The 7 Capital Sins

February 08 2019 | by

“THE LORD God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to till it and keep it. And the Lord God commanded the man, ‘You may freely eat of every tree of the garden; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall die,’” thus reads Genesis in 2:15-16, which then continues, “… when the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it.” (Genesis 3:6).

Although the seven capital sins generally go unrecognized today, they are as present as they were to Adam and Eve. Consider the following comparisons:




Gluttony is “an inordinate desire to consume more than that which one requires.” Genesis: Adam and Eve had the entire garden to munch. Why did they need this tree? It was “good for food,” but so were the other fruit bearing trees. Gluttony enticed them to eat of this tree. Modern Times: The internet lists 95 different diets, and it is not an exhaustive list. If the world needs that many diets, too many people are overeating.


Greed (Avarice)


Greed is “the desire for material wealth or gain, ignoring the realm of the spiritual.” Genesis: The tree was “pleasing to the eye,” but so were many other trees, shrubs, and flowers. Greed enticed them to bring this tree, too, under their cultivation and use. Modern Times: Every Australian spends, on the average, about $1050 per year on clothing, every Canadian about $831. Clothes generally take years to wear out. How many new clothes do we need?




Lust is “an inordinate craving for the pleasures of the body.” Genesis: Contrary to popular opinion, lust includes more than craving for sexual pleasure. Adam and Eve lusted after the forbidden fruit; they craved it. Once they ate, “the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves.” (Genesis 3:7). The sudden sexual attraction to one another discomfited them. Modern Times: Only 2.9 percent of men are virgins, and 12.3 percent of women. Considering that 23 percent of men and 17 percent of women never marry, a good many people are engaging in sexual relationships without the blessing of a wedding band.


Anger (Wrath)


Anger “is manifested in the individual who spurns love and opts instead for fury.” Genesis: Thinking that God was keeping something from them angered our first parents. Had they loved God, they would have trusted rather than mistrusted Him. Modern Times: Nearly one in ten Americans have severe anger issues.


Sloth (laziness)


Sloth is “the avoidance of physical or spiritual work.” Genesis: Rather than selecting this nearby tree, Adam and Eve could have walked a short distance to another tree if they were hungry. Modern Times: In 2015, on average, men spent 6 hours and 9 minutes per day undertaking leisure pursuits as compared to 5 hours and 29 minutes spent by women. Why wasn’t some of this time spent in helping others?




Envy is “the desire for others’ traits, status, abilities, or situation.” Genesis: Adam and Eve envied God’s wisdom and wanted it so that they could rival their Creator. The serpent told them, “For God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil” (Genesis 3:5). They already knew good. They were surrounded by it! What was evil? Modern Times: At least 4 million people worldwide are so envious of famous people that they make becoming famous their chief goal in life.


Pride (Vanity)


Pride is an “excessive belief in one’s own abilities that interferes with the individual’s recognition of the grace of God.” Genesis: Adam and Eve thought that they knew what was good for them better than God did. Modern Times: A New York Times best seller book is You Are the Universe: Discovering Your Cosmic Self and Why It Matters. A book review states that “each of us is a co-creator of reality extending to the vastest reaches of time and space… The reality you inhabit will be yours either to embrace or to change.” Who is God in this universe? You are!


Anthony’s view


In his sermon notes on the text “Jesus took Peter and James and John and led them up a high mountain” (Matthew 17:1), Saint Anthony consolidates the seven capital sins into three. The text is that of the Transfiguration of Jesus, witnessed by Peter, James, and John. Anthony applies this miracle to the spiritual life. “These three Apostles, the special companions of Jesus Christ, may be understood as the three virtues of our soul, without which no-one can climb the mountain of light, the excellence of holy conversation” (Sermons for Sundays and Festivals I, p. 101; translated by Paul Spilsbury; Messaggero di Sant’Antonio Editrice). We must recognize our sins, uproot them, and, through the grace of God, allow the Lord into our lives.

Unless we embrace the philosophy of godlessness in books like You are the Universe, we may be hoping to develop our spiritual life. Anthony advises us to first “take Peter, you who believe in Jesus and hope for salvation from Jesus. Peter is the acknowledgement of your sins, which consist in these three things: pride in the heart, lust in the flesh, and avarice in the world” (Sermons I, p. 101). Where are the other four capital sins: anger, envy, sloth, and gluttony? They are contained in the three Anthony mentions.

  1. Pride in the heart includes anger which arises when something thwarts our needs and desires.
  2. Lust in the flesh includes gluttony which consumes more physical sustenance than needed, and sloth which consumes more leisure than needed.
  3. Avarice in the world includes envy, which desires to have what someone else has.


Action and grace


How do we deal with these sins? We must uproot them. Anthony extrapolates from the meaning of the name James, a form of Jacob which means ‘the supplanter’. “Take James, too. He is the supplanting of these vices, so that you may mortify the lust of your flesh, and repress the vanity of the deceitful world” (Sermons I, p. 101).

Becoming holy requires action. Mortify is an active verb that tells us to control our fleshly desires by painful tactics. We can, for example, spend not $800 on clothes in a year, but perhaps $80. We need to apply effort to repress vanity. We must remind ourselves that God made us, not ourselves. Our time on earth is limited and, no matter how hard we try, we cannot create every desired reality.  

Uprooted vices need to be kept from re-rooting. Otherwise, weight that sneaks back after a dieter loses it, the vices will return. We can’t keep vice at bay through our own power. We need God’s grace. Therefore, Anthony advises, “And take John, the grace of the Lord, which stands at the door and knocks [cf. Apoc. 3.20], so that it may enlighten you to recognize the evil things you have done, and help you in the good things you have begun to do.” (Sermons I, p. 101). We encourage God’s grace to grow in us when we daily pray for that grace.

Updated on February 08 2019