The Seven Capital Sins
There is a seven-headed monster that each one of us has to fight our whole life through. This monster is SELF-SEEKING or SELF-LOVE. Its seven heads are: Pride, Covetousness, Lust, Anger, Envy, Gluttony and Sloth. Bishop Fulton Sheen calls them "the seven pall-bearers of the soul" and gives them the following names: self-love, inordinate love of money, illicit sex, hate, jealousy, over-indulgence and laziness.
As a result of Original Sin, each one of us has an inborn tendency to assert himself, to make himself the "center" of things; to make his will prevail over that of others. Our great passion is for our highest good, but too often we do not comprehend what this good is, and we seek for it in a wrong way. We need to understand that our highest good is GOD. God has made Himself our last End and Reward. He has shown us the way to Himself through Christ, who called Himself "The Way."
We must recognize our relationship to God as creatures who have the duty to love and serve Him in the manner he wills and desires, in order that we may possess Him in Heaven, or "save our souls," as we commonly express it. Now, when we are wrapped up in our own ego, even though we may not realize the fact, everything we think, say and do revolves around our own self. We are really "seeking self," though we may try to convince ourselves that we are following Christ and seeking God.
Plainly, then, the battle against self-seeking is fought within our own personality. Specifically, it is in our will. In the fountainhead of self-love and self-will, pride and all the other Capital Sins have their origin and bring forth a host of offspring, great and small. If we are strongly motivated by self-seeking, we will seldom "deny" ourselves, as Our Lord taught, by charity, love, sacrifice, humility, obedience, patience, generosity, or whatever the calls of duty and virtue may be. Instead, our self-love will nourish the vices and we will become more and more ensnared by them.
To pursue the path of self-love is continually to refuse love to God, and such a course is a great danger to salvation. No soul can enter Heaven until it has been purged of all self-love and self-will and exists only for God; that is to say, until it is sanctified. Probably for most persons who are saved, a great part of this purging has to be done in Purgatory, because the soul did not do it on earth. But should a soul–or, to be personal–should we reject the will of God for our own self-will and self-love even until death, God would be forced to reject us for all eternity, because we had rejected Him. Such a rejection means eternal damnation. Our state would then be unchangeably fixed in self-love and hatred of God, and in Hell we would simply be a "mad center unto ourself"–an ego which must endure without end the unendurable, the unceasing torture of being drawn toward God, and yet being walled-up in its own eternally hate-filled self.
A knowledge of the myriad disguises in which the Seven Capital Sins mask themselves can enable us to come to self-knowledge and help us carry on a successful warfare by practicing the opposite virtues. It is impossible for us to combat an enemy whom we do not know, whom we do not see, or whom, perhaps, we mistake for a friend. Yet often this is actually the case with these vices, especially with pride and sloth.
It is the purpose of this booklet to give some insight into the nature of the Capital Sins, at least naming some of the manifold actions which have their root in a particular vice. This knowledge of the character, degrees, acts and family relationships of the seven vices will, we hope, be helpful to those who find it hard to examine themselves in their regard, since examinations of conscience often give only the names of the Capital Sins.
An early writer, in keeping with the spirit of his time, brings home the viciousness of the Capital Sins by depicting them under the forms of animals. Pride is characterized as a lion; covetousness or avarice as a fox; lust as a scorpion; anger as a unicorn, "which beareth on his nose the horn with which he butteth at all whom he reacheth"; envy as a venomous serpent; gluttony as "the swine of greediness"; and sloth as a bear.
The same writer says it is the devil who incites in us temptations to sins of malice, such as pride, haughtiness, envy and anger, and to the countless other sins that spring from these roots. Because sins of malice are more especially sins of the mind, or "spiritual" sins, they are more grievous in their nature.
Sins of the Flesh
The flesh, he says, naturally inclines us to lust and gluttony, to ease and self-indulgence, which are sins of the body, or "carnal" sins, and more shameful and disgraceful in the sight off men.
Sins of the World
Finally, the world urges us to covet wealth, prosperity, honor and other satisfactions, which are only delusions and lead us to fall in love with shadows.
Our Lord probably referred to the seven vices when He spoke of the unclean spirit that goes out of a man and roams through desert places seeking a resting place, and finding none, returns with "seven other spirits more wicked than himself." (Matt. 12:45).
Naturally, the oftener we consent to the temptations aroused by any of the vices, the deeper root the vice takes in us, until at length, habits of sin are formed which are very hard to break. So we need at all times to be watchful in combating the lesser sins if we are to be victorious in the greater battles we shall have to wage.
The Seven Roots of Sin
All our sins are traceable to these seven roots, the Seven Capital Sins. These seven sources of sin have been compared to diseases that affect the body. Pride is a spiritual cancer that eats and consumes the vital life. Covetousness is like spiritual consumption or tuberculosis, wasting away the soul's inner powers. Lust is a spiritual leprosy. Anger is a delirious fever. Envy is spiritual blood-poisoning. Gluttony leads to a sleeping-sickness that may end in death. Sloth is like a paralysis of the soul that hinders its progress and causes neglect of the means of grace, indifference, and even final impenitence. It is pride and sloth that are the parents of final impenitence.
True understanding of the nature and effects of the Capitals Sins is the first step in combating them. Let us take up arms now and go to the battle! We will be what we will to be!