The Seven Deadly Sins: Memorize and Understand Them

Early in my priesthood I began to feel a bit embarrassed that there were certain things I did not know more thoroughly and had not committed to memory. Among these things were the Seven Deadly Sins, and the Seven Gift of the Holy Spirit. Priests are like doctors. Imagine going to a doctor who was poor at diagnostic medicine or a doctor who knew nothing of medicines and cures available. Not much of a doctor and I didn’t what to be “not much of priest.” It should be the case that when people come to me, either in confession, counseling or Spiritual Direction that I have some command of the particulars both of spiritual disease and spiritual healing. So, I committed myself to memorizing and understanding the basic areas of spiritual and moral trouble such as the seven deadly sins, lists of the deeper drives and sinful attitudes, works of the flesh from Galatians 5 and other negative thinking or drives. I committed to learning the names and “moves” of these maladies. I also committed to memorizing and understanding  the gifts and methods of healing to to be sought: sacraments, scripture, prayer, holy fellowship, virtues and Gifts of the Holy Spirit, Fruits of the Holy Spirit and so forth.

I cannot write on all these things here but since it is Lent how about one. Do you know what the Seven Deadly Sins are? It is a great value to know and begin to understand these deep drives of sin in us. They are more than just sins per se, they are drives or patters of sin and from them issue many other sins. The more we can know and distinguish them the more we can grow in self knowledge. We can begin to understand better how we “tick.” Further, being able to know and name these seven deep drives of sin helps us to know their moves and gain mastery over them. As they stir deep within us we can see evidence of their stirrings and begin to take greater authority over them.

Too many Christians know little about twisted nature of sin. They just know they’re a little messed up (or alot!) and can’t seem to figure out why. Have you ever gone to the doctor, not knowing what was wrong and left feeling better just because you finally knew what ailed you had a name and a cure? Being able to name our demons is an essential part of growth and healing.

Fr. Robert Barron recently published a 100 minute DVD on the subject of the Seven Deadly Sins called Seven Deadly Sins, Seven Lively Virtues. I would like to recommend you get it and learn all you can about these root sins and the virtues that help us to overcome them by God’s grace.  You can order it as well by clicking on the title above. At the bottom of this post is a brief video in which Fr. Barron describes the intent and structure of the DVD.

Briefly stated though here are the Seven Deadly sins listed for you:

  • Pride – The sinful drive that distorts proper self love so that we esteem ourself more than is proper and at the same time denigrate the goodness of others. There is such a thing as well ordered self love and self esteem but Pride is love of self  which is perverted causes us unjustly to think of others as beneath us or less worthy. Pride also stirs us to reject lawful authority of others over us including God and refuses appropriate submission. Pride is at the root of every sin for through it we pridefully think we have a way better than what God has set forth or that we alone can be the judge of right and wrong. Adam and Eve wanted to “be like Gods” and wanted themselves to determine what was right and wrong. Hence they demanded to eat of the tree of the “Knowledge of good and evil.” This is Pride.  
  • Greed – The sinful drive that stirs excessive desire for wealth and possessions. It is the insatiable desire for more. It is not wrong to desire what we need but through greed we hoard things and acquire far beyond our needs or what is reasonable, and we fail to be generous and bless the needy and poor. Through greed we can also come to see the things of this world as more precious than the things of heaven.
  • Lust – The sinful drive that leads to an excessive or inappropriate desires or thoughts of a sexual nature. It is not wrong to experience sexual desire per se but lust perverts this either to become excessive (all that matters), or for the object of it to be inappropriate (e.g. sexually fantasizing about someone other than a spouse). More broadly, lust is thought of as an excessive love for others that makes the love of God secondary.
  • Anger – The sinful drive that leads to inordinate and unrestrained feelings of hatred and wrath. It is not always wrong to experience anger, especially in the presence of injustice. But anger here is understood as a deep drive which we indulge and wherein we excessively cling to angry and hateful feelings for others. This kind of anger most often seeks revenge.
  • Gluttony – The sinful drive to over-indulge in,  or over consume anything to the point of waste. We usually think of food and drink but gluttony can extend to other matters as well. This sin usually leads to a kind of laziness and self-gratification that has little room for God and the spiritual life. Over indulging in the world leaves little room for God and the things of the spirit. Gluttony may also cause us to be less able to help the poor.
  • Envy – The sinful drive that leads to sorrow or sadness at the goodness or excellence of another person because I take it to make me look bad or less excellent. If I envy someone I want to diminish or undermine their excellence. Envy is not the same as jealousy. If I am jealous of you, I want what you have. If I am Envious, I want to diminish or destroy what is good or excellent in you. St. Augustine called Envy THE diabolical sin because of the way it seeks to eliminate excellence and goodness in others.
  • Sloth – The sinful drive that leads to sorrow or sadness at the good things God wants to do for me. Instead of being joyful at the offer of holiness, chastity, self control, etc. I am sad or averse to it. I avoid the call to embrace a new life.  Most people think of sloth as laziness. But what sloth really is, is an avoidance of God and what He offers. I fear or dislike what He can do for me so I avoid him. Some avoid God by laziness, but others avoid him by becoming workaholics, claiming they are too busy to pray, get to Church or think about spiritual things.

