By Matt Aleksinas
Medieval trees of virtues and vices depicted a spectrum of human qualities, from the basest earthliness (capital vices) to heavenly righteousness (cardinal virtues). They provided a structure in which monks could interpret and contemplate the associations between each abstraction. In the trees of Beinecke MS 416, chief virtues and vices are linked to subordinate traits, which make explicit the connections between various good and evil qualities. In this framework, monks learned to associate minor sins with greater vices and good qualities with principal virtues.
The seven clusters of fruit on the tree of virtues and tree of vices have a biblical origin: the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit found in Galatians 5.22. In our diagrams the fruits and branches of the tree of virtues point to toward Heaven, while the withering branches of the tree of vices droop toward Hell.