Seven deadly sins

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Cardinal sin redirects here. For the former Archbishop of Manila, see Jaime Cardinal Sin; for the video game, see 7 Sins.

The seven deadly sins, also known as the capital vices or cardinal sins, suggest a classification of vices and were enumerated in their present form by Thomas Aquinas in the 13th century.



The seven deadly sins were first introduced by St. Gregory the Great in "Moralia in Job." The sins were derived from the eight evil thoughts as described by Greek monastic theologian Evagrius of Pontus, and the eight principal vices as described by St. John Cassian.

The 8 thoughts of evil as described by Evagrius are: gluttony, fornication, love of money, discontent, anger, despondency, vainglory, and pride. Evagrius saw the escalating severity as representing increasing fixation with the self, with pride as the most egregious of the sins.

St. John Cassian in his "Conferences" describes the eight principal vices as gluttony, fornication, avarice, anger, sadness, acedia (anxiety, or weariness of the heart), vainglory, and pride. He describes that excesses of each will lead to the next severe vice. For example, an excess of gluttony will lead to fornication, and an excess of fornication will lead to avarice and so on.

It was not until the late 6th century that St. Gregory the Great (then Pope Gregory I) described the seven sins in his "Moralia in Job." He reduces the list to seven items. His ranking of the Sins' seriousness was based on the degree from which they offended against love. It was, from least serious to most: lust, gluttony, sadness, avarice, anger, envy and pride (abbreviated into the mnemonic palegas). Sadness would later be replaced by acedia, or sloth in putting off what God asks you to do, or not doing it at all.

"Capital" here means that these sins stand at the head (Latin caput) of the other sins which proceed from them, e.g. avarice gives rise to theft and lust gives rise to adultery. Later theologians, most notably Thomas Aquinas, would contradict the notion that the seriousness of the sins would be ranked.

The capital sins are not to be confused with mortal sins.

The Sins

Ranked in ascending order of severity (worst sins listed last) as per Dante's Divine Comedy (in the Purgatorio), the seven deadly sins are:

  • Lust (fornication) — Unlawful sexual desire, such as desiring sex with a person outside marriage. (Dante's criterion was "excessive love of others," thereby detracting from the love due God). In the Latin lists of the Seven Deadly Sins, lust is referred to as luxuria.
  • Gluttony — Wasting of food, either through overindulgence in food, drink or intoxicants, misplaced desire for food for its sensuality, or withholding food from the needy ("excessive love of pleasure" was Dante's rendering). In the Latin lists of the Seven Deadly Sins, gluttony is referred to as gula.
  • Greed (covetousness, avarice) — A desire to possess more than one has need or use for (or, according to Dante, "excessive love of money and power"). In the Latin lists of the Seven Deadly Sins, avarice is referred to as avaritia.
  • Sloth (also accidie, acedia) — Laziness; idleness and wastefulness of time allotted. Laziness is condemned because:
  • Others have to work harder
  • You are putting off what God wants you to do or not doing it at all
  • It is disadvantageous for oneself, because useful work does not get done
  • It, like gluttony, is a sin of waste, for it wastes time, implicitly because of pride
Sloth is a state of equilibrium: one does not produce much, but one does not need much either (in Dante's theology, sloth is the "failure to love God with all one's heart, all one's mind, and all one's soul"; specific examples including laziness, cowardice, lack of imagination, complacency, and irresponsibility).
In the Latin lists of the Seven Deadly Sins, sloth is referred to as acedia.
  • Wrath (anger, hate) — Inappropriate (unrighteous) feelings of hatred, revenge or even denial, as well as punitive desires outside of justice (Dante's description was "love of justice perverted to revenge and spite"). In the Latin lists of the Seven Deadly Sins, wrath is referred to as ira.
  • Envy (jealousy) — Resentment of others for their possessions (Dante: "Love of one's own good perverted to a desire to deprive other men of theirs"). In the Latin lists of the Seven Deadly Sins, envy is referred to as invidia.
  • Pride (vanity) — A desire to be important or attractive to others or excessive love of self (holding self out of proper position toward God or fellows; Dante's definition was "love of self perverted to hatred and contempt for one's neighbor"). In the Latin lists of the Seven Deadly Sins, pride is referred to as superbia. In Jacob Bidermann's mediaeval miracle play Cenodoxus, superbia is the deadliest of all the sins, and leads directly to the damnation of the famed Doctor of Paris, Cenodoxus.

