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Hieronymus Bosch's The Seven Deadly Sins and the Four Last Things The painting is presented in a series of circular images. Four small circles, detailing "Death", "Judgement", "Hell", and "Glory", surround a larger circle in which the seven deadly sins are depicted: wrath at the bottom, then proceeding clockwise, envy, greed, gluttony, sloth, extravagance (later, lust), and pride. At the centre of the large circle, which is said to represent the eye of God, is a "pupil" in which Christ can be seen emerging from his tomb. Below this image is the Latin inscription Cave Cave Deus Videt ("Beware, Beware, God is Watching"), implying that no sin goes unnoticed.

The seven deadly sins, also known as the capital vices or cardinal sins, are a classification of vices that were originally used in early Christian teachings to educate and instruct followers concerning (immoral) fallen man's tendency to sin. The Roman Catholic Church divided sin into two principal categories: "venial", which are relatively minor, and could be forgiven through any Sacramentals or Sacraments of the Church, and the more severe "capital" or mortal sin. Mortal sins destroyed the life of grace, and created the threat of eternal damnation unless either absolved through the sacrament of confession, or forgiven through perfect contrition on the part of the penitent. Beginning in the early 14th century, the popularity of the seven deadly sins as a theme among European artists of the time eventually helped to ingrain them in many areas of Christian culture and Christian consciousness in general throughout the world. One means of such ingraining was the creation of the mnemonic SALIGIA based on the first letters in Latin of the seven deadly sins: Superbia, Avaritia, Luxuria, Invidia, Gula, Ira, Acedia.[1]

Background to the Seven Deadly Sins[]

There is nowhere in the Christian Bible that a list of the Seven Deadly Sins is given, although lists of virtues contrasted with lists of sins are found in certain books of the New Testament, such as Galatians. The background to modern teachings on the Seven Deadly Sins begin with Evagrius Ponticus, who listed eight capital vices as follows (Refoule, 1967):

Gluttony; Fornication; Avarice; Sorrow; Anger; Discouragement; Vainglory; Pride.

The first three of these sins, as Refoule explains, link to concupiscible appetite; anger links with the irascible; and vainglory and pride link with the intellect. A condensed version of this list was given by Pope Gregory the Great, who listed only seven sins as the now famous "Seven Deadly Sins".

Listings of the sins since Gregory the Great[]

Listed in the same order used by both Pope Gregory the Great in the 6th Century AD, and later by Dante Alighieri in his epic poem The Divine Comedy, the seven deadly sins are as follows: Luxuria (extravagance, later lust), Gula (gluttony), Avaritia (greed), Acedia (sloth), Ira (wrath), Invidia (envy), and Superbia (pride). Each of the seven deadly sins has an opposite among the corresponding seven holy virtues (sometimes also referred to as the contrary virtues). In parallel order to the sins they oppose, the seven holy virtues are chastity, abstinence, temperance, diligence, patience, kindness, and humility.

The identification and definition of the seven deadly sins over their history has been a fluid process and the idea of what each of the seven actually encompasses has evolved over time. This process has been aided by the fact that they are not referred to in either a cohesive or codified manner in the Bible itself, and as a result other literary and ecclesiastical works referring to the seven deadly sins were instead consulted as sources from which definitions might be drawn. Part II of Dante's Divine Comedy, Purgatorio, has almost certainly been the best known source since the Renaissance.

The sins[]

Lust (Latin, luxuria)[]

Main article: Lust

Lust (or lechery) is usually thought of as involving obsessive or excessive thoughts or desires of a sexual nature. Unfulfilled lusts sometimes lead to sexual or sociological compulsions and/or transgressions including (but obviously not limited to) sexual addiction, adultery, bestiality, rape, and incest. Dante's criterion was "excessive love of others," which therefore rendered love and devotion to God as secondary. In Purgatorio, the penitent walks within flames to purge himself of lustful/sexual thoughts and feelings.

