Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Emotional Intelligence (3): The Seven Deadly Sins

Don't worry — this is no Catholic tract! I just thought it would be fun to put the medieval Seven Deadly Sins (and their virtuous opposites) under the microscope and discover what they may or may not have to teach us — again as background to our exploration of feelings and emotions . . .

(1) Lust/lechery (luxuria): excessive sexual thoughts and desires. Corresponding virtue: chastity (castitas).

(2) Gluttony (gula): excessive desire for food and drink leading to over-indulgence and over-consumption. Can result in illness, and the deprivation of the genuinely needy. Corresponding virtue: temperance (temperantia).

(3) Greed/avarice/covetousness (avaritia): excessive desire for wealth, status and power. Can result in betrayal, treason, bribery, corruption, trickery, deception, theft, violence and murder. Corresponding virtue: charity (caritas).

All these first three "sins", if taken to excess, may be considered self-centred, lustful appetites, demonstrating a lack of self control which can be dangerous to self and others.

(4) Envy (invidia): closely related to and often resulting in (3) greed. We are certain to cause ourselves torment and may also hurt others in our envious thoughts and pursuits. Corresponding virtue: kindness (humanitas).

(5) Sloth/acedia (socordia/acedia): or laziness, neglect of duties and responsibilities, listlessness — which may lead to melancholy, despair, depression, misery or even, in extreme cases, suicide. Corresponding virtue: diligence (industria).

(6) Anger/wrath (ira): associated with feelings of impatience, hatred, lack of self control — and can lead to acts of revenge, violence, even murder. Corresponding virtue: patience (patientia).

(7) Pride/vanity/vainglory (superbia/vanitas/vanagloria): boasting, hubris, an inflated view of oneself, an unhealthy preoccupation with and love of oneself, narcissism, a condescension even contempt towards others. Bob Dylan called it "the disease of conceit" in his eponymous song. Corresponding virtue: humility (humilitas).

First of all, I suppose one could say that some of these "vices" are pretty good in moderation — I'm thinking of lust, gluttony and sloth in particular. Personally, I couldn't think of anything better than lying in bed all day eating, drinking and having sex. But to do that the next day, and the next, and the next? Perhaps not . . .

Secondly, a certain amount of anger and pride may be viewed as a good thing: anger at injustice may provoke us into trying to remedy the injustice; and if we have pride in our home, our family, our achievements — well, that can't be so bad, can it?

Even a little envy can stir in us a desire to improve our lives . . .

Though the more I look at these Capital Vices — which came to us via The Book Of Proverbs, The Epistle To The Galatians, the fourth-century monk Evagrius Ponticus, Pope Gregory I and Dante's Divine Comedy — the more I'm convinced they really are things to avoid.

I think what I'm really saying here is that a light sinful touch can be ok, even beneficial, but take that soft fingering to the level of heavy groping and you're in for trouble.


  1. I sort of like the idea of a "light sinful touch." All things in moderation, perchance?

  2. It's rather funny that these seven deadly sins and their corresponding virtues seemed excessively puritanical in my youth. Now that I'm older, they seem to contain I great deal of wisdom. As always, of course, the best course if probably to find Buddha's middle way, tilting perhaps toward virtue.

  3. Pride has always been a bit of an odd one. We're told not to be proud and yet told to take pride in our appearance, etc. I think i understand the subtle distinctions involved, yet they are interesting, none the less.

  4. Oh dear, is it excessively sinful to commit most of these in a single day? Today it was Lust (hot co-teacher), Gluttony (dessert with lunch, dessert with dinner), Sloth (You Tube videos and a James M Cain novel between lessons and all afternoon), Envy (anyone that's not me), Anger (made two punks stand in the corner in class) and Pride (boasted about it afterwards with friends).

    I'm doomed, aren't I?

  5. I think moderation is probably the way, Susan and George!

    Yes, pride can be ok, I think, Dominic — if it isn't overweening. Like so many of these "sins" or "vices", it's a question of balance. Even though Blake (one of my literary touchstones) said "the road of excess leads to the palace of wisdom", from my own standpoint I now prefer the less excessive approach. Perhaps because I've been there, done that? Though the calling of the heart does lead one any which way, and age seems to be no factor.

    Goat! You are beyond redemption. But for "greed" you would have had a full set! I think you are indeed "excessively sinful", and very wicked, and I'm relegating you to the "naughty step" immediately. And you can go without dinner too — and that means NO DESSERT!

  6. The way I see it is that the "Seven Deadly Sins" are part of what it means to be a human being (-:

    Here's a contemporary list of the corresponding virtues to "The Seven Sins":

    Lust / Intimacy
    Gluttony / Simplicity
    Greed / Generosity
    Envy / Contentment
    Sloth / Vitality
    Anger / Forgiveness
    Pride / Humility

    The Seven Creative Joys might well be Intimacy, simplicity, generosity, contentment, vitality, forgiveness and humility.

    Here's an edgy take on Bob Dylan's meditation on pride to add to the conversation:

    In Jewish tradition, sin is to "miss the mark," as in:

    "... did I miss the mark that only you could see?"
    (Bob Dylan)

    Interesting conversation forming here at your new blog!

  7. The unreachable secret to the 'good' in all of these is to find the balance -- the middle way. That's really the vulnerable spot. We can sometimes find the balance, but can we maintain it?