A New Look at the Seven Deadly Sins and Their Remedies
- ISBN: 9781587434402
- Published By: Brazos Press
- Published: June 2020
Rebecca Konyndyk DeYoung’s Glittering Vices: A New Look at the Seven Deadly Sins and Their Remedies is an engaging and sobering examination of the seven capital vices of the Christian moral tradition: vainglory, envy, sloth, avarice, wrath, gluttony, and lust. It is one of those remarkable books that successfully presents complex topics at a level that is both interesting to and accessible for the average lay reader. Yet, at the same time, there is enough depth to the book that academic philosophers and theologians will find insights to reward their attention.
The book begins with an apology, in the older sense of the term, for the capital vices as serious moral categories. After observing the almost comedic status of the deadly sins in American culture, DeYoung provides a basic definition of virtues and vices: habits and dispositions, either excellent (virtues) or deleterious (vices), that shape our characters and can be acquired and strengthened through practice. Capital vices are vices that address basic human ends or desires and are often generative of other vices. Study of the seven capital vices, DeYoung argues, can help us to better identify the roots and nature of our sinful behavior and pursue the death of the old self that Christians are called to. As stated in the preface, the “implicit frame of the book is sanctification” (viii). In other words, DeYoung is concerned to frame the vices not as mere philosophical objects of study, but as sinful practices to be opposed and mortified within her readers by the power of the Holy Spirit. DeYoung then lays out the history of the capital vices, discussing the origin of lists of the vices and virtues in the patristic period, their development by the desert fathers and scholastics, and their mixed reception in the Reformation period and beyond. She concludes this historical lesson with a more detailed analysis of “capital” vices in particular, as sources for sinful vice and behavior that get to the heart of human sinfulness.
The heart of the book is the actual description of the vices. Going over each vice in a short review such as this would be somewhat tedious, so instead I shall describe some general features of DeYoung’s account of the capital vices. First, it is worth noting that DeYoung lists vainglory, not pride, as the first vice. This is because DeYoung views pride as the root of all the vices, the source from which all the capital vices flow. Second, DeYoung describes the capital vices both definitionally and practically, both expounding historic Christian reflections on these vices and probing the manifestation of these vices in our day-to-day lives. The vices are habits that touch every aspect of human life and must be understood in such terms. DeYoung pays careful attention to the ways in which vices divert us from or twist proper human ends, and blends monastic wisdom with contemporary examples. The book then concludes with a reflection on spiritual formation, emphasizing the importance of self-reflection, concrete spiritual disciplines, and deep reliance upon the transformative power of God at work within us. In the epilogue, DeYoung strives to leave us hopeful rather than downcast: awareness of our vices and failures should cause us to rely upon and glory in the grace of God at work in us.
While I cannot speak to the differences between the first and the second edition, having only read the second, this book is an excellent introduction to and incisive reflection upon the seven capital vices. DeYoung does a superb job of laying out each vice in turn, offering helpful and clear definitions, providing engaging and illuminating examples, and drawing upon Scripture and important figures in the Christian tradition. DeYoung does not simply define the vices themselves, but also provides guidance to counter them. This is, on the whole, a book that should appeal to Christians from a wide variety of backgrounds, though there will likely be elements of certain passages taken from the desert monastics that may make more thorough-going Protestants uneasy. Yet, on balance, DeYoung provides an account of the vices that Protestants should be able to enjoy and benefit from alongside Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox readers. This reviewer, as a committed Protestant, certainly found much to appreciate and ponder within these pages. Glittering Vices comes highly recommended as an introduction to the seven capital vices. It is both thoughtful and practical, and the serious Christian (and even serious non-Christian moral thinker) will find much to ponder within these pages.
J. Caleb Little is a doctoral student in religion at Baylor University.J. Caleb LittleDate Of Review:April 19, 2022