Gluttony (Latin, gula)[]

Main article: Gluttony

Derived from the Latin gluttire, meaning to gulp down or swallow, gluttony 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.[1]

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 (although this can also result in a moral backlash when confronted with the reality of those less fortunate). Where food is routinely plentiful, it may be considered a sign of self control to resist the temptation to over-indulge.

Medieval Church leaders (e.g., Thomas Aquinas) took a more expansive view of gluttony (Okholm 2000), arguing that it could also include an obsessive anticipation of meals, and the constant eating of delicacies and excessively costly foods.[2] He went so far as to prepare a list of six ways to commit gluttony, including:

  • Praepropere - eating too soon
  • Laute - eating too expensively
  • Nimis - eating too much
  • Ardenter - eating too eagerly
  • Studiose - eating too daintily
  • Forente - eating too fervently

Greed (Latin, avaritia)[]

Main article: Greed

Greed (or avarice, covetousness) is, like lust and gluttony, a sin of excess. However, greed (as seen by the Church) is applied to the acquisition of wealth in particular. 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.

Sloth (Latin, acedia)[]

Main article: Sloth (deadly sin)

More than other sins, the definition of sloth has changed considerably since its original inclusion among the seven deadly sins. In fact it was first called the sin of sadness. It had been in the early years of Christianity characterized by what modern writers would now describe as melancholy: apathy, depression, and joylessness — the last being viewed as being a refusal to enjoy the goodness of God and the world He created. Originally, its place was fulfilled by two other aspects, Acedia and Sadness. The former described a spiritual apathy that affected the faithful by discouraging them from their religious work. Sadness (tristitia in Latin) described a feeling of dissatisfaction or discontent, which caused unhappiness with one's current situation. When St. Thomas Aquinas selected Acedia for his list, he described it as an "uneasiness of the mind," being a progenitor for lesser sins such as restlessness and instability. Dante refined this definition further, describing Sloth as being the "failure to love God with all one's heart, all one's mind and all one's soul." He also described it as the middle sin, and as such was the only sin characterised by an absence or insufficiency of love. In his Purgatorio, the slothful penitents were made to run continuously at top speed.

The modern view of the vice, as highlighted by its contrary virtue zeal/diligence, is that it represents the failure to utilize one's talents and gifts. For example, a student who does not work beyond what is required (and thus fails to achieve his or her full potential) could be labeled 'slothful'.

Current interpretations are therefore much less stringent and comprehensive than they were in medieval times, and portray Sloth as being more simply a sin of laziness or indifference, of an unwillingness to act, an unwillingness to care (rather than a failure to love God and His works). For this reason Sloth is now often seen as being considerably less serious than the other sins, more a sin of omission than of commission.

Wrath (Latin, ira)[]

Main article: Wrath

Wrath (or anger) may be described as inordinate and uncontrolled feelings of hatred and anger. These feelings can manifest as vehement denial of the truth, both to others and in the form of self-denial, impatience with the procedure of law, and the desire to seek revenge outside of the workings of the justice system (such as engaging in vigilantism) and generally wishing to do evil or harm to others. The transgressions borne of vengeance are among the most serious, including murder, assault, and in extreme cases, genocide. (See Crimes against humanity.) 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). Dante described vengeance as "love of justice perverted to revenge and spite". In its original form, the sin of wrath also encompassed anger pointed internally rather than externally. Thus suicide was deemed as the ultimate, albeit tragic, expression of wrath directed inwardly, a final rejection of God's gifts.

Envy (Latin, invidia)[]

Main article: Envy

Like greed, envy is 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 desire something that someone else has which they perceive themselves as lacking. Dante defined this as "love of one's own good perverted to a desire to deprive other men of theirs." Dante's concept of envy is roughly equivalent to the meaning of the German word "schadenfreude," or to delight in the misfortune of others. 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. Thomas Aquinas described Envy as "sorrow for another's good" [2].

