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What are Capital Sins? [Seven Deadly Sins] ^ | 2003 | Fr. William Saunders

Posted on 03/10/2008 9:42:46 PM PDT by Salvation

What are Capital Sins?

Fr. William Saunders

Why are the capital sins called the capital sins?


The Penitent Magdalene

The capital sins are the source of all sins. The word capital derives from the Latin "caput," meaning "head." Note that they are not called "capital" because they are prevalent around a nation's capital or capitol. Actually, St. Thomas Aquinas preferred to use the word "vice" instead of "sin" when addressing this issue. He stated, "A capital vice is that which has an exceedingly desirable end so that in his desire for it, a man goes on to the commission of many sins, all of which are said to originate in that vice as their chief source" (Summa Theologiae, II-II, 153, 4). Here St. Thomas emphasized the disposition or the habit which inclines a person to sin. Therefore, the capital sins or vices are indeed "capital" and grave because they are the source of particular actual sins, which may be mortal or venial; in turn, the repetition of actual sins, particularly mortal sins, leads to the spiritual corruption of the person, whose life is permeated by the vice.

The traditional list of capital sins, as specified by Pope St. Gregory the Great, are as follows: pride, avarice, lust, envy, gluttony, anger, and sloth. Interestingly, St. Thomas listed "vainglory" instead of pride to highlight that pride is the source of all sin without exception. Nevertheless, we will now focus briefly on each of the capital sins; the classic definitions in moral theology are quoted from Father Dominic Prummer's Handbook of Moral Theology.

Pride is "an inordinate desire for one's own excellence." Pride is said to be "complete" when a person is so filled with it that he refuses to subject his intellect and will to God, and to obey His commandments. Such a person has contempt for God and those who represent Him. In a sense, a person with complete pride makes himself a god.

However, pride may also be incomplete: Here a person does not reject God or his superiors; rather, he simply thinks of himself too highly.

Associated with pride is "vainglory," whereby a person has an inordinate desire to manifest his own excellence and to receive praise. Of course, every person should be proud of accomplishments and be thankful to God for the ability to perform well. However, such a disposition differs from the person on "the ego trip" who is motivated to do something simply for future praise and recognition, or always has to talk about "I did this" and "I did that" so as to impress people and receive their praise.

Pride is a very dangerous vice, as St. Thomas noted, because a person is so susceptible to it due to the woundedness of original sin. It can easily creep into our lives, grow quickly without recognition, and take hold, infecting all that we do. St. John Vianney taught, "Pride makes us hate our equals because they are our equals; our inferiors from the fear that they may equal us; our superiors because they are above us." Spiritual remedies for pride include regular and thorough self-examination, the practice of humility and meditation on Christ's humility and service.

Avarice "is the inordinate love of having possessions or riches." A person, motivated by greed, is preoccupied with having and having more. A greedy person attaches such value to wealth and possessions that the accumulation and retention of them become the major goal of life and take priority over everyone and everything else. Greed comes in different forms: For instance, some are greedy with material things, always wanting more and only giving the surplus, the "little tip," the something that will not be missed. Some are greedy with time, only doing what will benefit them in some way. Some are greedy in their relationships, collecting people for status or using people for advantage. A person easily becomes hard-hearted and blind to the needs of those less fortunate. Sparked by greed, a person can take on a sense of self-sufficiency, complacency and independence of God.

To combat greed, one must be thankful in prayer each day for the many blessings enjoyed, examine how well those blessings are used within one's means to help those less fortunate and remember that when one dies, all is left behind. A person needs to meditate on the many teachings and examples in Sacred Scripture which warn against greed. Our Lord said, "Avoid greed in all its forms" (Lk 12:15) and noted, "How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God!" (Mk 10:24). A person should meditate on the example of Jesus in particular: St. John Vianney taught, "Avarice is an inordinate love of riches and the good things of this life. Jesus Christ, to cure us of it, was born in extreme poverty, deprived of all comforts. He chose a Mother who was poor. He willed to pass as the Son of a humble workman." Yes, when we die and face judgment, we stand before our Lord with empty hands; what is important at that time is a soul filled with love for Him and inscribed with good deeds.

