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.
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 . . .
- A proud look.
- A lying tongue.
- Hands that shed innocent blood.
- A heart that devises wicked plots.
- Feet that are swift to run into mischief.
- A deceitful witness that utters lies.
- 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.
This post is part of the sponsored Patheos Book Club.
See also The Most Ignored Sin