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Tuesday, October 09, 2007

The Seven Deadly Sins

The Seven Deadly Sins - a study
From Wikipedia & The Free Dictionary

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 (immoral) fallen man's tendency to sin. The Roman Catholic Church divides sin into two types: venial (where regret only are needed) and capital or mortal (meaning they can kill the life of grace and risk eternal damnation unless absolved in the sacrament of confession). Beginning in the early 14th century, the popularity of the seven deadly sins with artists of the time ingrained them in human culture around the world.

Listed in the same order used by both Pope Gregory the Great in the 6th Century AD and Dante Alighieri, the seven deadly sins are as follows: luxuria (extravagance, later lust), gula (gluttony), avaritia (avarice/greed), acedia (sloth), ira (wrath), invidia (envy), and superbia (pride/hubris). Each deadly sin is opposed by one of the corresponding Seven Holy Virtues.

The identification and definition of the Sins is a fluid process and, like many aspects of religion, the idea of what each sin encompasses has changed over time. This was exacerbated by the fact that the Sins are not considered in a structured manner in the Bible, and works referencing the sins were gradually considered sources for others to base their definitions on. The second section of the Divine Comedy, Purgatorio, is the most well known source for defining the sins, though modern interpretations often show those guilty of the Sins suffering in Hell, not purifying themselves in Purgatory.

Lust (Latin,

"la" xml:lang="la">luxuria)
Main articles: Lust (fornication, perversion)
Lust is best described as depraved thought, unwholesome morality, desire for excitement, or need to be accepted or recognized by others. It also includes obsessive or unlawful sexual desire, such as desiring to engage in excessive sexual appetites. Bestiality, rape, and adultery are considered to be extreme forms of Lust. Dante's criterion was "excessive love of others," thereby detracting from the love due to God. However, Lust and love are two different things; while love involves mutual appreciation, trust, deep friendship, and willingness to sacrifice, Lust is little more than extreme sexual arousal. In Purgatorio, the penitent walks within flames to purge himself of lustful thoughts.

Gluttony (Latin,

"la" xml:lang="la">gula)
''Main articles: Gluttony (waste, overindulgence)
Modern views identify Gluttony as being associated with an overindulgence of food and drink, though in the past any form of thoughtless excess could fall within the definition of this sin. Marked by a refusal to share resources and unreasonable or unnecessary consumption, Gluttony could also include certain forms of destructive behaviour, especially for sport, for example substance abuse or binge drinking. The penitent in the Purgatorio were forced to stand beneath two trees, unable to make use of the food hanging there and giving them a starved appearance.

Greed/Avarice (Latin,

"la" xml:lang="la">cupiditiaavaritia)
''Main articles: Greed (treachery, covetousness)
Greed is, like Lust and Gluttony, a sin of excess. However, Greed particularly applies to the acquisition of wealth. 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." Dante wrote something similar, as the penitent in Purgatory were forced to kneel on hard stone and recite the examples of avarice and its opposing virtue. Avarice is a blanket term that can describe many other forms of sinful behaviour. These include disloyalty, deliberate betrayal, or treason, especially for personal gain, as when someone lets themselves be bribed. Scavenging and hoarding of materials or objects, theft and robbery, especially by violence, trickery, or manipulation of authority are all actions that are inspired by greed. Such misdeeds include Simony, where the sinner feels 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 and betrayal, and Dante included this sin in the first poem of the Divine Comedy (the Inferno).

Sloth/Laziness (Latin,

"la" xml:lang="la">pigritiaacedia)
Main articles: Sloth (laziness, sadness, apathy)
More than other sins, the definition of Sloth has changed considerably since its original inclusion in the list. It has been characterized as what modern thinkers would describe as apathy, depression, and joylessness — the latter being considered a refusal to enjoy the goodness of God and the world he created. Originally, its place was fulfilled by two others, 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 their current situation. When 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 built on this definition, 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 describes it as the middle sin, and as such is the only sin characterised by an absence or insufficiency of love. Modern interpretations differ from either of these, and portray Sloth as being simply a sin of laziness, of an unwillingness to act, and of an unwillingness to care. For this reason Sloth is now often seen as being considerably less serious than the other sins.

