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The seven deadly sins (also called the seven capital sins or seven cardinal sins) are vices that further immoral behavior according to the Roman Catholic theology. These vices represent the general sins that afflict humanity and separate us from God. According to the Catholic Church, the seven deadly sins can lead to mortal sins that send people to hell at death, unless they are repented of. The church adds that these vices can be overcome with the seven virtues.
Although the seven deadly sins were not listed by the Greeks or Romans, there are references to them in their literature. The work of Aristotle (384–322 BC) in the Nicomachean Ethics lists some qualities as virtues such as courage, temperance or self-control, generosity, “greatness of soul,” proper response to anger, friendliness, and wit or charm. Aristotle taught that for each positive virtue, there are two negative sins that are found on each extreme of the virtue. And he presents the concept of the “golden mean” which is the principle of virtue that exists in the middle or “mean” between excess and deficiency of any given virtue.
Also, the Roman philosopher, Horace (65– 27 BC), celebrated the value of virtues and admonished people to avoid their opposite vices. In his first epistles, he says, that “to flee vice is the beginning of virtue, and to have got rid of folly is the beginning of wisdom.” His statement resembles that of Solomon’s, “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom: and the knowledge of the Holy One is understanding” (Proverbs 9:10).
The current list of the seven deadly sins were given by the desert fathers, particularly Evagrius Ponticus of the 4th century. John Cassian (360 –435AD), Evagrius’ pupil presented eight vices to Europe in his book The Institutes. These “evil thoughts” can be categorized into three types: 1- lustful appetite (gluttony, fornication, and greed). 2) irascibility (wrath). 3- mind corruption (vainglory, sorrow, pride, and discouragement).
The Greek monastic theologian Evagrius of Pontus (345–399 AD) first drew up a list of eight offenses and wicked human passions: They were, in order of increasing offensiveness: gluttony, lust, avarice, sadness, anger, acedia, vainglory, and pride.
Then, Pope Gregory I (540 –604 AD) minimized the list to seven items, folding vainglory into pride, acedia into sadness, and adding envy. His classification of the Sins’ offensiveness was from most offensive to least: pride, envy, anger, sadness, avarice, gluttony, and lust. Later on, St. Thomas Aquinas (c. 1225–1274) expounded on them and he used Gregory’s list in his Summa Theologica (written 1265–1274 calling them the “capital sins.”
The Summa Theologiae have been one of the main academic inspirations for Dante Alighieri’s Divine Comedy (1308 – 1320) that the epic poem has been named “the Summa in verse.” This epic poem is organized around the seven deadly sins. It is unreal vision of the afterlife as known by medieval world-view in the 14th century. It is divided into three parts: Inferno, Purgatorio, and Paradiso. Dante visualized Purgatory as having seven porches aliening with to the seven deadly sins. The artist George Pencz (1500-1550 AD) in his engravings used animals in his depictions of the seven deadly.
The Catholic faith in both the Western and Eastern churches have adopted the teaching of the seven deadly sins and used it in their confessional practices as shown in penitential manuals, essays and their sermons like “The Parson’s Tale” from Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales. To help people see the importance of the seven deadly sins and the need to overcome them, the church also refers to them in their paintings, and sculpture.
The Catholic Church used the seven deadly sins classification to teach people the need to control their disposition towards evil so that they can avoid dire consequences; their teachers primarily stressed the sin of pride as it is the essence of evil because it separates the soul from God’s Grace. And secondly, they stressed the sin of Greed for it is the root of all evil.
In Catholic theology, the seven deadly sins are:
Each of these vices can be overcome with the seven matching virtues of:
Pride is the undue belief in one’s own capabilities which hinders dependence on the grace of God. Pride is the root of all sins. The Bible says, “…Let not the mighty man boast of his might…but let him who boasts boast of this, that he understands and knows Me…” (Jeremiah 9:23-24 also Proverbs 8:13; Proverbs 16:18; Romans 12:16; 1 Corinthians 13:4; Galatians 6:3; James 4:6-7). Meekness and putting aside one’s ego are the cure for Pride.
Greed is the desire for material riches disregarding the spiritual virtues. It is also called Avarice or Covetousness. The Bible says, “Let your conduct be without covetousness; be content with such things as you have. For He Himself has said, ‘I will never leave you nor forsake you’” (Hebrews 13:5 also Exodus 20:17; Proverbs 11:24; Proverbs 28:25; Ecclesiastes 5:10; Philippians 4:6; 1 Timothy 6:9-10). Giving to others is the cure for Greed.
Lust is an undue craving for the desires of the flesh. The Bible says, “Flee also youthful lusts; but pursue righteousness, faith, love [and] peace…” (2 Timothy 2:22 also Job 31:1; Matthew 5:28; Philippians 4:8; James 1:14-15; 1 Peter 2:11; 1 John 2:16). Purity and self-control over the body are the cure for Lust.
