The Capital Sins
Retreat given by,
Fr. Bruno Cocuzzi, OCD
Before it is possible to talk about the Capital Sins, it is necessary to have a bit of a background. To begin with, we need to have some notion of what we mean by a sin. But a sin itself belongs to a larger category, which happens to be human acts or human activity. So we have to have some idea of what we mean by a human act, or human activity. And in speaking of human activity, we realize that ordinarily all activity is usually oriented toward certain goals or ends, effects, of which the activity is the cause. And so finally to freely understand what is meant by sin, we should have some knowledge of the final goal of individual human activity.
Now where does all this knowledge, this idea about final goals and human acts come from?
Many of them come from reflecting and meditating upon common experience, and from human beings comparing the results of their own reflections upon experience with others.
Thus we are able to come to some pretty basic conclusions, which we can state as ends or axioms, that is, they cannot really be proved, because they are so basic. They are rather, self-evident.
The first of these is:
I. Whenever we act with freedom and deliberation, that is, voluntarily and knowing what we are doing, we do so because we want to achieve a particular purpose or result. By saying free and deliberate, voluntarily and knowingly, we are speaking of the “human acts” mentioned above as a category to which also sinful acts belong. And we can state also, as a datum of common experience that,
II. We often perform human acts for more than one purpose - for the attainment of (1) immediate, (2) short term, and (3) long-term goals. All of which goals are inter-related. Furthermore we can state that whenever we choose to act in a human way (as opposed to instinct as in yielding to force or duress),
III. The goals or ends of our human behavior always appear to us as something good or desirable. But how do we know that a goal we wish to attain is good or desirable? Because, as common human experience tells us, the good gives rise to a subjective feeling or sense of “happiness”. Or as it has been called for centuries possessing that good causes a kind of Blessedness in us. So, even though the ordinary goal of human activity is the attainment of an objective good outside ourselves, we can never separate that from the subjective goal of experiencing that happiness or Blessedness.
Now one of the realities or facts of human existence is that we can easily be convinced or convince ourselves that certain definite objective goals, which appear desirable and good are going to result in our experiencing happiness or blessedness, but that when we attain them, we discover that they haven’t made us happy. And so it happens that we humans need to be instructed about what goals or ends are going to give us that sense of happiness and blessedness. Furthermore, whether we realize it or not, we are all striving for some good end that will make us happy and blessed not just a little while, but for always.
As you know, all kinds of people are out there in the world representing themselves as knowing and being able to guide others to what will make them happy and blessed forever. But because so many of them present goals that are incompatible among themselves, it is obvious that not all of them can be right.
But we Catholics are very fortunate because we know that God, Himself, has told us, instructed us, as to where true and lasting happiness lies, and that teaching is handed on to us through the Church. And so we are taught that the eternal happiness or blessedness of all human beings cannot be found in creatures, whether they be external goods such as riches, dignities, honors, fame, power, glory, nor are they to be found in goods of the body such as health, strength, beauty, vigor, sensual enjoyment and pleasure, (of themselves are tools). Neither can lasting happiness be found in the goods of the soul such as intelligence or knowledge or technical or artistic skills, nor does it consist in all of these taken together (also tools). The reason being of course is that they don’t last.
Thus, we know that the only good that will give us that perfect, long-lasting, permanent happiness, one that cannot be lost, is the uncreated source of all created good, God Himself, the Supreme, eternal, Uncreated Infinite Good.
We can speak of Formal Blessedness. This consists in the most perfect possible knowledge of God and Love of God of which the human person is capable. But this beatitude is not a natural happiness, such as would be similar to the happiness of knowing and loving a good person, another human being, but a supernatural happiness, one based upon knowing and loving God through the immediate, direct vision of the Divine Essence or nature, such that we become like Him and share His own supernatural eternal life and happiness.
Although the Life and Blessedness of God is Love, nevertheless for us it begins with the Vision of God, which in turn causes us to love God, since love is based on knowledge. The vision takes place in the intellect, because we cannot love what we do not know, (or experience through our senses). And there is a special created light of glory which enables us to know God; see God as He is in Himself.
Now the effects of this supernatural Vision of God is such that we cannot lose it. We realize that there is no true good apart from God, and because that Good is so utterly satisfying, we cannot possibly wish or will to be separated from it, and so this Blessedness makes the beholder utterly incapable of sinning.
Also, because the vision of God takes place in the intellect, and because there is special “light” of glory imparted to it, which is a supernatural, spiritual entity, given to enable the human intellect to see it, the body and soul do not have to be united in order for a person to experience this lasting, non-losable blessedness. However, since the integrity and perfection of human nature requires the union of body and soul, then blessedness will be perfectly imparted through the Resurrection of the Body.
Now, how do we human beings obtain this Blessedness? Well, as we have said, (or should have said) God created us with an instinct or an inborn appetite or desire, yearning for Goodness and Truth and Beauty. Such that we find things we perceive as Beauty, Truth and Goodness irresistible, and so we go after them. Thus, they become the objects of our human activity, i.e., to gain possession of them. Now there is such a thing as a natural blessedness but this is not enough because it is confined to this life, and we know our lives on earth will end. Therefore, we sense instinctively that natural happiness does not satisfy and cannot be satisfying. This indicates that we do have a native instinct for supernatural, eternal blessedness - or as St. Augustine said: Thou has created us for Thyself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in Thee.
However, even though we cannot experience supernatural blessedness which in this life, we really and truly can attain a state of soul, a disposition of soul in this life that guarantees we will experience the Beatific Vision in the next life. And this state of soul is directly acquired by our human activity. I say guarantees we will experience it. It would be better to say guarantees that God will bestow it upon us. We have this as His Promise and this Blessedness is also known as Eternal Life.
