Question: "What are capital sins?"
Answer: Roman Catholicism teaches that capital sins are the root and source of all other sins. The earliest antecedent of this doctrine was written in the fourth century by a monk named Evagrius Ponticus, who originally listed eight “evil thoughts”: gluttony, lust or fornication, avarice, dejection or sadness, anger, despondency or listlessness, vainglory, and pride. Later, that grouping of eight was reduced to seven items by Pope Gregory the Great in the sixth century. Gregory folded vainglory into pride and despondency into sadness, and added envy, thus formally creating a list that included only seven “capital sins,” or “deadly sins.” Today, the list of capital sins is as follows: pride, greed, lust, envy, gluttony, anger, and sloth.
Capital sins derive their name from the Latin caput, meaning “head.” Thomas Aquinas later would call them not “sins,” but “vices.” Aquinas declared that a capital vice is that which has a desirable end so that, in his desire for it, a person commits many sins. All sins can be traced back to a particular vice as the root source. To illustrate, if a man has lust for his neighbor’s wife, that vice may cause him to commit adultery, to lie to many people, to neglect or abandon his family, and perhaps even to physically hurt people. The man’s multiplying sins are driven by the initial capital sin of lust.
It is true that pride, greed, lust, envy, gluttony, anger, and sloth are sins, and it is true that such evil desires in the heart can lead to other sins (see Matthew 15:19). But it would be wrong to think of the seven capital sins, or seven deadly sins, as worse in God’s eyes than any other sin. All sins in God’s eyes are equal; they are all “missing the mark.” Stealing is no worse than pride, and greed is no worse than lying; there are no small sins or big sins, because all sin is equally offensive to our holy and pure God. God cannot and will not allow any sin in His holy presence—none (Habakkuk 1:13).
Capital sins, or deadly sins, are not named as a group in the Bible; however, the Lord does mention some things that He hates and even makes a list of them: “There are six things the Lord hates, seven that are detestable to Him: haughty eyes, a lying tongue, hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that devises wicked schemes, feet that are quick to rush into evil, a false witness who pours out lies, a person who stirs up conflict in the community” (Proverbs 6:16–19). All sin results in death (Romans 6:23). Praise be to God that, through the blood of Jesus Christ, all our sins are forgivable—even the “capital sins.”