Seven deadly sins

Seven vices [with] subdivisions, etc. Circa 1420-30.
“Seven vices [with] subdivisions, sophistry, its subdivisions, magic, its subdivisions, twenty abuses (twelve monastic, eight secular).” Circa 1420-30
From: MS 49, The Apocalypse. Wellcome Library, London.


The seven deadly sins, also known as the capital vices or cardinal sins, are a classification of vices used in early Christian teachings to educate and protect followers from basic human instincts. The church divided sin into two types: venial (forgiven without the need for the sacrament of Confession) and capital (meriting damnation). Beginning in the early 14th-century, the popularity of the 7 deadly sins with artists of the time engrained them in human culture around the world. The generally accepted deadly sins are superbia (hubris/pride), avaritia (avarice/greed), luxuria (extravagance, later lust), invidia (envy), gula (gluttony), ira (wrath), and acedia (sloth). Each deadly sin is opposed by one of the corresponding Seven Holy Virtues.

In the 5th century, A.D., Evagrius of Pontus (349-399), a Greek theologian, introduced the concept of eight offenses and passions that a human could fall victim to while on earth. They were the result of an abnormal obsession with self. The cure for each of these was an adoption of selfless attitudes towards the world.

In the later part of the 6th-century A.D., St. Gregory the Great (d. 604) in his work Moralia in Job, introduced the seven deadly sins. The goal of the seven deadly sins was to illustrate for laypersons of the church the need to be mindful of capital sin, or sin which requires penance in Hell. Capital sin is graver than venial sin, which can be forgiven through confession.

Pope Gregory’s list was different from the one used today and the ranking of the Sins’ seriousness was based on the degree to which they offended against love. From least serious to most, they were: lust, gluttony, sadness, avarice, anger, envy, and pride. Sadness would later be replaced by acedia (sloth), putting off or failing to do what God asks of you.

Throughout the Middle Ages and the Tridentine era, many important theological and confessional works were structured around the seven deadly sins. Together with the Ten Commandments, it was one of the most popular models for discussions of ethics and examinations of conscience.

In the official Catechism of the Catholic Church, consisting of 2,865 numbered sections and first published in 1992 by order of Pope John Paul II, the seven deadly sins are dealt with in one paragraph. The principal codification of moral transgression for Christians continues to be the Ten Commandments and the Beatitudes, which are a positive statement of morality and part of the Sermon on the Mount. While no list of these seven deadly sins appears as such in the Bible itself, each of them is condemned at various points in the text. A list of seven sins that God hates is found in Proverbs 6:16-19:

There are six things the LORD hates, seven that are detestable to him: haughty eyes, a lying tongue, hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that devises wicked schemes, feet that are quick to rush into evil, a false witness who pours out lies and a man who stirs up dissension among brothers. (New International Version)

Later iconography of the Sins was derived from the descriptions of battles between the Virtues and Vices in the Psychomachia, a poem by 4th-century poet Prudentius.

Dante Alighieri

The Italian poet Dante Alighieri (1265-1321), a significant figure in Christian religion in the 13th century A.D., wrote three epic poems (known collectively as the Divine Comedy) titled Inferno, Purgatorio, and Paradiso. In his book Inferno, Dante recounts the visions he has in a dream in which he enters and descends into hell. According to Dante, he is told by his guide that a soul’s location in Hell is based upon the sins that they commit when they are alive. In each ‘ring’ of hell, a specific punishment is doled out. As they descend lower and lower, the punishments (and consequently sins) become worse and worse until he reaches the bottom and discovers Satan.

The Inferno is not structured around the seven deadly sins, but Dante encounters various sins in the following order (canto number): Lust (5), Gluttony (6), Avarice (7), Wrath (7-8), Heresy (10), Violence (12-17), Blasphemy (14), Fraud (18-30), and Treachery (32-34).

The Purgatorio, on the other hand, closely follows the traditional scheme of the seven deadly sins. Since Pride is the root of all sins, the souls in Purgatory must be purged of that sin first, and as they ascend the mount, they experience progressively diminishing punishments to expiate the other six deadly sins. Once they are freed of sinful inclinations, the souls can regain the earthly paradise forfeited by Adam and Eve.

St. Thomas Aquinas

The eminent Italian theologian and philosopher St. Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274), like most Scholastics, systematically examined the seven deadly sins in his works. Aquinas did not believe that the seriousness of the capital sins should be ranked.