My text book stresses this very beautiful doctrine which we already know: Life on earth, insofar as it will one day come to an end, is not the state of ultimate perfection and happiness, but the road by which we are supposed to use to travel or tend toward it in virtue of our [human] activity. For the purpose of undertaking and successfully completing that journey God provides us with several means or helps:
1. We have, in regard to our natural end because of these roads coincide for the most part
(a) Internal means: that is, our very human nature with its faculties, especially reason and
free will, and also the acquired moral virtues, which are moved by a “natural” help given by God.
(b) External means: human society, whose function and purpose (intended by God) is to help
all human beings to attain both temporal and spiritual (natural) good. Natural truth,
Beauty and Goodness.
2. To help us conduct ourselves in this present life so as to attain our supernatural end, God gives us also:
(a) Appropriate internal means, supernatural grace: (1) habitual or sanctifying grace with (2) the infused theological and moral virtues, and (3) the gifts of the Holy Spirit, all of which come in a package so to speak; and also actual graces (helps) both for the mind and the will together with a special movement or “nudging” by the Holy Spirit.
(b) The external means: a supernatural society - The Church - of which Christ is the founder
and Head, and which was given to us human beings specifically to enable us to attain our
supernatural beatitude, or rather the disposition of soul, or state of soul I spoke of earlier
which God will infallibly confer it when this life is over. The Church does this by means of
Doctrine, laws and Sacraments, principally, and other means of conferring grace.
At the beginning and throughout we have spoken of human acts. Now we have to consider some facts about human activity, rather, we have to try to understand the nature of “human” acts.
Although we human beings do things, we function, and conduct ourselves in many different ways and although things happen to us and take place within us in virtue of our being living animated organisms, not all of them can be considered “human” in the strict sense.
By agreement, we consider only those acts to be “human” of which each individual is in some way the owner. That is, subject to his control. Uncontrollable and uncontrolled activities by definition, are not “human”. To be so, we must be able to take credit for, or to be blamed for them.
We control our acts, own them, when they proceed from a deliberate will or choice. Any other would not be considered action proper to us as human beings. Another way of saying it: Voluntary acts based upon reason. My text calls the others among the latter “acts of man.”
Among the latter: Actions in common with beasts: based on instinct, or just automatic like breathing, acts of a child not yet at the age of reason; of a sleepwalker, or done during sleep, or while completely drunk; acts of a hypnotized person. Also, acts done while completely distracted, reflex acts, first movements of the passions.
Certain of those acts may become human: if done with awareness and for a definite purpose. Eat, drink, think, speak, walk, “Beatific love” - flows from the beatific vision: not a human act. (Thought, reflexive, instinctive, spontaneous, there is purpose - but put there by God.
What then, are the properties of a human act? Since only those acts are “human” that have a bearing upon our “perfection” as made in God’s image and likeness, they require the cooperation of the intellect and the will.
The cooperation of the intellect is required because there has to be conscious awareness of alternative modes of acting in a certain situation, and particularly of the relationship between each of those alternative modes of acting with the proper end and goal of our existence as human beings (natural image and likeness of God) and as children of God by adoption. The goal of course is natural and supernatural perfection, and the proposed alternatives would either bring us closer to, or farther from, perfection, or would be indifferent. The cooperation of the will is required, obviously, because we are free in choosing only when there is no coercion or anything else which impedes or blocks the full use of free will.
So that is what is meant by saying that we own and control our actions or deeds only when they proceed from a voluntary, deliberate choice, and are based on reason. All human acts are therefore either moral or immoral, depending upon whether they are in conformity with our proper end: blessedness, or not. All human acts are imputible, they are assigned to a particular, individual free agent, or free agents working together, as the acts of that person or group of persons.
And because they have both the aspects of morality and imputability, they are meritorious: they are either worthy of praise or of blame, of credit or debit. That is, human acts cause the person who performs them to be worthy of either a reward or a punishment.
Although there are quite a few principles that govern the discernment of the morality of human conduct, that is, whether certain acts are intrinsically good, or intrinsically evil, or indifferent, and how “circumstances” can affect the discernment process, I do believe that the foregoing is adequate before speaking about the Capital Sins. Only human acts can be sins; and only those human acts are sins which either turn us away from our final goal, or which impede or slow down our progress.
The reason we can talk of Capital Sins is because it is possible for one sin to be the cause of another.
One sin can be the cause of another because it predisposes and paves the way for other sins. Greed, for example, prepares the way for quarrels, cheating, etc.
In a more general way, any sin predisposes for further sins by either depriving of grace, or by cooling the ardor of charity. (Mortal and venial respectively), which in turn cause selfishness and self-will (rebelliousness) to increase and thus lead to other disorders or predispose to further disorder.
Still in a general way - any sin predisposes to further sins of the same kind - after one sin of theft, it becomes easier to steal again, etc.
One further way that one sin is the cause of another is that in order to commit sin A, which is the principle sin someone wants to commit, he cannot do so unless he commits sin B. In that sense, Sin A becomes the cause of sin B, even though sin B had to be committed first.
And it is in this sense that we speak of the Capital sins. The word comes from caput, capitis, which means “head” and the capital sins are “heads” in the sense that they command and direct and take the lead in causing certain other sins to be committed.
Ever since the time of Pope St. Gregory, it has been generally accepted that there are seven capital sins. And the way that has been determined is by considering (1) what those things are that give a human so much gratification that he is tempted to do anything, however disorderly and therefore sinful, in order to obtain that gratification. (2) what those things are that cause so much discomfort or pain that a person is tempted to do anything, no matter how disorderly (and therefore sinful) it is, to escape that discomfort and pain.
It is generally agreed among moral (Catholic) theologians who teach the approved moral doctrine of the Church (which of course is based on Divine Revelation) that there are four kinds of goods or pleasures which are so gratifying as to be the object which give rise to certain Capital sins.
