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The Seven Deadly Sins, also known as the Capital Vices or Cardinal Sins, is a classification of objectionable vices (part of Christian ethics) that have been used since early Christian times to educate and instruct Christians concerning fallen humanity's tendency to sin. The currently recognized version of the sins are usually given as wrath, greed, sloth, pride, lust, envy, and gluttony.
The Catholic Church divides sin into two categories: venial sins, in which guilt is relatively minor, and the more severe mortal sins. Theologically, a mortal or deadly sin is believed to destroy the life of grace and charity within a person and thus creates the threat of eternal damnation. "Mortal sin, by attacking the vital principle within us - that is, charity - necessitates a new initiative of God's mercy and a conversion of heart which is normally accomplished [for Catholics] within the setting of the sacrament of reconciliation."
To Catholics the seven deadly sins do not belong to an additional category of sin. Rather, they are the sins that are seen as the origin ("capital" comes from the Latin caput, head) of the other sins. A "deadly sin" can be either venial or mortal, depending on the situation; but "they are called 'capital' because they engender other sins, other vices."
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 Catholic culture and Catholic 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.
While there are seven of them, this list is considerably different from the traditional one, with only pride clearly being in both lists.
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 Saint Paul goes on to say that the persons who commit these sins "shall not inherit the Kingdom of God", they are usually listed as (possible) mortal sins rather than Capital Vices.
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:
These "evil thoughts" can be collected into three groups:
In AD 590, a little over two centuries after Evagrius wrote his list, Pope Gregory I revised this list to form the more common Seven Deadly Sins, by folding sorrow/despair/despondency into acedia, vainglory into pride, and adding envy. In the order used by both Pope Gregory and by Dante Alighieri in his epic poem The Divine Comedy, the seven deadly sins are as follows:
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. Additionally, as a result of semantic change:
It is this revised list that Dante uses. The process of semantic change has been aided by the fact that the personality traits are not collectively referred to, in either a cohesive or codified manner, by the Bible itself; other literary and ecclesiastical works 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 in Latin as "superbia, avaritia, invidia, ira, luxuria, gula, pigritia seu acedia", with an English translation of "pride, avarice, envy, wrath, lust, gluttony, and sloth/acedia". Each of the seven deadly sins now also has an opposite among 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 humility, charity, kindness, patience, chastity, temperance, and diligence.
Lust or lechery (carnal "luxuria") is usually thought of as excessive thoughts or desires of a sexual nature. In Dante's Purgatorio, the penitent walks within flames to purge himself of lustful/sexual 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.
Derived from the Latin gluttire, meaning to gulp down or swallow, gluttony (Latin, gula) 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 for its withholding from the needy.
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. But in an area 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, 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, avaritia), also known as avarice or covetousness, is, like lust and gluttony, a sin of excess. However, greed (as seen by the church) is applied to a very excessive or rapacious desire and pursuit of wealth, status, and power. 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 attempts to purchase or sell sacraments, including Holy Orders and, therefore, positions of authority in the Church hierarchy.
Over time, the "acedia" in Pope Gregory's order has come to be closer in meaning to sloth (Latin, Socordia). The focus came to be on the consequences of acedia rather than the cause, and so, by the 17th century, the exact deadly sin referred to was believed to be the failure to utilize one's talents and gifts. Even in Dante's time there were signs of this change; in his Purgatorio he had portrayed the penance for acedia as running continuously at top speed.
The modern view goes further, regarding laziness and indifference as the sin at the heart of the matter. Since this contrasts with a more willful failure to, for example, love God and his works, sloth is often seen as being considerably less serious than the other sins, more a sin of omission than of commission.
Wrath (Latin, ira), also known as "rage", may be described as inordinate and uncontrolled feelings of hatred and anger. Wrath, in its purest form, presents with self-destructiveness, 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 anger can manifest in different ways, including impatience, revenge, and vigilantism.
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 anger also encompassed anger pointed internally rather than externally. Thus suicide was deemed as the ultimate, albeit tragic, expression of hatred directed inwardly, a final rejection of God's gifts.
Like greed, Envy (Latin, invidia) may be characterized by an insatiable desire; they differ, however, for two main reasons:
Dante defined this as "a desire to deprive other men of theirs." Envy can be directly related to the Ten Commandments, specifically "Neither shall you desire... anything that belongs to your neighbour". 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".
In almost every list, pride (Latin, superbia), or hubris (Greek), is considered the original and most serious of the seven deadly sins, and the source of the others. 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 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 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. In Dante's Divine Comedy, the penitents were forced to walk with stone slabs bearing down on their backs to induce feelings of humility.
Acedia (Latin, acedia) (from Greek ακηδία) is the neglect to take care of something that one should do. It is translated to apathetic listlessness; depression without joy. It is similar to melancholy, although acedia describes the behaviour, while 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 and the world God created; by contrast, apathy was considered a refusal to help others in time of need.
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.
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, of irrelevant accuracy, 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).
This contrasts slightly with an earlier series of pairings found in the fifteenth century English Lollard tract Lanterne of Light, which differs in pairing Beelzebub with Envy, Abadon with Sloth, Belphegor with Gluttony and matching Lucifer with Pride, Satan with Wrath, Asmodeus with Lust and Mammon with Avarice.
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 different rates of commission, or different views on what "counts" or should be confessed.
In his 1973 book, Whatever Became of Sin?, Karl Menninger argued that the traditional list of the seven deadly sins was incomplete; that most modern ethicists would include cruelty and dishonesty and probably would rate these as more serious than some of the more traditional sins such as gluttony or sloth.
In his 1908 book, How one is not to be, Andrew Culbertson argues that two further vices should be added to the deadly sins: fear and superstition. Fear, in Culbertson's description, amounts to the modern psychiatric condition called Delusional disorder, while superstition is, "Belief in things that one does not understand, to the point of giving money to frauds and spiritual confidence men."
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