The 7 Opposite Sins


A though on virtues, based on a discussion with my brother Billy.

Over its history, Christianity has acquired a fair number of lists of virtues and vices.

One list is the 4 cardinal virtues: prudence (common sense), justice (fairness), temperance (self-control), and fortitude (courage). Plato, who made the original list, included piety, but it was removed from the list (possibly by Cicero) before Christianity got a hold of it.

Plato's student Aristotle held that each virtue is the mean between two vicious extremes. He had his own list of virtues, which is less well known. But if we apply his definition to the 4 cardinal virtues, we get: Note: Terminology may vary.

Aristotle's theory of what makes a virtue has done well in Christianity. I suspect that this is because it fits well with a another common belief. The premises is that God created everything there is, and, furthermore, He only created good things. Thus, everything evil was originally something good that has since been corrupted. This fits with Aristotle because it explains that vices are not an original part of the created world. Instead, each one is a virtue that has either stretched too big or shriveled up too small. There is nothing new under the sun.

What I am interested in, is applying Aristotle's theory to another Christian list: The 7 Heavenly Virtues. For those who haven't heard of them, they are a list of virtues designed to be the opposite of the 7 Deadly Sins. For those who haven't heard of those either, they are a list of improper mental states (not actions) formalized by Pope Gregory I and based on an older list of 8 by a monk named Evagrius Ponticus.

The thing that bothers me here is that there are only 7 vices. According to Aristotle, however, there should be 14, the 7 Deadly Sins and 7 more sins "opposite" the 7 Heavenly Virtues. I assume the 7 Opposite Sins (as I guess they would be called) don't come up a lot, or we would hear about them more. My guess would be that they are the "shrunken" forms of virtues, and thus less common, or at least less noticed. In any case, knowing what they are might lead people to greater self-understanding, and thus virtue. " I don't think Socrates was right when he said that no one, knowing the right, would ever choose the wrong (cf Romans 7:15-19), but I do think it's uncommon.

So what would the 7 Opposite Sins be? Here is my attempt at making a list. Some of them don't have names in English, I'm afraid:
  1. Pride | Humility | Claiming that you are less than you are, denying your (genuine) abilities, refusing responsibility on the grounds you are incapable when you aren't. Often considered as an insidious form of pride.
  2. Envy | Kindness | Wanting to not have something because someone else doesn't, the desire to bring yourself down to match the lowest other, wishing misfortune on yourself so as to correct inequality, wanting someone else's failures, needs, or inferior qualities.
  3. Wrath | Patience | Appeasement, tolerating evil that you can prevent, indifference, isolationism.
  4. Sloth | Diligence | Workaholism
  5. Greed | Charity | Prodigality, reckless generosity, giving away what you need to someone who needs it less. Possibly should also include philanthropy in the cause of getting/keeping a certain reputation. Can also occur in people who know they have done something very wrong and are trying to make up for it.
  6. Gluttony | Temperance | Pointless self-denial, deliberately going without when in doesn't achieve anything (Note: doing to practice self-control counts as achieving something)
  7. Lust | Chastity | Inappropriate celibacy, as a married man who refuses to lie with his wife (see 1 Corinthians 7:1-5). Notable examples of people who actually did this include Tolstoy and Gandhi (probably due to Tolstoy's influence). Possibly I should also include Saint Jerome, although I don't know enough about him to be sure.
It seems that I was sort of right about these being sins of under-indulgence, at least for numbers 2, 6, and 7. But I missed something important. Those all have a sense of un-directed asceticism to them, of going without something as an end in itself. That, of course, makes me think of Buddha and the Middle Way. We have a whole religion based around this. But he's not the only one. Epicurus said the same thing in the name of a totally different goal: "Everything in moderation". The modern world likes to append "including moderation" to his phrase, but I don't think he would object. The idea the it's bad for people to always hold all their desires in check and should occasionally follow them wholeheartedly seems consistent with his philosophy. Provided that it isn't does too often, of course.

So here you are. More sins to avoid, in case anyone didn't have enough already. And if you are on that path, I recommend you start pursuing virtues instead. It's easier, and the payoffs are better.

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