Thursday, July 03, 2008


At dinner last evening my spouse surprised me by rattling off the Seven Deadly Sins: pride, avarice, lust, anger, gluttony, envy, sloth. I must have memorized that list myself many long years ago, but I would have been hard pressed to drag it up out of memory. My spouse observed: "We were made to list the sins before we even knew what they were."

We were in fact made to learn an entire arithmetic of vice and virtue. The Seven Deadly Sins. The Seven Gifts of the Holy Ghost. The Three Theological Virtues. The Four Cardinal Virtues. The Ten Commandments. Evolutionary psychologists debate the extent to which vice and virtue are innate. They might also look for the evolutionary origins of our need to itemize and number.

Having those tidy lists in one's head made preparing for Confession somewhat easier. "Bless me, Father, for I have sinned. I was prideful six times. Greedy twice. I had bad thoughts twenty times. I was angry with my sister once. And...and...uh...I was lazy...uh...eight times."

"Go in peace, my son. For your penance, say five Our Fathers and five Hail Marys."

I'm not sure we learned much about morality by all of this, but we certainly learned how to count.