Listers, the Queen of Sin conquers the hearts of men and surrenders them to her generals. It is a war of vice and virtue. No individual, however, becomes virtuous or vicious because of a single act. Both virtue and vice are habits. The Philosopher, Aristotle, defines a habit as “a disposition whereby someone is disposed, well or ill.” Those habits which habituate the person toward the good, are called virtues. Those habits that dispose the person to evil are called vices. A person’s habits define who they are. Following Aristotle, Aquinas notes that habits are a species of quality. In this light, the Philosopher states, “a habit is a quality which it is difficult to change.”1

To change the quality of the soul is difficult. It is a difficulty that has served as a classic inspiration for tradition Catholic literature and commentary. One immediately thinks of the battle of the pagan gods against Christianity in Psychomachia or the journey of Dante the Pilgrim in The Divine Comedy. In this tradition stands Pope St. Gregory the Great’s The Books of the Morals: An Exposition on the Book of Blessed Job. The work is often cited in St. Thomas Aquinas’ Summa Theologica treatment of vice and virtue. In the selection below, Pope St. Gregory explains the hierarchy and methodology of the vices.2

 

1. The Queen of Sin

Pope St. Gregory the Great explains, “For the tempting vices, which fight against us in invisible contest in behalf of the pride which reigns over them, some of them go first, like captains, others follow, after the manner of an army. For all faults do not occupy the heart with equal access. But while the greater and the few surprise a neglected mind, the smaller and the numberless pour themselves upon it in a whole body.”3

For when pride, the queen of sins, has fully possessed a conquered heart, she surrenders it immediately to seven principal sins, as if to some of her generals, to lay it waste. And an army in truth follows these generals, because, doubtless, there spring up from them importunate hosts of sins.

The Saint continues, “Which we set forth the better, if we specially bring forward in enumeration, as we are able, the leaders themselves and their army. For pride is the root of all evil, of which it is said, as Scripture bears witness; Pride is the beginning of all sin. [Ecclus. 10, 1] But seven principal vices, as its first progeny, spring doubtless from this poisonous root, namely, (1) vain glory, (2) envy, (3) anger, (4) melancholy, (5) avarice, (6) gluttony, (7) lust. For, because He grieved that we were held captive by these seven sins of pride, therefore our Redeemer came to the spiritual battle of our liberation, full of the spirit of sevenfold grace.”4

“But these several sins have each their army against us….”5

 

2. The Army of Vain Glory

Along with listing the vices spawned from the capital vices, Pope St. Gregory also explains how each vice – once rooted in the heart – attempts to lead it into madness. He explains, “But the leaders are well said to exhort, the armies to howl, because the first vices force themselves into the deluded mind as if under a kind of reason, but the countless vices which follow, while they hurry it on to every kind of madness, confound it, as it were, by bestial clamour.”6

“For vain glory is wont to exhort the conquered heart, as if with reason, when it says, Thou oughtest to aim at greater things, that, as thou hast been able to surpass many in power, thou mayest be able to benefit many also.”

Vain Glory

  • Disobedience
  • Boasting
  • Hypocrisy
  • Contentions
  • Obstinacies
  • Discords
  • Presumptions of novelties

 

3. The Army of Envy

“Envy is also wont to exhort the conquered heart, as if with reason, when it says, In what art thou inferior to this or that person? why then art thou not either equal or superior to them? What great things art thou able to do, which they are not able to do! They ought not then to be either superior, or even equal, to thyself.”

Envy

  • Hatred
  • Whispering
  • Detraction
  • Exultation at the misfortunes of a neighbour
  • Affliction at his prosperity

 

4. The Army of Anger

“Anger is also wont to exhort the conquered heart, as if with reason, when it says, The things that are done to thee cannot be borne patiently; nay rather, patiently to endure them is a sin; because if thou dost not withstand them with great indignation, they are afterwards heaped upon thee without measure.”

Anger

  • Strifes
  • Swelling of mind
  • Insults
  • Clamour
  • Indignation
  • Blasphemies

 

5. The Army of Melancholy

“Melancholy is also wont to exhort the conquered heart as if with reason, when it says, What ground hast thou to rejoice, when thou endurest so many wrongs from thy neighbours? Consider with what sorrow all must be looked upon, who are turned in such gall of bitterness against thee.”

