The Divine Comedy: Week 27, The Seven Deadly Sins

Virgil and the Pilgrim finally enter Purgatory. And as the Pilgrim enters, the angelic gatekeeper cuts marks on the Pilgrim's forehead with his sword:
Then with his sword he traced upon my brow
the scars of seven P's. "Once entered here,
be sure you cleanse away these wounds," he said.
The letter P stands for the Latin word peccatum, which means "sin." The seven P's on the Pilgrim's forehead, as we'll soon see, stand for the Seven Deadly Sins. Each terrace of Mt. Purgatory is devoted to the purgation of one of these sins. Upon leaving each terrace, as the Pilgrim moves upward toward heaven, a P is removed from his forehead, symbolizing the cleansing of that particular sin. When the Pilgrim reaches the top, all his sins will have been cleansed, no more P's left upon his forehead.

In the posts to come we'll dig into the rich theology behind how Dante structures and envisions the Seven Deadly Sins. In my opinion, this moral theology is the crown jewel of The Divine Comedy. There's so much more going on than a listing of seven naughty things people might do. Dante's theology of sin and virtue will occupy us shortly.

But for today, what are the Seven Deadly Sins? If you're Protestant, you might not be able to tick these off as expertly as a Catholic. The Seven Deadly Sins are, in the order the Pilgrim will encounter them on Mt. Purgatory:
Terrace 1: Pride
Terrace 2: Envy
Terrace 3: Wrath
Terrace 4: Sloth
Terrace 5: Greed
Terrace 6: Gluttony
Terrace 7: Lust  
What's interesting is that the list here is theological. It's not a list that we find in the Bible, though you can gather illustrations and admonitions for each from the Bible. This list came about pretty quickly, originating with the desert father Evagrius the Solitary (345–399 AD), who described eight evil thoughts that could assault the contemplative. The list went on to feature prominently in Catholic moral teaching. And Dante is an example of this.

One fanciful way to communicate the Seven Deadly Sins was to associate them with animal prototypes, likely helpful in teaching children. One mapping of animal/sin associations, though there are others:
Toad = Greed
Snake = Envy
Lion = Wrath
Snail = Sloth
Pig = Gluttony
Goat = Lust
Peacock = Pride

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