Oblate Program at Belmont Abbey, NC

Acedia: Spiritual Weariness

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Originally one of Evagrius’ and Cassian’s eight principal logismoi, acedia came to be included among the medieval seven deadly sins. Although generally translated as “sloth”, the terms “apathy” or “spiritual weariness” are closer to the original meaning. Thomas Aquinas (d. 1274) cited John Damascene’s definition of acedia as “weariness in the face of work” (Sum.Theol. 2a2ae 35,1 resp.). Aquinas adapted this to the spiritual life by redefining acedia as tristitia spiritalis boni, sadness or listlessness in response to the need to strive for some spiritual good (35, 2, 1) In this sense it represents the sapping or depletion of that spiritual “good zeal” recommended by St. Benedict (Rule ch. 72).

Evagrius explains that this vice may appear in either a depressed or an agitated form. While often experienced as slothful inactivity and apathy, acedia may also manifest as eagerness or compulsion to do anything, everything, except the spiritual good that is most needful. It may even masquerade under the guise of hospitality or prudence. These different manifestations all have in common a single goal: namely, to create within the victim an affective or intellectual state that causes him to ignore or abandon his spiritual project. THE cure for acedia therefore lies in cultivating the virtue of perseverance and in rekindling spiritual zeal. Evagrius and his disciple John Cassian recommend a variety of spiritual remedies intended to assist the Christian in persevering in his spiritual goals. Chief among these are: the practice of psalmody; the deliberate choice not to leave the place where spiritual discipline is practiced; meditation on the fact of one’s mortality and frailty; and respect for one’s body, practically manifested through reasonable attention one’s physical well-being. (Evag. Prak. 27-29; Cassian Inst. 10, Conf 5). Aquinas particularly recommends taking a nap and or indulging in a warm bath (Summa Theol.1a2ae 38, 5).

Perhaps the simplest spiritual remedy for acedia, and the one chosen as the introduction to the whole Greek collection of the Sayings of the desert Fathers is found in the first saying of Abba Antony. While struggling with the demon of acedia Antony cried out to God, “How can I be saved?” In answer he was given a vision of himself sitting down at his work, intermittently standing for prayer with outstretched arms, then sitting back down to work for an interval. “Do this”, he was told, “and you will be saved.” Simple, short prayers offered at regular intervals during work throughout the day serve to consecrate, little by little, the whole of ordinary life. No room is left for acedia, since all ordinary activity is thus gradually incorporated into the project of spiritual progress.

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