Several of these sins interlink, and various attempts at causal hierarchy have been made. For example, pride (love of self out of proportion) is implied in gluttony (the over-consumption or waste of food), as well as sloth, envy, and most of the others. Each sin is a particular way of failing to love God with all one's resources and to love fellows as much as self. The Scholastic theologians developed schema of attribute and substance of will to explain these sins.

As previously mentioned, the Latin words for the sins are: superbia, avaritia, luxuria, invidia, gula, ira and accidia. The first letters of these words form the medieval Latin word saligia, whence the verb saligiare (to commit a deadly sin) is taken. Various mnemonic devices exist for remembering the sins in English, e.g. PEG'S LAW (pride, envy, gluttony, sloth, lust, avarice, wrath).

In the official Catechism of the Catholic Church, consisting of 2,865 numbered sections and first published in 1992 by order of Pope John Paul II, the seven deadly sins are dealt with in one paragraph. The principal codification of moral transgression for Christians continues to be the Ten Commandments and the Beatitudes, which are a positive statement of morality, and part of the Sermon on the Mount.

The opposite of these sins are the seven virtues (humility, meekness, charity, chastity, moderation, zeal, and generosity).

The punishments

  • Lust: smothered in brimstone and fire
  • Gluttony: force-fed rats, toads, and snakes
  • Greed: boiled in oil
  • Sloth: thrown into a snake pit
  • Wrath: dismembered alive
  • Envy: put in freezing water
  • Pride: broken on the wheel

Associations with demons

In 1589, Peter Binsfeld paired each of the deadly sins with a demon, who tempted people by means of the associated sin. According to Binsfeld's classification of demons, the pairings are as follows:

