Seven deadly definitions
In this season of self-inventory, Dorothy L. Sayers’ challenging definitions of the Seven Deadly Sins are worth chewing on:
Pride. Pride (Superbia) is the head and root of all sin, both original and actual. It is the endeavour to “be as God”, making self, instead of God, the centre about which the will and desire revolve.
Envy. The sin of Envy (Invidia) differs from that of Pride in that it contains always an element of fear. The proud man is self-sufficient, rejecting with contempt the notion that anybody can be his equal or superior. The envious man is afraid of losing something by the admission of superiority in others, and therefore looks with grudging hatred upon other men’s gifts and good fortune, taking every opportunity to run them down or deprive them of their happiness.
Wrath. The effect of Wrath (Ira) is to blind the judgment and to suffocate the natural feelings and responses, so that a man does not know what he is doing.
Sloth. The sin which in English is called Sloth (Accidia or Akedia) is insidious, and assumes such Protean shapes that it is rather difficult to define. It is not merely idleness of mind and laziness of body: it is that whole poisoning of the will which, beginning with indifference and an attitude “I couldn’t care less,” extends to the deliberate refusal of joy and culminates in morbid introspection and despair. One form of it which appeals very much to some modern minds is that acquiescence in evil and error which readily disguises itself as “Tolerance”; another is that refusal to be moved by the contemplation of the good and beautiful which is known as “Disillusionment,” and sometimes as “Knowledge of the World;” yet another is that withdrawal into an “ivory tower” of Isolation which is the peculiar temptation of the artist and the contemplative, and is popularly called “Escapism.”
Covetousness. Covetousness (Avaritia) is the inordinate love of wealth, and the power that wealth gives, whether it is manifested by miserly hoarding or by lavish spending. It is a peculiarly earth-bound sin, looking to nothing beyond the rewards of this life.
Gluttony. The sin of Gluttony (Gula) is—specifically—an undue attention to the pleasures of the palate, whether by sheer excess in eating and drinking, or by the opposite fault of fastidiousness. More generally, it includes all over-indulgence in bodily comforts—the concentration, whether jovial or fretful, on a high standard of living.
Lust. Lust [Luxuria] is a type of shared sin; at its best, and so long as it remains a sin of incontinence only, there is mutuality in it and exchange: although, in fact, mutual indulgence only serves to push both parties along the road to Hell, it is not, in intention, wholly selfish.