The Seven Capital Sins - Part 1
Basic Catholic Morality I Fall 92
92M-#4 Part 1 10-25-92
by Fr. John A. Hardon, S.J.
What I would like to do in class today is talk about the capital sins. We
begin with 78 but it is obvious I will only make a few passing references to
the pages assuming you will read them. Lecture proper, the program calls for
an explanation that both underlies your notes and of course, goes beyond them.
Redefined capital sins as the inordinate tendencies from which all sins originate
as from their source. They are therefore called capital sins for as you know
in Latin, capita means heads, capita head, capita heads,
they are then the sins which are the root or the cause of all other sins in
the moral order. When we say they are inordinate tendencies, we affirm that
these capital, we call them sins, sinful tendencies are the result of original
Our first parents did not have these inordinate tendencies. Every child of
Adam and Eve, therefore, has these 7 capital sinful tendencies. In other words,
when we speak of somebody as just behaving naturally, that is not, believe me,
that is not a complement. To behave naturally means to be behaving according
to ones fallen human nature. St. Paul speaks of these as sins. Thats why
the Church, following St. Pauls teaching, has over the centuries called them
the Seven Capital Sins. However, the Church has explicitly defined that they
are not actual sins as such. They are sins only in the sense that they arise
from sin, originally from original sin, and they lead to sin, unless they are
controlled. They are therefore the seven capital drives of our fallen human
nature. To which all of us, and the word is all of us, are constantly, spontaneously,
When do the sinful tendencies begin? At the moment of conception, as more
than mother has told me. Mother, child in her womb and the more children they
have, the better they can predict, Father I know this baby and they tell you.
However, when we say that they originated these tendencies, with original sin,
it doesnt mean merely, watch this, it does not mean merely that when our first
parents sinned they somehow set a bad example. Scandalized, if you wish, their
own offspring over the centuries, this has been well, the sin transmitted by
bad example that was the heresy of Pelagianism. Back in the late 4th
and early 5th centuries, no, when we say these are sinful tendencies,
we mean that when God originally made man, he intended human beings to not have
what these tendencies are. One word description for these tendencies is, Im
sure you know, is concupiscence. And the opposite of concupiscence is integrity.
So then when we say that they are natural, you know the trouble is every time
we use the word either nature or naturally as believers, and apply the word
nature or natural to human beings, then our faith tells us unlike, well,
the rest of creation. We have a human nature and our human nature is natural
all right; but it lacks not qua-nature but qua-gift over and above nature that
God had originally given to the human race called the gift of integrity.
Fallen Human Nature
They go on, 79, what is the basis for the capital sins? As weve just said,
it is mans fallen human nature and watch this, and his own personally induced
bad habits or vices. Every child, the moment that child is conceived in his
mothers womb already has these capitals sins as sinful tendencies. And what
a difference it makes in the raising of children, what a difference, to recognize
that already in the womb, and surely from birth my child, I may love the child
with all my heart, but my child does have sinful tendencies. And Ive not
been blinded my affection for the child, my not doing something about those
sinful tendencies. I dont give a lecture to a one year old on concupiscence.
But I do the more effective things and this I can tell you, and over the years
I have watched mothers on planes, on busses, on trains and you want to get up
and give them a lecture on fallen human nature. Ive seen for example, vain
father and mother, course it depends on the mother and father, the youngster
is acting up, not behaving, then the mother turns the child over to the father.
Wonderful. He may not have reached the age of reason, but he does have well,
sense experience. And uh, Ive watched this, a child misbehaving
and the father looks at the child, things quiet down. But you fathers be fathers.
In other words, Fathers are to contribute something to the control of the Seven
Capital Sins in their children. That mothers, called mothers, are not really
equipped to do. I know because I lost my father when I was a year old. My
mother did what she could but knowing I was dealing with a mother
. You can
be the age of three, as you mothers know, they would even play the father against
the mother or the mother against the father. Oh..before the age of reading,
oh, they know. What I want to point out from question 79 is that not only do
we inherit these sinful tendencies, called the Seven Capital Sins from our fallen
human nature, but, everytime we sin, every sin we commit, increases, deepens
those sinful tendencies.
