Richard Rufus of Cornwall

On Original Sin

Introduction by Rega Wood

Rufus says: "So it seems that because Eve proudly presumed, she did not believe the word of God and so she was made disobedient and forsook God. Therefore she neglected [his command] and the converse is not the case. And thus sin was the first root, naturally prior to her neglect [of the command], and thus pride preceded all other other [sins]. Yet all [these sins] can be called one sin, having [a single] subject.

Original Latin

What is the root of evil?

That is the question Rufus faces here, and he answers in typical scholastic fashion. First, he presents arguments that suggest that doubt is the root cause of sin. Then he considers disbelief, next negligence. But after considering a variety of interesting possibilities, he decides for the conventional answer, based on Augustine's authority: Pride is the problem.

After lining up the possibilities, Rufus links most of them together. Because Eve was proud, she did not believe God. So she was disobedient, deserted God, and neglected his commands.

Rufus concludes the section with a quotation from Augustine's famous Enchiridion that explains other sins as a consequence of pride:

  • sacrilege
  • spiritual fornication
  • homicide
  • theft
  • greed

Compare this list with the traditional seven deadly sins:

  1. lust (luxuria)
  2. gluttony (gula)
  3. greed (avaritia)
  4. sloth (acedia)
  5. wrath (ira)
  6. envy (invidia)
  7. pride (superbia)

Homicide and theft, crimes forbidden by the ten commandments, are usually included in the seven deadly sins as consequences of wrath and greed.

Notice that sacrilege, the most specifically religious offense listed by Augustine, is not one of the seven deadly sins. Also not included among, or closed related to, the sins listed by Augustine are gluttony, sloth, wrath, and envy. Those sins can be regarded as sins as much against the social order as against religious duty. Think how much fun it would be to room with a lazy, spiteful, angry refrigerator thief, for example.

For Rufus, however, there is a sense in which every crime -- every sin -- arises not from self-hatred but from self-regard. "Pride goes before a fall" [Proverbs 16.18].