Helena Schrader's Historical Fiction

Dr. Helena P. Schrader is the winner of more than 20 literary accolades including:
BEST BIOGRAPHY 2017: "Envoy of Jerusalem"
BEST CHRISTIAN HISTORICAL FICTION 2017: "Envoy of Jerusalem"
BEST SPIRITUAL/RELIGIOUS FICTION 2017: "Envoy of Jerusalem"
Find out more about her published and future novels, and share insights from her research here.

Thursday, May 31, 2018

The Seven Deadly Sins – And What They Say About Medieval Society

Dominated by the unified and omnipresent Catholic church, every man and woman in Medieval Europe knew about deadly (also cardinal) sins.  These sins, according to Catholic theology, are behavior or feelings that are dangerous because they often lead humans to commit a mortal sin, the latter being an act that, unless repented and absolved, can lead to "spiritual death."  A look at the seven sins recognized in the middle ages as "deadly" tells us a great deal about the emotions and behavior that medieval man considered morally reprehensible. 



The seven deadly sins were:  envy, gluttony, greed, lust, pride, sloth and wrath. Obviously some of these sins still strike us as anti-social behavior. Wrath, for example, is something no one would recommend and most people would agree brings harm – usually not only to the intended target. Likewise, no matter how tolerant modern society may be of sexual freedom for consenting adults, lust remains a dangerous emotional force behind many modern crimes from child abuse and rape to trafficking in persons. Finally, envy is still seen as undesirable. 

Yet greed has more recently been praised as “good” – some people in modern society equating it with ambition and the driving force behind capitalism and free private enterprise. Even more striking, “pride” is something we hold up as a virtue, not a sin. We are proud of our country, proud of our armed forces, proud to be who we are – or at least we strive to be. And who nowadays would put “gluttony” or “sloth” right up there beside lust, wrath and envy?

Yet it is precisely these deadly sins that tell us the most about what the types of behavior Medieval Society particularly feared.

In a society where hunger was never far from the poor and famines occurred regularly enough to scar the psyche of contemporaries, excessive consumption of food was not about getting fat it was about denying others.  Because there were always poor who did not have enough to eat just around the corner, someone who indulged in gluttony rather than sharing excess food was violating the most fundamental of Christian principles. Nothing could be more essential to the concept of Christian charity than giving food to the hungry. Therefore person who not only kept what he/she needed for himself but engaged in excess eating was especially sinful. Greed was seen in the same light -- as taking more than one's "fair share" of finite resources.





Sloth is the other side of the same coin.  In a society without machines, automation or robots, the production of all food, shelter and clothing depended on manual labor. Labor was the basis of survival, and survival was often endangered. Medieval society could not afford for any member to be idle. Even the rich were not idle. Medieval queens, countesses and ladies no less than their maids spun, wove and did other needlework – when they weren’t running their estates and kingdoms. The great magnates of the realm were the equivalent of modern corporate executives, managing vast estates and ensuring both production and distribution of food-stuffs. The gentry provided not just farm management but the services now provided by police, lawyers and court officials. In medieval society every man and woman had their place – and their job. Whether the job was to work the land or to pray for the dead, it was a job that the individual was expected to fulfill diligently and energetically. Sloth was a dangerous threat to a well-functioning society.
 


 











 
As for pride, the issue here was the fundamental medieval belief in God's Will. The prevalent belief of the Middle Ages was that each man was born into a specific place in society by the Will of God.  It followed that just as no man had the right to be ashamed of his station in life, since that amounted to doubting God's wisdom in putting him there, he should not be proud of his wealth or status either because God had put him there and he should be thankful not proud. In other words, the greater one's status, wealth and success, the more humble one ought to be for God's Grace. Thus while other sins violated the Christian ideal of relations between men, pride violated the proper relationship between man and God. As such, it was the most egregious of all the deadly sins, and often leads the list in medieval texts.


For readers tired of clichés and cartoons, award-winning novelist Helena P. Schrader offers nuanced insight to historical events and characters based on sound research and an understanding of human nature. Her complex and engaging characters bring history back to life as a means to better understand ourselves.



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1 comment:

  1. To be honest, Professor, the bible does not speak about "seven deadly sins," it speaks about the "seven things detestable to His soul." -- Proverbs 6:16-19.

    "Yet greed has more recently been praised as “good” – some people in modern society equating it with ambition . . ." Yes, people strived much harder to be faithful to God during the times of the Crusades then they do today. There is no denying that.

    The problem for "modern society?"

    ". . . Father of the celestial lights, and with him there is not a variation of the turning of the shadow." -- James 1:17.

    Yes, God is so constant that His very shadow . . . does not move. God is so constant that . . . He does not change his mind.

    Enhancing the problem for "modern society?"

    "But let God be found true, though every man be found a liar." -- Romans 3:4.

    That's why Jesus told us there would be so many that will not "make it," when the end comes.

    Another excellent post, by the way.

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