St. John Cassian

In one of his most famous works, “Conferences”, French monk St. John Cassian (360-435), introduces the concept of an interconnected relationship between sins when he explains that excesses of any one vice will lead to other, more severe vices. For example, an excess of gluttony will lead to fornication, and an excess of fornication will lead to avarice and so on.

The Sins

Listed in order of increasing severity as per Pope Gregory the Great, 6th-century A.D., the seven deadly sins are as follows:

Lust (Latin, luxuria)

Lust (fornication, perversion) —
Depraved thought, unwholesome morality, desire for excitement, or need to be accepted or recognized by others. Obsessive, unlawful, or unnatural sexual desire, such as desiring sex with a person outside marriage or engaging in unnatural sexual appetites. Rape and sodomy are considered to be extreme lust and are said to be mortal sins. Dante’s criterion was “excessive love of others,” thereby detracting from the love due to God. Lust prevents clarity of thought and rational behavior. Lust is symbolized by the cow and the color blue.

Gluttony (Latin, gula)

Gluttony (waste, overindulgence) —
Thoughtless waste of everything, overindulgence, misplaced sensuality, uncleanliness, and maliciously depriving others. Marked by refusal to share and unreasonable consumption of more than is necessary, especially food or water. Destruction, especially for sport. Substance abuse or binge drinking. Dante explains it as “excessive love of pleasure”. Associated with pigs and the color orange.

Avarice (Latin, avaritia)

Greed (treachery, covetousness) —
A strong desire to gain, especially in money or power. Disloyalty, deliberate betrayal, or treason, especially for personal gain or when compensated. Scavenging and hoarding of materials or objects. Theft and robbery by violence. Simony is the evolution of avarice because it fills you with the urge to make money by selling things within the confines of the church. This sin is abhorred by the Catholic Church and is seen as a sin of malice; Dante included this sin in the first poem of the Divine Comedy (the Inferno). Simony can be viewed as betrayal. Thomas Aquinas on greed: “it is a sin against God, just as all mortal sins, in as much as man condemns things eternal for the sake of temporal things.” Greed is represented by the frog and the color yellow.

Sloth (Latin, acedia)

Sloth (apathy, indifference) —
Apathy, idleness, and wastefulness of time. Laziness is particularly condemned because others must work harder to make up for it. Cowardice or irresponsibility. Abandonment, especially of God. Sloth is a state of equilibrium: one does not produce much, one does not consume much. Dante wrote that sloth is the “failure to love God with all one’s heart, all one’s mind and all one’s soul”. Associated with goats and the color light blue.

Wrath (Latin, ira)

Wrath (anger, hatred) —
Inappropriate (unrighteous) feelings of hatred and anger. Denial of the truth to others or self. Impatience or revenge outside of justice. Wishing to do evil or harm to others. Self-righteousness. Wrath is the root of murder and assault. Dante described wrath as “love of justice perverted to revenge and spite”. Wrath is symbolized by the bear and the color red.

Envy (Latin, invidia)

Envy (jealousy, malice) —
Grieving spite and resentment of material objects, accomplishments, or character traits of others, or wishing others to fail or come to harm. Envy is the root of theft and self-loathing. Dante defined this as “love of one’s own good perverted to a desire to deprive other men of theirs”. Associated with the dog and the color green.

Pride (Latin, superbia)

Pride (vanity, narcissism) —
A desire to be more important or attractive to others, failing to give credit due to others, or 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, superbia is the deadliest of all the sins and leads directly to the damnation of the famed Doctor of Paris, Cenodoxus. Pride was what sparked the fall of Lucifer from Heaven. Vanity and narcissism are good examples of these sins and they often lead to the destruction of the sinner, for instance by the wanton squandering of money and time on themselves without caring about others. Pride can be seen as the misplacment of morals. Associated with the horse, the lion, the peacock, and the color violet

Hierarchy

Early church fathers around AD 1000 began to view the capital sins as not seven equal sins, but rather each sin having its own weight based on its grievousness. This began with an interpretation of 1 John 5:16-17, which states, “If anyone sees his brother committing a sin not leading to death, he shall ask and God will for him give life to those who commit sin not leading to death. There is a sin leading to death; I do not say that he should make request for this. All unrighteousness is sin, and there is a sin not leading to death.”

Their interpretation of this chapter leads to the notion that some sins (those resulting in death or harm to others) are more grievous than others (those that result in death or harm to self).

