Dear Catholic Exchange:
I would like information on the 7 capital sins and the definition on each of them. I teach a CCD class and this subject recently came up but I cannot find much on this subject.
Peace in Christ!
The Catechism of the Catholic Church (Catechism) contains an excellent explanation of sin. Regarding the seven deadly sins, in paragraph 1866 it reads:
vices can be classified according to the virtues they oppose, or also be linked to the capital sins which Christian experience has distinguished, following St. John Cassian and St. Gregory the Great. They are called “capital” because they engender other sins, other vices. They are pride, avarice (greed), envy, wrath, lust, gluttony, and sloth or acedia (emphasis in original).
All of this information is available in condensed form in the glossary of the Catechism of the Catholic Church. For more developed answers you might consult the Modern Catholic Dictionary by John Hardon. Another ready reference is the online Catholic Encyclopedia at NewAdvent.org.
PRIDE: One of the seven capital sins. Pride is undue self-esteem or self-love, which seeks attention and honor and sets oneself in competition with God (1866). It is essentially an act or disposition of the will desiring to be considered better than a person really is. Pride may be expressed in different ways: by taking personal credit for gifts or possessions, as if they had not been received from God; by glorying in achievements, as if they were not primarily the result of divine goodness and grace; by minimizing one’s defects or claiming qualities that are not actually possessed; by holding oneself superior to others or disdaining them because they lack what the proud person has; by magnifying the defects of others or dwelling on them. When pride is carried to the extent that a person is unwilling to acknowledge dependence on God and refuses to submit his or her will to God or lawful authority, it is a grave sin.
AVARICE:(from Latin avarus, “greedy”; “to crave”) is the inordinate love for riches. Its special malice, broadly speaking, lies in that it makes the getting and keeping of money, possessions, and the like, a purpose in itself to live for. It does not see that these things are valuable only as instruments for the conduct of a rational and harmonious life, due regard being paid of course to the special social condition in which one is placed. It is called a capital vice because through it many other sins are committed. It is more to be dreaded in that it often cloaks itself as a virtue, or insinuates itself under the pretext of making a decent provision for the future. In so far as avarice is an incentive to injustice in acquiring and retaining of wealth, it is frequently a grievous sin. In itself, however, and in so far as it implies simply an excessive desire of, or pleasure in, riches, it is commonly not a mortal sin.
ENVY: Resentment or sadness at another's good fortune of the seven capital sins, envy is contrary to the tenth commandment (2539). Envy is not quite the same as jealousy. Jealously seeks another advantage for oneself while envy tries to destroy another advantage. Jealousy can be good depending on what one is actually desiring. St. Paul wrote that his apostolate was to make his fellow Jews jealous of Christians not so that they would persecute and try to destroy them (as in envy) but so that they would seek the spiritual advantages of conversion to Christ (see Romans 11:15).
WRATH: The desire of vengeance. How we judge it depends upon the quality of the vengeance and the quantity of the passion. When these are in conformity with the prescriptions of balanced reason, anger is not a sin. It is rather a praiseworthy thing and justifiable with a proper zeal. It becomes sinful when it is sought to wreak vengeance upon one who has not deserved it, or to a greater extent than it has been deserved, or in conflict with the dispositions of law, or from an improper motive. The sin is then in a general sense mortal as being opposed to justice and charity. It may, however, be venial because the punishment aimed at is but a trifling one or because of lack of full deliberation. Likewise, anger is sinful when there is an undue vehemence in the passion itself, whether inwardly or outwardly. Ordinarily it is then considered a venial sin unless the excess is so great as to go counter seriously to the love of God or of one's neighbor.
LUST: The inordinate craving for or indulgence in sexual pleasure. The evil of lust is reducible to this: that sexual satisfaction is sought for either outside marriage or, at any rate, in a manner which is contrary to the laws that govern marital intercourse. Indulging in lust is a mortal sin, provided of course, it is done in a way that is voluntary in itself and fully deliberate. This is the testimony of St. Paul in the letter to the Galatians, 5:19:
“Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are fornication, uncleanness, immodesty, luxury… Of the which I foretell you, as I have foretold to you, that they who do such things shall not obtain the kingdom of God.” This teaching applies to external and internal sins alike: “Whosoever shall look on a woman to lust after her, has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matthew 5:28).
GLUTTONY: Overindulgence in food or drink. Gluttony is one of the seven capital sins (1866). The moral deformity discernible in this vice lies in its defiance of the order postulated by reason, which prescribes necessity as the measure of indulgence in eating and drinking. A glutton wants things according to the apt rendering of Father Joseph Rickably: too soon, too expensively, too much, too eagerly, too daintily. Clearly one who uses food or drink in such a way as to injure his health or impair the mental equipment needed for the discharge of his duties, is guilty of the sin of gluttony. It is incontrovertible that to eat or drink for the mere pleasure of the experience without desire of nourishment or table fellowship, is likewise to commit the sin of gluttony. Someone habitually gluttonous is so wedded to the pleasures of the table as to live merely to eat and drink, so minded as to be of the number of those, described by the Apostle St. Paul, “whose god is their belly” (Phil 3:19). Such a one would be guilty of mortal sin. Likewise a person who, by excesses in eating and drinking, would have greatly impaired his health, or unfitted himself for duties for the performance of which he has a grave obligation, might be guilty of mortal sin.
SLOTH: A culpable lack of physical or spiritual effort; acedia or laziness. One of the capital sins (1866, 2094, 2733). One of the seven capital sins which represent the “I don't care” feeling. A man sees that the practice of virtue is hard and so resists the service of God. He becomes slothful and his soul grows sluggish and lazy at the thought of the painful life journey. The idea of right living inspires not joy but disgust, because of its laboriousness. This is the notion commonly obtaining, and in this sense sloth is not a specific vice according to the teaching of St. Thomas, but rather a circumstance of all vices. Ordinarily it will not have the malice of mortal sin unless, of course, we conceive it to be so total that because of it one is willing to reject some serious obligation. In this sense sloth is directly opposed to charity. The man who is slothful violates, therefore, expressly the first and the greatest of the commandments: “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with thy whole heart, and with thy whole soul, and with thy whole mind, and with thy whole strength.” (Mark 12:30).
United in the Faith,
Catholics United for the Faith
827 North Fourth Street
Steubenville, OH 43952
Editor's Note: To submit a faith question to Catholic Exchange, email email@example.com. Please note that all email submitted to Catholic Exchange becomes the property of Catholic Exchange and may be published in this space. Published letters may be edited for length and clarity. Names and cities of letter writers may also be published. Email addresses of viewers will not normally be published.