The FIRST of these is the gratification that comes from receiving honor and praise as someone altogether above and superior to others with regard to some attribute or achievement. And the Capital sin which commands other sins to be committed to obtain that praise and honor is called VAINGLORY.
The SECOND of these is the gratification which is obtained by eating and drinking, the gratification of taste, which God attaches to food and drink so that we will use them to support our human life and health and strength. The sin, the disorder which seeks the gratification of taste for its own sake, or which exceeds due limits, is called GLUTTONY.
The THIRD of these is the gratification that comes from engaging in sexual intercourse and from certain activities that prepare for sexual intercourse. Again God attached this gratification to the use of generative faculties to insure the propagation of the human race. And the Capital sin which seeks that kind of gratification for it’s own sake or in a manner or measure not intended by God is called LUST.
The FOURTH and final gratification that human beings tend to seek after so passionately that they are often willing to commit other sins to obtain it, is that which comes from possessing material goods, money and great wealth in particular. The name of this Capital sin is AVARICE, or GREED.
We turn now to the three kinds of discomfort or pain or displeasure that are great enough to tend to cause human beings to commit sin rather than to endure those kinds of sufferings (or evils) (the gratifications are interpreted as “goods”).
The first of these, and this gives rise to the FIFTH Capital sin is the physical labor and effort and struggle involved in working out one’s salvation, and promoting their own spiritual welfare. The name of this Capital sin, which can cause one to commit sin in order to escape the hard work required, is called SLOTH.
The second kind of these sufferings or discomforts which give rise to the SIXTH Capital sin is that which has to do with seeing others surpass oneself in excellence in any way and thus seeing others receive the honor and glory and praise which we all naturally desire. This sin, which inclines human beings to commit other sins, rather than see themselves surpassed is called ENVY.
There is no specific third and final kind of suffering other than the physical and mental suffering and discomfort already mentioned, except that in addition to the labor and fatigue necessary to maintain ourselves spiritually healthy, that is in the state of grace and charity, there is also the pain that is inflicted upon our bodies by other agents, which not only hurt but could wound and even kill. But there is a SEVENTH Capital sin which inclines a human being to commit sin in order to ward off imminent threat of harm whether of body or of spirit (ego) and that sin is ANGER.
And so we have the seven Capital sins: VAINGLORY (or VANITY), GLUTTONY, LUST, GREED (or AVARICE), SLOTH, ENVY, and ANGER.
Now though these are Capital sins because they command and direct and cause other sins, they are not the greatest of sins or the most grievous, necessarily. Because these have to do more with our own humanity directly, they are not as serious as disorders in our relationship with God through Faith, Hope and Charity, or which are violations of our obligations to God.
Some of you are surely wondering why the sin of PRIDE is not listed among the Capital SINS. After all, it was a sin of Pride that, historically speaking, has given rise to all subsequent sin, namely the sin of Pride committed by the devil and his fallen angels, and by Adam and Eve, our first parents. And in addition, Pride is capable of causing every other sin without exception, in that there is no length to which really sinfully proud people will go in order to prevent their pride from being wounded, or to avenge their wounded pride. So really PRIDE is much more than a Capital sin, which we have seen to exercise the role of commander or director of only certain other sins. Pride is rather the Mother and the Queen of all other sins, including the Capital sins.
Also, some of you may remember that St. Paul teaches, in his letter to Timothy, (I Tim. 6:10) that covetousness or love of money, that is GREED, is the root of all evil. How can we reconcile that revealed doctrine with the assertion that Pride is the true cause of every sin?
There are different ways of trying to show that there is only an apparent conflict between the two statements and that both are true.
One explanation says that love of money or greed disposes one to commit sin in the sense of nourishing (like do the roots of plants) sinful deeds by making it possible (i.e., having money) to commit sins, or better, to get anything one wants. It is said “money talks”, while there is a Latin saying, “Everything obeys money.”
Along these same lines, it is said that riches (love of money) nourishes the desire and inclination to all kinds of sins because the one who possesses great wealth becomes aware that he can do pretty much what he pleases because he can afford it.
Insofar as Avarice command the commission of other sins to get material goods, including money, it is a CAPITAL. But insofar as Avarice or Love of Money enables one to commit other sins, it is not considered a Capital Sin, but the root of that sin.
Pride and Vainglory
Now having said all that (I’ve taken all this from my Moral Theology Textbook) the author treats of Pride and Vainglory as if they were the same thing or at least very closely related.
Pride, he says, is the inordinate (or disorderly) craving for personal, that is, one’s own excellence (or supremacy).
It is a “craving” because it resides in the will, our faculty of desire as well as the faculty which “loves” and “commands”. In fact, “desire” is a fundamental component of “LOVE”.
It is a disorderly craving, because the desire to have attributes of QUALITY or EXCELLENCE is not in itself disorderly. It is not wrong to want to be an excellent father or mother, an excellent teacher or singer, or craftsman, or professional person. It is not a sin merely to want to be an excellent Catholic, even so excellent as to be a saint. So the disorderliness comes in ONLY when one desires or believes oneself to
possess, an EXCELLENCE that goes beyond the limit of possibility or beyond the natural or supernatural capacity of the individual.
The disordinate craving for excellence can therefore be of two kinds. What we’ve just mentioned is called a disordinate craving for absolute excellence. There can also be the disordinate desire for relative excellence, that is, compared to other persons. But generally Pride is the inordinate or disorderly craving to be above and greater than anyone or anything.