Several of these sins interlink and various attempts at causal hierarchy have been made. For example, pride (love of self out of proportion) is implied in gluttony (the over-consumption or waste of food), as well as sloth, envy and most of the others. Each sin is a particular way of failing to love God with all one’s resources and to love fellows as much as self. The Scholastic theologians developed schema of attribute and substance of will to explain these sins.

In the original classification, Pride was considered to be the ‘deadliest’ of all sins, and was the father of all sins. This relates directly to Christian philosophy and the story of Lucifer as interpreted from the Bible. Some Christians believe that Lucifer, the highest angel in heaven, surrendered to the sin of pride and demanded that the other angels worship him. This being a violation of God’s will, Lucifer and his followers were cast from heaven.

More recently, Greed has been treated as the keystone of the seven deadly sins. The other deadly sins are tributaries of wanton greed:

  • Lust: Greed for Sex, Attention
  • Gluttony: Greed for Self-Indulgence
  • Envy: Greed for Possessions, Personal Gain
  • Sloth: Greed for Avoidance
  • Pride: Greed for Greatness
  • Wrath: Greed for Revenge

Alternatively, one could consider Lust to be the central sin:

  • Lust: lust for attention and sex
  • Gluttony: lust for self indulgence
  • Sloth: lust for avoidance
  • Envy: lust for possessions and personal gain
  • Wrath: lust for vengeance
  • Greed: lust for money and power
  • Pride: lust for greatness and supremacy

Another sin that branches out into the father of sins can be the sin of sloth for instance

  • Lust means they are too lazy to love
  • Gluttony means they are too lazy to consider others
  • Sloth means they are too lazy to do anything
  • Envy too lazy to think about anything but money and personal gain
  • Wrath too lazy to consider the consequences of their vengeful actions
  • Greed too lazy to think about anything other than money and power
  • Pride too lazy to understand that there is more to life than money and power

Traditionalists counter that any attempt to identify one sin as the root of all others is reductionistic – reducing both greed and lust so that they are synonymous with “desire,” or misunderstanding the true nature of sloth. The traditional argument is that Pride represents an initial break from proper submission to God, but that the other deadly sins still have their own unique character.

Mnemonic Devices

Various mnemonic devices exist for remembering the sins in English.

* SALIGIA

As previously mentioned, the Latin words for the sins are: superbia, avaritia, luxuria, invidia, gula, ira and acedia. The first letters of these words form the medieval Latin word saligia, whence the verb saligiare (to commit a deadly sin) is taken.

and the opposite word (for the seven virtues) would be:

* HLIHFPV

This is the conglomorate of the initial letters of the Latin words for the virtues: humilitas, liberalis, industria, humanitas, frenum, patientia, and virtus. The resulting Latin verb sounds like something H.P. Lovecraft dreamt up: hlihfpvare (to commit a heavenly virtue).

* PEG’S LAW

(pride, envy, gluttony, sloth, lust, avarice, wrath)

* WASP LEG

(wrath, avarice, sloth, pride, lust, envy, gluttony)

* PEW S AGL (pronounced pyóoságg’l)

Groups the sins into sins of the mind (pride, envy, wrath), sins of the physical world (avarice, gluttony, lust), with sloth in the middle, half-member of both.

Catholic Virtues

The Catholic church recognises the seven virtues as opposites to the seven sins:

Vice

Virtue

Lust (undesired love) Chastity (purity)
Gluttony (overindulgence) Moderation (self-restraint)
Greed (avarice) Generosity (vigilance)
Sloth (laziness) Zeal (integrity)
Wrath (anger) Meekness (composure)
Envy (jealousy) Charity (giving)
Pride (vanity) Humility (humbleness)

The Punishments

  • Lust: Smothered in brimstone and fire
  • Gluttony: Force-fed rats, toads and snakes
  • Greed: Boiled in the finest oil
  • Sloth: Thrown into a snake pit
  • Wrath: Dismembered alive
  • Envy: Submerged in freezing water
  • Pride: Broken on the wheel

Similar punishments are imagined in Dante’s Inferno

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:

  • Lucifer: Pride
  • Mammon: Greed
  • Asmodeus: Lust
  • Leviathan: Envy
  • Beelzebub: Gluttony (lord of the flies)
  • Satan: Wrath
  • Belphegor: Sloth

