Loss of Transcendence - Lesson 17

Contemporary Significance of the Seven Cardinal Sins

In this lesson, you will delve into the contemporary significance of the cardinal sins, examining their origins and importance in Christian tradition. You will explore each of the seven cardinal sins, gaining an understanding of their nature and how they manifest in modern society. Additionally, you will learn about the personal and societal consequences of these sins and discover ways to combat them. By emphasizing virtues and engaging in self-reflection, you can recognize and address the cardinal sins in your own life, ultimately fostering spiritual growth.

James Houston
Loss of Transcendence
Lesson 17
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Contemporary Significance of the Seven Cardinal Sins

TH730-17: Contemporary Significance of the Cardinal Sins

I. Introduction to the Cardinal Sins

A. Definition and Origin

B. Importance in Christian Tradition

II. The Seven Cardinal Sins

A. Pride

B. Greed

C. Lust

D. Envy

E. Gluttony

F. Wrath

G. Sloth

III. Contemporary Significance of the Cardinal Sins

A. Relevance in Modern Society

B. Personal and Societal Consequences

C. Combatting the Sins

IV. Conclusion

A. Emphasizing Virtues

B. Importance of Self-Reflection

  • Explore the loss of transcendence in modernity, examining its historical and philosophical context, defining transcendence and immanence from biblical and historical perspectives, exploring the impact of various movements on theology, and considering responses to the loss of transcendence.
  • In this lesson, you will gain insight into the Greek world's origins of language and culture, the evolution of Greek history and thought, and the differences between Greek and Roman history. By examining the works of Luke as a Roman historian, you will better understand the cosmic and intimate nature of Christian history.
  • The Christian historiographical revolution redefined history as linear and purposeful, contrasting with ancient Greek, Roman, and Jewish approaches and profoundly impacting the study and writing of history.
  • In this lesson, you gain a deep understanding of the Dark Ages, the Reformation, and the factors that led to the loss and eventual restoration of transcendence in Christianity.
  • Through this lesson, you gain insights into the Reformation and Enlightenment's historical contexts, key figures, and events, as well as their impact on society, religion, and the loss of transcendence, ultimately discovering ways to reclaim transcendence in the modern world.
  • In this lesson, you gain insights into the loss of transcendence in modern society, its consequences, the role of Christianity in addressing the issue, and strategies for engaging with secular culture and promoting spiritual renewal.
  • This lesson teaches you about Radical Christianity, its importance, and how to cultivate it through deepening your relationship with God, prioritizing spiritual growth, and practicing radical love and social justice in a world experiencing a loss of transcendence.
  • Through this lesson, you grasp the factors contributing to the loss of biblical authority and learn strategies to reaffirm its importance in Christianity.
  • Through this lesson, you gain insights into contemporary biblical criticism, its methodologies, impact on theology, and learn to appreciate its contributions while recognizing its limitations.
  • By examining biblical criticism and its various forms, you gain insight into how Christians can respond thoughtfully, affirming Scripture's authority while engaging with criticisms and maintaining a commitment to truth.
  • By examining the loss of the soul, you'll understand its diminishing importance in modern life and learn to integrate science and spirituality for a holistic, transcendent perspective.
  • Through this lesson, you gain insights into classical interpretations of the soul and their interaction with Christian theology, while also understanding their modern theological implications.
  • This lesson equips you with a comprehensive understanding of the embodiment of faith, its historical development, theological implications, and practical applications in the Christian life.
  • By studying this lesson on embodiment in community, soul, and culture, you will learn how these concepts impact spiritual formation and shape your understanding of Christian faith and practice.
  • The lesson on embodiment and self-sacrifice offers insights into the New Testament, emphasizing Jesus' incarnation, the human body as the Holy Spirit's temple, and self-sacrifice as a key Christian virtue, while providing theological and practical applications.
  • This lesson equips you to understand the biblical concept of sin, the factors contributing to its loss, and offers practical steps to reintroduce sin in teaching and preaching for a more complete Christian faith.
  • Through this lesson, you gain insight into the cardinal sins and their contemporary significance, learning how to identify and combat them in modern society for personal and spiritual growth.
  • In this lesson, you gain insights into C.S. Lewis's critique of the loss of transcendence in modern society, his theological perspectives, and his emphasis on imagination in Christianity.
  • This lesson offers an in-depth analysis of the theological differences between Oxford and Cambridge and their impact on the loss of transcendence in modern theology.
  • What then did Lewis write about in The Abolition of Man? The symbol is that the immediate threat is not the abolition of man, but the abolition that there are men without chests. And he means that being without a chest is living two dimensionally and not three dimensionally. It’s not that you just live in space and time, but that you live with space, time and God or, indeed, space, time and morals. And so really it’s simply to live an amoral life. And you begin to lose your emotional life when you live with amorality.

