Evagrius: The Seven Deadly Sins, Origins

The Eight "Thoughts" of Evagrius


Gnastromagia or "the madness of the stomach", in all lists, usually first as it relates to the most basic concept, our physical survival not just over indulgence but the temptation to turn away from restraint and also to become obsessed with medical  conditions. Jesus, following the OT pattern, calls for trust in god (Matthew 6:25-26). Paul is the  first NT writer to refer to gluttony as a sin (Philippians 3:19). possibly because, unlike Jesus, he was in contact with Gentile excess. Cassian makes the concept more coarse, losing the facet of hypochondrial fasting is the  cure for gluttony; influenced Benedict's moderate rule. Gregory the Great found the body repulsive and associated gluttony with Adam and Eve's fall; Aquinas (1225 – 1274) reverted to the moderate position that only eating and drinking for its own sake was gluttonous; it is a sin against the self; his subtlety overpowered by Medieval caricature. Today we recognise both over-eating, constant eating and their converse in anorexia and bulimia.


Porneiea or any form of unauthorised sexual activity, a sin of the mind. OT accepts sex as a "fact of life" but has bias against female permissiveness; women must be modest in a way that men might not; women characterised as seductresses. Sex always begins with a mental image; Christian teaching runs against contemporary thought that sexual feeling and expression is harmless if it does not involve betrayal. Porneia is explicitly only applied to women; the analysis is from a male perspective leading to a fear of women that is unholy and inhuman. In early church marriage third choice after virginity and widowhood Jerome: marriage could not be undertaken without sin; Augustine: sex cannot be enjoyed without sin. The rarity of married saints. Cassian's view more optimistic than Augustine but he was forced, because of the Pelagian controversy, to 'up the stakes', coming closer to the idea that sex transmitted original sin. Augustine's idea of predestination was a discouragement to leading a holy life which was difficult enough,  said Cassian because humans were almost helpless in the face of sexual temptation. For Augustine sexual pleasure was the consequence of disobedience and the view permeated Latin Christendom. Gregory the Great uses luxuria, something disorderly, approaching debauchery. Predictably, Benedict and then Aquinas are much more  moderate, the latter saying that the sax act does not detract from virtue: "the abundance of pleasure in a well ordered sex act is not inimical to right reason"; but because sex was justified by its ends this led to sex-in-itself not being a valuable component of marriage and accounts for the RC church's condemnation of sex not open to procreation. Aquinas condemns the opposite vice of coldness. "Our culture encourages sexual fantasy as a permanent background wallpaper to daily life. We are all tempted to impose our own sexual imaginings and fantasies on those to whom we are attracted, and then to blame them when they fail to fulfil these; or indeed even when they succeed ... The attempt to integrate spiritual and sexual love is a lifelong task, because we are designed to love and desire." Love transcends lust but little said about it in the Christian tradition.


Philarguria (love of silver), weighs down the ability of the soul to take flight, notably 1 6:9-10. In Israel prosperity was linked with blessing: Solomon was rich; and after his trials Job had his riches returned; covetousness condemned (1 Kings 21) not quite the same as avarice (2 Kings 15; 16; 17; 18; 19; 20; 21; 22; 23; 24; 25; 26; 27). NT Luke 6:24; Matthew 13:22 much more emphatic; but Matthew 6:24 is about freeing the soul, not a social justice agenda, developed 1 Timothy 6:7-8; James 5:1-5; Revelation 18:9-19. 5:1-5 the basis of early Christian teaching, taken from the OT and Diogenes the Cynic (400-323 BC). Wealth only became a problem at the end of the 2nd Century when Clement of Alexandria distinguished the possession of wealth from its use; John Chrysostom (347-407) said not to share with the poor was theft and just investment guaranteed salvation. Benedictines not only swore a vow of poverty but also held clothes and tools in common; Gregory the Great adds envy to the Evagrius and Cassian lists. Universal condemnation of usury. Again, Aquinas says desire for worldly goods is not sinful in itself but possession of more than one needs is injustice, the foundation of Catholic social teaching. Calvin challenged the Aquinas assumption of fixed quantity and proposed money lending. Today we value savings to control the future and we think that what we own is a private matter; greed and envy respectively in the rhetoric of capitalism and socialism; the passion of avarice burns slowly; but what Evagrius defined as avarice we would call prudence; but the fundamental sin of avarice is the need to control rather than trusting God. The prosperity gospel OT not NT.


Lupe, or grief - proximate to  our word nostalgia or bitter regret - is necessary but the problem arises when it gets out of proportion.