Considered in the abstract, Pride is a very serious sin because the proud man exalts himself above and beyond what he is in truth, above and beyond the limits established by God in creating each person. After all, we are finite beings, we have certain measures of talent and ability and excellence. Thus a proud man implicitly is guilty of contempt for God, and implicitly guilty of rebelling against the norms God has established for us His human creatures. In other words, Pride destroys Charity, by means of which our wills are one with God’s will for us. Because Pride destroys charity, it separates one from God and is therefore a Mortal Sin.
According to St. Gregory the Great, there are four distinct ways in which a sin of Pride may be committed:
1. thinking that all the good qualities and other goods that one possesses are from oneself, rather
than from God or acting as if one were the author of all the goods one has or is.
2. thinking that “yes, I have all these good qualities and things from God, but because I deserve them”; God owes me those good things, or again, acting as if one had somehow merited all that one is or has.
3. by (attributing to oneself) [considering oneself to have, from God] good qualities and talents that one does not have, and
4. in those things that one really does have from God (i.e., acknowledging same) desiring to be preferred to others, or at least desiring to have them considered by others as greater than they really are.
The first two naturally and implicitly include contempt for God by simply dismissing Him from the picture. The second two do not dismiss Him or fail to acknowledge Him as source of one’s good, and therefore are ordinarily venial sins. The first two are ordinarily mortal sins.
As we stated above, Pride is the Mother and Queen of all sins. Nevertheless, there are certain sins which are so closely related to Pride that they are called the daughters of Pride, because each of them has some-thing to do with a disordinate affection, desire or belief in one’s own excellence. These daughter sins more frequently and more directly flow from Pride, and more closely serve the interests of Pride. They are:
1. Presumption - defined as the inordinate appetite for excellence in one’s deeds or accomplishments, and consists in one’s undertaking projects that exceed his abilities. (Obviously this is not the same as the presumption that is a sin against Hope, the supernatural virtue. That presumption is also related to Pride because one thinks, “Oh I’m so great, so excellent, that no matter what I do, God has to admit me to Heaven”. The other sin against Hope, “despair” is also related to Pride because one thinks, at least implicitly, “Oh, I am so great, that my sins are too great to forgive, “That is, God’s mercy cannot match my sins in greatness, such that God is unable to forgive me.” I’m not sure I’ve explained myself adequately).
2. Ambition - the inordinate (disorderly) desire for dignities and honors (that is, offices or positions), which one has not merited, or beyond one’s merits.
3. Vainglory - which is the FIRST of the seven Capital Sins and it is the inordinate desire for an external manifestation of one’s excellence.
(all three of the above are in themselves venial sins, because they do not leave God out of the picture - as we said before. But they become mortal when they result in deeds grievously harmful to others, or when one is prepared to commit mortal sins to achieve their objectives).
The Capital Sin, VAINGLORY, is therefore an inordinate craving for fame and glory (external things), that is, an empty show of glory, so as to impress others with an admiration of one’s excellence, whether real or fictitious.
This tends to take place in three ways:
(a) seeking glory in something that is not deserving of honor or glory, such as in something evil, false, phony, that is, fictitious, and of little account in most people’s estimation.
(b) by seeking to impress and be admired by people who really aren’t capable of discerning what is worthy of praise: the simple, uneducated, etc.
(c) by seeking and not referring honor and glory, praise and fame to its proper end, namely, to the glory of God, the spiritual welfare of others or to one’s own spiritual good.
The most common sins that are commanded by or directed (orchestrated) by VAINGLORY are seven in number and are called its daughters:
1. by boasting - by extolling one’s self. This is a sin because it usually includes lying, but particularly because it is always a lack of humility.
2. by doing things in strange or odd or new and different ways: dressing to attract attention; (presumption of novelties).
3. by hypocrisy - doing something to give the appearance of being good, when really, one is not good.
All the above are direct ways of seeking indirectly, or sought by refusing to yield in the presence of those more worthy of admiration.
4. by means of obstinacy in holding on to one’s own opinion in a discussion, despite the evidence that another’s mind is superior.
5. by means of creating discord, i.e., refusing to be of one will with others, or working at cross purposes instead of peaceably with others.
6. by being contentious - that is arguing, contradicting, criticizing, finding fault with, bad-mouthing, etc.
7. by disobedience, in the sense of wanting to give the impression of knowing better than the Superior, or that one deserves some sort of exception or better treatment from the Superior.
(How effect human relationships?)
(Can we detect any of these in ourselves?)
In considering the remaining Capital Sins I’m going to follow the order in which they are treated in my textbook rather than the order in which I listed them in the last conference. Probably because it is not only a Capital sin, but also the root of all evil, it next deals with GREED.
Greed, as you know, is the inordinate desire (desire is a kind of love) for wealth. By wealth is meant all external goods, material things, temporal goods, which are useful to human beings or beneficial, and thus can be assigned a monetary value.
Greed or avarice can be of two kinds, (l) the disorderly desire to obtain and possess things of value without earning or deserving them in some way. This is contrary to justice and can be a serious sin. (2) a disorderly affection for, or attachment to, money or things of value by means of which they are loved or desired beyond their true value, or by means of which one takes his pleasure and delight in money and material goods. My author says that this is usually a venial sin, unless one is inclined to commit mortal sin in order to get joy and pleasure out of being wealthy, and unless one makes money his or her god, and final end, i.e. seeks beatitude in wealth.
As a Capital sin and therefore one which commands and directs the committing of other sins, Greed or Avarice frequently gives rise to seven other sins, and these are called its daughters.
Insofar as greed causes one to be disorderly or immoderate in holding on to wealth, there is (a) hardness of heart or inhumanity by means of which one closes his heart to the sufferings of the needy and refuses to be merciful by going to their aid, in giving alms. Though here we have in mind chiefly refusing to use one’s material resources to relieve the misery of others, at times we see cases where a person loves money so much that he will not even use it to relieve his own personal misery. As you know, these are called misers, who generally live amidst filth and squalor, and who hoard their money because they can’t stand the thought of surrendering it to the control of others, i.e., by putting it in a bank or investing it. These would be the ones whom we can say have made money their god, and seek their beatitude in its possession.