Lust is "the inordinate desire for sexual pleasure." Filled with lust, a person selfishly seeks to satisfy his sexual desire. He seeks personal, fleeting gratification. He looks upon others as merely bodies rather than as persons. Sins stemming from lust include dwelling on impure thoughts, masturbation, fornication, adultery and viewing pornography. St. Bernard of Clairvaux taught, "Inordinate love of the flesh is cruelty, because under the appearance of pleasing the body we kill the soul." In the end, lust leads to an idolization of sexual pleasure.

Lust is different from that healthy desire of a husband and wife to share their love as husband and wife in marriage. Conjugal love in marriage is a free, self-giving action which respects the dignity of both husband and wife, affirms their marital vows and is open to life.

Therefore, to combat lust, a person should pray for the virtue of chastity, guard against the occasions of sin (which are many in this world) and have a clear vision of the goodness of a person's own sexuality, marriage and marital love as God has intended. When one has lustful thoughts or desires, and may have fallen to sin, the spiritual directors also recommend frequent confession, the avoidance of idleness and distracting oneself. For instance, once St. Francis of Assisi was so filled with lustful thoughts he threw himself into a rose bush. (Perhaps we should plant more rose bushes around the Washington area. Perhaps Dolley Madison had great foresight in planting a rose garden at the White House.)

Envy is "sadness on account of the goods possessed by another which are regarded as harmful to oneself since they diminish one's own excellence or renown." Envy breeds hatred, gossip, detraction and resentment against one's neighbor. Not only does an envious person resent another person's goods — be they talents, looks, possessions, works or popularity — he also takes joy in and even relishes in the setbacks or adversity that a person faces. Envy is a vicious sin because it creeps into the best of relationships, even between spouses who love each other. Some of the greatest saints, like St. Bernadette, suffered because of the envy of other religious in their own communities. Remedies for envy include the practice of humility, being grateful for one's own goods and thinking of the consequences of envy, whether loss of friendship or divine punishment.

Gluttony is "an inordinate desire for food and drink." Gluttony is injurious to one's mental and physical health, and oftentimes masks an even deeper spiritual problem. One must practice the virtue of temperance to prevent gluttony. Also, a person should be mindful of the physical consequences to abusing food and drink; for instance, excessive drinking can lead to alcoholism. Finally, a person should always be mindful of those who are less fortunate and who suffer from lack of proper drinking water and food. There is no good reason to waste food especially, and those who do so are also guilty of gluttony — taking something, not eating it and throwing it away in the trash.

Anger is "the inordinate desire for revenge." (Keep in mind that this "wrongful anger" is different from "righteous anger," where a person is angry about injustice in the world or even personal situations, and seeks to address the issue and restore justice.) Anger offends first of all against charity since a person is prone to act in a way and say things which can hurt another person. For example, words spoken in anger, whether unkind words or hurtful statements about another, can cut to the very core of a person. Second, anger sometimes offends against justice since a person goes beyond the course to remedy an issue and seeks revenge. St. Thomas Aquinas listed six effects of the vice of anger: indignation, mental disturbance, noisy speech, blasphemy, abuse and quarrels. To guard against anger, a person must be true to the virtue of justice in thought, word and deed; be in control of himself in addressing an issue; and look to the example of Christ. St. Catherine of Siena said, "There is no sin nor wrong that gives a man such a foretaste of Hell in this life as anger and impatience."

Sloth is "sorrow in the face of spiritual good inasmuch as it is God's good" (St. Thomas Aquinas). Sloth is not just laziness, but especially spiritual laziness. Sins which stem from the vice of sloth include lukewarmness toward divine precepts, drifting to what is forbidden and frequenting the occasion of sin, faintheartedness and despair of salvation. The remedy for sloth is remembering one's promised eternal reward as well as one's punishment for sin. Archbishop Fulton Sheen taught, "Sloth is a malady of the will which causes us to neglect our duties. Sloth may be either physical or spiritual. It is physical when it manifests itself in laziness, procrastination, idleness, indifference and nonchalance. It is spiritual when it shows itself in an indifference to character betterment, a distaste for the spiritual, a hurried crowding of devotions, a lukewarmness and failure to cultivate new virtue" (Victory over Vice, p. 73).

The seven capital sins, or vices, are realities. Each Christian must realize how susceptible he is to these vices due to the effects of original sin. Nevertheless, with God's grace, given especially through the Sacraments of Holy Eucharist and Penance, adherence to the commandments, and the practice of virtue, the Christian will stay on the path of holiness. As Jesus said, "You must be made perfect as your Heavenly Father is perfect" (Mt 5:48).