Orge, rage or wrath, related to sadness in that it depends on memory; it is a barrier to prayer. God's OT anger stirred when relationships are threatened; anger against inferiors and superiors, not equals; hatred against sinners and enemies not condemned; Psalm 37 trust in the lord is better than anger; the verse over Psalm 4:4. Jesus angry against the devil in the wilderness (Luke 4; Matthew 4); against temple traders (Matthew 21:12-13; John 2:14-16); and demonic possession, linked with compassion (Mark 5); not angry on his own behalf as shown in Luke 23:34; description in Matthew 5:22. Galatians 5:19-21 but angry Revelation interpreted to justify hatred in the name of Christ. Anger in the ancient world justified against those who did not accord respect, a matter of dignity. The silent anger of hatred and depression.

For Cassian there is no righteous anger; Augustine, predictably, described God's righteous wrath; On balance, Aquinas thinks anger useful to spur us on to justice; conversely, today there is much destructive anger; but our sense of injury can be unfounded; the danger arises when we de-humanise the person who makes us angry; anger breeds anger.


Acedia (Latin accidie, sloth), but more pervasive and invasive, enervating. OT sloth identified with laziness Proverbs 6:10-11); the punishment for sloth (Deuteronomy 28:65-67). 2 Thessalonians 37; 10; 11; The talents (Matthew 25:14-30; Luke 19:11-24); the rich fool (Luke 12:13-21); Jesus counter intuitive: trust in God (Matthew 6:25-33; Luke 12:22-31);Mary preferred to Martha (Luke 10:38-41); equal pay for unequal work (Matthew 20:1-14); Jesus knew about the anxieties of near poverty. Evagrius learned from life that sloth can be a frittering away of time avoiding commitment: setting goals is vital; union with God is not easy. A conflict between praying without ceasing and ordinary work; most people need structure to handle the passing of time and stability to foster prayer Benedictine monasticism was not about rigour  but balance. Gregory did not classify sloth as one of the seven. Aquinas connects it with sadness, a lack of joy in what God offers. Today we distinguish sloth from depression and, thinking we work hard, made it a virtue not a vice; escapism as a response to meaninglessness which returns to the Evagrius sense that sloth represents a lack of meaning in our lives, no matter how hard we work in the 24/7 world; it includes taking on a myriad tasks to fill time as well as aimless consumer therapy; the drudgery of watching or escaping the clock.


Kenodoxia, the first part means emptying, the second: opinion, fame, reputation, glory; Latin inanis gloria. Thinking of vanity as physical, we have lost the sense of Ecclesiastes 1:2. We are led to the cult of personality but for Evagrius it was a sin of the virtuous; overcoming other sins and possessing spiritual virtues both lead to it. bible: Daniel 3 on Nebuchadnezzar; the whole episode of the Chosen People in the wilderness. Consider 2 Corinthians 11:30-33; 12:1-9. Temptation: Matthew 4:5-6; Luke 4:9-12. Places at table: Luke 14:8-11. Pharisee and tax collector: Luke 18:9-14. Kenosis: Philippians 2:6-7. As vainglory means circumscribing and stereotyping God, Evagrius sometimes commends "free prayer". Not a classical virtue, not valuing humility which Jesus turns on its head. Benedict: the point is not to climb the ladder to glory but to descend it in humility. Gregory admired the ascent to virtue/descent to humility paradox; whereas Evagrius saw vainglory as a step towards pride, Gregory saw pride as the root, the origin of possessive envy, loses the idea of vainglory as feeding on self image, relying, in his view, on blindness to self, followed by Aquinas. In a merger, pride became pompous and vain as well as cold and isolated. Today: vainglory represents an emptiness that relies on others for self reality; the ubiquity of the image blinds us to what cannot be seen.


For Evagrius, pride is the ultimate illusion, the end of the sinful process, not the beginning, a refusal of relationship, ultimately with God; it is only in the state of humility that the human mind can see itself as luminous, lit up by God, so it is the ultimate sin. The Bible: tells the story of pride from Adam to the last days as the rebellion against God; Augustine made it the first sin from Eden; Pharaoh in Egypt, Goliath, Nebuchadnezzar, Proverbs 3:34, Magnificat Luke 1:51-52; pride is about control. A humble king made no sense to classicists. Augustine influenced by Rome humbled established pride as the greatest sin; the role of Lucifer in Cassian, beauty falling into chaos, Adam  replicating Lucifer. Benedict  and obedience. Gregory the great: "Pride is the leader of the devil's army". Aquinas: the problem in the garden was not wanting to belike god or wanting knowledge but wanting forbidden knowledge which makes pride the precondition of all other sin as it seeks to dominate or be like God, to confuse creature and creator. Pride for Dante is at the bottom, its punishment is ice and its ascent the longest. Today: remember Mary's pride in the Magnificat, pride with humility; the enlightenment encouragement of autonomy close to pride, calculation rather than wisdom; what we can learn from the submissiveness of Islam.

; 2 Kings[ap