Insofar as greed causes one to be disorderly or immoderate in obtaining material goods of value, there arises - (2) restlessness and anxiety and unnecessary exertion in acquiring what is useful or necessary to supply one’s needs of body. We have an example of this in the Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 6:25-34). Where Jesus tells us not to be anxious or worried about the life of our bodies, worry over what we are to eat or drink or wear, etc. Thus, this kind of worry is opposed to child-like-ness, and which causes one to be in the Kingdom of God. Then it is that the Lord sees to it that we have all that we really need for the lives of our bodies.
(3) A further effect of greed is that it will command acts of violence, whenever it appears that the desired material goods are being withheld, whether or not one is entitled to the things of value. Robbery, of course is an example of this child of greed.
Still another would be (5) lying or making false representations in order to acquire money or goods. This would be a sin found in merchants or vendors of any kind. If such a person goes further and swears before God that the false pretenses are really true, then the sin becomes (5) perjury. And when one does things to deceive and cheat another out of money or goods, that is called (6) fraud. Then finally, there is (7) betrayal, when one will deliver another up to either his enemies or deliver him up to some kind of suffering or evil circumstances in order to make money.
The next Capital Sin we now consider is LUST. It is, as we mentioned, an inordinate desire for sexual or venereal pleasure. This is perhaps the strongest of “natural” human desires, and can be so strong in certain circumstances that it can hinder, if not completely block the use of reason and free will. Thus it can be the cause of very disorderly conduct.
We are aware of artificially created desires in our day and age such as addiction to drugs and alcohol, and they, of course are even more powerful than the desire of Lust, since it seems certain that addiction to drugs cause addicts to ignore other physical desires altogether. However, Lust itself can sometimes rise to the level of addiction. Maybe this is evidence of how much God loves babies and wants to see the number of His human children increase.
Many are the sins that arise out of Lust. Actually, my author calls them “vices” rather than sins, because these seem to be permanent dispositions or states of soul in someone who does not want to restrain and control his or her desire for sexual pleasure. They are as follows:
(1). Intellectual blindness. This is a state of mind in which one never thinks of spiritual realities, such as God, the soul, the certainty of death, judgment, heaven and hell, and other basic truths of our Catholic Christian Faith.
(2). It causes precipitation in that it causes a lustful person to become the slave of physical desires to the extent that one tends to give in to the desires right away, without giving the mind and will a chance to intervene. Because the mind is not given a chance to intervene, there is the effect of
(3). Inconsideration, by which one fails to think about the consequences of his deeds, and the effect they will have on his relationships, and whether or not they, the deeds, are in accord with his or her state in life and other obligations to human society. And closely related to all of the former is
(4). Inconstancy. This is the inability to make a decision and stick to it, especially when it comes to sticking to resolutions to escape the influence of Lustful desires and to do good. Fickleness is a more common name for inconstancy.
The net result of all these daughters of Lust is that the virtue of Prudence cannot gain a foothold. Prudence is one of the Four Cardinal virtues which are absolutely necessary for a person to achieve perfection as a human being, and the infused Virtue of Prudence, or Prudence raised to the supernatural level by the gift of Grace and the Holy Spirit, is absolutely necessary for the baptized to attain perfection as Children of God by adoption.
The “daughters” of Lust that reside in the Will, the rational appetite are also four in number. There is:
(1). Self-love or selfishness with respect to pleasures of sense. What this means is that pleasure or pain become the final and sole determinant of conduct. That is - seek sense pleasure, avoid the pain of sense.
(2). There is hatred of God insofar as the commandments of God often prohibit the kinds of conduct which provide the sought for pleasure and which often require the conduct that is painful to the senses (or at least annoying).
(3). Love of the Present Life. This means affection for and attachment to the pleasures of a physical nature that this life has to offer. The other side of the coin is the
(4). effect, or Horror of the next life. Because quite often physical and sensual delights are incompatible with the perception of and enjoyment of spiritual delights and spiritual goods, a lustful person avoids them and may even despise them.
In an interesting footnote, the author says that lustful persons tend to betray themselves by their speech, as Our Lord said: “Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks.” Thus it is that lustful people tend to have minds and imaginations full of impure thoughts, and not having the desire or the ability to discipline themselves, tend to use “dirty” language and to tell, and want to hear, dirty jokes.
The next Capital Sin is GLUTTONY. As we said, it is the disorderly desire to enjoy the delights of taste, and is usually committed by immoderate or excessive taking of food and drink. In itself, it is not considered a serious or mortal sin, although it can become one if one who is addicted to food foresees or knows from experience that overeating does grave harm to one’s health, and does so anyway.
Because the desire for pleasure of taste is also a physical and sensual or sense pleasure, its effects or its daughters tend to resemble or be related to the effects of lust, but to a much lesser degree. Gluttony can also impede the use of reason and will and the experience of ages shows that immoderate eating and drinking, that is, giving in to the desire to enjoy pleasure of taste also disposes one to give in more easily to temptations of the flesh.
We have to be careful in talking about gluttony, because almost everyone in our modern American society over-eats. But mere over-eating does not make one a glutton. Practically all of us who overeat are always deploring the fact and we do make sincere efforts to eat less or to eat more sensibly. But the real culprit is not a disorderly affection or craving for food and drink, but rather our social customs and practices. We tend to do all or most of our socializing at the dinner table or over coffee, and while we are busy fraternizing we tend to lose sight of how much we are eating. Another factor, also related to the times we live in, is the fact that we will eat as a means of reducing the stress of daily living, or of overcoming it, as when we break for coffee and a snack.