Saunders, Rev. William. "What are Capital Sins?" Arlington Catholic Herald.

This article is reprinted with permission from Arlington Catholic Herald.

TOPICS: Apologetics; Catholic; Moral Issues; Religion & Culture
KEYWORDS: catholic; catholiclist; frsaunders; sin
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Highlighting is mine. For everyone's information and discussion.
1 posted on 03/10/2008 9:42:47 PM PDT by Salvation
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To: Salvation

All other sins fall into these categories.

2 posted on 03/10/2008 9:43:27 PM PDT by Salvation (†With God all things are possible.†)
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To: nickcarraway; sandyeggo; Lady In Blue; NYer; ELS; Pyro7480; livius; Catholicguy; RobbyS; ...
Catholic Discussion Ping!

Please notify me via FReepmail if you would like to be added to or taken off the Catholic Discussion Ping List.

3 posted on 03/10/2008 9:45:07 PM PDT by Salvation (†With God all things are possible.†)
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To: All

With the four threads about new Vatican pronouncements on sins, I figured we needed to get the truth.

In my opinion the media is spinning something that Pope Benedict said.

Does anyone know what it was?

4 posted on 03/10/2008 9:47:05 PM PDT by Salvation (†With God all things are possible.†)
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To: Salvation


5 posted on 03/10/2008 9:52:42 PM PDT by Pagey (Horrible Hillary Clinton is Bad For America, Bad For Business and Bad For MY Stomach!)
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To: Salvation

Actually it wasn’t Pope Benedict. It was an Archbishop Girotti, and he was talking about sin, and including research on human embryos, not being a good steward of the environment, etc. Some British newspaper ran with it, creating the ‘new grave sins’ story out of whole cloth.

6 posted on 03/10/2008 10:00:13 PM PDT by SuziQ
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To: SuziQ

I figured it was something crazy. Thanks for filling me in. I see five threads on it. Unbelievable.

And most of them are of the leftist — environment focused.

Only one that I saw had abortion in it.

Tells you about the media and their bias, doesn’t it?

7 posted on 03/10/2008 10:05:25 PM PDT by Salvation (†With God all things are possible.†)
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To: Salvation

In my opinion the media is spinning something that Pope Benedict said.

Does anyone know what it was?

Actually, it was something a Bishop high in the Vatican said. From what I can gather, he was trying to contexualize the seriousness of contemporary offenses such as abortion and the bioethical issues involved in human cloning.

Yes, the media have spun it in a ridiculous way.

Good post about the 7 Deadlies — gave me pause. Thanks for the ping.

8 posted on 03/10/2008 10:09:22 PM PDT by Bigg Red (Position Wanted: Expd Rep voter looking for a party that is actually conservative.)
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To: Salvation

How fitting for the current headlines in the news:

St. Francis of Assisi was so filled with lustful thoughts he threw himself into a rose bush. (Perhaps we should plant more rose bushes around the Washington area. Perhaps Dolley Madison had great foresight in planting a rose garden at the White House.)

9 posted on 03/10/2008 10:19:13 PM PDT by Global2010 (Election 2008 like playin Shoots and Ladders (ages 5 and up))
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To: Salvation

Absolutely nothing good comes from the media nowadays. With regard to sins, a Priest at our L.A. Congress said that the only unforgivable sin is to denounce the Holy Spirit.

10 posted on 03/10/2008 10:24:26 PM PDT by a_chronic_whiner
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To: SuziQ

Yes it was Girotti.

What gets me is man keeps wanting to recreate the rules.
Something NEW.

Put a new twist on what has already been laid down from the beginning of time by God and our Church upholding 2000 yrs of teachings.


Feeding tubes were not around in the past but it is exceptable as a manner of recieving nutrition.

In the Catichism it was explained that if your father was ill and could not lift a cup to his mouth for nourishment wouldn’t you lift it to his lips for him?

Cups or G tubes both sustain life in those unable to feed themselves.

Same diff. Different technology.

11 posted on 03/10/2008 10:31:52 PM PDT by Global2010 (Election 2008 like playin Shoots and Ladders (ages 5 and up))
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To: Bigg Red

Thanks for filling me in. I knew something had been said.

Hang in there. I’m going to post St. Gregory and the Seven Heavenly Virtues.


Had to go back about seven or eight pages to find it on the internet. Seems like all the Catholic sources are getting hidden. (But here I am, talking about media again!)