Envy is coveting others’ status, abilities, or resources. The Bible says, “A sound heart is life to the body, but envy is rottenness to the bones” (Proverbs 14:30 also Job 5:2; Psalm 37:1; Proverbs 24:19-20; Ecclesiastes 4:4; Galatians 5:26; James 3:14-16). Gratefulness, contentment, and putting others first are the cure for Envy.
Gluttony is an excessive desire to eat more than one needs. The Bible says, “Therefore, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31 also Psalm 78:17-19; Philippians 3:19-20; Proverbs 23:1-3; Proverbs 23:19-21; 1 Corinthians 3:16-17). Applying the health principles and self-control are the cure for gluttony.
Anger is manifested in a person who rejects love and chooses instead rage or wrath. The Bible says, “Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord” (Romans 12:19 also Psalm 37:8; Proverbs 14:29; Proverbs 15:1; Ephesians 4:26-27; Colossians 3:8; James 1:19-20). Endurance and patience when facing trouble are the cure for wrath.
Sloth is the evasion of physical or spiritual work. The Bible says, “Go to the ant, you sluggard! Consider her ways and be wise” (Proverbs 6:6 also Proverbs 13:4; Proverbs 24:33-34; Romans 12:11-13; Colossians 3:23; 2 Thessalonians 3:10). Industry and hard work are the cure for Slothfulness.
Although the seven deadly sins are mentioned individually as vices in the Bible, the list itself is not found in the Bible. Solomon the wise in Proverbs 6:16-19 lists seven similar vices that are revolting to God. These are:
- Haughty eyes. Self-exaltation prevents a man from confessing his sin and humbling his soul before God. As long as it persists, salvation is impossible. The proud man is barred from the gates of life (Job 21:22; Ps. 18:27).
- Lying tongue, Our God is a God of truth. The lies of Satan deceived one third of angels and robbed heaven of its inhabitants. Lies turned our peaceful world into a dreadful place (Rev. 12:4, 7–9). God hates the lies that hurt people and make them slaves to Satan.
- Hands that shed innocent blood, Murderous hands and feet that run to do mischief are the more active forms of attacking the innocent (Gen. 6:5; Isa. 59:7).
- A heart that plots evil. “For out of the heart come evil thoughts–murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander” (Matthew 15:19).
- Feet that are quick to rush to do wrong, “Do not turn to the right or the left; keep your foot from evil” (Provers 4:27).
- False witness. and A false witness is a lying tongue that brings unfounded accusations. It is this type of lying that is expressly forbidden by the ninth commandment (Ex. 20:16). Perjury is used to shelter the wrongdoer as well as to oppress the innocent. When justice is perverted by such conniving, it works havoc in a community, both by the direct harm it does and by creating a cynical contempt for law and order.
- One who stirs up dissension among brothers (Proverbs 6:16–19). Last comes the one who rejoices in stirring up strife. This person causes as much trouble as does a liar.
The Bible doesn’t teach that there are sins that are more deadly than others. All sin results in death (Romans 6:23) or the “second death” (Rev. 20:6, 14, 15). It is also written, “The soul who sins shall die” (Eze. 18:4). In the final judgement, sinners who have rejected God’s offer of grace and eternal life will receive the results of their own deliberate choice (Rom. 2:6).
The apostle James in the NT teaches that one sin is enough to condemn a person as a lawbreaker (ch. 2:10). Lawbreaking, whether civil or religious, need not be a violation of all the laws—one violation is sufficient to label a person as a law breaker. As a chain is broken when just one link is detached. Likewise, the breaking of one commandment ruins the completeness of the whole law for the sinner.
Hope for the sinner
Jesus Christ redeemed humans from the penalty of sin, including the “seven deadly sins “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God“ (Ephesians 2:8 also Matthew 26:28; Acts 10:43; Ephesians 1:7). It is grace on God’s part and faith on man’s part. Faith accepts the gift of God. It is through the act of entrusting ourselves to Him that we are saved, not that faith is the means of our salvation, but simply the channel (Rom. 4:3).
And the victory that Christ gained is available to all who claim it by faith. Paul wrote, “I can do all things through Christ which strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13). The Lord promises that we can overcome sin and be “saved to the uttermost” (Hebrews 7:25), be “more than conqueror” (Romans 8:37), and “always triumph” (2 Corinthians 2:14).
In Christ there is power to accomplish every duty and strength to repel every temptation. “Whereby are given unto us exceeding great and precious promises: that by these ye might be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust” (2 Peter 1:4). The believer cam reach this goal when he accepts and uses the powers in the spiritual gifts Christ has made ready to him. This character change begins at the new birth experience and continues until Christ’s second coming (1 John 3:2).
As long as a believer stays connected to God through daily study of His word and prayer, he/she can experience victory. The Word of God enlightens the mind. And when people make choice to to obey it completely through the enabling power of, Christ, the hope of glory, is formed within (Col. 1:27). Jesus declared, “He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit…” (John 15:5). Thus, salvation is conditional upon abiding in Christ until the end.
In His Service,