1. Vice is proficiency in the practice of evil, and the confirmed tendency of the will towards evil which is acquired by habitual sin.
Everything is evil which is contrary to the will of God. A horse when put into harness for the first time, tries to shake off the collar. By degrees he became accustomed to it, and in time, when led out of the stable, he goes of his own accord to be placed between the shafts, although he has to undergo toil and fatigue. So man becomes accustomed to the servitude of sin. A dog who is trained to the chase will in his eagerness outrun his master; so the man who is habituated to sin, makes more haste to sin than the devil does to incite him thereto.
The habit of vice is easily formed, but it requires a great struggle to give it up, and the longer a man has indulged in vice, the more difficult that struggle becomes.
Nothing is so easy to learn and so difficult to unlearn, as are vicious practices. The vicious drift down with the stream, the virtuous swim against the current. Good works are arduous to perform, but it is easy enough to do evil. To cast off the yoke of vice requires a hard battle. It is easier to fall into a pit than to get out of it again. The devil entangles the sinner in his toils, as the spider makes the fly fast in his web. When the sinner tries to shake himself free, he finds the flimsy web has become a heavy chain. As a vessel which has got loose from its moorings in a river is swept downwards, snapping like threads the ropes that hold it, so neither admonitions nor any considerations whatever prevail to arrest the downward course of a man who is addicted to vice, when he is carried away by his passions. The longer he goes on in sin, the stronger will be the habit formed, and the more difficult his conversion. The deeper a nail is knocked in, the harder it is to pull out; so the longer a man persists in sin, the greater the effort needed to break off the habit. Those who shrink from jumping over the stream while it is a mere rivulet, will find themselves unable to cross when it has become a wide river. The repetition of a sin forms a habit, the habit becomes a necessity, and ere long it is impossible of eradication. This impossibility leads to despair and eternal damnation (St. Augustine).
A man who is addicted to vice cannot amend of his own power; he needs the mighty assistance of divine grace. Nor can he amend all at once; a long and strenuous exertion of the will is required to achieve his conversion. Furthermore he must commence by combating one fault only that very one to which he is most prone.
The snows do not melt unless the warm breath of spring passes over them, nor can man rise superior to his sins without divine grace. Those who have fallen into the pit of sin can only be lifted out of it by the help of God’s grace. An old tree whose roots have run deep into the soil, cannot be torn up or bent down by ordinary means, so powerful graces are needed to effect the conversion of a hardened sinner. Remember the circumstances of St. Paul’s conversion. For eighteen years, St. Monica continued to weep and pray for her son’s conversion. The sinner must first of all implore the aid of divine grace, or he will never be able to reform; better still if others will intercede for him. A man cannot all at once throw off the yoke of vice; constant and persevering exercise of the will is necessary. Habit must be overcome by habit. A physical ailment of long standing takes a long course of treatment for its cure, and the maladies of the soul can only be removed by patient resolution. For even after the Sacrament of Penance, a propensity to the long indulged sin still remains; evil passions are ready to spring up again unless one is ever on one’s guard. If one who is addicted to vice desires to reform, he must grapple first with one fault; and precisely that one which has most dominion over him. A bundle of wood cannot be broken unless the sticks are drawn out one after another and broken separately; the same course must be pursued in regard to our vices. If one is overcome, all the others are in great measure subdued. A military commander who is about to fall upon a hostile army, makes the attack at the point where the enemy is strongest, because if he takes that position, the conquest of the remainder will be an easy matter. Thus, if we overcome our dominant fault, we shall soon obtain the mastery over the lesser ones. If every year we rooted out one vice, we should soon become perfect men. Unhappily too many Christians only correct their lesser failings and allow their dominant fault to grow and flourish; or they rid themselves of one vice and become enthralled by another, like servants who leave one master only to take service with another.
2. Habitual sin makes a man supremely unhappy, because it deprives him completely of sanctifying grace, subjects him entirely to the dominion of the devil, and brings down on him many temporal judgments as well as eternal damnation.