Cultural references

Music and art

  • Hieronymus Bosch – The Seven Deadly Sins and the Four Last Things
  • “The Seven Deadly Sins” (Die sieben Todsünden) is the name of a 1933 Kurt Weill / Bertolt Brecht / George Balanchine collaboration. It was originally sung by Lotte Lenya and danced by Tilly Losch.
  • “Seven Deadly Sins” is a 1990 song by the rock and roll supergroup, Traveling Wilburys.
  • Modern artist Paul Cadmus painted a series of graphically disturbing, anthropomorphic depictions of the seven deadly sins, in the style of comic books. After his death, this series was willed to the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
  • The album Heaven and Hell by Joe Jackson is a modern musical interpretation of the seven deadly sins.
  • A song by Flogging Molly about seven drunken pirates is titled “Seven Deadly Sins.”
  • The Iron Maiden album “Seventh Son of a Seventh Son” starts and ends with a melodic verse on the 7 deadly sins.
  • The rock group Simple Minds has a song titled “7 Deadly Sins” on its Good News From the Next World album.
  • “Seven Deadly Sins” is a conceptual disco album by Rinder and Lewis.

TV, movies and games

  • Se7en, (1995) – A serial killer obsessed with the seven deadly sins, reconstructs each one through his crimes.
  • The Devil’s Advocate, (1997) – In this film, Satan declares that due to its simplicity, vanity (Pride) is his favorite sin.
  • Serenity, (2005) – The main antagonist makes references to the seven deadly sins.
  • Pulp Fiction, (1994) – Subtle, underlying theme.
  • A pretext for the seven comic sketches in the motion picture The Magnificent Seven Deadly Sins (1971).
  • Gilligan’s Island, (1963-1967) – According to the book Inside Gilligan’s Island by Sherwood Schwartz (St. Martin’s Press, 1994), the creator of the show confesses that he purposely patterned the ‘seven stranded castaways’ after the seven deadly sins. He confesses that he didn’t tell anyone until years after the show was over, because he thought that people would ridicule him for attributing such a serious theme to such a silly show. ‘The Professor’ – pride, ‘Mr. Howell (the millionare)’ greed, ‘Ginger- the movie star’ – extravagance -later lust, ‘Mary Ann’ – envy, ‘Mrs. Lovey Howell ‘ – thoughtless excess or gluttony, ‘The Skipper’ – anger, and ‘Gilligan’ – sloth.
  • America’s Next Top Model, (2004, series 4) – the final seven contestants portray the seven deadly sins in a photo shoot. Brittany was Sloth, Christina was Lust, Kahlen was Wrath, Keenyah was Gluttony, Michelle was Pride, Naima was Envy, and Tatiana was Greed.
  • Charmed, (episode ‘Sin Franciso’) – a demon, Lukas, infects the Charmed Ones with a sin. Prue is infected with Pride, Piper with Gluttony, Phoebe with Lust, and Leo with Sloth. A business man is infected with Greed, and a police officer with Anger, and a pastor with Envy.
  • Bedazzled, (1967) – Stanley Moon meets incarnations of the seven deadly sins.
  • Final Fantasy XI, (2003, VG-Sony) – A series of seven skeleton monsters are named after the seven deadly sins.
  • Devil May Cry 3, (2004, VG-Sony) – Demonic entities that represent the seven deadly sins early in the game are the jailkeepers of their respective sins. Each one of the demons is formed from sand, except for Envy, which is formed from a thick green liquid. Furthermore, each of the seven “devil” bosses in the game also represents one specific sin.
  • Afterlife, (1996, VG-LucasArts) – A SimCity-like game played with Heaven and Hell. Areas are zoned according to the Seven Sins (in Hell) and the Seven Virtues (in Heaven).
  • ActRaiser 2, (?, VG-Nintendo) – Features seven demon bosses representing the seven deadly sins. They are represented by: a gaint skeleton riding a living cloud(sloth), a decaying, worried zombie head (envy), an ant/scorpian chimera (gluttony), a muscular man on fire resembling a Japanese demon (wrath), a jewel and gold-wearing dragon (greed), a “nude” woman covered by and made of ice(lust) and a god-like machine (pride). Oddly enough, lust and sloth do not make a repeat appearance in the final level, where you fight against all the act 2 bosses.
  • Rocko’s Modern Life, (?) – Heffer gets sent to HECK (they censored it for the show) after swallowing a whole fried chicken (and choking to death because it!), and the Dark Lord, Peaches (a possible parody of Satan or a censored version of it), explains that he was sent there due to gluttony. Heffer keeps mispronouncing gluttony as if “glutton” were really “gluten” (i.e. “What’s a gluten?”).
  • Fullmetal Alchemist – Anime/manga/game series has a group of creatures called Homunculi which are named after the seven deadly sins. The characters are named Lust, Gluttony, Envy, Greed, Sloth, Pride, and Wrath. Dante is also referenced.
  • Shadow Hearts: From the New World – This Playstation 2 RPG features an optional dungeon with enemies and boss monsters based on the Seven Deadly Sins. The final boss of the dungeon is Envy (called Jealousy in the game).
  • Digimon – This anime and manga series groups seven monsters under the title “The Seven Great Demon Lords”, each of whom represent a particular deadly sin.

