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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 sin.

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 one’s fallen human nature. St. Paul speaks of these as sins. That’s why the Church, following St. Paul’s 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, naturally drawn.

The Origin

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 doesn’t 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, I’m 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 we’ve just said, it is man’s 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 mother’s 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 I’ve not been blinded my affection for the child, my not doing something about those sinful tendencies. I don’t 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. I’ve 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, I’ve 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 don’t 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 there’s now whole science is developing claiming that for many people homosexuality is a natural. Sure it’s natural, sure it’s 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 I’m wrong, I’ve 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 I’ve got to believe that I’ve got a fallen nature. Sometimes in teaching the subject I tell my students, I’d like to call it the falling nature. We’re all leaning Towers of Pisa. Except unlike the tower in Pisa, we can fall.

Baptism’s Role

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. That’s our faith. And my Jesuit conferee in France, Father Bertant Demarjeri, had been writing extensively, especially in France, against the abortionists (?) and he’s 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 God’s mercy, but we don’t 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.

Sinful Tendencies

Why, we may ask, has God allowed us to have these sinful tendencies? There must have been in God’s 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 I’ve 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. That’s 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 didn’t really approve the New Creation. And all the Catholic papers in the country blazing headlines “Vatican Approves the New Creation”.They didn’t.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, I’m 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 God’s grace. As if we didn’t have a fallen human nature. You just don’t. If you want to destroy that chapter to your children, you just don’t 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 God’s name don’t do it. “But the archbishop said we should”. You tell him I told you you’re not going to do it. She thought she’d 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. It’s not theory, believe me.

Now we’ll go down and I like to finish all Seven Capital Sins before, let’s see, I go to, who knows the time that I’m 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, I’m intelligent. Or that I can sing, which I can’t. No. The key word is “inordinate”. When is the desire for one’s 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 one’s 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 Lady’s 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 won’t even ask children give credit to their parents. What’s the remedy for pride? Censure, knowledge of one’s self, especially shades of today’s homily. Especially ones all on the centralness. Ah, that’s why God has allowed us to sin. And hear it, the higher the sanctity He wants to call us to, the more He’s 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.

Christ’s Humility

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, Christ’s humility is not only an inspiration for us to accept, resign ourselves to being humiliated. But, even, hear it; providing we know it’s God’s 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 I’ve 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 don’t 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, we’re 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, they’re asking for a miracle. And we may need a miracle in next week’s elections. We may need it. But rather we have an election which, we’ll know then, in the highest authority of the country support the very opposite of what we’ve just said. We’ve got massive conversion work that’s what this, these classes are about, right? The reconversion of America.

Vain Glory

Just a word about vain glory. Vain glory is a lower grade of pride. It is the ordinate, inordinate desire to manifest one’s 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 it’s 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, I’ve 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. Let’s 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, there’s 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 wouldn’t be here if we hadn’t 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. What’s 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 won’t go on to further detail, so….

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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