So in going through this following list of sins (disorders) caused by Gluttony, we have to keep in mind that these apply to real gluttons, such as we read about existed among the Romans after their civilization had become corrupt, and who gave themselves up to first, Orgies of over-eating which were then followed up by sexual orgies.
The first daughter of gluttony then is (1) dullness of mind. Clearly, this is not as bad as “blindness of mind” caused by Lust. Also, this dullness of mind is concerned with ordinary mundane affairs, as well as with dullness concerning spiritual truths, or the body tends to grow drowsy after one has over-eaten, so also the mind grows drowsy and cannot function as well as it should and could. It is because of this effect of dullness of mind that religious orders write into their Rules and obligation to practice austerity at table. Fasting, or at least moderation at meals, tends to sharpen the mind and opens the eyes of the soul for clearer spiritual vision. It didn’t occur to me earlier when talking about lust, but the reason why Purity is such a valuable virtue to cultivate is that it is one of the best ways to completely overcome spiritual blindness. As the Beatitude says: Blessed are the Pure of Heart, for they shall see God. And as we said when talking about the Beatitudes, We see God with the eyes of the Heart!
Related to dullness of mind is (2) inept cheerfulness. The author says that because gluttony causes a wandering or distracted mind, an undisciplined mind, gluttons tend to be blissfully unaware that things are not going too well in their personal lives. Where they should be worried or concerned, they are not, and go along as if things were just fine. I guess that is why we have the expression: Fat, dumb and happy. This expression shows that human experience corroborates what we have just said about the effects of gluttony - that is - the state of soul it produces.
These next three effects my author lists I am reporting without fully understanding what he means. As the third effect, he lists in Latin multiloquium, or “talking a lot”. He defines it as the inability to hold one’s tongue. My own personal experience can’t help me here because I really don’t know any gluttons, so I have nothing to base an opinion upon. I do know some people who talk a lot, but whom I would never dream of accusing of being disorderly over-eaters. Rather, as when talking about eating to overcome stress, (and to recover some psychic energy, by the way) I think many people also feel the need to communicate because it helps them cope with their stressful lives.
The Fourth daughter is “scurrility”. Scurrilous as it is meant here does not mean what the English word does, which is: given to low or vulgar speech, foul-mouthed. Rather, it has the Latin meaning of “buffoonery” and has to do with external gestures. Perhaps, when applied to true gluttons, it is analogous to being unable to control the tongue, such that one is unable to control one’s gestures and the expressions on one’s face, so that the disorderliness of the Capital sin of gluttony would show up in disorderly movements or postures. I am just trying to make educated guesses.
The Fifth and final of the daughters of gluttony is said to be “un-cleanliness.” Again, the word has a special meaning as applied to gluttons. It refers to the fact that gluttons are prone to vomiting and so making a mess on themselves or on their surroundings. I really don’t see this as a sin or a vice in the true sense, because this would be a case of the body trying to cope with a stomach that is too full and by natural processes getting rid of the excess.
How influence human relationships?
Do we detect any of this in ourselves?
We’ve covered the First four of the Capital Sins, all of which were concerned with what the intellect and will, the ego, and the senses find attractive, interpret as “good” and which can be the occasion of an inordinate “love” or craving. Now we turn our attention to the remaining three, all of which have to do with certain things or experiences which again, the mind and will, the ego, and the sense find painful and abhorrent, so that instead of being attracted, they are repelled and try to escape from them. They are, in other words, interpreted as evil. The first of these, the FIFTH of the seven Capital Sins is ENVY.
As we stated when first introducing all Seven, Envy is a disorderly sadness or sorrow or pain in the presence of some good in the possession of another, and the cause of the sadness or pain is the fact that this is interpreted as an evil inflicting oneself, namely it casts a shadow upon, or eclipses, or diminishes one’s own proper excellence, especially in the estimation of others. This is especially true in regards to those good things or qualities, or abilities that generally evoke admiration in other people, which are dignities that go with public office, being in a position of special authority and power, titles or insignia of nobility, wealth, beauty, splendid clothes and furniture, fame, eloquence, friends, virtues, special expertise, even wisdom and happiness.
My author states that the sin of envy is found particularly in ambitious people, people who crave to get high up in the eyes of the world. Also, he says, it is found among women, but he doesn’t try to explain why, if indeed it is a true statement. But let us suppose it is true, then maybe that is not an indication of a defect in women, but is evidence of a very marvelous quality that God has bestowed upon women much, much more so than upon men. And that is a woman’s capacity to love and be for others. Thinking of capacity to love in terms of size of one’s heart, it seems to me that women’s hearts are very, very large and capable of sheltering within them many, many persons. So unless a woman’s heart is filled to the brim with people that she can love, she experiences pain and sorrow. If we think about wonderful and attractive qualities in a woman as things that enable her to draw people to her so that she can place them in her heart to give her the joy of loving them, then when it seems to her that good qualities in other women are going to diminish the number of people she is able to draw to her own heart, it would make her sad.
This very fact is true of God Himself. I am not saying that God is envious, but it does sadden Him (Jesus has attested to this in giving us knowledge about His own Sacred Heart) when souls go to creatures rather than to Himself, so that He can have the joy of effectively loving those souls. I say effectively loving because God cannot fail to love every soul because He is never lacking in the desire to do what is best for souls, namely, to communicate Himself, a share in His life and happiness to them. But of course, God cannot infringe free will, so we human beings have to freely permit Him to bestow His blessings upon us. When He actually is able to do that, because we want Him to, that is when He effectively loves us. Now that is just an idea that occurs to me to explain why my author claims women tend to be envious more so than men. I wonder what you ladies think about that assertion of my textbook?
