Hallo again to all.
'Fire and Ice'. The words stood out on a poster in New York City that announced an exhibition of paintings. 'Fire and Ice'. The words rattled round our head as we walked on city pavement that felt like fire. And then we remembered...
In mediæval times, church tradition divided the seven deadly sins into 'cold sins', seen by a perversion of love, love 'gone wrong'. (Gone missing?) The cold sins are pride (superbia), envy (invidia), anger (ira), and sloth (acedia). The 'warm sins', growing from excessive love, are avarice (avaritia), gluttony (gula), and lust (luxuria). The warm sins, the sins of the body, are the ones that today seem to get all of the publicity and attention. The cold sins, the sins of the heart, were, by tradition, more roundly condemned.
Written history suggests that the notion of seven deadly sins, and their names, originated in the monastic communities of the early church in the 5th century. Charles Panati claims that Evagrius of Pontus in the fourth century made a list of eight sins, reduced to seven (combining pride and vainglory) by Pope Gregory the Great around 600AD, presumably before vainglory got an official Latin name. Geoffrey Chaucer took the sins to Canterbury in the 14th century, where the Archbishop, Thomas Arundel, is said to have required preaching about the seven deadly sins four times each year.
Oh our church has such a glorious tradition of monitoring, categorising, and describing sins, devising taxonomies that rival Linnæus. The sins have names, numbers, categories, opposites, remedies, symbols, calories, animals, biblical bases, and their own punishments in hell. It's a fair guess that over the centuries there have been more sermons about sin than all other topics combined. And yet, despite these centuries of preaching, we humans seem inevitably to be sinners. We admit it every week in church.
Writing about sin puts us on precarious ground. A long-time goal of ours has been to ensure that this editorial letter never becomes a sermon. We are writers, not priests. And we shall try never to cast a stone, God willing, not least the first stone. But when we read about current events in our church, it seems to us that there is a trend to commit cold sins, sins of the heart, in an attempt to deal with what are angrily perceived to be other people's warm sins. Surely this cannot be an improvement. There is so much anger in the name of tradition, yet the core of our tradition teaches that anger is a colder, harsher, more dangerous sin than any of the sins—actual or imaginary—drawing that anger in the first place.
See you next week.
Last updated: 23 June 2002