Magazine article The Christian Century

Glittering Vices. (M.E.M.O)

Magazine article The Christian Century

Glittering Vices. (M.E.M.O)

Article excerpt

THE SEVEN deadly sins got their name not from the Bible but from ancients of the church. These early Christians listed sins that were at the head (caput) of a column, sins from which others flowed. We translate that concept as "capital sins." The capital-deadly sins are indeed deadly, and deserve attention.

We do not have to take them as they are, however. W. C. Fields once said he'd been studying the Bible for years, looking for a loophole. The French have recently begun to set a precedent f0r loophole-seeking, or at least lessening the brunt of the deadly sins. The French? Mainly a set of French people who have formed De la Question Gourmande (New York Times, March 6), devoted to the cause of getting the Vatican to remove from the sin list what is in English, "gluttony," in French, "la gourmandise." The secretary-general of the group says "the pope was not unsympathetic."

Writer Mary Blume quotes Catherine Soulier and Lionel Poilane: "Gourmandise connotes not gluttony but a warmhearted approach to the table, to receiving and giving pleasure through good company and food." That's not far from biblical definitions of hospitality, and is surely a conscience-easing redefinition.

Why stop with gluttony? Try "pride," another of the deadlies. Why not take "pride" off the list and replace it with "self-esteem." Self-esteem, let's say, "connotes not pride but a warmhearted approach to self-love, to receiving and giving pleasure through following Jesus' word to love the neighbor as one's self."

When choosing their favorite sin, some might say "sloth," thinking that it means being lazy, lolling in the tub too long, sleeping late. Alas, that won't work. "Sloth" is a bad translation of acedia or accidie, the "noonday demon," what Aquinas defined as sadness in the face of spiritual good. Deadly sloth demands spiritual therapy and the grace of God, not downgrading. …

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