12 posted on 03/10/2008 10:31:56 PM PDT by Salvation (†With God all things are possible.†)
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To: Global2010

LOL about the rose bushes!

Could absolutely be the reason there are rose bushes at the White House!

13 posted on 03/10/2008 10:32:47 PM PDT by Salvation (†With God all things are possible.†)
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To: Global2010

I like your example about the feeding tubes. Yes, the old rules still apply, regardless of the new technologies. Probably what they wanted to say with this pronouncement, but it got spun out of control.

14 posted on 03/10/2008 10:35:09 PM PDT by Salvation (†With God all things are possible.†)
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To: Salvation
Great topic for reflection. I think I've told you before but one nun taught us about the seven deadly sins, listing them and then saying the world will end not with a bang but by a massive infusion of PALE GAS emitted by the men who live here.

PALE GAS was in the exact order you presented it:Pride,Avarice,Lust,Envy---Gluttony,Anger and Sloth. I think about it every time I go to confession.

I seem to have overcome all the PALE but in my later years,I'm having a heck of a time getting rid of the GAS. Oh well,it gives me something to focus on.

Thanks again for another good thread and all the good work you do around here.

15 posted on 03/10/2008 10:36:12 PM PDT by saradippity
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To: All
Seven Deadly Sins

The Seven Deadly Sins


Explanations > Values > The Seven Deadly Sins


Sins have always been popular areas of focus in the church. An early 2nd century document, the Didache, contains a list of five. Origen produced a sevenfold list and at the end of the 4th century Cassian amended this sevenfold list. Eventually, the Seven Deadly Sins (or Vices) we know today were defined in the 6th century by Pope Gregory the Great, as a set of negative values: the values that you are supposed to adopt is that you will avoid these things and actually adopt their opposites.


  1. Pride is an excessive belief in one's own abilities.
  2. Envy is wanting what others have, be it status, abilities, or possessions.
  3. Gluttony is the desire to eat or consume more than you require.
  4. Lust is a powerful craving for such as sex, power and money. 
  5. Anger is the loss of rational self-control and the desire to harm others.
  6. Greed is the desire for material wealth or gain.
  7. Sloth is laziness and the avoidance of work.

Note how many of these are very similar: envy, gluttony, lust and greed are all about desire. There is also a hidden lack of concern for others in at least envy and anger.

As with other religious rule-sets, these pretty much hit the nail on the head in terms of a system for social harmonization or social control (depending on your viewpoint). Few people will openly admit to any of them (which attests to the success in the inculcation of these as anti-values in the Christian world).

The number seven, by the way, is not only a cabbalistic magical number, it also just happens to be the size of our short-term memory, which is a real limit to the number of things we can hold in mind at one time. 

So what?

Do not demonstrate these values yourself. Suggest that the other person is succumbing to one or more of these values and they will likely head in the opposite direction.

Another approach is to play the Devil and encourage the other person to give in to these natural tendencies.

You can then either use this 'rule-breaking' as evidence that they can do things they previously would not consider. You can even use it then as a guilt lever, maybe even as a form of blackmail (this is far more common than may be supposed).

Bravo, Pope Gregory the Great!

16 posted on 03/10/2008 10:36:47 PM PDT by Salvation (†With God all things are possible.†)
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To: All
The Seven (Heavenly) Virtues [as opposed to the Seven Deadly Sins]
17 posted on 03/10/2008 10:50:06 PM PDT by Salvation (†With God all things are possible.†)
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To: Salvation

Caput does not mean head in Latin. It doesn’t mean anything. Perhaps the author means capitus?

18 posted on 03/11/2008 3:25:02 AM PDT by Mikey_1962 (Liberals want equality of outcome not opportunity.)
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To: Global2010
Perhaps Dolley Madison had great foresight in planting a rose garden at the White House


Dolly Madison: Prophetess of Presidential Depravity.

19 posted on 03/11/2008 5:17:43 AM PDT by ArrogantBustard (Western Civilization is Aborting, Buggering, and Contracepting itself out of existence.)
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To: Mikey_1962
caput, capitis, neuter, 3rd declension, head, stem capit-

Thus capit-al, of or pertaining to the head.

Source: 7th grade Latin class, Eastwoods School, Oyster Bay, Long Island, New York, 1959

20 posted on 03/11/2008 5:21:07 AM PDT by Mad Dawg (Oh Mary, conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to thee.)
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