Avoiding the Wide and Easy Road In
Two Three Four Parts (and counting...)
Part the First:
Have you heard of the Seven Deadly Sins? What are the Seven Deadly Sins, and why are they considered deadly?
Are the Seven Deadly Sins also Mortal Sins? Doesn't the meaning of the word "mortal" mean death, since being immortal means never dying?
For that matter, what is sin anyway, and why are the wages of sin, death?
Since the answer to the last question is foundational, lets look at sin.
The Catholic Encyclopedia begins with the assertion that sin is a moral evil, and then defines evil:
Evil is defined by St. Thomas (De malo, 2:2) as a privation of form or order or due measure. In the physical order a thing is good in proportion as it possesses being.
"A thing is good in proportion as it possesses being." And so does this mean evil does not possess being? Hmmmm.
We typically think of things like Good and Evil as opposites. So, when asked, "What is the opposite of good?" we generally give the answer, "Evil." If God is Good, then the opposite of God is Evil, and most folks think of the Devil as the opposite of God.
But, is he? Are God and the Devil on even ground, one being the opposite of the other and so capable of cancelling each other out?
That just doesn't seem right. It implies that God and the Devil are just two sides to the same coin, or are simply opposites always waxing and waning in some kind of harmony. But let's tease out some more implications.
What would be the opposite of all-powerful? Complete powerlessness. Is the Devil powerless? It seems not.
God is "I AM", being itself, the source of all being. What is the opposite of existence? Non-existence seems to be the correct answer. But this would mean Evil does not exist.
Clearly, thinking in terms of a simplistic Yin Yang duality doesn't really address the question of good and evil, since we soon run into contradiction. How to resolve this contradiction?
The answer is actually in that sentence: "A thing is good in proportion as it possesses being." The Catholic Encyclopedia goes on to explain, in precise terms, that evil is a diminishment of Being.
As a thing falls away from its possession of being, or in the case of a moral agent such as you or I, its active participation in being, it becomes less good. At some point we decide to stop saying "less good" and call it "evil." But that is like saying things are hot or cold. In truth, things are simply on a continuum of heat, from what we call hot to what we call cold, the absence of heat. At some point with regard to loss of heat, we arrive at what is called Absolute Zero. This is the temperature at which all molecular motion in a substance stops and virtually any vibrational motion whatsoever ceases. It is worth noting that, so far as we know, there is actually nothing in our universe at Absolute Zero.
Evil is the privation of Good. All things are less good than God. Some things have fallen so far from Good that we think of them as having fallen to the equivalent of Absolute Zero. We call them Evil. But what they are is less good. Yes, that sounds very different, and some folks will not like the implications on both sides. What implications? Well first, that all things that are not God could be viewed as "evil." But also, even the Devil can be thought of as "less good than God" insofar as the Devil actually exists.
Many will balk at the idea of associating any tiny bit of good to the Devil. But remember, God created Lucifer. Lucifer has fallen away, but Lucifer has not fallen out of existence. To exist requires participation in God's being. Yeah, it kind of bends my mind also.
I like to think of it in terms of Absolute Zero. We can't actually achieve absolute zero.
But, at very low temperatures in the vicinity of absolute zero, matter exhibits many unusual properties, including superconductivity, superfluidity, and Bose–Einstein condensation. Wikipedia
What does all that mean? In technical terms, it means weird stuff happens that is outside our normal experience. Or, honestly, I don't really know what it means, but I don't really know what Absolute Evil means either. My guess is weird stuff happens as you approach Absolute Evil.
When we think of those things that do not possess as much being as they should, we tend to put them on a continuum. At a certain point we begin to think of something as evil rather than simply less good. So, in everyday conversation we generally don't think of ourselves as "evil", or of the Devil as just "less than good." But, we do have a sense of scale or proportion, and we place things on that scale.
What is sin then?
According to Aquinas, sin is a privation of form or order or measure, a diminishment of our existence, and is something we generally call evil. Why the term "moral" evil? Well if we think of evil as a privation of the good, then we don't have to look far for examples. In general, we are aware of bad things happening. There are certain ways in which bad things can happen.
- Metaphysical Evil: We are, by virtue of our material existence, limited. We can't be everywhere at once, and we can't be all things to all people. And things that exist are limited by the fact other things exist. This limitation is simply a condition into which we are born. This is a metaphysical or ontological privation, and not something we usually call "evil". We mostly call it "life." And yet, don't we at one time or another wonder if there shouldn't be more to this life? We all are aware of some level of privation even if we can't vocalize it.
- Physical Evil: Things we think of as bad happen to us with no clear agent involved. A tsunami kills thousands. The ebola virus ravages a country. Drought causes famine and thousands suffer and die. These are cases where something physical deprives us of some good we could otherwise have, be it food or health or what have you. Remember, a privation of a good is considered to be an evil. But note, these physical evils are not caused by agents with a will to deprive. Which brings us to moral evil.
- Moral Evil: When an intelligent being deprives another of some moral good, this is moral evil. The Catholic Encyclopedia explains: "Since the morality of a human act consists in its agreement or non-agreement with right reason and the eternal law, an act is good or evil in the moral order according as it involves this agreement or non-agreement. When the intelligent creature, knowing God and His law, deliberately refuses to obey, moral evil results."
It is easy to find the definition of sin in that last point: "When the intelligent creature, knowing God and His law, deliberately refuses to obey, moral evil results."
From the above it should be easy to see why sins would be called deadly. All sin involves a diminishment of being. But it also seems that there could be a continuum of sins, and in fact the Church recognizes some sins as venial and some as mortal.
This brings us to the Seven Deadly Sins. The following list was developed by Pope Gregory I in AD 590:
- luxuria (lechery/lust)
- gula (gluttony)
- avaritia (avarice/greed)
- acedia (sloth/discouragement)
- ira (wrath)
- invidia (envy)
- superbia (pride)
These are also referred to as the seven capital sins or the seven cardinal sins. I call them the Seven Signposts on the Highway to Hell. Find out why in Part the Second, coming next week.