But there is one other situation that my author mentions that tends to evoke or provoke envy. He says it appears among folks who in some respect are pretty much on a par with one another, as for example, their condition in life, their knowledge and skills, or their virtues and strengths. He claims that among these peers, so to speak, many look around for some way of showing they are a little bit better than everyone else. I think that our human experience bears this out, because of the expression we hear at times “one-up-man-ship”. It consists, as you know, in trying to out-do one’s peers.
Now what would be the gravity of a sin of envy? Since it is a mark of true charity to rejoice in good, wherever we find it, because after all, every true good is a real, though created participation in the goodness of God, then envy is a violation of charity, it is a want of charity. To perceive “good in another” as an evil inflicted upon oneself is a total reversal of “good order” and as such, in itself, is a serious sin.
What then, would be the children of the Capital Sin of Envy?
These do not come into play unless the person who is tempted to be envious gives into and actually tries to remove the evil. One way to avoid evil is to run away from it so as not to experience it or be afflicted by it. When that is not possible, and for the ordinary person it is not possible to be so isolated from people that he or she is never in the presence of more gifted and talented people, then the only alternative is to try to get rid of the evil. And there is a kind of a gradual process as one begins to try to overcome the cause of envy. That is, the awareness of another’s superiority, continues the process and finally terminates the process.
The first step occurs within, secretly, as the envious person begins looking for faults and defects in the other, so as to destroy the perception of the other as superior. Of course, the envious person does not want others to perceive the other as superior so he resorts to detraction, bad-mouthing the other, disclosing the others defects, whether real or imagined (slander). These first two steps in the process are actually deeds and thus actual sins. What follows then are states of soul that result, depending upon whether the detraction has been successful or not. If the attempt to destroy the perception of superiority in the minds of others, and as a result that person is shunned, the envious person experiences joy. Also, an envious person would experience a joy, regardless of whether an attempt is made to diminish superiority of the other, whenever bad things happen to the other person and this would be a grievously sinful state of soul. If on the other hand, the attempts fail, and the other person is perceived as the superior, then the state of soul becomes one of sorrow and affliction. And again, whether or not attempts at detraction had been made or not, the envious person will still experience sorrow and affliction when good things happen to the other, and this too, is a very grievously sinful state of soul. And finally, as a result of the latter, the envious person winds up hating the superior person by positively desiring to see bad things happen to him, of course, hatred totally drives out charity, it totally drives God out of the soul.
Somewhat related to the Capital Sin of Envy is the SIXTH in the author’s treatment, but the last in the list introducing them.
Envy seeks to drive away what is perceived as an evil, that is, good in another that is interpreted as a diminishment of one’ own personal good.
Anger seeks to drive away or escape from what is truly and objectively evil. Thus, anger is not wrong in itself, that is, anger is one of the natural passions with which God has endowed our human nature for our own greater good and protection.
So, to qualify as a Capital sin, ANGER has to be an inordinate attempt to drive away or destroy an evil. All anger, whether the passion or the Capital sin, comes into play whether the danger is just threatening and imminent, or whether it is actually experienced.
Anger, the Capital Sin, is therefore defined as the disorderly desire or appetite for Revenge, or better for Vindication. It so happens that the Latin word for Revenge and Vindication is the same: Vindicta. I believe that the same word is used in Latin for both is because both include the idea of “getting even”. Revenge seeks to inflict injury for injury. Vindication is the triumph of Justice. Justice, too, is concerned with “getting even” in the sense of repairing the damage or the injury done by an injustice, and that is usually done by “punishing” the one who acted unjustly. So the key word in the definition is “disorderly.”
Desire for vindication is not disorderly when it is in accord with truth and justice. It is orderly, too, when exercised by those in authority who are entrusted with the task of administering justice. Ordinary citizens may experience feelings of anger when injustices are committed against themselves and others, but if their desire to see justice done includes the idea that it be administered by the lawful authority, then those feelings of anger are not sinful. They could even be good and laudable.
Having said all that, we can now understand when and how anger is disorderly. This can happen in two ways. One has to do with the kind of vindication desired, the other with the manner in which one either desires to see it achieved or actually carries out the desire.
It is possible (a) to desire retribution when there is no just reason for desiring it. Namely, when the person to whom the anger is directed is innocent, or (b) when the amount of punishment desired exceeds what is fair and just. Still again, (c) seeking retribution or vindication outside of the due and proper channels, but carrying it out on one’s own, lacking the lawful authority to do so. And finally, the desire is disorderly when a person seeks to see the culprit punished (the one who causes the evil) not out of a love of justice and right order, but out of hatred and for the sake of enjoying the fact that the other is suffering. This latter type of disorder is gravely sinful because it is typical of hatred to drive God from the soul. The others admit of degrees of seriousness.
Thus far the author has not given any indication that anger, insofar as it is basically a natural passion, causes changes in the body of the angry person, who also experiences surges of energy which prepare one to expend that energy by some kind of violent or vehement action. Thus the Capital sin of Anger can also be disorderly, as the author notes, when interiorly, the surges of energy and the vehemence of the passion exceed what is appropriate and proportional to the situation. Of course, it is disorderly too, when the actual exterior violence designed to ward off the evil or inflict punishment that is deserved beyond the measure that justice requires.
The daughters of ANGER are six in number. The first two are internal acts, and the other four are manifested exteriorly.
(1). The first is Indignation and could also be called a state of soul. This resides in the intellect and nourishes itself from the imagination and memory. Indignation says: “Who does he think he is? How dare he do or say those injurious things?” The word indignation comes from the Latin INDIGNUM, which means unworthy or without merit and therefore without the right to do the act or say the things that either threaten or cause harm to the angry person.
(2). The second, also interior, is called in Latin “tumor mentis” or a swelling of the mind. This denotes the result of an angry person dwelling upon and meditating upon the present or threatened evil or harm. It reminds us of a swelling caused by an infection or a beating, and consists of the angry person putting together a variety of plans and different ways of getting revenge or, vindication.