Please consider getting the Fr. Barron Video. Learning of these deep drives of sin is essential for spiritual growth.

Here’s Fr. Barron’s brief into to the DVD:

30 Replies to “The Seven Deadly Sins: Memorize and Understand Them”

  1. I think that it is great that you want to understand WHY people do things, and sin, rather than just focusing on the sin. I’m much the same way in medicine that I like to know why things happen. If I don’t know something, I ask someone or look it up myself. We have tons of medical books at work that I read when there’s downtime on the night shift. I’m also a psych major just because I am fascinated on how the human mind works and why we do the things we do.

    I’ve also come to realize that the approach to looking at why we sin is very beneficial in my personal growth. Quite a few of my issues are spiritual ones and I haven’t met too many priests who take your approach on looking at why we sin. I think it is a very important approach, and very similar to what the GOOD therapists use to help their patients. We can’t exactly bury the sin or what we did and hope it gets better. A lot of times we have to take a harsh look at ourselves and see where we went wrong before we can stop the worst sins. Nobody ever said Confession or therapy was supposed to be easy, but in the long run it will make us better people if we know why we do the things we do. In fact (and I’ve done this one myself when things were bad), there’s a dropoff in therapy and Confession I would presume, if the patient/client/confessee doesn’t want to deal with the issue at hand. When the going gets tough….many people get up and leave. But, when you want to work out something, you will, that’s what I’ve learned anyways.

    Great post, you always have some excellent thoughts!

    1. Yes thank you. I figured that you would like the insight of diagnostic medicine. Obviously in the ER you have to be trained to know pretty quickly what you’re looking at and how to treat it. I think we Priests neeed to keep up with our own PDR and reviewing the basics.

  2. Pride is not doing God’s Will but doing God’s Will your way.
    Greed is not owning some money but hoarding money.
    Lust is not liking how a person looks but undressing them in your mind.
    Anger is not despising evil but hating people for their evil.
    Gluttony is not eating a big meal but eating until you’re happy.
    Envy is not wanting what someone has but wanting to destroy what someone has.
    Sloth is not slowing waking up but putting off God’s Will for tomorrow.

    Just some examples of what isn’t and is sin.

  3. Are there “bonus points” for learning the daughters of the deadly sins?

      1. According to St Thomas Aquinas (Summa Theologica II-II), the daughters of the capital sins are:

        1. Vainglory (pride). Q132, a.5. Daughters: Disobedience, boastfulness, hypocrisy, contention, obstinacy, discord, and love of novelties (eccentricity).

        2. Sloth. Q35, a.4, ad 2. Daughters: Malice, spite, faint-heartedness, despair, sluggishness in regard to the commandments, wandering of the mind after unlawful things.

        3. Envy. Q36, a.4, ad 3. Daughters: Hatred, tale-bearing, detraction, joy at our neighbor’s misfortunes, and grief for his prosperity.

        4. Anger. Q158, a.7. Daughters: Indignation, swelling of the mind, clamor (raising the voice), blasphemy, contumely (name-calling), quarrels.

        5. Covetousness. Q118, a.8. Daughters: Treachery, fraud, falsehood, perjury, restlessness, violence, and insensibility to mercy.

        6. Gluttony. Q148, a.6. Daughters: Unseemly joy, scurrility, uncleanness, loquaciousness, and dullness of mind as regards the understanding.

