Seven Deadly Sins

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Stephanie Palmer February 2009 Unforgivable! Sin is a major common element in most religions. The Christians define it as a transgression against God’s will, and fear of God by sinning was the centerpiece of Medieval Christianity. Humans were viewed universally as sinners and they were supposed to dedicate their life to redeeming themselves. Developed by Saint John Cassian, officially defined by Pope Gregory I and analyzed and expanded upon a few hundred years later by Thomas Aquinas, the deadly or capital sins were listed out as man’s most immoral tendencies. These sins are pride, greed, envy, wrath, lust, gluttony (excessive appetite or overindulgence), and sloth (laziness or apathy). Through art and literature they eventually became so popular they were considered as important to Christianity as actual biblical text. Theoretically, completely avoiding these capital sins should lead to an ideal society, where everyone gets along and respects each other, leaving no time for laying around and having sex while eating. The impact of these seven sins was fierce on medieval religion, supporting the concept that everyone is guilty of sin perfectly. “Heavenly Virtues” were developed to counterbalance them, each one acting as an opposite force to an individual capital sin, very similar to Aristotle’s concept of balance being integral to leading a just life. Prior to the Reformation, corrupt clergy were able to charge for the salvation people needed after committing these sins, and human nature made this a very profitable practice. As Europe moved into the Renaissance, the concept of humanism emphasized that man was in fact more than just a lowly sinner, that life was a fresh slate. People’s capacity for excellence was brought into the light. Humanist scholars such as Erasmus, Rabelais, and Thomas Moore promoted man’s ability for tolerance and kindness (both being heavenly virtues), and taught that religion was stated clearly in the bible and no clerical hierarchy...
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