Award winning journalist Angelo Stagnaro offers a version of the Venerable Louis de Granada’s The Sinner’s Guide, for the internet age. Introducing himself as an experienced yet repentant sinner, he explains the foundations of Catholicism’s harmartiology (theology of sin), a theology that takes sin seriously as an offence against life, love and logic, an insult to God and his creation, as something to be avoided at all costs. Stagnaro does not mince words in this book: “There is no way to earn Heaven, but a million ways to merit Hell” (p. 40). God’s gracious mercy is stressed but never taken for granted and he never soft-pedals on matters such as Original Sin which commonly bewilders and alienates moderns. Careful explanations of Purgatory and Indulgences, of Vincible and Invincible Ignorance are provided. The reader is treated to a comprehensive overview of the Catholic context on sin before getting down to sin’s detailed branches.

The seven deadly sins are treated extensively, one-by-one with a good deal of wit and wisdom. This is a book replete with potent citations of scripture and the teachings of the Church Fathers, but lightened with references to South Park and Manhattan cocktail parties. His analysis of pride contains a rather pointed sub-section on vanity that many a hipster should care to read. Each sin is diagnosed and practical remedies are suggested for everyone. This is not a work for the mere theoretician; rather Christian ideals are to be put into practice as much as possible. The main practices of lust are criticised in a thorough manner without lapsing into prudishness or prurience, a feat easier said than done, and Stagnaro deals with racism and sexism well under the sin of anger. Regarding the “eighth” deadly sin of apathy, there is an intriguing discussion of “spiritual gluttony” in which the jaded soul seeks cheap spiritual thrills through dubious sects and practices, such as so-called New Age Spirituality. There follows a treatment of the Ten Commandments, highlights, include a weighty refutation of pro-abortion arguments when dealing with the commandment Thou shalt not kill as well as a thoughtful response to the tragedy of suicide.

The new deadly sins, listed by the Vatican’s Apostolic Penitentiary get their merited coverage. I particularly admired Stagnaro’s nuanced approach to environmentalism, opposing mistreatment of creation, whilst deploring the misanthropic and fanatical stance of extreme greens. The seven sins against the Holy Spirit, the sins that cry out to God for vengeance, and those sins being so severe as to require forgiveness from the Pope himself are not ignored.

No sin is too big or too small for this book. The horror of clerical pedophilia within the Catholic Church is faced head-on, no excuses are made, but the reader is reminded that this is not an abomination exclusive to Catholicism and that abolishing clerical vows of celibacy would be no silver bullet. The answer, as with other past crises in the Church, is moral and spiritual renewal. Practical as ever, Stagnaro gives a chapter on “The Art and Science of a Good Confession,” the innumerable blessings of this sacrament are at least numbered in large part, with helpful tips for those seeking them. After a defence of Hell’s reality, a cogent epilogue concludes with the words: “Always keep God close to you in prayer” (p. 444). These are wise words and I would also advise today’s sinner to keep this book close at hand as well.

Christopher Villiers, Catholic theologian.