Tuesday, July 13, 2010

What are 'The Seven Deadly Sins'?

Below is a response I offered to a member of thecatholicforum.org when they inquired about the Seven Deadly Sins. It is a blend of how I have addressed the same questions when asked by my students in class and how the Church defines the matter.

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The term "deadly sins" is really a misnomer for what the seven of these "sins" actually are. They are also commonly referred to as "the cardinal sins" or "the capital vices".

"1866 Vices can be classified according to the virtues they oppose, or also be linked to the capital sins which Christian experience has distinguished, following St. John Cassian and St. Gregory the Great. They are called "capital" because they engender other sins, other vices. They are pride, avarice, envy, wrath, lust, gluttony, and sloth or acedia." - CCC, par. 1866

They are based on a couple of things:

1.) The six things the Lord hates as according to Proverbs 6:16-25

"Six things there are, which the Lord hateth, and the seventh his soul detesteth: Haughty eyes, a lying tongue, hands that shed innocent blood, A heart that deviseth wicked plots, feet that are swift to run into mischief, A deceitful witness that uttereth lies, and him that soweth discord among brethren. My son, keep the commandments of thy father, and forsake not the law of thy mother.

Bind them in thy heart continually, and put them about thy neck. When thou walkest, let them go with thee: when thou sleepest, let them keep thee; and when thou awakest, talk with them. Because the commandment is a lamp, and the law a light, and reproofs of instruction are the way of life: That they may keep thee from the evil woman, and from the flattering tongue of the stranger. Let not thy heart covet her beauty, be not caught with her winks." - Proverbs 6:16-25

2.) A list of "bad things" outlined by the apostle Paul in his epistle to the Galatians (Gal. 5:19-21)

"Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are fornication, uncleanness, immodesty, luxury, Idolatry, witchcrafts, enmities, contentions, emulations, wraths, quarrels, dissensions, sects,

Envies, murders, drunkenness, revellings, and such like. Of the which I foretell you, as I have foretold to you, that they who do such things shall not obtain the kingdom of God." - Galatians 5:19-21

But are the seven "sins" deadly? Feelings such as anger may be perfectly normal human reactions to certain human experiences, but a sin? No. It is, however, and can be an inclination to sin. That is the anger may manifest in some way, shape or form that would be sinful, e.g. wanton violence, saying hurtful things, inflicting harm on the people we love, etc. One would be sinning, for instance, if they entertained a lustful thought or deliberately "pictured" someone else or other people in sexual scenarios.

The seven deadly sins are not so called because they are necessarily worse than other sins but because they are the bases of other sins. In any case, if you feel lust, anger, slothful, etc., it's important to first recognise that you're feeling this way and make an attempt to deal with the feeling in a way that does no harm to yourself or others (i.e. do not allow the sin to manifest).

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