The More than Seven Faces of the Seven Deadlies


C.S. Lewis makes some remarkable points about the sin of gluttony in Screwtape XVII

from The Screwtape Letters XVII
C.S. Lewis

This has largely been effected by concentrating all our efforts on the gluttony of Delicacy, not the gluttony of Excess. Your patient's mother. . . is a good example. She would be astonished--one day, I hope, will be--to learn that her whole life is enslaved to this kind of sensuality, which is quite concealed from her by the fact that the quantities involved are small. But what do quantities matter, provided we can use a human belly and palate to produce querulousness, impatience, uncharitableness, and self-concern? . . . She is a positive terror to hostesses and servants. She is always turning from what has been offered to say with a demure little sigh and a smile, "O please, please . . . all I want is a cup of tea, weak but not too weak, and the teeniest weeniest bit of really crisp toast." You see? Because what she wants is smaller and less costly than what has been set before her, she never recognizes as gluttony her determination to get what she wants, however troublesome if may be to others. . . .

The real value of the quiet unobtrusive work which Glubose has been doing for years on this old woman can be guaged by the way in which her belly now dominates her whole life.

I suppose all of the capital sins show this brand of two-facedness--of excess in at least two directions, one of which is much more subtle and much more difficult to identify than the other. Who would have considered eating a piece of dry toast with weak tea an act of gluttony? But the point is that such a demand focuses all attention on the self and sets one in a habit of thinking about oneself rather than others. Rather than taking what is given, a person is always seeking something other--something bigger, smaller, tastier, less tasty, less fatty, more fatty, less carbohydrate-rich, more carbohydrate rich. It is one thing to eat sensibly and carefully, another entirely to expect the entire world to wait upon you, and yet another except under extraordinary circumstances (highly restricted diets) to "bring your own." And yet people today think nothing of these things.

I am not so clever as C.S. Lewis, but his passage makes me think, what other faces do the Seven Deadlies wear that we might not be quite so sharply attuned to. For example Pride that expresses itself by denying what is ostensibly true in praise coming from another so that the praise is repeated or rephrased. Some call this demurral modesty, but in nearly every case it is fishing for compliments. (There are cases of legitimate surprise--when your work is compared with that of someone you admire deeply and you didn't notice the basis of comparison, or when some other unlikely thing is mentioned that hadn't crossed your mind. Still, the correct response to all of this is a polite, "Thank you, the comparison hadn't crossed my mind before. So-and-so is one of my very favorite [authors, painters, composers, auteurs].

I guess as I approach Lent, I am less concerned about the imperfections I can readily perceive (and thus readily confess) than those that are hidden and mysterious to me. It's easy to see how you might be lustful, but perhaps harder to see how you are being prideful or avaricious. Part of my Lenten preparation and prayer will be to ask that some of these darker, more obscure tendencies on my part be brought to life and healed by the graces of the Lenten journey.

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This page contains a single entry by Steven Riddle published on February 17, 2004 8:05 AM.

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