Wednesday, February 06, 2008
The Seven Deadlies: Introduction
["Repent and believe in the Gospel" is one of the catchphrases of this holy season. As we begin our Lenten journey, I thought I'd post excerpts from the chapter on the seven deadly sins in that remarkable book by Dorothy Sayers, Letters to a Diminished Church: Passionate Arguments for the Relevance of Christian Doctrine, written during WWII. The chapter is called "The Other Six Deadly Sins."]
Perhaps the bitterest commentary on the way in which Christian doctrine has been taught in the last few centuries is the fact that to the majority of people the word immorality has come to mean one thing and one thing only. By a hideous irony, our shrinking reprobation of that sin has made us too delicate so much as to name it, so that we have come to use for it the words that were made to cover the whole range of human corruption. A man many greedy, and selfish; spiteful, cruel, jealous, and ujust; violent and brutal; grasping, unscrupulous, and a liar; stubborn and arrogant; stupid, morose, and dead to every noble instinct -- and still we are ready to say of him that he is not an immoral man. I am reminded of a young man who once said to me with perfect simplicity: "I did not know there were seven deadly sins; please tell me the name of the other six."
The Church, then, officially recognizes six other capital or basic sins [other than lust i.e.] -- seven altogether. Of these, three many be roughly called the warm-hearted, or disreputable sins, and the remaining four the cold-hearted or respectable sins. It is interesting to notice that Christ rebuked the three disreputable sins only in mild or general terms, but uttered the most violent vituperations against the respectable ones. Caesar and the Pharisees, on the other hand, strongly dislike anything warm-hearted or disreputable, and set great store by the cold-hearted and respectable sins, which they are in a conspiracy to call virtues. And we may note that, as a result of this unholy alliance between worldly interest and religious opinion, the common man is rather inclined to canonize the warm-hearted sins for himself, and to thank God openly that he is broad-minded, given to a high standard of living and instinct with righteous indignation -- not prurient, strait-laced or namby-pamby, or even as this Pharisee. It is difficult to blame the common man for this natural reaction against the insistent identification of Christian morality with everything that Christ most fervently abhorred.