Catholic tradition recognizes seven capital virtues: humility, liberality, brotherly love, meekness, chastity, temperance, and diligence. The capital virtues are called capital from the Latin capitis, head, because every virtue flows from one or more of these capital virtues.
§ 1866 Vices can be classified according to the virtues they oppose, or also be linked to the capital sins which Christian experience has distinguished, following St. John Cassian and St. Gregory the Great. They are called “capital” because they engender other sins, other vices. They are pride, avarice, envy, wrath, lust, gluttony, and sloth or acedia.
The gravity (venial or mortal) of each sin depends on the specific case. § 1857 “For a sin to be mortal, three conditions must together be met: “Mortal sin is sin whose object is grave matter and which is also committed with full knowledge and deliberate consent.”
Humility recognizes our total dependence on God.
“Humility is not an exaggeratedly low opinion of yourself. Humility is self-forgetfulness. A humble man never tells you how bad he is. He’s too busy thinking about you to talk about himself. That’s why humility is such a joy and so close to the beatific vision, where we will be so fascinated with God that we forget ourselves completely.” — Peter Kreeft, Weakness Into Strength
Humility is the highest capital virtue but not the highest virtue of all. That honor, by tradition, belongs to the three theological virtues: “Faith, hope, love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love” 1 Cor 13:13. “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it, You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the law and the prophets” Mt 22:37–40.
By practicing humility we conquer its opposite sin, pride.
Pride denies our total dependence on God. It is inordinate esteem of oneself, inordinate because it is contrary to the truth. It includes the will to be considered better than we really are. Satan’s first temptation to our first parents was, “You will be like God, knowing good and evil” Gen 3:5.
We express pride by taking personal credit for gifts or possessions actually received from God, by glorying in our achievements as if they were not primarily the result of God’s grace, or by minimizing our defects or claiming qualities we do not actually possess. Pride is a direct violation of Rabbi Yeshua‘s highest command, Deut 6:5; Mt 22:37, that we love God with all our heart and soul and mind and strength.
Pride rejects God as our shepherd and takes credit for what God has done. The Torah says, “Beware lest you say in your heart, ’my power and the might of my hand have gotten me this wealth.’ You shall remember the Lord your God, for it is He who gives you power to get wealth” Deut 8:17-18. The proud man thinks, “I’m important,” when the truth is, “God is important. I serve him.”
Pride caused Satan and one-third of the angels to fall to earth, and Adam and Eve to fall from grace. Rabbi Yeshua emptied himself of the open manifestation of his divinity to live as a humble servant of his heavenly Father. When pride is carried to the extent that a person refuses to acknowledge dependence on God, or refuses to submit his will to God, it is a grave sin. Pride differs from vanity. The proud person believes in his own excellence. The vain person wants others to believe that he is excellent.
Liberality is a spirit of generosity for a proper and worthy charity that may involve the donation of our time, our money, or other possessions. Through liberality we sacrifice what is ours to express our love.
By practicing liberality we conquer its opposite sin, avarice.
Avarice is greed, the inordinate love of earthly things, especially money. It is inordinate when we are not guided by reason or need, when we go to unusual lengths to get material goods, or when we are miserly in giving. Greed short-sightedly neglects permanent reward in heaven for temporary rewards in this life.
(Liberalism is completely different from liberality. Liberalism is a disordered sacrifice that takes by force what belongs to others, feigning generosity to gain votes or power.)
Brotherly love is happiness in response to another’s success. God commanded that we love one another Lev 19:18, Jn 13:34. We are to treat even our enemies Mt 5:44 with brotherly love because we are all children of the same heavenly Father.
By practicing brotherly love we conquer its opposite sin, envy.
Envy is sadness in response to another’s success. God commanded that we love one another Lev 19:18, Jn 13:34. True love delights in another’s success. Sometimes it seems as if another person has everything while we have so little. Rabbi Yeshua taught, “Many who are first will be last, and the last first” Mt 19:30. The glamorous may be so distracted by material life that they never take the time to find God.
Meekness is a form of the human virtue of temperance that controls every inordinate resentment at another’s character or behavior. We approach meekness by cultivating patient thoughts. “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth” Mt 5:5. “Now the man Moses was very meek, more than all men that were on the face of the earth” Num 12:3.
By practicing meekness we conquer its opposite sin, wrath.
Wrath, or anger, is emotional violence. Brief anger at frustration is normal and not sinful. So is righteous anger at one’s own sins or the sins of others. Excess and lack of control make anger sinful. Rabbi Yeshua said, “You have heard that it was said to the men of old, ’You shall not kill; and whoever kills shall be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that every one who is angry with his brother shall be liable to judgment” Mt 5:21–22.
