Seven Deadly Sins Still Popular

Pope Gregory I (540?-604), traditionally advertised as “the Great,” and also called a “saint,” is credited with warning mankind of the seven deadly sins which threaten man’s “fallen” condition.  In truth the pontiff simply built upon the musings of a fourth century monk, Evagrius Ponticus, who had pondered over a list of what he considered to be eight “evil thoughts.”  Undoubtedly the studious monk Evagrius Ponticus and Pope Gregory I built their insight on what led to sin from consulting the Old Testament book of Proverbs 6:16-19, which stated that the Lord was not pleased with “…a proud look, a lying tongue, hands that shed innocent blood (verse 17), a heart that devised wicked imagination, feet that be swift in running to mischief (18), a false witness that speaks lies, and he that sows discord among his brothers (19).  [Loosely drawn from King James version.]

In Gregory’s revision he kind of- sort of dropped “sorrow” from Ponticus’ list of evil thoughts as being a condition of sinfulness.  (More on this later.)  The “sins” that Gregory mined into propagandist gold were:  1) lust, 2) gluttony, 3) greed, 4) sloth, 5) wrath, 6) envy, and 7) pride.  There is bittersweet irony encapsulated in this list, for throughout all the centuries of Catholic Church history the church itself has wallowed in all of them (and still does).  It is interesting to compare the religious and political extremists in the US today against this honored yardstick of sinful behavior.  [Roman Catholic Catechism revised Gregory’s order of sins as 1) pride, 2) avarice, 3) envy, 4) wrath, 5) lust, 6) gluttony, and 7) sloth.]

Gregory I listed the first sin as being luxuria, Latin, which means “extravagance,” but he wasn’t really referring to sexual thoughts or desires as the  word “lust” is commonly used in his sin list today.  “Lust” is an Old English interpretation of the Latin meaning “extravagance,” but both connotations can be easily applied to the extravagances of the religious and political extremists in the US today.

Second on Gregory’s list of sins was gulga, from the Latin gluttire, which actually referred to the gulping down of food or drink.  This is the common indulgence associated with over-consumption or over-indulgence, i.e. gluttony, the consequence of which is the habit of waste.  Thomas Aquinas (1226?-1274?), expanded upon this sinful aspect (one might say that he over-indulged himself in this) by listing six ways of committing gluttony.  By whichever standard it is easily applied to the typical conduct of the extreme rightists.

Third on Gregory’s list was avaritia, Latin, from avarus, meaning “greed.”  Like gluttony, the indulgence in greed/avarice is a sin of excess.  As commonly interpreted by the church, this is applied particularly to the acquisition of worldly wealth.  The sin lies in the fact that temporal things are treasured more than the  divine, and therefore is an abandonment of god.  Now this is a particularly easy one to associate with the radicals, especially the corporation-loving political right.

Acedia, Latin (variant of accidie) implied spiritual torpor, and was the fourth on Gregory’s sin list (as utilized by Thomas Aquinas), but it was not a reference to what is translated as sloth today.  Gregory had dropped “sorrow” from Evagrius Ponticus’ list of “evil thoughts,” but the inclusion of acedia by Aquinas can be better understood as the feelings of depression, apathy, melancholy, dejection, etc.  Such feelings, when allowed to dominate, were judged to induce spiritual indifference which would result in one’s failure to do “god’s work.”  Such an immobilizing state of emotion is not the same as laziness or not moving around more that is required as “sloth” means today.  So the old meaning of an unwillingness to love and care for the diverse works of god is what this listing as acedia originally meant.  And in that understanding it certainly applies to the religious and political radicals in the US today.

Number five on Gregory’s legendary sin list was ira, Latin, meaning wrath, anger, rage, or ire.  Such emotional concentration has the tendency to blind one to aspects of truth, both in regard to others and circumstances, or with self and circumstances.  This can lead to acts of vengeance—such as slander, defamation, assault, physical abuse, murder, and even genocide.  Sort of makes one think of the common far-right characteristics, doesn’t it?  Wrath—violent anger—is an emotion that is not always due to selfish reasons or self-interest, and thus smoldering fury commonly flames out explosively harming everything around it and within itself.  It is this feature of internal harm which is deemed to be a major transgression, for it amounts to a rejection of god’s gift of life—the same reasoning that the Catholic Church says suicide is the ultimate transgression.

Gregory’s sixth named sin was invidia, Latin, from invidere, meaning to look at with malice; in other words, envy.  Envy is often entangled with greed, but its distinction is the emotional state of resentment that another person or situation has something or achieved something that make them feel slighted by dame fortune or god.  The gnawing hostility called envy is the aspiration to deprive the others of their status.  Ask the people in the states of Michigan, Wisconsin and others how malicious conduct of the radical Republican faction led to the betrayal of citizens equality laws which were once the crown of their states’ governments.

Last on Gregory’s sin list was superbia, Latin, translated as pride.  Roman Catholic Catechism placed pride at the number one spot, and there is logic to this.  Pride, hubris, vanity, conceit, narcissism, whatever it is called, is the blindly emotional indulgence of self-glory.  It has been characterized in the United States Congress by the Republican and Tea Party crowd who always say, “No!” to any compromise.  It is this emotional condition out of which all other sins arise.  With love focused upon oneself (self-interest) the result is the failure to  acknowledge the goodness which is active within the diverse gifts of others.  This type of behavior was seen by Gregory as the person holding himself apart from his proper position toward the Creator, hence sinful.

Whether the understanding of serious transgressions to which man is prone come from the book of Proverbs or Gregory’s list of deadly sins, it is obvious that the extreme faction which has taken over the Republican soul in the United States chooses to ignore the advice upon which they so loudly claim to place their faith.

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