  • Through this lesson, you gain insight into Jacques Ellul's critique of technological society, its consequences, theological implications, and the need for a countercultural response in the face of modern challenges.
  • This lesson guides you in understanding the loss of transcendence, seeking understanding, and retaining hope amidst the challenges of modern society.
  • You gain insight into Jacques Ellul's life, his views on the loss of transcendence, and the influence of his work on theology and society.
  • You will learn about the concept of technique in the modern world, its characteristics, societal effects, and the spiritual implications it holds for faith and transcendence.
  • In this lesson, you gain insights into the implications of technique on society, its challenges, and ways to respond from a biblical perspective, ultimately aiming to strengthen human connections and reclaim transcendence.
  • Through this lesson, you gain insights into the Psalms' structure, types, role in ancient worship, and their significance in modern Christian life, prayer, and spiritual growth.
  • In this lesson, you will explore the role of domestic involvement in the Psalter, its significance in Ancient Israel's worship, and the impact of the Psalms on the community, values, and beliefs.
  • Gain insights into the connection between biblical eschatology and secularity, understanding key aspects and themes while learning to reclaim the transcendent in eschatology.
  • This lesson offers insight into the theological tensions between immanence and transcendence, their impact on modern theology and worship, and the practical steps for reintegrating them into the Christian life.
  • In this lesson, you gain insight into the concepts of immanence and transcendence, their effects on theology and culture, and the importance of integrating both for a balanced Christian worldview.
  • In this lesson, you gain insight into time and eternity, God's relationship with them, and their impact on human experience and theological concepts such as soteriology, eschatology, and Christian living.
  • Gain insight into Old Testament concepts of time, the role of numbers and patterns, the significance of time in biblical prophecy, and the theological implications concerning God's sovereignty and human responsibility.
  • This lesson provides insight into the New Testament's complex understanding of time, addressing concepts such as the Kingdom of God, the present age, and eternal life, and offering guidance for Christian living.
  • In this lesson, you gain insight into the loss of transcendence in modern society and learn how to recover and foster a transcendent view within your personal faith and church life.

This course on the loss and recovery of transcendence in our contemporary culture is, of course, appropriate for all Christians, but, I think, especially for us here in North America, for the political prominence of a Christian religious culture that we’ve had in North America that makes us all the more exposed to the secularisation of contemporary Christianity. 

Dr. James Houston

Loss of Transcendence


Contemporary Significance of the Seven Cardinal Sins

Lesson Transcript


In conclusion then, it’s helpful for us today to see the contemporary significance of the seven cardinal sins that the Early Fathers depicted and mapped out so effectively because that context is still very appropriate for us in our life today.

The cardinal sins that the Early Fathers were reacting against were in response to the seven virtues of the Stoics. And the Stoics themselves had thought that the virtues were affected by the planets so that human emotions were influenced by the motion of the planets. This kind of thinking, which seems to us so wacky today, was actually still the belief of even people in the Tudor period and even the Narnia tales one scholar has suggested that Lewis is quite deliberately using the same mythology as a kind of background to what he’s writing about on the seven books of the Narnia tales. But that’s another story that we won’t explore.

As far as we’re concerned, the significance of the seven virtues or vices in counterpoise one to the other is that every culture has interpreted it differently and even The Daily Telegraph some years ago was, in a sense, suggesting that in our culture today what we would as Christians call vices the world is calling virtues. So they contradict totally the one with the other. So this upsidedness, this contradiction, this paradox, of vices and virtues suggests there is an amazing fluidity through changing cultures. And there’s a whole study also about how the virtues and the vices were interpreted and reinterpreted throughout the different stages of Western humanism and its long history.

But for us today, it’s appropriate to start with the first vice. And that vice is not pride. That vice is envy. It’s significant that Rene Girard in his understanding of this indicates that the primal vice is envy. It was the envy of Adam and Eve, envious of God and the temptation to be like God, to be a rival of God, that was the first Fall of Man. But then like parents, like children. And so what we find with the two brothers was that Cain was envious of his brother and of his sacrifice and so the result of that was fratricide. And so this is the primary vice, says Ricoeur, and yet, ironically, it’s that primal vice that has created the city of man. In other words, what he sees is that the whole structure of human culture is being envious of the other in rivalry and that builds up all our activities that we have in the formation of what is the city of man.


Pride is clearly also very close to envy, but what pride is is the isolation of the self perhaps in frustration because we’re not getting what we want. [But the result of pride, [or the vice of envy 00:04:42], is that pride is self-enclosure. And already we’ve mentioned, I think, before how Dante saw that the great Satan was not in a fiery furnace of Hell, but he was in a frozen lake. He was totally frozen within himself to be himself by himself. That’s Hell. That’s satanic. And so perhaps we should realise with great solemnity how serious is the narcissism that is connected with being enclosed within oneself in pride.

Then with pride, there’s also anger. And anger, of course, was certainly one of the elements in the dynamic of envy that, in frustration, we find that in his pride Cain kills his brother. And the killing has never ceased since, whether it’s a metaphorical killing of other companies in the high competition that we have today of the business world, or whether it’s the rivalry we have with school marks, of hating our school friend for being smarter than I am, all of this different disturbances that so profoundly affect the whole of the human race lies behind these three vices. The other vices are vices that are much more in terms of our own greed, of our own avarice, of our own jealously. All of these are interconnected. And we can also see how the vices that affect others around us socially are the vices that we associate with these other in what we would then call the ecosystem of morality.

What the Early Fathers may surprise us with is the vice of sloth. And we think that being lazy is no big deal, but it’s much more than laziness. It’s simply giving up in despair. It’s giving up desire. It’s giving up hope. It’s really living with what the Desert Fathers call the noonday devil. That is to say, I’m weary of well-doing, or I’m weary of my efforts to be good, or I’m weary of my efforts to live. And so there’s a very close connection between sloth and despair. And then, of course, with despair we can do dreadful things. The whole climate of anxiety is the climate of sloth, of acedia, in the use of this word. And then, of course, beyond that we have the more sensual vices such as fornication and sexual immorality and of the addictions that they so readily bind us in imprisonment in our lives, these [two 00:08:38]. And of course, greed itself is one of these vices because there’s no appetite that is satisfied by greed. Greed is an insatiable desire that never stops and it leads on the slippery path to even worse vices than all.


So I think the significance of us today as Christians being able to take serious study and perhaps even have a weekend retreat on the seven virtues and the seven vices is very helpful for us in order to know how to live morally as Christians before God.