In the middle of the journey of our life I found myself within a dark woods where the straight way was lost.
― Dante, Inferno
As we prepare to enter into the season of Lent, it is a good time for us to reflect on sin. I suppose any time is good, but with a type of added concentration on sin. Pope Francis recently encouraged the Church to return to the great Poet Dante and his Divine Comedy. It would also be helpful to return to St. Thomas Aquinas’ own reflection on these deadly sins, because there is a great deal of theological consistency between both texts. So I’d like to offer a reflection for each week on these 7 Deadly Sins.
The purpose of this post is to generate interest in the topic. One might be inclined to think that there is nothing new to learn about these deadly sins. However, I would strongly disagree. It has been my experience that we, in the west, are typically formed by our cultural understanding of these sins. Yet, what is notable in St. Thomas and Dante’s approach to the 7 deadly sins is that there is often an entirely opposite definition at play.
For instance, many people consider sloth a matter of laziness. But it isn’t that at all. Some consider Greed a sin of the flesh - but it isn’t that. Some consider pride a type of self-confidence. But…you get the point. What I appreciate about both Dante and St. Thomas Aquinas’ approach to the deadly sins is it illuminates something deeper than the superficial notion of sin found in our culture. There is something deeper going on here.
When I first taught on this topic in my parish in Windsor, Ontario, I heard several parishioners say to me enthusiastically, “I never realized how affected I was by these deadly sins.” Its an odd thing to celebrate, but the very spirit behind such a celebration was a type of illumination of conscience, a deeper welcoming of Divine Light that liberates us. It awakens the soul to a deeper self-understanding, and helps us approach God with more authenticity.
Sin tends to remain unaddressed if its true nature is not understood, or named. Demons are cast out more easily when we know their names. When we can name the sin, when we can understand the root of the problem, this helps us uproot it. When we have its name, we begin to exert power over it and develop such good habits that bring us to the peek of our purgatory. As we explore these deadly sins, please consider asking yourself if you are self-aware of their presence. If not, they may be running the show of your life in very hidden ways. We are all born with a type of addiction to these sins. Its a matter of figuring out how they manifest in our own life.
I would love to hear from you. What are the ways our culture understand pride? What is your understanding of the definition of this sin?
On this way it has somewhat of a generic character, inasmuch as all sins may arise from pride, in two ways. First directly, through other sins being directed to the end of pride which is one's own excellence, to which may be directed anything that is inordinately desired. Secondly, indirectly and accidentally as it were, that is by removing an obstacle, since pride makes a man despise the Divine law which hinders him from sinning, according to Jeremiah 2:20, "Thou hast broken My yoke, thou hast burst My bands, and thou saidst: I will not serve."
St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica, II, II, Q. 162. A. 2