I don’t think it’s accurate to call this recipe a cocktail, but here you have it…
“Acedia Priest” (alternatively named “Acedia Monk,” “Acedia Poet,” or “Acedia Academic”)
1 glass of club soda poured over ice
Then, go for nice long walk (or chop some wood).
1 empty glass
Fill with whatever alcohol you have in the house.
Drink it alone in a dark room or surf the internet until you reach maximal self-nausea.
“As to newspapers, defend yourself against them with the energy that the continuity and the indiscretion of their assault make indispensable. You must know what the papers contain, but they contain so little, and it would be easy to learn it all without settling down to interminable lazy sittings.”
(The Intellectual Life, pg. 148-149).
Curiosity, a desire to learn and discover new things, is a good and necessary part of what it means to be a healthy and active human being. However, if a person is spiritually sick (because of their own actions or the actions of others) this good impulse can become warped and symptomatic of a troubled soul. Ancient and medieval philosophers, mystics, pastors, and theologians gave a lot of thought to diagnosing spiritual ailments and prescribing appropriate treatment for those ailments in the form of spiritual discipline. One philosopher named Josef Pieper is almost unmatched in his ability to distill this ancient and medieval wisdom and present it fresh to the modern world.
Josef Pieper died in 1997 at the ripe old age of 93. New Media would doubtless have been known to him, though it had not yet begun to dominate late-modern life as it now has. However, what he writes seems to anticipate some of the issues that New Media has exasperated in human souls. It seems that New Media, may act as a kind of stimulant for spiritual struggles which have always afflicted Adam’s helpless race in varying degrees.
Pieper outlines a particular kind of spiritual illness which is called accidie, or acedia (Faith, Hope, Love, pp 120-121). Accidie is normally (and unfortunately) translated ‘sloth’. It is regarded as one of the Seven Capital Sins (often referred to as the Seven Deadly Sins – also a misnomer). It is more accurate to understand accidie as a ‘sorrow of the world’ (2 Corinthians 7:10), existential listlessness, a kind of wrath turned inward on the self (shown vividly in Dante’s Inferno, canto 7). Accidie will come up again and again in New Media Holiness, but for now I want to focus upon a couple of the by-products, or symptoms, of accidie. Continue reading “Curiositas killed the New Media cat”
“A botanist, discovering a rare flower growing thickly all along the margins of one of our Scottish rivers, followed it back and back up a sidestream, and then along a tributary of that in its turn, until at long last the trail ended high among the lonely hills in the garden of a ruined shepherds cottage beside a tiny hill. There it was, in that far off, forgotten, hidden spot that the original plant had caught and seeded itself, and the winds and waters running past had done the rest. You, too, will make a difference in your land, will sow seeds, however small your sphere may look, which the winds of God and the currents of life will carry far” (AJ Gossip, In Christ’s Stead).
[“My Way of Life” (Walter Farrell O.P., S.T.M, and Martin J. Healy, S.T.D) was written to be a simplification (yes, that’s correct, a simplification) of Aquinas’ Summa Theologica. I only discovered this little book while rummaging through a used book store yesterday. I’ve since learned that it is a classic in its own right. I found the opening paragraphs very thought provoking. Here is a link to an online edition of Walter Farrell’s 4 vol Companion to the Summa.]
“THE ROAD THAT STRETCHES before the feet of a man is a challenge to his heart long before it tests the strength of his legs. Our destiny is to run to the edge of the world and beyond, off into the darkness: sure for all our blindness, secure for all our helplessness, strong for all our weakness, gaily in love for all the pressure on our hearts.
IN THAT DARKNESS beyond the world, we can begin to know the world and ourselves, though we see through the eyes of Another. We begin to understand that a man was not made to pace out his life behind the prison walls of nature, but to walk into the arms of God on a road that nature could never build.
LIFE MUST BE LIVED, even by those who cannot find the courage to face it. In the living of it, every mind must meet the rebuff of mystery. To some men, this will be an exultant challenge: that so much can be known and truth not be exhausted, that so much is still to be sought, that truth is an ocean not to be contained in the pool of a human mind. To others, this is a humiliation not to be borne; for it marks out sharply the limits of our proud minds. In the living of life, every mind must face the unyielding rock of reality, of a truth that does not bend to our whim or fantasy, of the rule that measures the life and mind of a man.
