Often referred to as the Seven Deadly sins (deadly because of their destructive nature), these seven sins are not articulated specifically in a single list in scripture. The list originated in the first few centuries of the Church's existence as a formal way to categorize the capital or chief sins found in scripture. Theologians have explained that these seven are capital because all other deviations straying away from divine, natural or moral law stem in some way from these.
Literary works by Chaucer and Dante, along with the theologian Thomas Aquinas give us a better understanding of the meaningful affect of these sins.
Characteristics and Opposing Virtues
Each of the sins are either deviations, excesses, or deficiencies of some rightly ordered thing created by God for men. They are often listed in ascending order leading up to pride, considered to be the parent of all other sins.
In opposition to these sins, the church has called for the practice of the Seven Lively Virtues to overcome the addiction to and the practice of these destructive habits.
To understand them best, we must also understand the object of their deviation. For example, sloth would be a deviation of mankind's duty to exercise dominion over the earth, caring for it by being industrious.
Sins and Virtues
Lust - Chastity
Gluttony - Temperance
Greed - Charity
Sloth - Diligence
Wrath - Patience
Envy - Gratitude
Pride - Humility
Defining Each of the Sins
Lust - Lust is inordinate desire that captures the soul. Latin writers often used the word luxuria, or luxury, to describe lavish desires for sex, money, power or glory. Lust is often the change from nature desire to uncontrollable coveting that degrades another person's rights, property or god-given status (i.e. as a spouse of another) into something used only as a means to satisfy ones own cravings. It is sinful, in sexual descriptions, because it reduces the love of a spouse down to the mechanical physical abilities that will satiate our own sexual desires. Answering a desire can lead us to a natural good. For example, hunger must be fed. Answering a lust always leads to sin which is a destructive alteration of natural law.
Gluttony - Gluttony is the extravagant misuse of nourishment that encourages laziness, selfishness, prideful neglect of other people who may be in need. It also exhibits a lack of self-control, no discipline, and thereby an inability to be controlled by the Spirit of God. Gluttony encourages waste and a lack of wisdom in stewardship. In some ways, gluttony can be more than overconsumption, but can also prioritizing your food intake over another, caring only for food or being too difficult to please by desiring only the finer things. Scripture defines this person as one whose god is his belly.
Greed - Greed moves beyond the desire that is lust of pleasure, indulging in one's own insatiable desire to accumulate material goods. Greed, like gluttony, is a sin of excess. It's sin is ingratitude, covetiousness, and a lack of care for others. It does not allow one to focus on spiritual things because they are so consumed with earthly things. One who is greedy can move beyond legitimate means of accumulation into sinful means by way of deceit, theft, fraud, taking advantage of the poor or uninformed and even violence. Greed looks at all people as a means to one's own gain rather than a neighbor who ought to be respected.
Sloth - Sloth is the rejection of one's responsibilities to their own spiritual condition, the physical needs of others, the labor that is necessary to authorities or employers and a general carelessness toward the practice of good. More than laziness, sloth is meant to describe the apathy toward spiritual concerns. This includes not only spiritual disciplines necessary for our personal growth and formation but also the spiritual acts of mercy we are commanded to practice for the sake of our family in the church. Sloth rejects the Holy Spirit because as He calls and gifts us to His work, we refuse to utilize those gifts for the benefit of the body. Slothfulness can be a sin of the mind as well, when we object to learning God's word.
Wrath - Wrath is an uncontrollable rage that is most usually associated with vengeance or retribution. Wrath is a violent anger that rejects forgiveness, temperance and self control. It causes us to seek out harm against those that may or may not have harmed us. Wrath is hatred, and in the words of both Jesus and St. James the Apostle, murder. It may extend to the degree of actual physical violence or murder. Wrath is an imbalance in desire to repay beyond justice to which a reasonable anger would lead someone. Because it extends beyond reason, it is opposed to mercy or charity. Wrath can also be an excess of righteous judgment when the person in power punishes an innocent with the guilty, or when a punishment is too harsh.
Envy - Envy is similar to jealously or greed in it's desire for what belongs to someone else, but it goes further in that it hates the success of another, desires to see failure in his neighbor, and rejoices in the misfortune of another. Envy craves another persons success, talents and successes. It desires to have them, hating the person that does. The envious person hopes for the downfall of another, possibly intervening in their demise. Envy also results in unnecessary sadness that results in depression. An envious person can be internally focused on the sorrow they've manufactured over someone else's success. This sin causes divisions that result in hatred. It is often the cause of unhappiness.
Pride - Pride is the chief of all sins, illustrated best by the story of Lucifer. In pride, we warp the image of God in us to raise ourselves up to a superior level, above others or even God. Pride cares only for the wellbeing of one's own self. Pride has many tributaries that lead to all the other sins listed. It's focus is on the self. Concerns for one's own image, wealth, status, power, glory or pleasure. Pride results in envy, greed, lust, among others. Pride loves the self. It cares only for the self. From the larger overt sins down to the daily minuscule selfish acts that we commit, pride is the source of them all. Pridefulness also acquits us of the guilt of our own sin. It promises that we are above judgment; not being accountable to God as righteous judge because we esteem ourselves so highly. Pride can also result in racism, nationalism or other discriminations. It can excuse us from our duty to God who has commanded us to love our neighbors.
Continued in "7 Virtues"