Over the years I ve said, in counseling souls, unless a person realizes they
have a fallen human nature, and consequently a nature that is prone to acting
in seven capitally sinful ways, people may not realize how indispensable it
is, if they want to master these sinful drives, they not only, not only are
not to give in to the sinful urges they have, they have, we have, every time
we give in, every time we give in, we increase the pressure of these sinful
drives. You dont read that in Adler, Freud, or Karl Jung. In other words,
this is not merely the acquisition of a habit as you know there are new kinds
of habits may be acquired by the repetition of an action. It is a good action
that we have performed a certain number of times. We develop a tendency called
a habit to perform that good action again or if it is a bad act, the tendency
to perform that bad habit again gets deeper than that. In other words, unless
we first of all know how our sinful tendencies and the bedrock foundation for
the spiritual life is knowing among these Seven Capital Sin tendencies, which
are the most capital in my life?
The two most fundamental are pride and lust and they are very closely related.
Indispensably related. As St. Paul, remember in his letter to the Romans, tells
us, because of their pride (these are the Romans) in refusing to acknowledge
the one true God, because in their pride they refused to submit their wills
to the one true God says St. Paul. Therefore God made them slaves of their
lusts. So they then were not able to control their sinful, especially sexual
drives. And as I reread the history of the Roman Empire in the first centuries
of the Christian era, I say to myself, I could just as well be reading the New
York Times, the Detroit Free Press, or plus the local Lansing paper.
Widespread, we call it Paganism. In other words, giving into these tendencies
deepens and increases the urge until theres now whole science is developing
claiming that for many people homosexuality is a natural. Sure its natural,
sure its natural, but my friend, you better define your terms. Because we
all have a naturally fallen nature. But, and the sooner the giving in to these
tendencies starts, all the last can told, the central tendencies are from the
earliest years not only the age of 4 or 5, from the moment of birth, in fact,
even before birth. The emotional conditions of the mother while she is carrying
her child, hear it, affects the child in her womb. I repeat, and know that
for what I am told, correct me if Im wrong, Ive heard on good authority that
in Michigan now, certainly in public schools, that the youngsters are being
taught from their earliest years that homophobia is an emotional disorder. Did
you know that? That homosexuality is, to repeat the word, natural. My God!
But Ive got to believe that Ive got a fallen nature. Sometimes in teaching
the subject I tell my students, Id like to call it the falling nature. Were
all leaning Towers of Pisa. Except unlike the tower in Pisa, we can fall.
Then number 80, some of you already know there is a memory scheme that I have
found, the only one that I could come up with. PLACES G to remember the seven
capital sins: pride, lust, anger, covetousness, envy, sloth, and gluttony.
In other words, our nature. For the origins of the human race, since the fall,
is a sinful nature. Not only in the sense that when we are conceived, we do
not have a right to the beatific vision. Thats our faith. And my Jesuit conferee
in France, Father Bertant Demarjeri, had been writing extensively, especially
in France, against the abortionists (?) and hes right. Besides all of the
other evils of abortion, we are not absolutely sure, not really sure, that an
unborn, pardon me, an unborn, unbaptized child will see the face of God. Maybe,
maybe in Gods mercy, but we dont know. Killing that unborn child deprives
it of the prospect of being baptized and thereof the certitude of reaching the
vision of God. However, baptism, how this needs to be underlined, baptism does
indeed restore the supernatural gifts that our first parents received when they
were first made by God. Sanctifying grace is restored and that means the indwelling
Holy Spirit and that means the infused theological virtues, it means the infused
gifts of the Holy Spirit. All of those are restored by baptism. What is not
restored is either the gift of integrity which means the built-in, divinely
built-in, control of our sinful drives. That is not restored. Concupiscence
remains. The seven capital sinful tendencies remain. Baptized or not. With
that we say, that these are the result of the fall. We should also add that
God must have had a profound reason first, for allowing our first parents to
sin in the first place. But then for allowing us to inherit these sinful tendencies.
And, by the way, a good synonym for the Seven Capital Sins is the Seven Passions.
Seven human passions to which every human being is spontaneously prone.
Why, we may ask, has God allowed us to have these sinful tendencies? There
must have been in Gods both goodness and wisdom, must have been a reason a
found reason for allowing it. There is. First of all, whatever else, whatever
else God wants us to be, He wants us to be humble. And no matter what other
people may think of us, what pedestal they may put us on, we know better. We
know down deep in our hearts, each one of us, the sinful drive that Ive got
and except for the grace of God, there is no criminal on earth that every one
of us could not, either have become or unless we watch ourselves, can become.