Pride (Latin, superbia)[]

File:Tizian 016.jpg

Vanitas with her mirror. Painting by Titian, c. 1515

Main article: Pride

In almost every list pride ( or hubris or vanity) is considered the original and most serious of the seven deadly sins, and indeed the ultimate source from which the others arise. It is identified as a desire to be more important or attractive than others, failing to give compliments to others though they may be deserving of them[How to reference and link to summary or text], 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 neighbor." In Jacob Bidermann's medieval miracle play, Cenodoxus, Pride is the deadliest of all the sins and leads directly to the damnation of the famed Doctor of Paris, Cenodoxus. In perhaps the most famous example, the story of Lucifer, Pride was what caused his Fall from Heaven, and his resultant transformation into Satan. Vanity and Narcissism are prime examples of this Sin. In the Divine Comedy, the penitent were forced to walk with stone slabs bearing down on their backs in order to induce feelings of humility.

Biblical references[]

Proverbs 6:16 – 19[]

In Proverbs 6:16 – 19, it is stated that "(16) These six things doth the Lord hate: yea, seven are an abomination unto him:" (quotes from "King James Version (KJV)" translation of the Bible). These are:

  • (17) A proud look,
  • a lying tongue,
  • and hands that shed innocent blood,
  • (18) A heart that deviseth wicked imaginations,
  • feet that be swift in running to mischief,
  • (19) A false witness that speaketh lies,
  • and he that soweth discord among brethren.

While there are seven of them, these sins are considerably different in outward appearance from the seven deadly sins list that arose later. The only sin which is clearly on both lists is Pride. "Hands that kill innocent people" could be taken to refer to Wrath. However, it is possible to imagine a case where cold blooded murder of an innocent would be one of the "hated things" without necessarily being an example of Wrath. Practices such as abortion, genocide, and euthanasia can be arguably covered under this umbrella of "hands that shed innocent blood."

The remaining five of the "deadly sins" do not have even this loose correspondence to the "hated things", even if it is easy to imagine how they might lead someone to acting in one of the ways described in Proverbs. As previously stated, there is no where in the Bible where the traditional "seven deadly sins" are located or listed, although they are all condemned in various parts, along with several others. These "deadly sins" are not necessarily worse than any others that are listed. The Bible makes it clear throughout its New Testament that it only takes one sin, which is an act of disobeying God's law, to separate man from a perfect God, placing him in need of redemption and salvation.

Other biblical references[]

The list in Proverbs is not the only list of sins in the Bible. It does list them as "seven", but it is far from being an exhaustive listing of sins. Another list of sins is given in the book of (New Testament) Galatians 5:19-21. That list reads: (19) Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are these; Adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, (20) Idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies, (21) Envyings, murders, drunkenness, revellings, and such like: of the which I tell you before, as I have also told you in time past, that they which do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God.(KJV)

Wrath is mentioned specifically, but linked with Hate, includes the notions of hostility both acted upon and purely internalized. Envy/Jealousy is part of the list in Galatians. Greed is part of "selfish ambitions" from Galatians, but is also mirrored in Proverbs' "wicked plans." Gluttony is evident in "drunkenness and revellings", but also implied as the contrary of the virtue in Galatians 5:23 - "temperance" (self-control).

Sloth is not listed in Galatians, but it can be found in verses such as Proverbs 6:6-10, "How long will you sleep, O sluggard?". Laziness is addressed in many other verses, though not necessarily labeled obviously as sin. In 1 Corinthians 3:8, a man is to receive "according to his labors". Similarly in Timothy 5:18, a laborer is worthy of his wages, with the implied converse being that the sluggard is not entitled to be fed or rewarded. He sins in living off others' labors.

Pride is mentioned in Proverbs 16:18 "Pride goeth before destruction and a haughty spirit before a fall."(KJV)

Catholic virtues[]

The Roman Catholic Church also recognizes seven holy virtues which correspond to each of the seven deadly sins.