IN THE LIVING OF LIFE, every human heart must see problems awful with finality. There are the obvious problems of death, marriage, the priesthood, religious vows; all unutterably final. But there are, too, the day to day, or rather the moment to moment choices of heaven or hell. Before every human heart that has ever beat out its allotted measures, the dare of goals as high as God Himself was tossed down: to be accepted, or to be fled from in terror.
GOD HAS SAID SO LITTLE, that yet means so much for our living. To have said more would mean less of reverence by God for the splendor of His image in us. Our knowing and loving, He insists, must be our own; the truth ours because we have accepted it; the love ours because we have given it. We are made in His image. Our Maker will be the last to smudge that image in the name of security, or by way of easing the hazards of the nobility of man” (My Way of Life, pgs 1-2).
Introductory Essay Concerning Accidie.
Yea, they thought scorn of that pleasant land, and gave no credence unto His word; but murmured in their tents, and hearkened not unto the voice of the Lord
Most men may know that strange effect of vividness and reality with which at times a discoloured of character and experience in some old book seems to traverse the intervening centuries, and to touch the reader with a sense of sudden nearness to the man who so was tried, so felt and thought, so failed or conquered, very long ago. We are prepared, of course, for likeness and even for monotony, in the broad aspect of that ceaseless conflict through which men come to be and to show what they are; for the main conditions of a man’s probation stand like birth and death, like childhood, and youth, and age awaiting every human soul, behind the immense diversity of outward circumstance. We expect that the inner history of man will go on repeating itself in these general traits; but when out of an age whose ways imagination hardly represents to us with any clearness, there comes the exact likeness of some feature or deformity which we had thought peculiar to ourselves or our contemporaries, we may be almost startled by the claim thus made to moral kinship and recognition. We knew that it never had been easy to refuse the evil and choose the good; we guessed that at all times, if a man’s will faltered, there were forces ready to help him quietly and quickly on the downward road; but that centuries ago men felt, in minute detail, the very same temptations, subtle, complex, and resourceful, which we today find hiding and busy in the darker passages of our hearts, is often somewhat unreasonably surprising to us. For we are apt, perhaps, to overrrate the intensive force of those changes which have extended over all the surface of civilized life. We forget how little difference they may have brought to that which is deepest in us all. it is, indeed, true that the vast increase of the means of self-expression and self-distraction increases for many men the temptation to impoverish life at its centre for the sake of its ever widening circumference; it may be harder to be simple and thoughtful, easier to be multifariously worldly now than once it was; but the inmost quality, the secret history, of a selfish choice or a sullen mood, and the ingredients of a bad temper, are, probably, nearly what they were in quieter days; and there seems sometimes a curious sameness in the tricks that men play with conscience, and in the main elements of a soul’s tragedy.
Continue reading “Introductory Essay concerning Accidie – Francis Paget.”
From: “On the Margin”
The cœnobites of the Thebaid were subjected to the assaults of many demons. Most of these evil spirits cam furtively with the coming of night. But there was one, a fiend of deadly subtlety, who was not afraid to walk by day. The holy men of the desert called him the dæmon meridianus; for his favourite hour of visitation was in the heat of the day. He would lie in wait for monks grown weary with working in the oppressive heat, seizing a moment of weakness to force an entrance into their hearts. And once installed there, what havoc he wrought! For suddenly it would seem to the poor victim that the day was intolerably long and life desolatingly empty. He would go to the door of his cell and look up at the sun and ask himself if a new Joshua had arrested it midway up the heavens. Then he would go back into the sade and wonder what good he was doing in that cell or if there was any object in existence. Then he would look at the sun again and find it indubitably stationary, and the hour of the communal repast of the evening as remote as ever. And he would go back to his meditations, to sink, sink through disgust and lassitude into the black depths of despair and hopeless unbelief. When that happened the demon smiled and took his departure, conscious that he had done a good morning’s work.
Continue reading “Aldous Huxley on Accidie (aka, melancholy, boredom, ennui, despair)”
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).
“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.
“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).
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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).