Evagrius: The Seven Deadly Sins, Origins

History of Sin

According to Diogenes Laertes (c. 200 AD) there were four passions: grief, fear, craving and pleasure, citing the poet Zeno (1669 - 1750) who used the word pathos to mean "an agitation of the soul alien from right reason and contrary to nature", denoting suffering. Contrary to contemporary positive views of passion, to the ancients it denoted drives that wrecked equilibrium. Zeno's passions gave rise to others, e.g. grief produced pity, envy, jealousy, rivalry, heaviness, annoyance, distress, anguish and distraction. this accounts for the idea that "deadly sins" originate in  vulnerabilities which belong to our nature one thing leads to another. Cicero (106 – 43 BC) used the word Perturbatio, more moral and concrete than pathos.

Plato (c. 428–427 BC - c. 348–347 BC) taught that archetypes lay  behind appearances in a transcendent world of perfect form; this led to monotheism as Plato's highest form, "the good" became God.  Although it lies beyond experience, humanity attracted to this transcendent world and can reach it through contemplation from which virtue flows, sin blocks our way.

Aristotle (384-322 BC) virtue is a rational choice leading to fulfilment, not innate but acquired through practise; as social animals virtue enhances society. The practice of virtue makes us virtuous. Not direct influence on early church but reflected in Benedict (480 – 547).

For the ancients "sin" and virtue were not moral but a matter of imbalance and the need for social order; the purpose of philosophy was learning to live and learning to die: the first meant attentiveness to the present and the flow of feelings; bad habits of mind were tempered by the art of dialogue; "Know thyself" was inscribed in the forecourt of the temple of Apollo at Delphi, glossed by Evagrius: "if you want to know God, know yourself." The second meant tempering bodily desires and concentrating on the soul. Horace's (65 – 8 BC) list: avarice, covetousness, ambition, envy, anger, sloth, wine, lewdness.

Christianity inherited the Ten commandments: idolatry, murder, theft, covetousness, slander. OT Wisdom Literature reflects on virtue and vice; but the OT foundation is: trust in God, prayer, alms-giving; Torah is not an iron law but a gift and a blessing; God forgives those who repent and make amends. Paul reflects a combination of Jewish and Greek virtues and vices. Didache (c100): murders, adulteries, lusts, fornications, thefts, idolatries, witchcraft, sorceries, robberies, perjuries, hypocrisies, duplicities, deceit, pride, malice, self-will, avarice, foul language, jealousy, insolence, arrogance, boastfulness. they reflect the individual within the social, Jesus' teaching on "The Kingdom of God", the social reality of God's rule. Jesus: fornication, theft, murder, adultery, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, licentiousness, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. Jesus was less concerned with impurity laws, more with people looking within themselves.

Testament of Reuben from the Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs (Jewish or Christian between 100 BC and 200 AD) lists seven spirits: life, sight, hearing, smell, taste, speech, procreation; vices: lust, gluttony, anger, vanity, arrogance, lying, injustice; there is also an eighth spirit of sleepiness or sloth.

Matthew 4:1-11, Luke 4:1-12 identify gluttony, avarice and vainglory. Augustine matched these with John 22:16: gluttony, vainglory, avarice. James 1:14-15 links desire, sin and death. 1 John 5:16-17 cites "mortal sin", beyond intercession (not to be confused with Roman Catholic mortal and venial sin). Tertullian divides everyday sin from: murder, idolatry, fraud, apostasy, blasphemy, adultery, fornication where even the prayer of Christ cannot prevail. The soul forms at conception and tendency to sin therefore inherited from Adam, cleansed in Baptism; on subsequent chance forgiveness. Origen (c. 185–254) no second chance but reports bishops "forgiving sin" except: idolatry, fornication, adultery. Acts 15:29: idolatry, fornication and murder; until end 2nd Century believed these could not be forgiven. Forgiveness based on Matthew 16:19. Pope Callistus 9217-222) indicator of more lenient age, particularly for sexual sin (Matthew 13:24-30).

Evagrius "eight thoughts" or Logismoi ("cracks in the heart" - Louth): gluttony, lust, avarice, sadness, anger, sloth (acedia), vainglory, pride.

Cassian, without acknowledgment, adapted - turning Evagrius' diagnostic to a didactic approach - and transmitted Evagrius to the Western monastic movement. Pelagius (ca. 354 – 420/440 AD), followed patristic tradition but overturned by Augustine's (354-430) denial of the will and teaching on the cosmic 'fall' and sin as a sexually transmitted disease. Christ's death shifts from completion of creation to atonement. In spite of the second Council of Orange (529) rejected Augustine's idea of humans pre-ordained to sin, became part of Catholic belief and accounts for hardening of incipient legalism. Gregory the Great (r 590-604) pride generates the seven: vainglory, envy, anger, sadness, avarice, gluttony, lust. Christ came with the Sevenfold gifts of Spirit to rescue us. Gregory converted sin from the will to the body. Augustine's "divided will" transforms to Gregory's innate corruption and divine retribution; we are forgiven but must still pay; Christ as propitiator; cosmos gigantic moral machine only mitigated by Eucharist.

In Ireland, Columan's monks (d 615) were expected to confess daily to a senior monk. The practice grew, empowering clergy, made mandatory at 4th Lateran (1215); fixed penances brought self insight and insight into Jesus' suffering. Anselm (c. 1033 – 1109) on substitution and transferrable merit. 4th Lateran links sin to Eucharist. Aquinas (1225-74) modifies Augustine, Gregory and Anselm: compunction, confession, contrition and satisfaction. The deadly sins pointed to their opposing virtues: faith, hope, charity, justice, prudence, temperance and fortitude; three Pauline "theological" and four "Cardinal". corporal works of mercy: feeding, giving drink, clothing, shelter, visiting sick, ransoming and burying. Spiritual works of mercy: instructing, counselling, admonishing, bear wrongs, forgive, comfort, pray for living and dead. something of the therapeutic revived in 4th Lateran: confessors to behave like skilled physicians.

Reformers moved back to Ten Commandments and strengthened forensic approach, de-clericalised and internalised moral scrutiny, domesticated.