To keep us humble. Secondly, this is over the centuries, the masters of the
spiritual life reflecting on why we have these Seven Capital Sins. In order
that, realizing we cannot, and the verb is, we cannot control these passions
by ourselves. We cannot. Thats why 99.5% of sex education in the United States
is not only a deception, but, what word should I use and be charitable? An
awesome evil perpetrated on the young. Take for example, the New Creation
sex education series in use in many dioceses. As I am sure you know, the archbishop
of Dubuque gave the the imprimatur for the whole series. Lot of opposition
and only God knows what happened in Rome. But, if you read the letters carefully,
Cardinals Baum and Ratzinger, they didnt really approve the New Creation.
And all the Catholic papers in the country blazing headlines Vatican Approves
the New Creation.They didnt.My job is working for them. But,
and by the way, I could provide all of you with a copy of when I wrote to the
Holy Sea on their request the analysis of the New Creation series. I
could not publicly identify myself with it, with the reputation of the New
Creation series, for many reasons. Tried, the Holy Sea wanted me to get
Bishops, Catholic Organizations to sponsor the reputation. Not one was willing
to do so. Not one. Shall we? This is very much; this is part of the course.
Comes in two parts. Together I think about, Im guessing about 25 or so pages
of closely reasoned analysis, spent 4 months analyzing everything and the one
thing is just simply missing. It is that in terms of lust, second capital sinful
tendency, the fact that we have this urge, lustful urge, all of us and we cannot
control that without Gods grace. As if we didnt have a fallen human nature.
You just dont. If you want to destroy that chapter to your children, you just
dont do that. Because I told one mother, generally,
of an almost 2000 member community in the East, where the diocese said they
were to use the New Creation series. I said Molly, in Gods name dont
do it. But the archbishop said we should. You tell him I told you youre
not going to do it. She thought shed be disobedient. She was disobedient,
all right to the will of God. And I told you, I promise you, or threaten
you, your sisters, you will not be able to maintain the vow of chastity if they
teach this course to the children. This is all, by the way, apropos. Its
not theory, believe me.
Now well go down and I like to finish all Seven Capital Sins before, lets
see, I go to, who knows the time that Im supposed to speak. 1:25, please 1:25;
1:25, 1:25, 2:25, 2:25, how much? 2:25, I can hardly believe it, are you sure?
Here goes. You have 1 hour left, Father, on the tape.
So back on page 23, asking ourselves, what is pride? Pride is the inordinate
desire for ones own excellence. First of all, are we to have a recognition
of our own excellence? Are we to recognize the goodness, the virtue, the intelligence
that we have? Is there anything wrong with knowing that we are, pardon me,
Im intelligent. Or that I can sing, which I cant. No. The key word is inordinate.
When is the desire for ones own excellence or the desire for recognition, whatever
terms you use, when is this inordinate? When I want first of all to recognize
my own excellence, I want others to recognize it, too. Is that wrong? No.
It is wrong when and insofar as I credit myself for what I am and have. In
other words, the sin of pride is not in recognizing ones possessions. Whether
physical, intellectual, social, or spiritual. What is wrong when in and insofar
as I fail to give God the credit for everything that I am and have. And that
is when our Ladys Magnificat is the perfect prayer or hymn for humility. My
soul magnifies whom? The Lord. What do proud people do? They magnify, well,
what else? Themselves. And will often not, will they not give credit to God,
they wont even ask children give credit to their parents. Whats the remedy
for pride? Censure, knowledge of ones self, especially shades of todays homily.
Especially ones all on the centralness. Ah, thats why God has allowed us to
sin. And hear it, the higher the sanctity He wants to call us to, the more
Hes allowed us to sin in the past. There are exceptions, there are, but that
is the more common rule. St. Paul had to be the hounder and even murderer of
Christians, then converted, came to his senses, and became the zealous apostle
of Gentiles. Peter, oh how Christ wanted to make sure that no one had any doubt
that Popes are very common, very human beings.
Meditation on the humility of Christ. But watch this. In theology, we speculate
how would anybody answer? Sister, would you think. Was Christ ever humiliated?
(Sister: Sure, yes.) You think he was? Well, I should say we speculate in
theology whether he was. In one sense, of course: condemned to death, scourged,
stripped of His garments, nailed to the cross. What greater humiliation you
might say. But, if humiliation is inside of one, then the question arises.
And the good God for saying, no, Christ chose to be what we call humiliated
but in His own eyes, He wanted it. And this, in my 50 years in the Society
of Jesus, and by now having given so many spiritual exercises to the faithful,
I tell them, Christs humility is not only an inspiration for us to accept,
resign ourselves to being humiliated. But, even, hear it; providing we know
its Gods will, we even prefer what is humiliating to that which is in the
eyes of others, elevating. Because Christ chose, He wanted to be humiliated.