Books and comics

  • Faerie Queene, by Sir Edmond Spenser (1552-1599) – Book 1, Canto 4 of his most famous work is dedicated to the personification of the seven deadly sins. (17th stanza)
  • The Homunculi in the manga and anime Fullmetal Alchemist are named after the seven deadly sins, each one being a physical representation of its namesake.
  • The four bad children in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory represent four of the seven deadly sins: Augustus Gloop represents gluttony; Violet Beauregarde, (possibly) pride; Veruca Salt, greed; and Mike Teavee, sloth/wrath.
  • The Bangsian webcomic Jack features the seven deadly sins as characters. Having committed the sins to such extremes, they became the embodiment of the respective sins in Hell.
  • In the graphic novel JLA/JSA: Virtue and Vice, the seven deadly sins were released from their inprisonment in the Rock of Eternity and possessed seven different JLA and JSA members. Mister Terrific was possessed by Pride, Green Lantern (Kyle Rayner) by Envy, Plastic Man by Greed, Batman by Wrath/Anger, Doctor Fate by Sloth, Power Girl by Lust and Captain Marvel by Gluttony.
  • Lawrence Sanders (died Feb. 1998) author of the book The Anderson Tapes (1969), featuring Edward X. “Iron Balls” Delaney, retired chief of detectives in New York, New York, who was also featured in four other novels by Sanders: The First Deadly Sin (1973), The Second Deadly Sin (1977), The Third Deadly Sin (1981), and The Fourth Deadly Sin (1985).
  • The Seven Deadly Sins is a book series released by Oxford University Press. The series is a collaboration involving seven distinguished writers: Wendy Wasserstein, Simon Blackburn, Robert Thurman, Francine Prose, Michael Dyson, Joseph Epstein, and Phyllis Tickle.
  • The Seven Deadly Sins (formerly The Seven Deadly Enemies of Man) are depicted in Fawcett Comics/DC Comics stories as magic-based supervillains, enemies of Captain Marvel and the Marvel Family.
  • In the book A Northern Light, Mattie thinks there is another deadly sin (the eighth): Hope
  • In the seven-book series for teens entitled Seven Deadly Sins by Robin Wasserman, each book focuses on a person and his/her relationship to one sin.
  • Each of the days in “The Keys to the Kingdom” series by Garth Nix represents one of the sins. Their counterparts, the seven virtues are represented by seven pieces of an entity known as the Will.
  • Sins: Venials is a humorous webcomic by the writer/artist Pip. It consists of a series of short story arcs around the Sins, it follows on from the original Sins, which can be downloaded here.

Other

  • Hell is a New Zealand-based pizza chain that has pizzas named after the seven deadly sins.
  • Magnum (ice cream) produced a limited series of ice-cream called the 7 deadly sins.
  • The Digimon anime series had a group of Mega (or Ultimate in Japan) Virus Digimon called The Seven Great Demon Lords. It consists of Lucemon Falldown Mode (Pride), the leader, Barbamon (Greed), Lilithmon (Lust), Leviamon (Envy), Beelzemon (Gluttony), Daemon (Wrath) and Belphemon (Sloth). The sins are dark versions of the Crests. The exception is Lucemon Falldown Mode because once Lucemon Mode Changes, he skips his Champion (or Adult in Japan) form. When he reaches his Ultimate (Mega) form, Lucemon Satan Mode, each of the crests show up on his wings.
  • Mest has recently released a DVD titled 7 Deadly Sins.
  • A fan site called The Seven Deadly Sims has produced a series of downloadable items that can be used in Electronic Art’s The Sims. The items are categorized by the seven deadly sins based on color, function, and style.

Further reading

  • Summa Theologiae, by Saint Thomas Aquinas
  • Inferno, by Dante Alighieri
  • Purgatorio, by Dante Alighieri
  • 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
  • Faerie Queene, by Sir Edmund Spenser
  • Oxford Univ. Press series on Seven Deadly Sins (seven vols.), 2006.

External links

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It uses material from the Wikipedia article “Seven deadly sins“.