        7. Lust. Q153, a.5. Daughters: Blindness of mind, thoughtlessness, inconstancy, rashness (impulsiveness), self-love, hatred of God, love of this world and abhorrence or despair of a future world.

        And for disclosure: I’ve not read the Summa Theologica (it’s on my shortlist of books to read within the next year or so), only passages. I first learned about the daughters of the deadly sins from a book which taught how to use a method for memorizing things titled “Memorize the Faith.”

        1. Hi, In regards to Gluttony-a short definition of which I understand is taking more food (calories) than one needs- is it fair to opine that obesity is evidence, ordinarily, of gluttony? Latter photos of Pope John Paul II make him look morbidly obese. A sign of gluttony? Would having a BMI of 35 and upwards, except for all-muscled athletes, be a sign of the deadly sin of gluttony? I go to a health center pool, and many of the elderly patrons are extremely obese. Is eating, stuffing, high calorie foods without an evil intention to committ sin, gluttony? The image of gluttony in your article shows a person (monk?) with a large panniculus. The patrons I spoke of have similar or larger outcroppings.

  4. Thank you, Monsignor. This is an excellent topic for Lent. To echo your recommendation, The Cathedral of Christ the King in Atlanta held a seminar series over the last several weeks featuring Father Barron’s Seven Deadly Sins Seven Lively Virtues DVD and workbook. It was extremely beneficial. A great gift from Father Barron to help us all in our spiritual growth.

  5. In the DVD, Fr Barron teaches that the opposite of love is fear!!! Where’d he get that? I’ve never heard that in Catholic teaching before. Our faith has consistently taught that the opposite of love is selfishness. I’d be careful about Fr B’s teaching!

    1. Walt first of all Fr Barron was talking about viral fear vs filial fear. On the subject of love being the opposite of fear, John says it in 1 Jn 4:18 “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear.” I have heard the teaching love being the opposite of fear from several Catholic sources.

      God bless, Carl

    2. Dear Walt,

      As others have pointed out this teaching is not inconsistent with proper teaching. It may not be the specific way you were taught, but an observation like this is not a doctrinal or dogmatic point. It is a pastoral observation rooted in Biblical teaching. I have also heard and even taught that the opposite of love is not hate it is indifference. THis is not a doctrinal assertion just a pastoral observation. As for Fr. Barron, the Scriptures affirm a conclusion that there is an inverse relationship between love and fear. 1 John 4:18 says that perfect love casts out fear. THe more we love God the less we sin. The less we sin the less we fear punishment. One need not be overly insistent on precise formulas when revealed truth and doctrine are not harmed. There is pastoral leeway is noting the relationships between love, fear, hatred, indifference and so forth. You are not incorrect that selfishness is also at the opposite spectrum from love. THere’s a lot of fish in this sea.

      1. There can be more than one “opposite”. S. Thomas Aquinas teaches that every virtue has two ‘opposites’, ‘of defect’ and ‘of excess’. For example, the opposites of Obedience are: Disobedience, and what he calls ‘indolent’ or ‘imprudent’ obedience, where one complies with even an unlawful command (because not all commands from a legitimate authority are necessarily lawful. Many Catholic writers have said that the two most powerful drives in human nature are Love and Fear. They also note that, human nature being what it is, more people are driven by Fear than by Love. In that sense I suppose they are opposites.

      2. Thanks to all for helping me out with this. There are so many ‘modernist’ invasions of Church teaching that I perhaps am too wary. I didn’t mean to slight Fr B at all, as I’ve never heard any of his other teaching than this DVD. Your comments have helped me greatly with the ‘context.’ Still, when someone says in his teaching “The opposite of..” rather than “One of the opposites of…” I tend to take him at his word. Also, it has to do with the relative importance of the topic: love, after all, is one of the most important elements of our faith, and needs to be taught with clarity. An “inverse relationship” is indeed different from an opposite, so I still don’t buy fear being called an opposite of love. Fear is something we develop – it comes from outside of us; selfishness is something we are born with, something innate and natural to us. Thanks again to everyone for your helpful comments!

  6. Seven deadly sins? Dont all sins result in death? So like, which ones arent deadly?

    1. It’s a traditional term. The ancient desert Fathers called them the Seven “Thoughts”
      Others even today refer to them as the “cardinal” sins. The Word “Cardines” in Latin refers to “hinges” and hence these sins are like hinges on which other sins swing.

