The Seven Deadly Sin

“I am Envy…I cannot read and therefore wish all books burned.” …Christopher Marlowe

The seven deadly sins, also known as the capital vices or cardinal sins, is a grouping and classification of vices of Christian origin. Behaviours or habits are classified under this category if they directly give birth to other immoralities. According to the standard list, they are pride, greed, lust, envy, gluttony, wrath and sloth, which are also contrary to the seven virtues. These sins are often thought to be abuses or excessive versions of one’s natural faculties or passions (for example, gluttony abuses one’s desire to eat)..

bosch the seven sins
Bosch’s Les 7 Péchés Capitaux painting


  1. Envy = the desire to have an item or experience that someone else possesses
  2. Gluttony = excessive ongoing consumption of food or drink
  3. Greed or Avarice = an excessive pursuit of material possessions
  4. Lust = an uncontrollable passion or longing, especially for sexual desires
  5. Pride = excessive view of one’s self without regard to others.
  6. Sloth = excessive laziness or the failure to act and utilize one’s talents
  7. Wrath = uncontrollable feelings of anger and hate towards another person.



  • Lust – to have an intense desire or need: “But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matthew 5:28).
  • Gluttony – excess in eating and drinking: “for drunkards and gluttons become poor, and drowsiness clothes them in rags” (Proverbs 23:21).
  • Greed – excessive or reprehensible acquisitiveness: “Having lost all sensitivity, they have given themselves over to sensuality so as to indulge in every kind of impurity, with a continual lust for more” (Ephesians 4:19).
  • Laziness – disinclined to activity or exertion: not energetic or vigorous: “The way of the sluggard is blocked with thorns, but the path of the upright is a highway” (Proverbs 15:19).
  • Wrath – strong vengeful anger or indignation: “A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger” (Proverbs 15:1)
  • Envy – painful or resentful awareness of an advantage enjoyed by another joined with a desire to possess the same advantage: “Therefore, rid yourselves of all malice and all deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and slander of every kind. Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation” (1 Peter 2:1-2).
  • Pride – quality or state of being proud – inordinate self esteem: “Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall” (Proverbs 16:18).


Painting by Pieter Brueghel the Elder Tower of Babel, an example of Pride

It can appear as if we end up boasting and grandstanding because we’re so pleased with ourselves. Far from it. Boasting is only ever a response to a feeling of invisibility. We badly need to thrust forward an idea of our own importance because (behind the scenes) our very right to exist seems so much in question. We see it as almost inevitable that others will think ill of us – unless we urgently and dramatically assert our greatness. That is why, of all people, the proud don’t need to be told they are terrible; this is precisely what they secretly think they are already. They need encouragement to feel a more genuine pride in their own merits – so as to be spared the manic impulse constantly to call them to the attention of others.


Envy Cain killing Abel, painting by Bartolomeo Manfredi, c. 1600

Envy is a graceless way of confronting an idea that is, in other contexts, fundamental to decent ambition as well as modesty of character: the notion that we are incomplete, imperfect and in need of improvement. Envy grows from the legitimate insight that others have something to teach us – mixed together with a degree of inaccuracy and panic about what this might actually be. Envy should, ideally, be our teacher. We should note when it strikes us, sift through its confused signals and use them to work out our direction and purpose. The solution isn’t to be made to feel guilty for our envious attacks. It is to be helped to understand what is truly missing from our lives.



Jacques de l’Ange – A young Man with a Sword restrained by a young Woman, ‘Anger’

The mean angry things we say when we’re upset are almost never truly meant. They are the result of panic and anxiety. We call someone a stupid fool because we are, that moment, terrified. We shout because we feel we’re fighting for our lives.Therefore, instead of being repeatedly told how appalling it is to be angry (we of course know this quite well already), what we need is someone to demonstrate a proper understanding of our underlying fears. ‘You must be scared’ is the kindest but also the most effective response to any angry outburst; it puts its finger on what is really going on. We need others to appreciate our fragility, not berate us for our roars.


Excess (Albert Anker, 1896)

We eat too many chicken wings and toasted sandwiches not because we’re greedy, but because we are emotionally starving. We want love far more than we want calories; we’re just at a loss as to how to find it. So the solution isn’t to be told to eat less (as diet gurus and Christian theologians suggest); it is to be helped to discover new sources of kindness, security and emotional connection. Our appetite isn’t essentially bad – it simply hasn’t found its ideal target. Our excess weight is a symbol of our background emotional undernourishment.


Ingres – Paolo and Francesca

We want to keep jumping into bed with people not out of degeneracy, but because we are lonely. Sex is the epitome of connection and acceptance. The so-called ‘bad’ and erotic things we crave feel so exciting because we read them as proofs of someone else’s open-ended affection, which is in such short supply in ordinary life. Ideally we’d not be less lustful, we’d be clearer about what we genuinely need from sex: which is acceptance of our messy, complex and all-too-human selves.




Parable of the Wheat and the Tares by Abraham Bloemaert, Walters Art Museum

Laziness is really fear. We can’t bear to get down to our work, because if we were to apply ourselves, we risk terrifying humiliation. We might not succeed as well as we’d like, we might find a task too hard, we may realise we’re not yet equipped to undertake it or be mocked by the world. These aren’t failings so much as hugely understandable anxieties. Behind our inaction is anticipated disaster; a catastrophizing mind. We will begin at last when the fear of doing nothing at all trumps the crippling fear of doing something badly.


The Worship of Mammon by Evelyn De Morgan

The powerful urge to take more than our fair share is really a reaction to a feeling of deprivation; we’ve felt so neglected and vulnerable, we require ever more. Our fear is so entrenched, we’re trying to keep it at bay by grabbing as much as we can, as quickly as possible. To others, we may make look already advantaged and privileged; inside we just feel desperate.
In the words of Henry Edward, avarice “plunges a man deep into the mire of this world, so that he makes it to be his god.
As defined outside Christian writings, greed is an inordinate desire to acquire or possess more than one needs, especially with respect to Like pride, it can lead to not just some, but all evil.



Coming Soon.


click on the link to download: Richard Newhauser ed. The Seven Deadly Sins Studies in Medieval and Reformation Traditions
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