now (CCC 1261), this is a fundamentally flawed answer for a number of reasons. The truth is, we baptize babies (and anyone else) in case they live. Baptism initiates the sacramental life, provides visible assurance of Godâ€™s Grace, and marks the person as a worthy recipient of all God has to offer. This worthiness does not come from the person, but from God, and infant baptism underscores the fact that God initiates the saving action. We are all as helpless as infants when it comes to bringing about our own salvation, but this is most obvious in an infant. Just as we expect a child to be washed and presentable before sitting down to an elegant dinner with us, God cleanses us and makes us worthy to sit at His table. The sooner we are cleansed, the sooner we can enjoy Godâ€™s company at table. Baptism is also a visible assurance of Godâ€™s Grace, provided we believe Christâ€™s own words. There is no need for the baptized child to question later, â€œwas I baptized?â€ There is even a certificate. With the assurance that the event happened, and that it means a promise of Grace, the child can grow in confidence, with no doubt of Godâ€™s love and support. Even in sin, there is the confidence that repentance will be met with mercy, and that where there is no repentance, God will continue to call and look for the return of the prodigal. A baptized person need never doubt Godâ€™s love. Neither does anyone else, as God loves all, but the baptized person has received proof. Baptism is also a visible sign that the child deserves all the Church has to offer. The parents are bound by Baptism to treat their child as their beloved brother or sister, not just a child, and certainly not chattel. With some sensible restrictions, the Church cannot rightfully refuse to minister to that child, so Baptism brings an obligation to all baptized others, including the saints. The child is baptized priest, prophet and king, to become part of the Body of Christ, no less than anyone else, and with this in mind, how could any parent not desire it?
For further reading: http://old.usccb.org/catechism/text/pt2sect2.shtml#art1