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In common terms, sloth.

from "The Deadliest of the Sins" in One Half of Robertson Davies
Robertson Davies

I have never been able to make up my mind which it is that people fear to feel most--pain or joy. Life will bring you both. You will not be able to escape the pain completely, thouogh Acedia will dull it a little. But unfortunately it lies in your power to reject the joy utterly. Because we are afraid that great exultation may betray us into some actions, some words, which may make us look a little foolish to people who are not sharing our experience, we very often stifle our moments of joy, thinking that we will give them their outlet later. But alas, after a few years of that kind of thing, joy ceases to visit us. . . There is an old saying of medieval teachers which I recommend to your special notice:

Time Jesum transeuntem et non revertentem.

I shall translate it thus: 'Dread the passing of Jesus, for He does not return.' And thus it is with all great revelations, be they relgious or not. Seize them, embrace them, let them engulf you, draw from them the uttermost of what they have to give, for if you rebuff them, they will not come again. We live a world where too many people are pititfully afraid of joy.

Acedie is one of the most dreadful of the deadly sins because it sneaks up on you. It slowly grows until it has a complete grip and suddenly you can't find the way out (if you even recognize your predicament.) Not so lust or gluttony, which while persausive and powerful, are generally of a moment and recognizable. Most people can recognize when they commit these sins--but most are ignorant of any signs of Acedie. In a time of waiting, look inside and see what is there--look for signs of joylessness of being above the fray, sophisticated, and too advanced for those emotions that drive hoi polloi.

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Have you written on what acedia is? I don't quite get it. I've looked it up in the catechism & read their description of it, but I still don't get it.

Despite being Catholic for nearly 9 years, I first heard of this term 'acedie' from your post! It amazingly described what I'm going through; thank you for raising my awareness. I shall see what can be done about this..

If you find helpful the writings of St. John Vianney the Curé d’Ars, EWTN has his thoughts on sloth or acedia here Hyperlink and scroll down to “CHAPTER 12: On Sloth” within the second section, (“EXPLANATIONS AND EXHORTATIONS”).

Riffing on St. Thomas, Fr. Walter Farrell, OP, introduces his treatment of sloth with these words:

"The human heart simply must have joy. If the joy is not forthcoming from our divine friendship, we shall cast about for more agreeable companionship and that means in a realm other than that of the spirit. Our unconsciousness of the good that is ours in this divine friendship practically assures us of a decreasing knowledge of the divine good. The overshadowing of this joy of divine friendship then begins to make possible a positive contempt for the goods of God by a concentration on the evils that affect us. More briefly, we are learning more and more about the attractions of the flesh, and less and less about the joys of the spirit."

He concludes with a per effectum formula: "In a word, sloth is the abandonment of the joy of God for the joy of the world."

Dear Tom

Thanks so much for the quote from Farrell:

"In a word, sloth is the abandonment of the joy of God for the joy of the world."

In short, an abandonment of all joy because the source of joy is gone. The joy of this world fades rapidly, very rapidly, when divorced from the Source of Joy. This is what effects the world-weariness of those suffering from Acedie.

Thanks again.




Yes, and when the worldly joys fade, you have the choice of giving up on joy altogether or of moving on to try to drum up some new worldly joy of the week. Either way lies weariness.

Hence the "feverish restlessness," in Fr. Farrell's words, that is associated with the vice of laziness.

Of course, you also have the choice to return to divine joy. And, in the strictest sense, it would be a return, since I believe sloth strictly speaking is a sorrow over a joy already known.

Dear Tom,

I think one of the interesting points, and one that makes Sloth much more difficult to identify is that while it is a "sorrow over a joy already known," it often doesn't manifest itself as sorrow. Often it is manifested as listlessness and casting about--boredom. This is one of those things that makes sloth such an insidious sin--it has symptoms but they don't appear to be the symptoms of the "right disease." But when one achieves in Marvell's marvelous turn of phrase the state in which we view everything as "ashes all my lust," you can be pretty certain that you have been claimed by sloth.

And as you said, there is a sure and certain cure for it once you recognize it. Confession, followed by participating in the sacraments and the life of grace. We have a choice.





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This page contains a single entry by Steven Riddle published on December 8, 2004 5:28 PM.

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