The Seven Deadly Sins

The Seven Deadly Sins: A Visitor’s Guide is a new book written by Lawrence S. Cunningham. Cunningham is the John A. O’Brien Emeritus Professor of theology at the University of Notre Dame.

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As a Protestant, I often enjoy reading books by Catholic writers. It introduces me to perspectives and other authors with whom I usually don’t come across.

The Seven Deadly Sins is a quick and easy read. Less than 120 pages, Cunningham writes in a fresh and accessible style. Drawing insights from John Cassian, Dante, and Aquinas, he dedicates a single chapter to each of the seven sins as defined by tradition:








Interestingly, “the seven things that the Lord hates” in Proverbs 6:16–19 is different from what’s traditionally known as “the seven deadly sins.” Here is the list from Proverbs. The seven things the Lord hates . . .

  1. A proud look.
  2. A lying tongue.
  3. Hands that shed innocent blood.
  4. A heart that devises wicked plots.
  5. Feet that are swift to run into mischief.
  6. A deceitful witness that utters lies.
  7. Him that sows discord among brethren.

So pride, lying, devising wicked plans (plots to harm others in some way), the murder of innocents, ambition toward mischief, bearing false witness against someone else, and sowing discord among brethren (usually via gossip and slander) are things that God hates. Interestingly, except for pride, the sins listed in Proverbs do not appear on the traditional list of “deadly sins.”

I’m not sure how prevalent it is in the Catholic camp, but among Protestants – particularly one segment of evangelicalism – the penchant to pit some sins above others is rampant. It’s common for some Christians to magnify certain sins as “very serious” while excusing their own sins as “minor.” This problem caused Bob Mumford to once retort, “The Christian family is the only army that shoots its wounded.”

By contrast, the Lord reveals that if we break one point of the Law, we’ve broken all of it. And in the “Sermon the Mount,” Jesus puts anger and murder on the same par. He does the same with lust and adultery. Paul goes further and puts slander on the same list as he does outbursts of anger and fornication. Noting the problem of “sin metrics,” Philip Yancey has famously said, “Christians get angry with other Christians who sin differently than they do.”

That said, Cunningham does a great job treating the moral vices of gluttony, lust, greed, sloth, envy, anger, and pride. His insights are fresh and practical; his writing style is conversational and entertaining. All told, if you’re game for hearing a Catholic view on the aforementioned sins that’s a quick read, this is an interesting book.

Order The Seven Deadly Sins in paperback

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This post is part of the sponsored Patheos Book Club.

See also The Most Ignored Sin

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About Frank Viola

Frank Viola is a best-selling author, A-list blogger, speaker, and consultant to authors and writers. His mission is to help serious followers of Jesus know their Lord more deeply so they can experience real transformation and make a lasting impact. See his About page for more information.

  • gilles lamoureux

    Let’s face it, some things just get more airplay, and some things are just more subtle, yet the end of all sin is always the same – death.

    We trade in appearances. We practice the art of comparison to elicit patterns and gain understanding. To understand sin and maybe, just maybe solve the problem, well, we need patterns at our disposal. But, as Ecclesiastes instructs us, there is no solution for spiritual matters from man’s perspective. We may have some grasp and power to manipulate appearances, but not to gain control over the spiritual nature at their base. That is why Christ said the mere thought of an adulterous act condemns us. It’s impossible to solve the problem of sin, or evil in our own power.

    Nevertheless, we have to do something, don’t we? We may not know the subtleties at the root of overt behaviour, but whatever we do know to be true, whatever is revealed to us, calls us to action does it not?

    True. But action and making an analytic account of sin as a repository for future intervention say by governing officials is not what the teachings of scripture had in mind. Certainly every sin will have its own effect and a different call to action. But this difference is not spiritual but logistical in pain management.

    Even though we are bent on valuing the spiritual intensity of people’s actions by the intensity of the pain those actions induce, this is not accurate. Martyrs succumb to the most severe loss and pain, yet their experience is of great moral profit. Yet, some view suicide bombers as martyrs. Sin is not about pain relief, doing bad or doing good. It is the propensity to act badly, how ever that might appear to us. At some point we know that something bad is up, and some bad acts are just plain obvious. But because they are plain does not mean they are much worst than others, spiritually speaking, but only worst in how they devastate and have a deleterious effect on human beings. This can certainly demoralize some, but for others, it is morally profitable for the right purpose.

    Let’s stop equating sin with its effects. For sin, is far worst than what we see, do and say. Lets deal with our pain and losses, and just plainly support others as needed. Sin is there, but so is Christ. Let the Spirit deal with the sin. Let us deal with the behavior, and leave it at that, and intervene with whatever is deemed good in proportion to the need at hand, not in proportion to its spiritual value. We are not God, are we?