The Seven Deadly Sins: Dorothy Sayers

In preparation for the next sermon series on the Seven Deadly Sins, I’ve been reading Dorothy Sayers, “Introduction” to Dante’s Purgatory. Here are few quotes worth noting:

“If a man is once convinced of his own guilt and that he is sentenced by a just tribunal, all punishment of whatever kind is remedial, since it lies with him to make it so; if he is not so convinced, then all punishment, however enlightened, remains merely vindictive, since he sees it so and will not make it otherwise. It has been well said by the great saint [St. Catherine of Genoa] that the fire of Hell is simply the light of God as experienced by those who reject it; to those, that is, who hold fast to their darling illusion of sin, the burning reality of holiness is a thing unbearable. To the penitent, that reality is a torment so long and only so long as any vestige of illusion remains to hamper their assent to it: they welcome torment, as a sick man welcomes the pains of surgery, in order that the last crippling illusion may be burned away.”

“If you insist on having your own way, you will get it: Hell is the enjoyment of your own way forever. If you really want God’s way for you, you will get it in Heaven.”

“It is often asked: ‘Why does the Church not count Cruelty as a Deadly Sin?’ the answer is that although cruelty is indeed (in one sense) a sin deadly to the soul that indulges in it, it is not a root-sin. No sane person is cruel for cruelty’s sake: there is always, hidden behind the act and habit of cruelty, some other (often unacknowledged and unsuspected) evil motive. It is important (as many psychiatrists would agree) to discover what, in any particular case, the root of cruelty is. It may, in fact derive from any one of the Capital Sins: from sheer selfish indifference to others’ needs and feelings (Pride); from jealousy, resentment, or fear (Envy); from ill-temper, vindictiveness, or violent indignation (Wrath); from laziness, cowardice, lack of imagination, complacency, or irresponsibility (Sloth); from meanness, acquisitiveness, or the determination to get on in life (Avarice); from self-indulgence and wanton pursuit of pleasure (Gluttony); from perversions of sexual and personal relationships, such as sadism, masochism, or possessiveness (Lust). Even in this world, it is usually found insufficient to punish symptoms without an effort to discover the underlying spiritual disease. Here, however, the cure is often attempted by merely removing the occasion of discontent;…it is necessary to cut deeper and eradicate the sin.”

Sayers explains Dante’s exposition in Purgatory and his use of the Seven Deadly Sins as: love perverted, love defective, and love excessive. Love Perverted, the lowest on the mountain are:

  • Pride (Superbia) which is the love of self perverted to hatred and contempt for one’s neighbor.
  • Envy (Invidia) which is the love of one’s own good perverted to the wish to deprive other men of theirs, and
  • Wrath (Ira) which is the love of justice perverted to revenge and spite.

Next up the mountain comes Love Defective:

  • Sloth (Accidie) which is the failure to love any good object in its proper measure, and, especially, to love God actively with all one has and is.

Lastly we come to Love Excessive in which Sayers reminds us that, “One object, and one object only, is rightly to be loved ‘with all my heart, with all my mind, with all my soul, and with all my strength.’ Love for any other object must be so ordered as to remain subordinate to the love of God and the right hierarchy of the ‘secondary goods’.” In this upper region of the mountain we have,

  • Avarice or Covetousness (Avaritia) which is the excessive love of money and power.
  • Gluttony (Gula) which is the excessive love of pleasure. And lastly,
  • Lust (luxuria) which is the excessive love of persons.

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