Countering the Deadly Vices with Godly Virtues
COUNTERING THE "DEADLY" VICES WITH
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).
"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).
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
|Greed, avarice, coveteousness
|Temperance, abstinence, self-control
|Love of God, love of neighbor, love of enemy