|William Holbrook Beard: For What was I Created?|
For after the four books which have been composed on the customs of the monasteries, we now propose, being strengthened by God through your prayers, to approach the struggle against the eight principal faults, i.e. first, Gluttony or the pleasures of the palate; secondly, Fornication; thirdly, Covetousness, which means Avarice, or, as it may more properly be called, the love of money, fourthly, Anger; fifthly, Dejection; sixthly, Accidie, which is heaviness or weariness of heart; seventhly, Vain glory; eighthly, Pride.
St. John Cassian, Institutes (Book V)
St. John Cassian was a student of Evagrius Ponticus. Evagrius was a monk in the 4th century who was the first to write about the "eight bad thoughts" and who coined the term "Noonday Demon", which refers to the acedia (now called sloth) which plagued The Desert Fathers toward the middle of the day. These eight tempting thoughts are the precursors to the seven deadly sins. Pope Gregory the Great revised the list of eight bad thoughts by combining acedia with sorrow, calling the combination the sin of sloth, and vainglory with pride. He also added envy to the list. St. Thomas Aquinas questions vainglory and pride being lumped together since St. Gregory called pride the "mother" of the deadly sins and says St. Gregory did not lump these two together. Either way, this is where we received our current list of the seven deadly sins.
In this post, I want to briefly address the deadly sins as those "bad thoughts" because it gets to the bottom of what the deadly sins are and how they operate.
The deadly sins start as temptations and temptations always begin with thoughts.
In the case of vainglory, the temptation to sin comes through our vanity. We want people to like us and sometimes we will do terrible things to avoid their displeasure. "Pilate, wanting to please the crowd, released to them Barabbas." We get an example here of how dangerous vainglory can be.
When we are subject to vainglorious thoughts (which we are NOT subject to), and if we give into them regularly, we become bound to those we are attempting to please. Yes, we become bound to others instead of God. Can you imagine being bound to what others think of us? Yet, this is what can happen. All the deadly sins create a type of bondage to something or someone who is not God. This creates huge problems for us. Using the example of vainglory, when we constantly do things to please people instead of God our souls become filled with a deep confusion since it opposes our relationship with the Lord as his children. It opposes the first commandment: You shall have no other gods before me. We create idols for ourselves that are not God. We serve that which we give ourselves over to.
How can you follow the Shepherd when you are trailing the pack of wolves? The heart is divided within itself.
And all of this begins with a thought.
What a mess. No wonder the deadly sins are so deadly.
It's scary when we first see how much of a part the deadly sins play in our lives. When I first recognized it, it paralyzed me. I couldn't believe I had let this happen. And I had no idea which deadly sin to tackle first.
The seven deadly sins poison your thought life. When you give in to the "bad thoughts" and sin, more come crowding their way in. Over time, our minds can become a cesspool of vice. Confusion reigns because a person is pulled in so many directions and it becomes hard to sort through the morass. Imagine a series of ropes tied to you and pulling you every which way. Your mind has difficulty focusing on the "one thing necessary" to obtain eternal life because it is not yet detached from its idols and these "gods" are constantly clamoring for the soul's attention.
So, it can become overwhelming. Until we remember that the reason Jesus came is to save us from our sins. None of this is new to Him. Recognizing the seven deadly sins is the first step to overcoming them. And God helps us do so. One of the best ways to begin to battle the deadly sins is to pray for the virtue of humility. Humility allows us to see the truth about ourselves and our great need for a redeemer. Humility protects the soul and is the foundation of the virtues, which further protect the soul. It is impossible to know God without a certain degree of humility and humility opens the door of the soul to receive God's help and mercy. The more humility a person has, the more light comes in.
Every person on this earth struggles with the seven deadly sins.
Think of humility as the beginning of the deadly sins' end.
"They will fight against you, but they will not overcome you, for I am with you to deliver you," declares the LORD. Jeremiah 1:19