The seven deadly sins were first conceived by the Egyptian monk Evagrius of Pontus, also known as Evagrius Ponticus or Evagrius the Solitary. Working in the 300s AD, he devised a list of “evil thoughts.” This list continued to circulate in the Christian world for centuries despite Evagrius being accused of heresy before the end of his life. In the late 500s AD Pope Gregory I, who reigned from 590 to 604, further developed the list. It continued to be refined both within the Church and in popular arts such as Dante’s Divine Comedy, and took several generations more to reach its present form. In any version, the seven “deadly” sins are distinguished from more minor “venial” sins as serious offenses against God that require confession and contrition from the sinner.
Lust is the sin of excessive appetites, not only for sex – though the term often connotes this – but any form of earthly pleasure. It also encompasses all “excessive” love of others; excessive, in this case, means leading to a failure to love God. Lust is a self-destructive drive for sensations “of this world” and opposes itself to the traditional virtue of self-control. The extreme pursuit of power or wealth, though implicated in other sins like greed, can also be considered a form of lust.
Evagrius Ponticus: Biographical sketch of the early Christian thinker whose ideas eventually matured into the seven deadly sins.
Seven Deadly Sins: Cited overview of the sins with Biblical passages and further reading.
Gluttony is the sin of overindulgence, waste, and a rapacious desire to consume, leaving others in want. Unlike lust, which has an active character, gluttony tends to be passive and spiteful, deriving from a soul that raises pleasure above God and the community. The sin of gluttony is marked by a refusal to share – even when enjoying plenty – and an irrational consumption of far more than one needs. Addictions of all kinds traditionally fall within the scope of this sin. It opposes the virtue of temperance.
On Gluttony: A reflection on gluttony throughout time, from Notre Dame Business Magazine. The site also contains reflections in a similar style on several other sins.
Gregory the Great: Brief overview of the reign and attributes of Pope Gregory I, who revised and expanded upon Evagrius Ponticus’ “evil thoughts” – taking a further step toward today’s seven sins.
Greed is also known as avarice, and is a sin associated with seeking excessive fortunes. This can mean the pursuit of money to the exclusion of all else, but is also part of the selfish pursuit of praise or credit. Greed seeks to deprive others actively rather than through the overindulgent ignorance of gluttony, and creates competition where cooperation would be more virtuous. Greed opposes generosity; the greedy person is wont to assume that all others are greedy as well, and that generous acts are motivated by selfish desires.
The Sin of Greed: Detailed reflection on the sin of greed, including Biblical passages, from the Sacred Heart Catholic Church of Bakersfield, California.
Seven Deadly Sins, The: A very detailed page about the origins and attributes of the sins, including information on thinkers who contributed to the canonical understanding of the sins, artistic depictions of the sins, and more.
Sloth encompasses all forms of laziness and procrastination, but the modern view is relatively narrow compared to its full historical meaning; sloth also covers the shirking of rightful duties and responsibilities. In the most strict spiritual interpretation, it is the sin of selfishly ignoring or avoiding the performance of duties to which God has called a person. Sloth is believed to indicate a lack of faith. It opposes the Christian virtue zeal, and can also be thought of as insufficient love – rather than excessive love of the wrong things, as in lust, gluttony, and greed.
Catholic Encyclopedia: Sloth: Detailed entry on sloth, offering Bible passages and the commentary of influential fathers of Catholic thought.
The Seven Deadly Sins: Article offering another perspective on the seven deadly sins, discussing them from a philosophical and thematic perspective that seeks their common failing.
Wrath is an excess of hatred and anger brought on by self-serving causes. In its most mild form, impatience is a part of wrath; but it is also the root of revenge, violence, and crimes like assault and murder. The Biblical figure Cain, who killed his brother Abel out of anger because Abel’s sacrifice was more pleasing to God, is one of the great examples of wrath. Acts of wrath are distinguished by their unjust character, taking place outside of the law. Because it shows impatience, wrath is also said to indicate disbelief that divine justice will eventually come. Wrath opposes the virtue of kindness.
The 7 Deadly Sins of Students: Modern interpretation of the sins and how they tend to manifest as bad habits in college students. Offered at Reinhardt College.
The Divine Comedy by Dante: The full English text of this poetic work that strongly influenced understanding of the seven sins both in the 1300s and today. Can be read online or downloaded for free.
Envy is the desire to possess what others have. Envy resents others and the good things that might happen in their lives. Envy also connotes a resentment of God, from whom all blessings ultimately flow. Envy works hand in hand with pride: envy is the judgment that others do not deserve what they have, while pride relates to assuming one deserves what he or she does not have. Envy and greed are also sometimes seen as related sins that feed off of and enable one another. The sin of envy opposes the virtue of charity, the selfless giving of what one has to those who are in need.
Envy: Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy: Extremely detailed exploration of the nature of envy from a philosophical perspective. The same website also offers similar treatments for other sins and spiritual concepts.
Summa Theologica: The Sins: One page of a chapter discussing the nature of sin; from one of the foundational texts of early Christian thought, Summa Theologica by St. Thomas Aquinas. The rest of the book is freely available from the same source.
In early Christianity, pride was considered the foremost sin. Interpretations of Scripture and stories from early Christian times often show Satan as a member of God’s court who believed he should be exalted above his master due to his evil abundance of pride. Pride flourishes in all forms of vanity and narcissism The idea that everyone is entitled to “fifteen minutes of fame” could be said to be a modern manifestation of pride. As a sin, pride entails focusing on the self before all other things, and leads to destruction through the lack of love for others. It opposes the virtue of humility, which actively seeks to avoid fame and remain humble before God.
The Seven Deadly Sins: Pride: Article from an NPR series investigating the seven sins. Offers an interview with audio. Similar features are also available for other deadly sins.
Pride and Other Sins: An HTML transcription of a thorough study of the seven sins written by a theologian of the early 1900s.
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