Thursday 10 February 2011

The Cardinal's Sinful Numbers

Once upon an ancient Roman time, there were hinges, which were called cardos. If something belonged to the hinge it was cardinis. The word was of great metaphorical use as the centre-point around which things turned, for example the celestial poles. So the central and most important priests, those who elected the Pope, were called cardinalis ecclesiae Romanae: etymologically hinges of the church of Rome.

Catherine of Aragon told Cardinals Wolsey and Campeius:

The more shame for ye: holy men I thought ye,
Upon my soul, two reverend cardinal virtues;
    (Recorded by Shakespeare and Fletcher in Henry VIII)

But there isn't really a connection, only a common ancestor. Religious cardinals do not, or should not, commit cardinal sins. Nor did they decide which sins would be named after them. Cardinal sins are so-called because they are the central sins, on which all the other minor sins depend. They are the sinful hinges.

So for example, the central cardinal sin of lust might result in your committing the particular sin of animal husbandry. Wrath might lead to murder, or violence, or simply taking the Lord's name in vain.

Pope Paul VI may have had this in mind when, in 1974, he made Jaime Sin a cardinal, thus creating Cardinal Sin. Jaime himself liked the joke and referred to his official residence as the House of Sin.

One of the many idiots who have tried to prove that Shakespeare didn't write Shakespeare, was a chap called Georg Cantor. He was a mathematician and invented set theory. He also coined the term cardinal numbers. As with the sins, cardinal numbers are the proper numbers (one, two, three, four) on which the ordinal numbers (first, second, third, fourth) depend.

I shall leave you with Edmund Spenser's parade of the Seven Cardinal Sins from the Faerie Queen. It's fantastic but it's rather long so I'll put it under a jump break. Click on read more to continue.

Pride, called Lucifera, rules over the palace of sin. She calls for her coach which is drawn by her six naughty companions.

So forth she [Pride] comes, and to her Coach does climb,
Adorned all with Gold and Garlands gay,
That seem'd as fresh as Flora in her Prime;
And strove to match, in royal rich Array,
Great Juno's golden Chair, the which they say
The Gods stand gazing on, when she does ride
To Jove's high House through Heavens brass-paved way,
Drawn of fair Peacocks, that excel in Pride,
And full of Argus' Eyes their Tails disspredden wide.

But this was drawn of six unequal Beasts,
On which her six sage Counsellors did ride,
Taught to obey their bestial Beheasts,
With like Conditions to their kinds apply'd:
Of which the first, that all the rest did guide,
Was sluggish Idleness, the Nurse of Sin;
Upon a slothful Ass he chose to ride,
Array'd in Habit black, and amis thin,
Like to an holy Monk, the Service to begin.

And in his Hand his Portress still he bare,
That much was worn, but therein little red:
For of Devotion he had little care,
Still drown'd in Sleep, and most of his days dead;
Scarce could he once uphold his heavy Head,
To looken whether it were Night or Day.
May seem the Wain was very evil led,
When such an one had guiding of the way,
That knew not, whether right he went, or else astray.

From worldly Cares himself he did esloin,
And greatly shunned manly Exercise;
For every Work he challenged Essoin,
For Contemplation sake: yet otherwise,
His life he led in lawless Riotise;
By which he grew to grievous Malady:
For, in his lustless Limbs through evil Guise
A shaking Fever reign'd continually:
Such one was Idleness, first of this Company.

And by his side rode loathsome Gluttony,
Deformed Creature, on a filthy Swine,
His Belly was up-blown with Luxury,
And eke with Fatness swollen were his eyne:
And like a Crane, his Neck was long and fine,
With which he swallowed up excessive Feast,
For want whereof poor People oft did pine;
And all the way, most like a brutish Beast,
He spewed up his Gorge that all did him detest.

In green Vine Leaves he was right fitly clad,
For other Clothes he could not wear for Heat;
And on his Head an Ivy Garland had,
From under which fast trickled down the Sweat:
Still as he rode, he some-what still did eat,
And in his Hand did bear a Bouzing-Can,
Of which he supt so oft, that on his Seat
His drunken Corse he scarce upholden can;
In Shape and Life, more like a Monster than a Man.

Unfit he was for any worldly thing,
And eke unable once so stir or go,
Not meet to be of Counsel to a King,
Whose Mind in Meat and Drink was drowned so,
That from his Friend he seldom knew his Foe;
Full of Diseases was his Carcass blue,
And a dry Dropsy through his Flesh did flow;
Which by mis-diet daily greater grew:
Such one was Gluttony, the second of that Crew.

And next to him rode lustful Lechery
Upon a bearded Goat, whose rugged Hair
And whally Eyes (the sign of Jealousy)
Was like the Person self, whom he did bear:
Who rough, and black, and filthy did appear,
Unseemly Man to please fair Ladies Eye;
Yet he, of Ladies oft was loved dear,
When fairer Faces were bid standen by:
O! who does know the bent of Womens fantasy?

In a green Gown he clothed was full fair,
Which underneath did hide his Filthiness,
And in his Hand a burning Heart he bare,
Full of vain Follies and new-fangleness:
For, he was false, and fraught with Fickleness,
And learned had to love with secret Looks,
And well could daunce and sing with ruefulness,
And Fortunes tell, and read in loving Books,
And thousand other ways to bait his fleshly Hooks.