Vice Virtue
Lust Chastity
Gluttony Temperance
Greed Charity
Sloth Diligence
Wrath Forgiveness
Envy Kindness
Pride Humility

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:

  • Asmodeus: Lust
  • Beelzebub: Gluttony
  • Mammon: Greed
  • Belphegor: Sloth
  • Satan: Wrath
  • Leviathan: Envy
  • Lucifer: Pride [3]

There are also other demons who invoke sin, for instance Lilith and her offspring, the incubi and succubi, invoke lust. The succubi sleep with men in order to impregnate themselves so that they can spawn demons. The incubi sleep with women to lead them astray and to impregnate them with demon spawn.

Modern Update[]

On March 9, 2008 the Vatican newspaper published an interview with Bishop Gianfranco Girotti (head of the Apostolic Penitentiary, the Vatican body which oversees confessions and plenary indulgences), in which he listed seven modern social sins.[3] [4] These "social" sins were given as follows:

It is unclear to what extent these are intended to be new categories of deadly sin, and to what extent they are merely examples of sins. The American Catholic weekly America in its March 10 2008 editorial blog has criticised the mass media's interpretation of the interview:

The Vatican's intent seemed to be less about adding to the traditional "deadly" sins (lust, anger, sloth, pride, avarice, gluttony, envy) than reminding the world that sin has a social dimension, and that participation in institutions that themselves sin is an important point upon which believers needed to reflect. [5]

Cultural references[]

The seven deadly sins have long been a source of inspiration for writers and artists, from morality tales of the Middle Ages to modern manga series and video games.

Literary works inspired by the seven deadly sins[]

  • John Climacus (7th century) in The Ladder of Divine Ascent places victory over the eight thoughts as individual steps of the thirty-step ladder: wrath (8), vainglory (10, 22), sadness (13), gluttony (14), lust (15), greed (16, 17), acedia (18), and pride (23).
  • Dante Alighieri's (1265–1321 A.D.) Divine Comedy is a three-part work composed of Inferno, Purgatory, and Paradise. Inferno divides hell into nine concentric circles, four of which directly correspond to some of the deadly sins (Circle 2-lust, 3-gluttony, 4-greed, 5-wrath). The remaining circles do not neatly map onto the seven sins. In Purgatory, the mountain is scaled in seven levels and follows the sequence of Thomas Aquinas (starting with pride).
  • William Langland's (c. 1332–1386) Vision of Piers Plowman is structured around a series of dreams that are critical of contemporary errors while encouraging godly living. The sins are mentioned in this order: proud (Passus V, lines 62-71), lechour (V.71-74), envye (V.75–132), wrathe (V.133–185), coveitise (V.186-306), glutton (V.307-385), sleuthe (V.386-453) (using the B-text). [4]
  • Geoffrey Chaucer's (c. 1340–1400) Canterbury Tales features the seven deadly sins in The Parson's Tale: pride (paragraphs 24-29), envy (30-31), wrath (32-54), sloth (55-63), greed(64-70), gluttony (71-74), lust (75-84). [5]
  • Christopher Marlowe's (1564–1593) The Tragical History of Doctor Faustus shows Lucifer, Beelzebub, and Mephistophilis coming from hell to show Dr. Fastus "some pastime" (Act II, Scene 2). The sins present themselves in order: pride, greed, envy, wrath, gluttony, sloth, lust. [6]
  • Edmund Spenser's (1552–1599), The Faerie Queene addresses the seven deadly sins in Book I (The Legend of the Knight of the Red Cross, Holiness): vanity/pride (Canto IV, stanzas 4–17), idleness/sloth (IV.18-20), gluttony (IV.21-23), lechery/lust (IV.24-26), avarice/greed (IV.27-29), envy (IV.30-32), wrath (IV.33-35). [7]
  • Garth Nix's The Keys to the Kingdom is a seven book children's series in which the main nemesis of each book is afflicted by one of the seven deadly sins.
  • Willa Cather's Death Comes for the Archbishop addresses the sins and their paired virtues in Archbishop Latour's missionary journeys in the Southwestern United States. [How to reference and link to summary or text]
  • Annette Liem's Wrath: A Prince's Piece tells the story of teenagers travelling a world where the sins are represented as gremlins, and in which each protagonist has to defeat the sins that represents its main personality trait.