Melancholy

  • Malice
  • Rancour
  • Cowardice
  • Despair
  • Slothfulness in fulfilling the commands
  • Wandering of the mind on unlawful objects

 

6. The Army of Avarice

“Avarice also is wont to exhort the conquered mind, as if with reason, when it says, It is a very blameless thing, that thou desirest some things to possess; because thou seekest not to be increased, but art afraid of being in want; and that which another retains for no good, thou thyself expendest to better purpose.”

Avarice

  • Treachery
  • Fraud
  • Deceit
  • Perjury
  • Restlessness
  • Violence
  • Hardnesses of heart against compassion

 

7. The Army of Gluttony

“Gluttony is also wont to exhort the conquered heart, as if with reason, when it says, God has created all things clean, in order to be eaten, and he who refuses to fill himself with food, what else does he do but gainsay the gift that has been granted him.”

Gluttony

  • Foolish mirth
  • Scurrility
  • Uncleanness
  • Babbling
  • Dulness of sense in understanding

 

8. The Army of Lust

“Lust also is wont to exhort the conquered heart, as if with reason, when it says, Why enlargest thou not thyself now in thy pleasure, when thou knowest not what may follow thee? Thou oughtest not to lose in longings the time thou hast received; because thou knowest not how speedily it may pass by. For if God had not wished man to be united in the pleasure of coition, He would not, at the first beginning of the human race, have made them male and female.”

Lust

  • Blindness of mind
  • Inconsiderateness
  • Inconstancy
  • Precipitation
  • Self-love
  • Hatred of God
  • Affection for this present world
  • Dread or despair of that which is to come

 

9. Vices that Beget Other Vices

After listing the armies of each capital vice, Pope St. Gregory the Great explains that some of the vices are so intimately connected that there is a great danger of them spawning their counterpart. He teaches:

  • “But they are, each of them, so closely connected with other, that they spring only the one from the other. For the first offspring of pride is vain glory, and this, when it hath corrupted the oppressed mind, presently begets envy. Because doubtless while it is seeking the power of an empty name, it feels envy against any one else being able to obtain it.”7
  • “Envy also generates anger; because the more the mind is pierced by the inward wound of envy, the more also is the gentleness of tranquillity lost. And because a suffering member, as it were, is touched, the hand of opposition is therefore felt as if more heavily impressed.”
  • “Melancholy also arises from anger, because the more extravagantly the agitated mind strikes itself, the more it confounds itself by condemnation; and when it has lost the sweetness of tranquillity, nothing supports it but the grief resulting from agitation.
  • “Melancholy also runs down into avarice; because, when the disturbed heart has lost the satisfaction of joy within, it seeks for sources of consolation without, and is more anxious to possess external goods, the more it has no joy on which to fall back within.
  • “But after these, there remain behind two carnal vices, gluttony and lust. But it is plain to all that lust springs from gluttony, when in the very distribution of the members, the genitals appear placed beneath the belly. And hence when the one is inordinately pampered, the other is doubtless excited to wantonness.”

Pope St. Gregory the Great’s emphasis on the vice of melancholy is unique and merits close consideration. Modernity is uniquely marked by a melancholic spirit. Whether its suicide being praised as man’s one true choice in life or the prevalence of suicide amongst the general public, the vice has rooted itself deep in the heart of modern man.

 

10. Solider of God

Pope St. Gregory the Great ends his chapter by extolling the Solider of God. He specifically lauds the soldier’s ability to smell the scent of the vices, which is certainly an analog for the virtue of prudence. He states: “But the soldier of God, since he endeavours skillfully to pursue the contests with vices, smells the battle afar off; because while he considers, with anxious thought, what power the leading evils possess to persuade the mind, he detects, by the sagacity of his scent, the exhortation of the leaders. And because he beholds the confusion of subsequent iniquities by foreseeing them afar off, he finds out, as it were, by his scent the howling of the army.”

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  1. Habits: For more on habits and the source for the given quotes, see ST I-II.49.1-2 []
  2. Virtues & Values: Since Vatican II the Church has fallen into the modernist trap of speaking in terms of value. Values are subjective and carry the only the worth an individual wills them to have. A man may value golf or a woman’s right to abortion. One reason modern society cannot be moral is that it lacks language to even discuss morals. In contrast, virtues are characterized by an objectivity that a person can habituate themselves to good or evil. []
  3. Moral. Book XXXI, Chapter XLV. (Paragraph 87 []
  4. The numbering of the vices is an addition by SPL. []
  5. The listing of the armies is located in paragraph 88. []
  6. All quotes on how the vices lead the heart into further madness are taken from paragraph 90. []
  7. Order the Sins Spawn in the Heart – paragraph 89, numbering added by SPL for clarity. []