Cover of "Sin" featuring yellow text on a blue background
August 2007

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Essays on the Moral Tradition in the Western Middle Ages
Richard Newhauser

Richard Newhauser examines here aspects of the moral tradition of medieval thought, specifically the construction of the seven deadly sins, their offspring and related schematizations of immorality in the Latin West. The emphasis in these studies is on the malleability of moral categories, their relationship to changes in medieval culture, and the creativity and sensitivity of the thinkers who made use of the concepts of sinfulness in the Middle Ages. The first section examines the contexts in which the seven deadly sins (or nine accessory sins) are found in medieval Latin, English and German texts, and in particular the genre of the treatise on vices and virtues as the major vehicle in which concepts of immorality were examined and presented to a variety of audiences for meditative or pastoral purposes. The second section deals with one of the more interesting of the seven deadly sins — avarice — in its penitential, literary, apocalyptic and institutional contexts, as its definition changed slowly with developing commercial experiences in medieval Europe. In the last section, the breadth of the concept of a sinful curiosity is examined, and its historical development is delineated in the thought of Augustine of Hippo and the early Cistercians.


Richard Newhauser is a professor in the Department of English at Arizona State University.