The Seven Deadly Sins


Now is it bihovely thyng to telle whiche been the sevene deedly synnes, this is to seyn, chiefaynes of synnes. Alle they renne in o lees, but in diverse manneres. Now been they cleped chieftaynes, for as muche as they been chief and spryng of alle othere synnes.
( Geoffrey Chaucer, The Canterbury Tales, end of the 14th century) 
Currently I’m working on a new project, based on the seven deadly sins. As we all know, people are more often tempted to behave in an immoral and self-gratifying way, then to be worthy successors of mother Theresa. This is not a washout of the last decades where - at least in the Western world - most people live a luxurious and spoiled life, but this longing for bad behaviour has been going on for ages. Despite all the philosophical, political and religious morals that where stew upon mankind, most people stayed rotten to the core. The church and his wise men of course had mayor problems with this (where politicians and philosophers had a more realistic point of view...) and they tried to systemize all the shortcomings of men in a way that included all disgusting behaviour, but that was still appealing (or rather appalling) to the illiterate masses.
The Greek monastic theologian Evagrius of Ponticus, also called Evagrius the Solitary (345-399 AD), was the first who categorized eight evil thoughts, or eight terrible temptations, from which all sinful behaviour springs. The eight patterns of evil thought are gluttony, greed, sloth, sorrow, lust, anger, vainglory and pride. He spoke out of experience for he had been - even as a monk - been tempted by all of them, even by a married wife. His Praktikos (375 AD) should be a guide to a truly ascetic life and was more or less a bestseller in its times. It helped readers identify the process of temptation, their own strengths and weaknesses, and the remedies available for overcoming temptation.
Two centuries later, in the late 6th century, Pope Gregory I the Great (d. 604) revised the sins to seven and went as far as calling them ‘deadly’ in his Moralia in Job. They were:
Avaritia or Greed



1. Superbia or Pride

2. Invidia or envy
3. Ira or Anger
4. Avaritia or Greed
5.Tristisa or Sadness
6. Gula or Gluttony
7. Luxuria or Lust
(Moralia in Job, XXXI cap. xlv).


Gregory ranked the sins’ seriousness on the degree in which they offended against love. They were called deadly because they were so severe that committing one of them, meant ending up in hell. The church made a division between sins which were venial and could be forgiven without the need for the sacrament of Confession and those which were capital - deadly - and merited damnation. The deadly sins had such a fatal effect on your spiritual health that you could not be saved. Throughout the Middle Ages and long after, the Church emphasised teaching all lay people the deadly sins. They also invented salvation by the heavenly virtues that should be lived up to. But those heavenly virtues - chastity, temperance, charity, diligence, forgiveness, kindness and humility were of course hard to live up to too and made a lot of the people feeling miserable to the bone.
Gula or Gluttony
Virtues and sins were preached on the altars, decorated the walls of churches and filled books. There was no escaping. To make them comprehensible for the illiterate great unwashed the foxy church writers often used information from bestiaries - I wrote about them in my last blog: the popular medieval collections of descriptions and anecdotes of mythical and real animals, which were combined with moral comments that judged the animal, based on its behaviour, in a christian way. Since people in those days lived much closer to animals then we do nowadays, that should do the trick.
And that is the point where it starts getting interesting for me. I am absolutely not a moral crusader, far from that, but to me it is an interesting way to expand my animal kingdom. I’m working on a series of artworks in which I combine information of bestiaries and sins. I make the works with a combination of all the modern techniques - digital painting, photography and photoshop, but they should look as if they’re much older than that. The first ones on gluttony and greed are ready and turned out fine. No preaching or what ever, just abundant animal pieces, in which one can indulge in richness, not wither in feeling sin full. The other sins will follow quickly.

Further reading:
Praktikos: http://www.ldysinger.com/evagrius/01_Prak/00a_start.htm
Moralia in Job: http://www.lectionarycentral.com/GregoryMoraliaIndex.html