A Tale of Acedie

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or, What Acedie Looks Like When It Gets Dressed Up and Goes Out on the Town

In some ways, this advent season is a perfect time to talk about acedie because one of the central traditions of Christmas storytelling is a marvelous illustration of its effects. The Fathers have said variously that Pride is the source of all the deadly sins, or that when one of the deadly sins is present all are present. I think another well-spring of deadly sin is very important and pervasive.

If we were to look at the story of Ebeneezer Scrooge, we would conclude that the operative sin was avarice. And I suppose to some extent that might be true. But if we look to the roots of the story, we will find haunting (pardon the pun) suggestions of the cause of this avarice. That is, avarice was not the first cause, but the result. In the story of Christmas past we encounter Isabelle who tells scrooge that he is "too afraid of the world." (At least this happens in some of the cinematic versions of the tale.) It is this fear of the world and closing in on oneself that is the core of acedie. And it shows itself in how one conducts one's life. One is more closed in--one may collect and own things (as does Scrooge) but, famously these things are neither cared-for nor valued. They simply are. Scrooge's house is in disrepair, his belongings substandard. This is in part the avarice of not wanting to spend the money, but it is also a sure sign of the despair, the loss of joy that did not happen all at once. That is part of the insidiousness of this deadly sin. That loss of joy can take years and years and years, until one arrives in the dark, bleak wilderness of the end of Acedie.

Famously also, Scrooge is awakened from the slumber of despair. And while the proximal cause is three spirits representing Christmas, outside of our secular culture we can assume the greater cause is the cause of Christmas Himself. That is that grace breaks in. Grace in this case takes the form of visitation from four spirits--one who testifies and three who demonstrate. Now we know from the gospels that the rich man was not released from Hell to go in spirit to warn his brothers and sisters, and yet, we have that story that warns us, and other works through the ages. We cannot expect the visitation of spirits. We must like Dante come to ourselves in midlife and awaken to what has happened to us. We must seek to recover joy and Jesus has promised, "He who seeks finds."

If we are subject to this terrible deadly sin, let us uncover it in the light of day. Let it be confessed and done away with and let us avidly seek "surcease of sorrow" in the presence of God. The only way to do away with Sloth is to recognize it and apply one's will to doing away with it.

And so I end my discussion of Acedie--one of the most insidious of the seven deadlies. All are deadly, and all can go unrecognized. The danger of Acedie is that it builds through a series of seemingly unimportant choices to ultimately rob us of joy.

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Great discussion, Steven!

I've run into a lot of discussion of acedie in monastic writings, and have had more than a bit of it in my own life, and can testify that you are on target.

All too true. A most fine and helpful post, Steven, thank you.




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This page contains a single entry by Steven Riddle published on December 10, 2004 7:52 AM.

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