The Holy Spirit does not dwell in the heart where vice reigns. Respectable people will not enter a tavern which is the resort of the drunken and dissolute, for the good have no fellowship with the evil, God will not make His abode in the sin-stained soul of the sinner. As one would rather live in the humble cottage, provided it be clean, than in a palace that was unclean and infected, so God will not visit the soul which is defiled and infected with the pestilence of sin. The vicious are completely under the dominion of the devil. The Roman emperor Valerian, having been taken prisoner by the King of Persia, was forced by the latter to make himself his footstool when he dismounted from his horse. Thus man, the son of the King of heaven, falls under the thraldom and servitude of the devil by the practice of vice. The just man is ever free, though he wear the chains of a slave; the sinner is ever enslaved, even on the throne; and every vice in which he indulges adds one more to his degrading fetters. A course of vice brings great misery upon a man in this life; loss of property, of health, of reputation; besides anxiety, discontent, etc. Sometimes God sends public calamities for the chastisement of nations that have sinned. Sin makes nations miserable (Prov. xiv. 34). Was not Attila, the King of the Huns, surnamed “the scourge of God”? Those who are the servants of vice shall not possess the kingdom of God (1 Cor. vi. 9, 10). “If you live according to the flesh, you shall die” (Rom. viii. 13). They who do the works of the flesh shall not obtain the kingdom of God (Gal. v. 19). When the fatal results of sin come upon the sinner, he makes good resolutions; but before long he is again led astray. Each time he repeats his sin his power of resisting it is lessened. Finally it works his ruin both for time and for eternity.
The wicked do not possess sanctifying grace, consequently their understanding is greatly obscured, and their will greatly weakened.
The understanding of the sinner is completely clouded. As cataract destroys the bodily sight, so vice obscures the eye of the soul. The passions which make their home in the heart of the sinner cloud his spirit and darken his intellect. As one who looks through a colored glass sees everything colored, so one who is the slave of his passions cannot judge of things aright; he views them in a false light. Nor can he attain a true knowledge of himself; his mind is like troubled water, which reflects one’s countenance in a distorted manner. The habitual sinner is so blinded that he regards abhorrent vices as virtues, and is angry if his attention is drawn to his evil habits, their disgraceful nature, and their fatal consequences. Reason is, however, never completely dethroned by the rebellious passions. The will of the sinner is greatly weakened; he becomes powerless for good. The more a man sins, the weaker he becomes. If one who has fallen into a deep sleep is called to awake or otherwise roused, he opens his eyes, and makes an effort to rise up; but overcome by drowsiness, he sinks back on his pillow. So it is with one who is sunk in the slumber of sin. He may be seriously admonished; death, hell, judgment, and eternity, set before him; he listens to it all, acknowledges it to be true, and makes some slight effort to amend; but the habit of sin and the love of the world hold him captive; he presently relapses into sin. It is almost as impossible for one who lives in habitual sin to do good as for the Ethiopian to change his skin (Jer. xiii. 23). The habitual sinner ceases to struggle against sin. One is annoyed to see the first spot on a white garment; but after a second and a third and many others, one considers it as soiled, and one does not care what stains it contracts.
3. The most ordinary sins are the seven capital sins: Pride, disobedience, anger, avarice, intemperance in eating and drinking, unchastity, sloth.
These are the seven sinful proclivities of the human heart, which are the origin of every sin. All other sins take their rise from them, as from their source. They are called vices, because they are productive of permanent disorder in the soul. They are also simply called sins, because their outward manifestation may be venial or mortal sin, according as the offense is in a more or less weighty matter. One isolated act of a sin does not prove that sin to be habitual. They are called capital sins, because each one of these propensities is the head or centre whence other sins proceed. They are like commanding officers, who come at the head of a whole army of sins to lay waste the heart. Each one is a poisonous root which will bear deadly fruit. The seven deadly sins in their turn originate in temptations to ambition, avarice, and luxury (1 John ii. 16). A full enumeration of the principal sins is not possible, because the dispositions of every individual are utterly different, and the evil tendencies vary no less. Some reckon melancholy and vain-glory to be capital sins; envy is often placed among them, or again it is not mentioned as being the offspring of covetousness. Pride is universally acknowledged to be the queen of sins; to it is given the precedence over all the other sins. He who is under the permanent dominion of a capital sin is a server of idols (Eph. v. 5), because he makes a creature (self, a fellow-being, gold, the pleasures of the table, etc.), his final end. Such a one serves Mammon and not God (Matt. vi. 24). As the seven deadly sins close the portals of heaven against us, they may be compared to the seven nations which opposed the entrance of the Israelites into the Land of Promise (Deut. vii. 1). They are the seven devils whom Our Lord cast out of Mary Magdalen (Mark xvi. 9); the seven wicked spirits who enter into the man who has lost sanctifying grace (Luke xi. 26); they are the seven fatal diseases of the soul, which end in death. Pride resembles madness, disobedience blood poisoning, anger fever, covetousness consumption, intemperance dropsy, unchastity the plague, sloth paralysis. He who will be a friend of God must divest himself of these vices. Before we lay out a beautiful garden, the thorns and weeds must be rooted up. So those who desire their own sanctification must first eradicate their faults.
This article, IV. VICE is a post from The Bellarmine Forum.
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