Seven Deadly Sins?

Sin is on my mind this fortnight.  It’s hard to even remember what the word means, it’s so seldom said or heard these days.  Why is that, I wonder?  It seems to have gone the way of thee and thou and Sunday roast and the national anthem before a movie.  It’s a word, a concept, for which we have no further need in this post-modern age of moral relativism.

There was a time when sin was front and centre in the minds of both perps and moral watchdogs.  Evagrius Ponticus, also known as Evagrius the Solitary, which perhaps spikes his authority somewhat, a so-called ‘Desert Father’ from the fourth century AD, first proposed a list of seven deadly sins: pride, greed, wrath, envy, lust, gluttony and sloth.  Interesting list …  Why “deadly”, is not recorded. But, is it the list you would have come up with?
What about murder and robbery?  Paedophilia and human trafficking?  Maybe they didn’t have those in the fourth century.

Personifications of the Seven Deadly Sins in a fourteenth-century manuscript

What about spite … character assassination … deception, fraud and white collar crime?  Notwithstanding collar colour. 
Trade Me rip-offs?  Emotional abuse?  Family spats or parental neglect.
[Stop me here: I could go on all day.]

Anyway, Thomas Aquinas and Pope Gregory, Chaucer and Dante, several renaissance artists, must have tautoko’d1 the seven, because they burnished them and gave them further dignity and impetus in their various treatises and paintings, and we have movies made about them today, because they’re such delicious founts of sensation and scandal.  And money-making.

I wonder if, in answering my own earlier question, Aquinas would have argued that all the other sins stem from the basic seven.  Paedophilia from lust, perhaps?  Fraud and theft, etc, from greed?  Gossip and slander from pride or envy …

Sloth!  That’s a good one.  Guilty here.
And gluttony … why is that even in the list?  Deadly? [Actually, as Wikipedia attests, it’s not just about food, but any unhealthy or excessive appetites.  So, fair enough, yeah?]

Actually, in further answering my previous answer to my own earlier question [… trying to push up my word count …], in arguing that the magnificent seven are foundational to all other sins, pride would seem to be the grand-daddy of them all.  The antecedent, if you will.  All of us are guilty of the wrong sort of pride, wouldn’t you say?  Pride is the opposite of humility, and can open the way to arrogance, hubris, narcissism and unwarranted superiority. One can even become proud of one’s humility! 

Dante’s definition of pride was “love of self perverted to hatred and contempt for one’s neighbour”.  C.S. Lewis writes in Mere Christianity that pride is the position in which the ego and the self are directly opposed to God: “Unchastity, anger, greed, drunkenness and all that, are mere fleabites in comparison: it was through Pride that the devil became the devil: Pride leads to every other vice: it is the complete anti-God state of mind.”

Am I guilty of some of the downstream progeny of the seven? Or of pride, the progenitor itself?  You bet.

Perhaps the answer is to be monkeys in denial.  (See no evil, hear no evil, smell no evil – something like that.)
Or, more responsibly, consider what the book of Romans2 has to say, that “all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God”, and that “the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus …”.  Weigh that against the seven and form your own conclusions about the deadliness of sin.

Ken F

1to support, prop up, agree, advocate, accept
2Romans 3:23 and Romans 6:23

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