In modern popular culture

  • The "Seven Deadly Sins" (Die sieben Todsünden) is the name of a 1933 Kurt Weill / Bertolt Brecht / George Balanchine collaboration. It was originally sung by Lotte Lenya and danced by Tilly Losch.
  • In the 1967 version of the feature film Bedazzled, Stanley Moon meets incarnations of the seven deadly sins.
  • The seven deadly sins were also occasionally referenced in the Captain Marvel comic-book franchise by seven statues ("The Seven Deadly Enemies of Man") displayed at the Rock of Eternity, home of the wizard Shazam. The seven statues house powerful demons, who Shazam trapped in the statues using a powerful magical spell. The idea for this may have been influenced by Binsfeld. In 2002, Geoff Johns and David S. Goyer wrote a graphic novel, JLA/JSA: Virtue and Vice, with art by Carlos Pacheco and Jesus Merino, featuring the Seven Deadly Sins as the main foes.
  • Modern artist Paul Cadmus painted a series of graphically disturbing, anthropomorphic depictions of the seven deadly sins, in the style of comic books. After his death, this series was willed to the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
  • The album Heaven and Hell by Joe Jackson is a modern musical interpretation of the seven deadly sins.
  • "Seven Deadly Sins" is a 1990 song by the rock and roll supergroup Traveling Wilburys.
  • The feature film Se7en is about a serial killer obsessed with the seven deadly sins.
  • A series of seven skeleton monsters in the online role playing game Final Fantasy XI are named after the seven deadly sins.
  • The Super Nintendo game ActRaiser 2 features seven demon bosses representing the seven deadly sins. They are represented by: a gaint snail (sloth), a decaying, worried zombie head (envy), an ant/scorpian chimera (gluttony), a muscular man on fire resembling a Japanese demon (wraith), and a jewel and gold-wearing dragon (greed), a goat-man creature with a human trapped in its belly (lust), a god-like machine (pride). Players fight them during normal gameplay but must also fight them again one after another in the very last level, where they are both recolored and are harder to defeat. Some names were changed for one reason or another; Wrath was called Fury, Envy was referred to as Jealousy, Sloth was changed to Fatigue, and Lust was referred to as Deception. Depending on various theories, Lust was actually the ice-covered, ice-powered nude woman faced just before the man-goat, and Sloth was really the skeleton riding the cloud; however, the previous list mentioned are the bosses faced again, and therefore have the highest chance of being the actual bosses based on the seven deadly sins.
  • In the fourth season of the American contest television series America's Next Top Model the final seven contestants portray the seven deadly sins in a photo shoot. Brittany was Sloth, Christina was Lust, Kahlen was Wrath, Keenyah was Gluttony, Michelle was Pride, Naima was Envy, and Tatiana was Greed.
  • In an episode of Rocko's Modern Life, Heffer gets sent to HECK (they censored it for the show) after swallowing a whole fried chicken, and the Dark Lord, Peaches, explains that he was sent there due to gluttony. Heffer keeps mispronouncing gluttony as "glue-ten-ney" (i.e. "What's a glue-ten?"
  • The Bangsian webcomic Jack features the seven deadly sins as characters. Having committed the sins to such extremes, they became the embodiment of the respective sins in Hell.
  • The video game Devil May Cry 3 features demonic entities that represent the seven deadly sins early in the game. These grunts are the jailkeepers of their respective sins. Each one of the demons is formed from sand, except for Envy, which is formed from a thick green liquid. Furthermore, each of the seven "devil" bosses in the game also represents one specific sin.
  • The Digimon anime series had a group of Mega (or Ultimate in Japan) Virus Digimon called The Seven Great Demon Lords. It consists of Lucemon Falldown Mode (Pride), the leader, Barbamon (Greed), Lilithmon (Lust), Leviamon (Envy), Beelzemon (Gluttony), Daemon (Wrath) and Belphemon (Sloth). The sins are dark versions of the Crests. The exception is Lucemon Falldown Mode because once Lucemon Mode Changes, he skips his Champion (or Adult in Japan) form. When he reaches his Ultimate (Mega) form, Lucemon Satan Mode, each of the crests show up on his wings.
  • The anime/manga/game series Fullmetal Alchemist has a group of creatures called Homunculi which are named after the seven deadly sins. The characters are named Lust, Gluttony, Envy, Greed, Sloth, Pride, and Wrath. Dante is also referenced.
  • A song by Flogging Molly is titled "Seven Deadly Sins."
  • In the book A Northern Light, Mattie thinks there is another deadly sin (the eighth): Hope
  • In the seven-book series for teens entitled Seven Deadly Sins by Robin Wasserman, each book focuses on a person and his/her relationship to one sin.
  • In the movie Serenity, the main antagonist makes references to the seven deadly sins.
  • Each of the days in "The Keys to the Kingdom" series by Garth Nix represents one of the sins.
  • The rock group Simple Minds has a song titled "7 Deadly Sins" on its Good News From the Next World album.
  • The LucasArts videogame Afterlife is a SimCity-like game played with Heaven and Hell. Areas are zoned according to the Seven Sins (in Hell) and the Seven Virtues (in Heaven).
  • The four bad children in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory represent four of the seven deadly sins: Augustus Gloop represents gluttony; Violet Beauregarde, (possibly) pride; Veruca Salt, greed; and Mike Teavee, wrath.
  • Mest has recently released a DVD titled, 7 Deadly Sins.
  • Subtle, underlying theme of writer/director Quentin Tarantino's film "Pulp Fiction" contained the 7 deadly sins.
  • Terry Pratchett's character Aziraphale states in his 2006 New Year's Resolutions that he will "redouble [his] efforts to have the utterance of the phrase 'core values' classified as a deadly sin."
  • A pretext for the seven comic sketches in the motion picture The Magnificent Seven Deadly Sins (1971).

External links

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