Prayer for humility, and, I found over the years you got to get into the habit,
the moment you are humiliated and the variety is almost infinite of being humiliated.
Either in the presence of others, sometimes the worst humiliation is when nobody
else is around. How many times Ive told myself, Hardon, you idiot. And I
meant it. You idiot! I would recommend, and all it takes is a moment, the moment
you are humiliated, immediately say a prayer. It could be as simple as, Thanks,
Jesus. Thanks, Jesus, you may not want to say it. Gratitude for the humiliations.
Or when, for example, how often this happens: telephone call-soon as I hear
the voice, this will call for above average humility. If I dont talk out loud;
sometimes I put my hand over the earphone, but do ask for the grace to take
it. Letters that I receive. And, the more exposed you are publically; believe
me, the more humility you have to have. Because people are so eager to humiliate
anyone who is thought well of by someone else. Oh, by the way, this leaflet
had a million and a quarter in circulation. Well, someone gave me a copy of
the recent issue of the Remnant. Ever hear about the Remnant?
(Audience: Yes.) I think the editor is the son of Al Matt who broke with his
father. Al Matt, being the editor of The Wanderer magazine.
In any case, the Remnant had two columns on Father Hardon. Good man,
but how naïve can you be? Does he really think, what America is he living in?
That, were going to get leaders in our country who will respect the sanctity
of unborn human life, sanctity of marriage, sanctity of marital relations.
Sanctity of marital relations? What are you talking about? Sanctity of the
family, sanctity of the aging. In other words, they just, the writer just
threw in the sponge. No, theyre asking for a miracle. And we may need a miracle
in next weeks elections. We may need it. But rather we have an election
which, well know then, in the highest authority of the country support the
very opposite of what weve just said. Weve got massive conversion work thats
what this, these classes are about, right? The reconversion of America.
Just a word about vain glory. Vain glory is a lower grade of pride. It is
the ordinate, inordinate desire to manifest ones own excellence in order to
be praised by others. Where the praise is sought for some earthly things.
And as you know, people will go to all kinds of lengths. The last figure of
the cosmetic industry in the United States, and its much higher now, was $7
billion a year. In other words, to be praised. Wives tell me their husbands
want them to well, Father, the money I spend, the time I give at the mirror.
Well, uh, a wife should be attractive to her husband; but, you know what I mean.
So much so that people work in the hairdressing industry, Ive counseled some
of them; they could do a lot of good counseling to the women to help them in
their spiritual earth. Especially with their humility.
Now, the sequence that I have here in this, call it, Catechism of Moral
Theology does not follow the sequence for the PLACES G, you follow me?
So suppose we turn to the logical next one number 88: lust. We define lust
as the inordinate desire for sexual pleasure. Lets make sure we know there
in no sin in sexual pleasure. Per se, there is no sin in the desire for sexual
pleasure. As with pride, so with lust, the sin is in the inordinacy. And when
we speak of something being inordinate, the word behind the inordinate is the
word order. And order, order in theological terms, order is the right means
being taken to achieve a good end, the right means being taken to achieve a
good end, theres order. Back then to sexual pleasure. In the mind of God,
does sexual pleasure have a good end? Indeed, indeed. Later on, among the
capital sins is gluttony. And gluttony is again the inordinate desire for food
and drink. Is it a sin to eat or drink? No. Now does eating and drinking
have a good end? Yes, otherwise, well, we wouldnt be here if we hadnt eaten
for say, at least the last two weeks. So that just as with the preservation
of the individual person, God has a built in desire for the preservation of
the human race. And, therefore, sexual pleasure, and the moment you use these
words all kinds of connotations which are modern world, of course, associates
with these words. So, no, sexual pleasure is a gift from God. Whats the end?
The reproduction of the human race. Is that the only end? No. For the fostering
of the mutual love between husband and wife. But you better add, you better
add, between husband and wife. So that, the inordinacy is what makes lust,
lust. And this is where living as we know in the most sex-saturated society
in human history. No question about it. To understand, I went on to cover
the capital sins in the present lecture. We wont go on to further detail,
Copyright © 2005 Institute on Religious Life
Conference transcription from a talk
that Father Hardon gave to the Institute on Religious Life
Institute on Religious Life, Inc.
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