Wrath (Latin,

"la" xml:lang="la">ira)
Main articles: Wrath (anger, hatred, prejudice, discrimination)
Inappropriate feelings of hatred and anger. Denial of the truth, both to others and in the form of self-denial. Impatience with the law, or seeking revenge outside of justice, such as with unnecessary vigilantism. Wishing to do evil or harm to others. A modern definition would also include anger towards others for no good reason, such as their race or religion, leading to discrimination. 'Minor' sins born of Wrath are some of the most serious, including murder, assault, discrimination, and genocide. Wrath is the only sin to not directly be asociated with selfishness or self interest, but instead with hate and anger. (See Crimes against humanity.) Dante described Wrath as "love of justice perverted to revenge and spite".

Envy (Latin,

"la" xml:lang="la">invidia)
Main articles: Envy (jealousy, malice)
Like Greed, Envy is characterized by an insatiable desire, however the two sins differ for two main reasons. Firstly, Greed is normally associated with material wealth, whereas Envy can apply to other concepts, like love or success. Secondly, those who commit the sin of Envy desire something that someone else has. 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 envious have their eyes sewn shut with wire, because they have gained sinful pleasure from seeing others brought low ('schadenfreude').

Pride/Hubris (Latin,

"la" xml:lang="la">superbia)
Enlarge picture
Vanitas with her mirror. Painting by Titian, c. 1515
''Main articles: Pride (vanity, narcissism)
In almost every list Pride is considered the original or most serious sin, and the ultimate source of all other sins. It is identified as 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 neighbour". In Jacob Bidermann's medieval miracle play, Cenodoxus, Pride is the deadliest of all the sins and leads directly to the damnation of the famed Doctor of Paris, Cenodoxus. Pride was what sparked the fall of Lucifer from Heaven, and his subsequent transformation into Satan. Vanity and Narcissism are good examples of these sins, though both imply a more empty feeling of Pride, with little to back it up. In the Divine Comedy, the penitent were forced to walk with their heads bowed while they were whipped in order to induce feelings of humility.

Catholic Virtues

The Catholic church recognises the seven virtues as opposite to the seven sins. These are also known as the Seven Contrary Virtues.

Vice Virtue
Lust (undesired love)Chastity (purity)
Gluttony (overindulgence)Temperance (self-restraint)
Greed (avarice)Charity (giving)
Laziness (idleness)Diligence (zeal/integrity)
Wrath (anger)Meekness (composure)
Envy (jealousy)Love of others (admiration)
Pride (vanity)Humility (humbleness)


According to The Picture Book of Devils, Demons and Witchcraft, by Ernst and Johanna Lehner, each of the Sins was associated with a specific punishment in Hell.

Sin Punishment in Hell
PrideBroken on the Wheel.
EnvyPlaced in freezing water.
WrathDismembered Alive.
SlothThrown in Snake Pits.
GreedPut in pots of boiling oil.
GluttonyForced to eat rats, toads, and snakes.
LustSmothered in Fire and Brimstone.

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: There are also other demons who invoke sin, for instance 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.

Cultural references

The Seven Deadly Sins have long been a source of inspiration for writers and artists. There are many references to them in cultural works, and a number of these are listed in the related article.

Further reading

  • Summa Theologiae, by St. 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
  • Picture Book of Devils, Demons and Witchcraft , by Ernst Lehner, Johanna Lehner
  • Oxford Univ. Press series on Seven Deadly Sins (seven vols.), 2006.

External links

bj vadis' note: I used this concept for the runes in Deathblade Kraal'shazar (see labels: weapons and swords)

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