Inconstant Man that loved all he saw,
And lusted after all that he did love;
Ne would his looser Life be ty'd to Law,
But joy'd weak Womens Hearts to tempt and prove,
If from their loyal Loves he might them move;
Which Lewdness fill'd him with reproachful Pain
Of that foul Evil which all Men reprove,
That rots the Marrow, and consumes the Brain:
Such one was Lechery, the third of all this Train.

And greedy Avarice by him did ride,
Upon a Camel loaden all with Gold;
Two iron Coffers hung on either side,
With precious Metal, full as they might hold,
And in his Lap an heap of Coin he told:
For of his wicked Pelf his God he made,
And unto Hell himself for Money sold;
Accursed Usury was all his Trade,
And right and wrong ylike in equal Ballance weigh'd.

His Life was nigh unto Death's Door yplac'd,
And thread-bare Coat and cobled Shoes he ware,
Ne scarce good Morsel all his Life did taste,
But both from Back and Belly still did spare,
To fill his Bags, and Riches to compare:
Yet Child ne Kinsman living had he none
To leave them to; but thorough daily Care
To get, and nightly Fear to lose his own,
He led a wretched Life unto himself unknown.

Most wretched Wight, whom nothing might suffice,
Whose greedy Lust did lack in greatest Store,
Whose Need had end, but no end Covetise,
Whose Wealth was Want, whose Plenty made him poor,
Who had enough, yet wished evermore:
A vile Disease, and eke in Foot and Hand
A grievous Gout tormented him full sore,
That well he could not touch, nor go, nor stand;
Such one was Avarice, the fourth of this fair Band.

And next to him malicious Envy rode
Upon a ravenous Wolf, and Still did chaw
Between his cankred Teeth a venemous Tode,
That all the Poison ran about his Jaw;
But inwardly he chawed his own Maw
At Neighbour's Wealth, that made him ever sad;
For Death it was, when any good he saw,
And wept, that cause of Weeping none he had:
But when he heard of Harm, he wexed wondrous glad.

All in a Kirtle of discolour'd Say
He clothed was, ypainted full of Eyes
And in his Bosom secretly there lay
An hateful Snake, the which his Tail upties
In many Folds, and mortal Sting implies.
Still as he rode, he gnash'd his Teeth, to see
Those heaps of Gold with griple Covetise,
And grudged at the great Felicity
Of proud Lucifera, and his own Company.

He hated all good Works and vertuous Deeds,
And him no less, that any like did use:
And who with gracious Bread the Hungry feeds,
His Alms, for want of Faith, he doth accuse;
So every Good to Bad he doth abuse:
And eke the Verse of famous Poet's Wit
He does backbite, and spightful Poison spues
From leprous Mouth, on all that ever writ:
Such one vile Envy was, that first in row did sit.

And him besides rides fierce revenging Wrath,
Upon a Lion, loth for to be led;
And in his Hand a burning Brond he hath,
The which he brandisheth about his Head;
His Eyes did hurle forth Sparkles fiery red,
And stared stern on all that him beheld,
As Ashes pale of hew and seeming dead;
And on his Dagger still his Hand he held;
Trembling through hasty Rage, when Choler in him swell'd.

His ruffin Raiment all was stain'd with Blood
Which he had spilt, and all to Rags yrent,
Through unadvised Rashness woxen wood;
For of his Hands he had no government,
Ne car'd for Blood in his avengement:
But when the furious Fit was overpast,
His cruel Facts he often would repent;
Yet wilful Man he never would forecast,
How many Mischiefs should ensue his heedless hast.

Full many Mischiefs follow cruel Wrath;
Abhorred Bloodshed and tumultuous Strife,
Unmanly Murder, and unthrifty Scath,
Bitter Despight, with Rancour's rusty Knife,
And fretting Grief the Enemy of Life;
All these, and many Evils moe haunt Ire,
The swelling Spleen, and Phrenzy raging rife,
The shaking Palsey, and Saint Frauncis' Fire:
Such one was Wrath, the last of this ungodly Tire.

And after all, upon the Waggon Beam
Rode Satan, with a smarting Whip in hand,
With which he forward lash'd the lazy Team,
So oft as Sloth still in the Mire did stand.
Huge Routs of People did about them band,
Shouting for Joy; and still before their way
A foggy Mist had covered all the Land;
And underneath their Feet, all scattered lay
Dead Skuls and Bones of Men, whose Life had gone astray.

So there. Spelling has been modernised throughout.

The Inky Fool sets off on holiday.


  1. The Antipodean, who really should get to Confession some time,10 February 2011 at 22:05

    I see that Spenser subscribes to the common belief that Women Like Bad Boys.

    'Vain Follies and new-fangleness' is great, and will come in handy whenever someone gets a new gadget. Here I thought I was coveting things and it turns out I'm probably lusting after them.

    Bouzing-can could also be useful - it sounds Australian to me. "Pass the bouzing-can, mate."

  2. ha ha - house of Sin. So now I wonder if he took that to heart. It is often easiest to hide something in plain sight because people least expect you to have sin in the (joke) House of Sin. After all, he was a Cardinal and we all know what wonderful examples the Roman Catholics leaders are...