Scripture and acedia

Judges 5:15-17 (Song of Deborah and Barak)

“Among the clans of Reuben
there were great searchings of heart.
Why did you sit still among the sheepfolds,
to hear the whistling for the flocks?
Among the clans of Reuben
there were great searchings of heart.
Gilead stayed beyond the Jordan;
and Dan, why did he stay with the ships?
Asher sat still at the coast of the sea,
staying by his landings” (ESV).

Psalm 91: 5,6

“You will not fear the terror of the night,
nor the arrow that flies by day,
nor the pestilence that stalks in darkness,
nor the destruction that wastes at noonday” (ESV).

“You will not be afraid of nocturnal fright,
of an arrow that flies by day,
of a deed that travels in darkness,
of mishap and noonday demon” (New English Translation of the Septuagint).

Psalm 106:24,25

“Then they despised the pleasant land,
having no faith in his promise.
They murmured in their tents,
and did not obey the voice of the LORD” (ESV).

2 Corinthians 7:10

“For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death” (ESV).

Ancient and medieval exegesis identified “the destruction that wastes at noonday” and “worldly sorrow” with acedia.

Dante: The Wrathful

“A marsh there is called Styx, which the sad stream
Forms when it finds the end of its descent
Under the grey, malignant rock-foot grim;And I, staring about with eyes intent,
Saw mud-stained figures in the mire beneath,
Naked, with looks of savage discontent,At fisticuffs–not with fists alone, but with
Their heads and heels, and with their bodies too,
And tearing each other piecemeal with their teeth.”Son,” the kind master said, “here may’st though view
The souls of those who yielded them to wrath;
Further, I’d have thee know and hold for true 

That others lie plunged deep in this vile broth,
Whose sighs–see there, wherever one may look-
Come bubbling up to the top and make it froth.

Bogged there they say: ‘Sullen were we–we took
No joy of the pleasant air, no joy of the good
Sun; our hearts smouldered with a sulky smoke;

Sullen we lie here now in the black mud.’
This hymn they gurgle in their throats, for whole
Words they can nowise frame.” Thus we pursued

Our path round a wide arc of that ghast pool,
Between the soggy marsh and arid shore,
Still eyeing those who gulp the marish foul,

And reached at length the foot of a tall tower.”

(Dante, Inferno, Canto VII, Sayers trans)

From the lustful mutual self-indulgence to a radical self-isolation, unable now even to communicate. Acedia is also wrath directed inwards on the self.

The Marsh. Both kinds of Wrath are figured as a muddy slough; on its surface, the active hatreds rend and snarl at one another; at the bottom, the sullen hatreds lie gurgling, unable even to express themselves for the rage that chokes them. This is the last of the Circles of Incontinence. This savage self-frustration is the end of that which had its tender and romantic beginnings in the dalliance of indulged passion” (Dante, Inferno, Canto VII, Sayers notes p 114).

Max Weber — “Specialists without spirit”

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“The Puritan wanted to work in a calling; we are forced to do so. For when asceticism was carried out of monastic cells into evervday life, and began to dominate worldly morality, it did its part in building the tremendous cosmos of the modern economic order. This order is now bound to the technical and economic conditions of machine production which to-day determine the lives of all the individuals who are born into this mechanism, not only those directly concerned with economic acquisition, with irresistible force. Perhaps it will so determine them until the last ton of fossilized coal is burnt. In Baxter’s view tile care for external goods should only lie on the shoulders of the “saint like a light cloak, which can be thrown aside at any moment”. But fate decreed that the cloak should become an iron cage.

Since asceticism undertook to remodel the world and to work out its ideals in the world, material goods have gained an increasing and finally an inexorable power over the lives of men as at no previous period in history. To-day the spirit of religious asceticism-whether finally, who knows?-has escaped from the cage. But victorious capitalism, since it rests on mechanical foundations, needs its support no longer. The rosy blush of its laughing heir, the Enlightenment, seems also to be irretrievably fading, and the idea of duty in one’s calling prowls about in our lives like the ghost of dead religious beliefs. Where the fulfilment of the calling cannot directly be related to the highest spiritual and cultural values, or when, on the other hand, it need not be felt simply as economic compulsion, the individual generally abandons the attempt to justify it at all. In the field of its highest development, in the United States, the pursuit of wealth, stripped of its religious and ethical meaning, tends to become associated with purely mundane passions, which often actually give it the character of sport.

