Historical and modern definitions of the deadly sins
Lust or lechery (carnal “luxuria”) is usually thought of as excessive thoughts or desires of a sexual nature. Aristotle’s criterion was excessive love of others, which therefore rendered love and devotion to God as secondary. 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 or 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.
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 profits from soliciting goods within the actual confines of a church.
As defined outside of Christian writings, greed is an inordinate desire to acquire or possess more than one needs, especially with respect to material wealth.
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:First, greed is largely associated with material goods, whereas envy may apply more generally.Second, those who commit the sin of envy resent that another person has something they perceive themselves as lacking, and wish the other person to be deprived of it.
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 neighbor”. 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, 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.