Sunday, March 14, 2021


One of the essays collected in Dorothy L. Sayers' Creed or Chaos (1949) is "The Other Six Deadly Sins" (an address delivered on October 23rd, 1941 at Caxton Hall, Westminster). Early on the Church defined "seven deadly sins" along with "seven heavenly virtues." The virtues were Chastity, Temperance, Charity, Diligence, Patience, Kindness, and Humility. The sins are Lust, Gluttony, Greed or Avarice, Laziness or Sloth, Wrath, Envy, and Pride.

Sayers on the deadliest of the deadly sins, "Pride":
But the head and origin of all sin is the basic sin of Superbia or Pride. In one way there is so much to say about Pride that one might speak of it for a week and not have done. Yet in another way, all there is to be said about it can be said in a single sentence. It is the sin of trying to be as God. It is the sin which proclaims that Man can produce out of his own wits, and his own impulses and his own imagination the standards by which he lives: that Man is fitted to be his own judge. It is Pride which turns man’s virtues into deadly sins, by causing each self-sufficient virtue to issue in its own opposite, and as a grotesque and horrible travesty of itself. The name under which Pride walks the world at this moment is the Perfectibility of Man, or the doctrine of Progress; and its specialty is the making of blueprints for Utopia and establishing the Kingdom of Man on earth.

For the devilish strategy of Pride is that it attacks us, not on our weak points, but on our strong. It is preeminently the sin of the noble mind—that corruptio optimi which works more evil in the world than all the deliberate vices. Because we do not recognize pride when we see it, we stand aghast to see the havoc wrought by the triumphs of human idealism. We meant well, we thought we were succeeding—and look what has come of our efforts! There is a proverb which says that the way to hell is paved with good intentions. We usually take it as referring to intentions that have been weakly abandoned; but it has a deeper and much subtler meaning. That road is paved with good intentions strongly and obstinately pursued, until they become self-sufficing ends in themselves and deified.  ....

The Greeks feared above all things the state of mind they called hubris—the inflated spirits that come with over-much success. Overweening in men called forth, they thought, the envy of the gods. Their theology may seem to us a little unworthy, but with the phenomenon itself and its effects they were only too well acquainted. Christianity, with a more rational theology, traces hubris back to the root-sin of Pride, which places man instead of God at the center of gravity and so throws the whole structure of things into the ruin called Judgment. Whenever we say, whether in the personal, political or social sphere,
I am the master of my fate,
I am the captain of my soul
we are committing the sin of Pride; and the higher the goal at which we aim; the more far-reaching will be the subsequent disaster. That is why we ought to distrust all those high ambitions and lofty ideals which make the well-being of humanity their ultimate end. Man cannot make himself happy by serving himself—not even when he calls self-service the service of the community; for “the community” in that context is only an extension of his own ego. Human happiness is a by-product, thrown off in man’s service of God....

Cursed be he that trusteth in man,” says Reinhold Niebuhr (Beyond Tragedy) “even if he be pious man or, perhaps, particularly if he be pious man.” For the besetting temptation of the pious man is to become the proud man: “He spake this parable unto certain which trusted in themselves that they were righteous.”
And he spake this parable unto certain which trusted in themselves 
that they were righteous, and despised others. (Luke 18:9)

Dorothy L. Sayers', "The Other Six Deadly Sins," Creed or Chaos (1949)

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