No one knows who will live in this cage in the future, or whether at the end of this tremendous development, entirely new prophets will arise, or there will be a great rebirth of old ideas and ideals, or, if neither, mechanized petrification, embellished with a sort of convulsive self-importance. For of the fast stage of this cultural development, it might well be truly said:’ “Specialists without spirit, sensualists without heart; this nullity imagines that it has attained a level of civilization never before achieved” (The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, p123-124).

St. Augustine — Freedom of the will

Unless you turn to Him and repay the existence that He gave you , you won’t be “nothing”; you will be wretched. All things owe to God, first of all, what they are insofar as they are natures. Then, those who have received a will owe to Him whatever better thing they can will to be, and whatever they ought to be. No man is ever blamed for what he has not been given, but he is justly blamed if he has not done what he should have done; and if he has received free will and sufficient power, he stands under obligation. When a man does not do what he ought, God the Creator is not at fault. It is to His glory that a man suffers justly; and by blaming a man for not doing what he should have done, you are praising what he ought to do. You are praised for seeing what you ought to do, even though you see this only through God, who is immutable Truth (On Freedom) 

the companions and peers of despair

“Though not the only offspring of acedia, despair is the most legitimate. Saint Thomas Aquinas has assembled the filiae acediae, the companions and peers of despair, in a demonic constellation that it will be rewarding to consider for a moment… In addition to despair, acedia gives birth to that uneasy restlessness of mind that Thomas calls evagatio mentis: “No one can remain in sadness”; but since it is precisely his most inward being that causes the sadness of one who has fallen prey to acedia, the result is that such a one struggles to break out of the peace at the center of his own being.

For its part, evagatio mentis reveals itself in loquaciousness (verbositas), in excessive curiosity (curiositas), in an irreverent urge “to pour oneself out from the peak of of the mind onto many things” (importunitas), in interior restlessness (inquietudo), and in instability of place or purpose (instabilitas loci vel propositi). All these concepts that are inseparably related to “uneasy restlessness of mind” (evagatio mentis) are to be met with again in Heidegger’s analysis of “everyday existence” (which, however, is not concerned with the religious significance of acedia): “being’s flight from itself”, “loquaciousness”, “curiosity” as concern about the “possibility of abandoning oneself to the world”, “importunity”, “distraction”, “instability”.

Evagatio mentis and despair are followed by a third offspring of acedia–a sluggish indifference (torpor) toward those things that are in truth necessary for man’s salvation; it is linked by an inner necessity to the denial of man’s higher self that springs from sadness and sloth. The fourth offspring is pusillanimity (pusillanimitas) toward all the mystical opportunities that are open to man. The fifth is irritable rebellion (rancor) against all who are charged with the responsibility of preventing man’s true and divinized self from falling prey to forgetfulness, to “self-forgetfulness”. The last offspring is malitita, malice par excellence, a conscious inner choice and decision in favor of evil as evil that has its source in hatred for the divine in man” (Faith, Hope, Love, p. 120-121).

Acedia and Kierkegaard

“Acedia is what Kierkegaard, in his book on despair (Sickness unto Death), has called the “despair of weakness”, which he considers a preliminary stage of despair proper and which consists in the fact that an individual ‘is unwilling, in his despair, to be himself'” (Faith, Hope, Love, p. 120).

Acedia as perverted humility

“One who is trapped in acedia has neither the courage nor the will to be as great as he really is. He would prefer to be less great in order thus to avoid the obligation of greatness. Acedia is a perverted humility; it will not accept supernatural goods because they are, by their very nature, linked to a claim on him who receives them” (Faith, Hope, Love, p. 119).

acedia – sadness

“According to the classical theology of the Church, acedia is a kind of sadness (“species tristitiae”) — more specifically, a sadness in view of the divine good in man. This sadness because of the God-given ennobling of human nature causes inactivity, depression, discouragement (thus the element of actual “sloth” is secondary)” (Faith, Hope, Love, p. 118).

Acedia

“One of the most central concepts from the moral philosophy of the High Middle Ages is that of acedia, which we, very ambiguously and mistakenly, are accustomed to translate as “laziness”. Acedia, however, means this: that man denies his effective assent to his true essence, that he closes himself to the demand that arises from his own dignity, that he is not inclined to claim for himself the grandeur that is imposed on him with his essence’s God-given nobility of being” (A Brief Reader on the Virtues of the Human Heart, p. 51).