Published online by Cambridge University Press: 12 September 2012
The Seven Deadly Sins website, a site devoted to all modern aspects of the Seven Deadly Sins, features this telling statement about the current status of the Seven Deadly Sins in modern culture:
We at the Seven Deadly Sins Homepage pride ourselves on our commitment to keeping alive the vital historical tradition of the Seven Deadly Sins. But sometimes, like the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, you wonder if the people who framed the original concepts would have felt differently if they could have peered into the future and seen all the crazed goings-on in our age. In a time as rich with sin and evil as ours, it seems that the Seven Deadly Sins might need a little bit of updating.
The very existence of The Seven Deadly Sins website is itself evidence that the concept of the Sins has, in fact, been updated in some surprising and curious ways. This essay will explore how the Seven Deadly Sins have been both adopted and adapted by today's secular culture and will also reveal some commonalities between medieval and modern portrayals of the Sins.
The rich tradition of the Seven Deadly Sins began in the Middle Ages. As laid down by Pope Gregory the Great in the sixth century, the Seven Deadly Sins thoroughly infiltrated medieval society. In 1215 the Fourth Lateran Council encouraged the education of clergy in counseling penitents during confessions. The Council advised priests to instruct penitents about the Seven Deadly Sins in order that the penitents might better understand the nature of their transgressions. Subsequently, the Seven Deadly Sins began to appear not only in numerous pastoral treatises meant to educate the clergy and in sermons themselves, but also in secular literature.