Illustration: The Seven Deadly Sins, Hieronymus Bosch
By Msgr. Charles Pope • February 20, 2018
Do you know what the Seven Deadly Sins are? It is valuable to name and begin to understand these deep drives of sin within us because the more we do so the more we can grow in self-knowledge. Further, it helps us to “know their moves” and gain mastery over them. As they stir deep within us we can recognize evidence of this and begin to take greater authority over them.
Too many Christians know little about twisted nature of sin. They just know they’re a little (or very!) messed up and can’t seem to figure out why. Have you ever gone to the doctor, not knowing what was wrong with you, and left feeling better just because you finally knew that what ailed you had a name and a cure? Being able to name our demons is an essential part of growth and healing.
Here are the Seven Deadly Sins, with a brief description of each:
Pride – the quality of loving and esteeming oneself more than is proper and at the same time denigrating the goodness of others
Pride also stirs us to reject the lawful authority of others, including God, over us and to refuse appropriate submission.
Greed – excessive desire for wealth and possessions
It is not wrong to desire what we need, but through greed we acquire far beyond what is reasonable and fail to be generous. Through greed we can also come to see the things of this world as more precious than the things of Heaven. Greed has been well described as the insatiable desire for more.
Lust – excessive or inappropriate desires or thoughts of a sexual nature
It is not wrong to experience sexual desire per se but Lust moves this to become excessive (all that matters), or for the object of it to be inappropriate (g. sexually fantasizing about someone other than a spouse). More broadly, lust is thought of as an excessive love of others that makes the love of God secondary.
Anger – inordinate and uncontrolled feelings of hatred and wrath
It is not always wrong to experience anger, especially in the presence of injustice. But anger here is understood as a deep drive which we indulge and wherein we excessively cling to angry and hateful feelings for others. This kind of anger most often seeks revenge.
Gluttony – overindulgence in or overconsumption of anything to the point of waste.
We usually think of gluttony in terms of food and drink, but it can extend to other areas as well. This sin usually leads to a kind of laziness and self-satisfaction that allows little room for God and the spiritual life. It may also cause us to be less able to help the poor.
Envy – sorrow or sadness at the goodness or excellence of another person because one believes it makes him appear to be less so.
If I envy someone I want to diminish or undermine his excellence. Note that envy is not the same as jealousy. If I am jealous of you I want what you have. In contrast, if I am envious of you, I want to diminish or destroy what is good or excellent in you. St. Augustine called envy the diabolical sin because of the way it seeks to eliminate excellence and goodness in others.
Sloth – sorrow or sadness at the good things God wants to do in one’s life
Most people think of sloth as laziness, but it is really an avoidance of God. In sloth, I avoid God because I fear or dislike what He can do for me. Some people avoid God through laziness, but others avoid Him by becoming workaholics, claiming that they are too busy to pray, to attend Mass, or to think about spiritual things.
In the days and weeks ahead, I will be devoting a separate article to each of them, but for today I wanted to offer just a quick definition.