Chastity moderates desire for sexual pleasure, the body’s most imperious passion, according to principles of faith and right reason.
Chastity opposes acts or thoughts that are inconsistent with Church teaching about the use of our procreative powers to prevent defilement of the soul.
Rabbi Yeshua said, “From within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, fornication, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, licentiousness, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a man” Mk 7:21–23. Rabbi Paul added, “Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you? If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him. For God’s temple is holy, and that temple you are” 1 Cor 3:16–17.
The practice of chastity is control of our thoughts and discipline of our senses, especially the eyes. It is greatly assisted by modesty and purity. See elegant modesty.
By practicing chastity we conquer its opposite sin, lust.
§ 2351 Lust is disordered desire for or inordinate enjoyment of sexual pleasure. Sexual pleasure is morally disordered when sought for itself, isolated from its procreative and unitive purposes.
Lust is will for our own good or happiness above another. It involves the use of another person for our own pleasure.
Lust is a disordered emphasis on animality over the moral and spiritual dimension of our lives. It denies our nature as God’s image and likeness Gen 1:27. Lust and love are opposites: in lust each takes from the other; in love each gives to the other.
§ 1809 Temperance is the moral virtue that moderates the attraction of pleasures and provides balance in the use of created goods. It ensures the will’s mastery over instincts and keeps desires within the limits of what is honorable. The temperate person directs the sensitive appetites toward what is good and maintains a healthy discretion: “Do not follow your inclination and strength, walking according to the desires of your heart.” Temperance is often praised in the Old Testament: “Do not follow your base desires, but restrain your appetites.” In the New Testament it is called “moderation” or “sobriety.” We ought “to live sober, upright, and godly lives in this world.”
To live well is nothing other than to love God with all one’s heart, with all one’s soul and with all one’s efforts; from this it comes about that love is kept whole and uncorrupted (through temperance). No misfortune can disturb it (and this is fortitude). It obeys only (God) (and this is justice), and is careful in discerning things, so as not to be surprised by deceit or trickery (and this is prudence).
Temperance regulates every form of enjoyment that comes from the exercise of human volition, and includes all those virtues, especially humility, that restrain the inordinate movements of our desires or appetites. In particular, temperance is the obverse of fortitude § 1808. Where fortitude limits rashness and fear in the case of major pain that threatens to unbalance human nature, temperance limits inordinate desire for major pleasures. Since pleasure follows from all natural activity, the most intense pleasure follows from the most natural activities, particularly the pleasures of food and drink, and of the marital act. Temperance is also related to the virtue of continence.
By practicing temperance we conquer its opposite sin, gluttony.
Gluttony is excessive and uncontrolled preoccupation with food and drink. It includes excessive and uncontrolled eating and drinking, excessive liking for exquisite food and drink, and excessive fastidiousness about food and drink. Excessive drinking is a venial sin if it causes partial loss of reason, and mortally sinful if it causes complete loss of reason.
Diligence is the decision to fulfill all of the responsibilities in our vocation or state in life.
§ 1700 “The dignity of the human person is rooted in his creation in the image and likeness of God; it is fulfilled in his vocation to divine beatitude. It is essential to a human being freely to direct himself to this fulfillment. By his deliberate actions, the human person does, or does not, conform to the good promised by God and attested by moral conscience.”
In addition to this common vocation, we also have particular vocations depending on our state in life. In general, the husband is called to work for a living, participate in raising his family, and protect his home. The wife is called to bear children, to raise and educate them, and create a good home environment. The child is called to learn his lessons and help with household chores. Retired persons in adequate physical condition are called to contribute their time and accumulated knowledge and skills to the Church in particular and the community in general. Persons who suffer greatly from physical ailments are called to offer up their suffering in union with Rabbi Yeshua’s suffering on the Cross.
Diligence includes suitable recreation, particularly on the Lord’s Day after Mass, after we have fulfilled our responsibilities.
By practicing diligence we conquer its opposite sin, sloth.
Sloth, or laziness, is the decision not to fulfill a significant part of one’s responsibilities. A husband who refuses to go to Mass, work for a living, participate in raising his children, or protect his home is slothful. A wife who refuses to go to Mass, bear children, raise her children, or create a good home environment is slothful. An active and functional family that has already been to Sunday Mass may licitly spend Sunday afternoon watching a football game because its primary responsibility for the day has already been accomplished.