VIRTUES &VICES: Countering the Deadly Vices with Godly Virtues

IV
COUNTERING THE "DEADLY" VICES WITH VIRTUES

"Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand" (Eph. 6:13).
We need to see the deadly vices in the context of the spiritual warfare we are engaged in as Christians. We are in mortal combat with an enemy, Satan and his host of evil spirits, who seek to destroy us and to take from us the reward of heaven-an inseparable union with an all-loving and all-wise Creator. While the encounter with vices may be inevitable, we need not counter them unarmed. The virtues are like a warrior's armor and weaponry. At worst they blunt the blows of the deadly vices; but at their best they enable us to defeat the enemy decisively. The Apostle Paul exhorts us to "put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature" (Col. 3:5). He goes on to list a number of deadly vices: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires, greed, anger, rage, malice, slander, filthy language, and lies (Col. 3:5,8,9). He instructs us to "put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator" (Col. 3:10). This new self is characterized by virtue: compassion, kindness. humility, gentleness, patience, and love (Col. 3:12,14).

The necessity of countering the vices with virtues was long recognized by Christians. Francis of Assisi, a 13th century reformer, describes the power of the virtues in destroying vices in his poetic discourse on The Praises of the Virtues (Salutatio Virtutum)26

0 most holy Virtues, may the Lord protect all of you, from Whom you come and proceed. There is surely no one in the entire world who can possess any one of you unless he dies first. Whoever possesses one (of you) and does not offend the others, possesses all. And whoever offends one (of you) does not possess any and offends all.  And each one destroys vices and sins. Holy Wisdom destroys Satan and all his subtlety. ...Holy Charity destroys every temptation of the devil and of the flesh and every carnal fear.
Writings on the seven deadly sins or vices can be traced back to the early church fathers, such as Cassian, a 4th century writer. Geoffrey Chaucer, a 14th century English writer, included a treatise on repentance and the nature of the seven deadly sins or vices in his book The Canterbury Tales (last chapter, "The Parson's Tale").  Chaucer used the image of a tree in describing the deadly vices as "principle sins because they are the chief sins and the trunk from which branch all others. And the root of these seven sins is pride, which is the general root of all evils; for from this root spring certain branches, as anger, envy, acedia or sloth, avarice (or coveteousness, for vulgar understanding), gluttony, and lechery. And each of these principal sins has its branches and its twigs..." Chaucer remarked that the visible acts of sin are indications of what is within a man's heart, just as the sign outside the tavern is a sign of the wine that is within the cellar. Chaucer identified a virtue for countering each of the deadly vices:
 
Seven Deadly Vices
Virtues
Pride Humility 
Greed, avarice, coveteousness Liberality, mercy
Lust Chastity, continence
Anger Patience, meekness
Gluttony Temperance, abstinence, self-control
Envy Love of God, love of neighbor, love of enemy
Sloth Fortitude, courage
 
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| Pride | Greed | Lust | Anger | Gluttony | Envy | Sloth | Bibliography | Notes
(c) 1994, 2001 Don Schwager