The Seven Deadly Sins: A Tomistic Guide to Vanquishing Vice and Sin
© 2015 Kevin Vost
In the first centuries of the Christian epoch, devotees retreated into the desert wastes to flee temptation. Even away from the cry of the maddening crowd, however, they found themselves struggling with the everyday vices of mankind — tendencies toward pride, apathy, lust, envy, gluttony, anger, and sloth, and so on. In an attempt to organize a campaign against them, the monk-progenitors first had to identify the enemy, creating a list of the chief frailties that all others stemmed from. These seven enemies of the soul are not uniquely Christian sins; they are universal problems of the human condition, and Vost draws on classical sources (Aristotle and the Roman Stoics — Seneca, Epictetus, and Marcus Aurelius) for both insight and remedy. The remedy is only partially philosophical, however, as Vost also counsels readers to seek help in the sacraments of the Church, especially Confession and the Eucharist. Written in three stages, Vost first reviews how these seven in particular were singled out, shares patristic thought on the progression of vice from initial impulses to behavioral habit, and then offers a “Jacob’s ladder” route away from downfall. These include practices useful against every vice, while some are sin-specific. A few of the ‘rungs’ — an examination of conscience, mental awareness of drifting into vicious habit, and the deliberate cultivation of each vice’s counter-virtue, could easily be found in a book like A Guide to the Good Life.The master here, however, is not Epictetus, but Thomas Aquinas. It is Aquinas’ study of the desert fathers that produces a list of seven sins, and not eight — and Aquinas who offers advice for remedy, himself bringing together both the Hebrew and Greek wisdom traditions — harnessing both mindfulness and prayer, contemplation and action, philosophical principle and sacrament. The Seven Deadly Sins is thus true to its name in being a ‘Tomistic’ guide to vice and virtue, in effect offering laymen a guide into the theological expanse of Aquinas. Few people commit great evils, but we all hindered by the same seemingly minor snares. It is those small seed which can produce horror if left unchecked, however, and so this tidy little volume seems most valuable in the pursuit of spirituality, especially Christian.