Seven deadly sins | Definition, History, Names, & Examples (2024)

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Also known as: seven capital sins, seven cardinal sins

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Last Updated: Article History

Hiëronymus Bosch:

Table of the Seven Deadly Sins

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Also called:
seven capital sins or seven cardinal sins
Related Topics:
problem of evil
seven virtues
morality
seven heavenly virtues
mortal sin

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Top Questions

What are the seven deadly sins?

According to Roman Catholic theology, the seven deadly sins are the seven behaviours or feelings that inspire further sin. They are typically ordered as: pride, greed, lust, envy, gluttony, wrath, and sloth.

Who was the first person to outline the seven deadly sins?

The Christian ascetic Evagrius Ponticus outlined eight—not seven—cardinal sins in the 4th century CE. Evagrius’s influential pupil John Cassian expounded on his list in the 5th century. Borrowing from this tradition, Pope Gregory I analyzed the cardinal sins in his authoritative 6th-century text Moralia and trimmed their number to seven.

How were the seven deadly sins first identified?

The seven deadly sins were first enumerated—then eight in total—by the Christian ascetic Evagrius Ponticus in the 4th century CE. His work articulated a monastic consensus rooted in Hellenistic cosmology, which identified seven or eight planets that were guarded by corresponding aerial spirits. By Evagrius’s time these unorthodox influences had largely been eliminated.

Why are the seven deadly sins considered deadly?

The earliest Christians did not understand the seven cardinal sins to be deadly. The first Church Fathers and their rabbinical counterparts thought that certain sins, unrelated to the cardinal sins and drawn from the Ten Commandments, condemned the soul to eternal damnation. The deadly and the cardinal became conflated during the early Middle Ages through the sacrament of penance.

What famous works incorporate the seven deadly sins?

St. Thomas Aquinas’s Summa Theologica and Dante Alighieri’s Divine Comedy are perhaps the best-known examples of medieval Italian thought on the seven deadly sins. In medieval England, Geoffrey Chaucer ended The Canterbury Tales with a discussion of the sins. Since the Middle Ages the concept has inspired countless works of literature, art, music, and film.

seven deadly sins, in Roman Catholic theology, the seven vices that spur other sins and further immoral behaviour. First enumerated by Pope Gregory I (the Great) in the 6th century and elaborated in the 13th century by St. Thomas Aquinas, they are (1) vainglory, or pride, (2) greed, or covetousness, (3) lust, or inordinate or illicit sexual desire, (4) envy, (5) gluttony, which is usually understood to include drunkenness, (6) wrath, or anger, and (7) sloth. Each of these can be overcome with the seven heavenly virtues of (1) humility, (2) charity, (3) chastity, (4) gratitude, (5) temperance, (6) patience, and (7) diligence.

The seven deadly sins can be thought of as dispositions toward sin and separation from God. Lust, for example, could result in adultery, which is a mortal sin, or could lead to somewhat less intentional immoral thoughts that would be classified as venial sins. The deadly sins were a popular theme in the morality plays, literature, and art of the Middle Ages in Europe.

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The Editors of Encyclopaedia BritannicaThis article was most recently revised and updated by Melissa Petruzzello.

Seven deadly sins | Definition, History, Names, & Examples (2024)
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