      The Seven Sins are not per se ipsum mortal though they can be. But they are called deadly or Cardinal for the fact that they lead to innumerable other sins.

      As for all Sins resulting in death. A distinction needs to be made. It is true that St. Pausl says the wages of sin is death. However 1 John 5: makes a distiction bewtween deadly and less serious sin: “There is a sin that leads to death. I am not saying that he should pray about that. All wrongdoing is sin, and there is sin that does not lead to death. (1 John 5:17)”

  7. Walt, you’re on the right track. In fact, selfishness (greed) is born of fear, which is the base emotion opposed to love.

    God bless you, brother!

  8. Good Article. I have a rock with the seven deadly sins written on it similiar to the 10 Commandants. Very few people are aware of these capital sins which are vices. The Catholic Catechism teaches contrary virtues to these sins. Pride (1 John 2: 15-17); Greed (Luke 12:15-31); Lust (Mark 4:18-19; Anger (Matt. 5 : 22-24); Glottony (1 Tim 6:7-17); Envy (Mark 7: 21-21); Sloth (Luke 14: 15-24). The seven contrary vitrues are: Humility (Luke 18:9-14; Phill 2: 3-11); Liberality (1Tim. 6:6); Chasity (5:27-32); Meekness (Colos. 3: 12-14); Temperance (1 Thes 5: 6-8); Brotherly Love (Luke 10:27); Diligence (Rom. 12:11). In “The Dialouge of St. Catherine of Siena,” we learn how to combat the devil with virtue to be victorious. Virtues are fortified by their contraries. She writes: “The humble man extinquishes pride because the proud man can do no harm to the humble one. A good man gives back fiery coals of love which dispel the hatred and rancor the heart of the angry.” St. Thomas Aquinas teaches that vice and the sin of pride is the root of all other sins, and therefore is the greatest of the seven. Adam’s pride caused him to engage in disobedience to God. As Catholics, discretion is a valueable tool to combat the seven deadly sins. We must strive to live in perfect virtue, illuminated with the light of faith, to follow the footsteps of Christ Crucified, because He is the Way to God the Father.

  9. I am across this on a website that referenced a workshop series on the 7 deadly sins:

    The song after the sermon can help worshipers picture abundant new life. After sermons on gluttony, try “Come and Share Our Bread,” ….“I Am the Bread of Life,” “Satisfy Me,” and “Table of Plenty.”

    Am I wicked to be amused?

  10. Excellent article, Father. Thank you. 

    It is typical of the modern age, of course,  that he even has to make the point that we should know these things.  In about 1958, nine-year-olds in any Catholic School were expected to memorise them out of the catechism, just like the multiplication tables.  Ah well, at least there are good priests like himself fighting back now.

  11. Greatful – Father, it is always appropriate to remind ourselves about the nature of sin. However something came into my mind when i was reading your article: when it comes to forgiveness of a great sin does someone receive a bigger amount forgiveness from a grave sin ?
    If it is not a grave sin how is it called? then does the forgiveness become smaller than?
    In sumarry, Is it believable that all sins are equal to annoy God the Holy of the Holiest? Be Blessed

  12. What is the logical relationship, if any, between the seven capital vices and the seven infused virtues (three theological and four moral)? They do not seem to “pair up” one by one, even though there are seven of each. Indeed, for example, the moral virtue of temperance is opposed to BOTH the deadly sins of lust and gluttony.

  13. Hello Mr. Charles Pope,
    My name is Sabrina Raj and I am a senior at Emery High School located in Emeryville CA. I am currently doing a research project on the seven deadly sins and I was wondering if I could interview you over emails about the seven deadly sins. I have read your page and I believe you have some good insights on the sins. Maybe you can help me become more familiar with them and help my peers also understand it too. Thank you for taking the time to read my email and maybe you will email me back.
    thank you once again
    Sincerly Sabrina.

  14. Just wanted to say “thanks”, Msgr. Pope, for writing this blog. The information is enough to get started on learning about the 7 deadly sins, and written in a way that the masses will understand what is being conveyed. I’m not catholic and many publications of such works have latin and clerical nomenclature (or simply go off on tangents) that makes it harder for some to focus on the message being presented. Also, to all of you who have posted, thank you as well. It really added to this blog most wonderfully. I enjoyed reading all the way to “here – the end of the page.” May you all receive many blessings.

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