Art and music[]

  • Hieronymus Bosch - The Seven Deadly Sins and the Four Last Things produced in 1485.
  • Kurt Weill and Bertold Brecht - The Seven Deadly Sins (Die sieben Todsünden) (1933)
  • The Seven Deadly Sins (traditionally censored as "The Seven Deadly Enemies of Man") figure prominently in the mythos of Fawcett/DC Comics superhero Captain Marvel, and have appeared several times as supervillians in recent DC Comics publications.
  • 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.
  • The Tiger Lillies new album and stage show. '7 Deadly Sins', is based on the sins being experienced by a modernised version of Punch & Judy called Punch & Jude, which is in itself a reworking of Adam & Eve.

Film, television, comic books and video games[]

  • The original Bedazzled (1967) includes all seven sins, most notably Raquel Welch as Lust and Barry Humphries as Envy. Peter Cook's character, The Devil, is also named Lucifer, representing Pride.
  • The film Se7en (1995), directed by David Fincher and starring Brad Pitt and Morgan Freeman. A serial killer reconstructs each of the deadly sins through his crimes.
  • In the Japanese manga and anime series Fullmetal Alchemist, each sin is used as an alias for a member of a group of powerful false humans called "homunculi".
  • The Magnificent Seven Deadly Sins (1971) is a British film built around a series of comedy sketches on the seven deadly sins.
  • In Overlord, the seven heroes that the protagonist must defeat are based on the seven sins: Melvin (gluttony), Sir William (lust), Oberon (sloth), Goldo (greed), Jewel (envy), Kahn (wrath) and the Wizard (pride).
  • In Digimon, the Seven Great Demon Lords, each of which represent one of the sins, are a major group of antagonists.
  • In Devil May Cry 3, the seven deadly sins are represented by a group of common enemies, as well as by seven infernal bells, hidden throughout the tower of Temen-ni-gru, used by the antagonist to open the gate to the Demon World. Fallen angels that personify the sins also feature heavily in the prequel manga, in which they are important in summoning the tower in the first place.
  • In the Philippines TV series Lastikman each major villain represents one of the deadly sins.
  • In the Norwegian TV show De syv dødssyndende (The Seven Deadly Sins), Kristopher Schau attempts to invoke the wrath of God by carrying out each of the seven deadly sins.When Schau was talking about the show on the talkshow Senkveld (Late night), he said "If I don't end up in Hell, then there is no Hell." The program caused a great deal of public debate surrounding the issue of censorship.
  • In Matt Fraction's comic book Casanova the volumes are named for each of the seven sins beginning with Luxuria.
  • Verizon Wireless featured the Seven Deadly Sins in its television advertising campaign in 2006, always highlighting "envy" at the end of the advertisement, in reference to the LG enV phone. Actual advertisements on YouTube: [8] [9]


  1. Okholm, Dennis. "Rx for Gluttony". Christianity Today, Vol. 44, No. 10, September 11, 2000, p.62
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  • Refoule, F. (1967) Evagrius Ponticus. In Staff of Catholic University of America (Eds.) New Catholic Encyclopaedia. Volume 5, pp644-645. New York: McGrawHill.

Further reading[]

  • The Divine Comedy ("Inferno", "Purgatorio", and "Paradiso"), by Dante Alighieri
  • Summa Theologica, by St. Thomas Aquinas
  • The Concept of Sin, by Josef Pieper
  • The Traveller's Guide to Hell, by Michael Pauls & Dana Facaros
  • Sacred Origins of Profound Things, by Charles Panati
  • The Faerie Queene, by Sir Edmund Spenser
  • The Seven Deadly Sins Series, Oxford University Press (7 vols.)

External links[]