Evolution of the Seven Deadly Sins

How the eight Evagrian patterns evolved into the better-known seven deadly sins ...

Several years after Evagrius and Cassian, a significant revision of the list, now known as the Seven Deadly Sins, appeared in the writings of Pope Gregory I (c. 540-604 A.D.). Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274 A.D.) also made notable contributions to the evolution of the list. Many (including Danté Alighieri, Geoffrey Chaucer, Edmund Spencer, C.S. Lewis and countless others) have also revised this basic list for their own purposes. The following table summarizes several such revisions:

EvagriusCassianGregory IAquinasRCC CatechismPITscan
Impure ThoughtsPrincipal FaultsDeadly SinsCapital VicesCapital SinsImpure Thoughts
PridePride (Pride) Pride

  1. Evagrius occasionally listed the thoughts in a slightly different order (such as swapping sadness with anger). In one of his letters, he even spoke of an additional pattern: jealousy, which he placed between vainglory and pride. Despite these minor variations, the list as cited above is by far his most common arrangement.

  2. Cassian opted for a list of faults (which he also called vices) instead of a list of thoughts, and he consistently placed anger before sadness. His slight shift in emphasis was later amplified by Gregory in the list of deadly sins. Later writers, such as John of Damascus, typically used Cassian's arrangement over that of Evagrius.

  3. Gregory's revisions are extremely significant. Envy is added. Vainglory is merged into pride. Acedia is dropped from the list (perhaps it was considered too similar to sadness to warrant a separate entry). Gluttony and lust swap places.

  4. Aquinas claimed all of the entries were some form of pride, so it is moved to a titular position, and vainglory is reinstated as a separate category. Sadness is replaced with sloth (merely a subset of acedia), and covetousness is moved down one slot. In The Divine Comedy, Danté followed this sequence of Aquinas.

  5. The current catechism of the Roman Catholic Church follows Aquinas with minor revisions. Pride returns in place of vainglory. Anger and avarice swap places. Envy is dropped one position. Sloth is moved to the bottom of the list.

  6. The lists of Gregory, Aquinas and the Roman Catechism are always listed with pride/vainglory at the top. Placing the patterns into this chart in reverse order makes it easier to compare the lists of seven with the lists of eight.

  7. The PITscan list most closely resembles that of Evagrius. The greatest differences between these two revisions of the list are not found in this chart, but in the definitions of each pattern. Generally speaking, the Evagrian categories were more narrowly defined.

  8. Except for anger and envy (red and green, respectively), there are no universally accepted color designations for the other patterns. The coloring scheme used here was selected more for website aesthetics than any other reason.

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