Further reading

Jones, Emrys, ed. Henry Howard Earl of Surrey: Poems.

oxford: Clarendon Press, 1970. Sessions, William A. Henry Howard, The Poet Earl of Surrey: A Life. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999.

David Houston Wood

SEVEN DEADLY SINS (CARDINAL SINS, CAPITAL vices) The "cardinal sins" were considered the most serious sins in pre-Reformation Christianity and generally included all mortal (major) sins. These were relatively abstract terms under which the medieval church categorized other more specific sins for the purpose of eliciting confession. Technically, the terms deadly sins and cardinal sins are not interchangeable; indeed, the phrase deadly sins did not start to come into common use until the 14th century. However, these have been elided over the years. The number of deadly sins—seven—has its own significance in medieval theology. Seven was thought to represent completion, based on the precedent set by the seven days of the Creation.

Though the idea of a list of the most serious sins has a long pre-Christian history, the cardinal sins have their basis in the Bible. This would seem to suggest that the idea of a list of major sins originated in the Bible, though it does have history before the Judeo-Christian era. The fourth-century theologian John Cassian proposed the first list of sins, which Pope Gregory revised into the list most commonly recognized throughout the Middle Ages: superbia, ira, invidia, avaritia, acedia, gula, luxuria


(pride, wrath or anger, envy, avarice or greed, sloth, gluttony, lust). Gregory even suggested the mnemonic acronym siiaagl as an aid for devout Christians.

Gregory's list was intended to rank the sins according to their severity. Pride, for example, was thought such a direct affront to God that it merited the top position on the list. It is the sin of excessive self-love, or extreme confidence in personal ability, thus denying the grace and assistance of God. It is related to the pre-Christian concept of hubris (overbearing, godlike pride). Wrath, more commonly known as anger, refers to the failure to accept love and the embracing of conflict. Envy involves all-consuming desire—in this case, the desire to be someone else (or at least to have their position, possessions, and characteristics). Gluttony is similarly all-consuming, as it is the desire to consume beyond one's means and necessity. Avarice goes beyond simple greed, or lust for material possessions; it also involves the desire to possess everything. Sloth is the avoidance of both physical and spiritual work, while lust is the desire to indulge in the pleasures of the flesh. Occasionally one or more of the following terms is substituted on the list: vana gloria, or vainglory, which is related to pride; tristitia, or the sin of despair/hoplesness; and cupiditas, or covetousness, which is related to both avarice and lust.

one very popular representation of the deadly sins is the ubiquitous model of the "Tree of Vice," usually portrayed with its counterpart, the "Tree of Virtue." The seven cardinal sins are also popular in literature, with the more famous examples including "The Parson's Tale" from Geoffrey Chaucer's The Canterbury Tales, William Langland's Piers Plowman (Passus 5), Edmund Spenser's The Faerie Queene (book 1), and the pageant in Christopher Marlowe's play Dr. Faustus. See also Confessio Amantis, virtues.

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