(3). The third daughter of anger is usually the expression of the first two vocally, but by means of shouting and crying out, often incoherently, as if trying to say everything at once, and with no logical connection in going from one outburst to the next. Sometimes the only purpose is to give vent to the feelings of anger, without really trying to communicate ideas that are clear and informative.
(4). A possible fourth daughter of anger is blasphemy in which an angry person who is utterly without means of vindicating himself begins to blame God for the evil or harm it would like to get rid of. The reason it is called blasphemy is that God is all good and can never be responsible for evil, because blasphemy is telling lies about God.
(5). But more likely the next daughter, the fifth, is verbal abuse of the person or persons who have provoked the anger, or who in any way could have protected one from the harm and failed to do so. verbal abuse not only offends against charity, because in back of it is a true desire to hurt, but also because the things said are not true, and therefore lies.
(6). And finally, the sixth daughter of anger may come into play, especially if the ones being verbally abused resist and retaliate, and then the angry person resorts to striking the one who has provoked the anger. The extent of the physical harm inflicted can go from just a slap all the way to murder, depending on the intensity of the anger.
And finally we come to the SEVENTH Capital Sin: SLOTH.
Although Sloth is usually identified with laziness, lying around doing nothing, it is really a state of sadness, or even hatred, in regard to spiritual goods, or better, in regard to what must be done to acquire spiritual goods. It is as we must have said yesterday morning, a sorrow over, or the hatred of the fact that the deeds and exercises and practices that help us attain spiritual good, holiness in particular, require effort and labor and thus inflict pain or discomfort or some kind of suffering upon the body. Since the best way to avoid experiencing any discomfort or fatigue in the body is to do nothing and to just rest, sloth is easily confused with laziness, whereas a manifestation of the inner attitude we call sloth is laziness.
Sloth is a sin because like all sins, it is a disorder. The disorder is found, first, in the fact that what is a good of a higher order, is deemed to be an evil on the part of the lower order in our human nature. To prefer to avoid an evil experienced by the body rather than to acquire a good that resides in the soul demeans and degrades a human being, and assigns to a corporal, temporal, perceivable good, a greater value than that given to a spiritual, eternal, imperishable good.
Secondly, sloth is a disorder because it withdraws a person from the pursuit of perfection both as a human being and as a child of God. We pursue perfection on both levels, by carrying out the responsibilities imposed upon us by our relationships and our state in life.
In saying that sloth withdraws us from the pursuit of perfection, there is a nuance of sloth in every sin, which either slows us down, or brings our journey back to God to a complete halt, the God in whom we find perfection and blessedness . But since not every sin is committed out of a hatred for the labor required in becoming holy, the Capital sin of sloth is only present when one chooses the disorder of doing nothing, that is, giving the body rest and ease.
My author points out that the special ugliness of sloth is found in the fact that it interprets union with God or friendship with God as something evil. We know of course, that the closer we draw to Jesus in LOVE and want to become like Him, transformed into Him, the more surely do we share His Cross, and more fully in His Redemptive sufferings. Also, whom God loves, i.e., to whom He has already communicated a large share of His life through grace, He chastises, that is, He purifies them and expands their capacity, for an even greater share of His divine life and those chastisements and purifications are always painful to sense and ego.
Several are the daughters of sloth and they derive from the fact that in trying to avoid evil we either try to destroy it, or we run away from it. As applied to avoiding the hard work necessary to attain spiritual good, that is, holiness, the first way is (1). to resist grace, especially the actual graces that would awaken a desire to someone’s soul. That is done by (2). avoiding prayer, spiritual reading, hearing about God’s love for us, looking upon the Crucifix, and any other of the ordinary means of living free of sin. Again, to avoid being moved by other Christians to begin working for their own salvation, they will find excuses to be angry with them and find fault with them and to dislike them, and thus refuse the help of priests and other good people that is offered them.
Then finally, the second way to avoid evil is to run away from it. In the case of sloth, it means turning to those things which give it ease and comfort and pleasure of body. But even here the hatred of physical effort is evident, rather than go out and do those sins which cause physical pleasure they just fill their minds with thoughts about those kinds of sins, and so sin in thought and imagination, allowing the body to enjoy the rest it craves. Though it seems impossible from what I have said, to ever move a slothful person to turn to God and efficaciously desire his salvation, about the only thing that works is fear of Hell, and not just the pains of Hell but that they will be lost forever. It’s a shame we don’t talk about Hell a lot more, hoping that someone who needs to, will hear about it.
Also, there are obviously degrees of sloth. Some Christians are slothful in the sense that they are willing to work only hard enough to get to Purgatory. But that’s no fun, and Purgatory can last till the end of time. Besides, we should always shoot for higher than the bare minimum, because typically we fall short of our desired goals. If we fall short of the threshold of purgatory we obviously wind up in Hell.
Of course, the best way to overcome sloth in our own lives is not even to think about hard work and effort and corporal discomforts and privations, and rather to think in terms of Love, or rather of the Persons we love, God-Father, Jesus (God-Son) and God-Holy Spirit. As our love for God grows, it confers so much spiritual power and energy upon us, that using it up in prayer, in good works, in self sacrifice for the good of others, embracing crosses and trials for the love of God, is the only thing that gives peace and repose to our hearts.
How do these affect human relationships?
Do we detect any of these in ourselves?
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MISSION STATEMENT: This web site was created for the purpose of completing the work of Fr. Bruno Cocuzzi, O.C.D These conferences may be reproduced for private use only. Publication of this material is forbidden without permission of the Father Provincial for the Discalced Carmelites, Holy Hill, 1525 Carmel Rd., Hubertus, WI 53033-9770.