Friday, September 30, 2011

TheoLOLogy: The 7 Deadly Sins & Virtue

Source: Pleated Jeans on

I'm sure you have heard of the "seven deadly sins." Do you know what they are and where they came from? They are often referred to as "capital vices" or "cardinal sins" because they are viewed as sources of other sins. These sins are not "deadly" or "capital" because they are the very worst sins but because they are the origin of other sins (a person commits additional sins trying to achieve the goal of the deadly sin). There is no list of seven deadly or capital sins in the Bible, even though there are many lists of sins. Pope Gregory I modified an earlier list of sins into a list of seven that is similar to today's list. The identification and description of the seven sins has evolved over time into their common form today.

The seven deadly sins are:
  1. lust 
  2. gluttony 
  3. greed  
  4. sloth 
  5. wrath
  6. envy 
  7. pride 
These sins are often called vices. A vice is a "moral corruption, fault, or failing" (Websters). A vice is a disposition or inclination to do what is wrong. The opposite of a vice is a virtue.

"Virtue" comes from the Greek word arete which means excellence. A virtue is a "particular moral excellence" (Websters). Virtue is a disposition or inclination to do what is right. There are many lists of virtues in Christianity, including the cardinal virtues, theological virtues, and heavenly virtues.

The four cardinal virtues are:
  1. prudence
  2. justice
  3. temperance (or restraint)
  4. fortitude (or courage)

The three theological virtues are:
  1. faith
  2. hope
  3. love (or charity)
There is another list of virtues that was devised in opposition to the seven deadly sins. These are the seven heavenly virtues:

  1. chastity 
  2. temperance 
  3. charity 
  4. diligence 
  5. patience 
  6. kindness
  7. humility
I don't have the room or time to make a complete list of virtues or vices (even supposing such a thing were possible). These traditional lists can be helpful as a starting place for a exploration of virtue and vice, but they shouldn't be seen as the only relevant virtues and vices. Cruelty and fear are not on the list of seven deadly sins, but modern ethicists have much to say about those and other vices.  

Why should we discuss virtue and vice? I believe it is important because it allows us to explore how we are to live in this world. What we do and say matters because it impacts our relationship with God, with other people, and with our own self. An understanding of virtue and vice doesn't give us a black-and-white rule-book for how to live a moral life but equips us with tools to make better decisions.