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The Noonday Devil: Acedia

  • FATHER PETER JOHN CAMERON, O.P.

One of the most helpful books I have read recently is Benedictine Abbot Jean-Charles Nault's superb The Noonday Devil: Acedia, the Unnamed Evil of Our Times.


What is acedia?

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Acedia is a word that defies easy definition while being a phenomenon all too familiar to us.  The term refers to spiritual sloth — a state whose symptoms include moroseness, weariness, fatigue, melancholy, gloominess, feeling overworked, discouragement, dejection, instability, activism, boredom, disenchantment, depression, languor, torpor, mediocrity, laziness, loss of interest, lack of fervor, compromise, a repulsion to the things of God, a deprivation of the meaning of life, despair of attaining salvation, and, above all, an overall compelling absence of joy and hope.

Abbot Nault tells us that the first and surest indication of acedia is interior instability.  Acedia manifests itself as the temptation to deny our commitment to things, our choice of life, coupled with the temptation to overwhelming doubt, the lapsing of certitudes.

To be stricken with acedia is to be derelict toward one's own spiritual life; it consists in a dearth of concern for one's salvation.  In Latin, acedia is sometimes translated by incuria carelessness, indifference.  The disorder amounts to atonia, or "relaxation of the soul — a deficit of spiritual energy.

The hallmark of one afflicted with acedia?  Faint-heartedness, pusillanimity.  Abbot Nault notes that such a one will remember with morbid precision all the annoyances and injustices — real or imagined — they have ever had to endure.

Why acedia is so evil

Acedia is sadness about what ought to gladden us most: participation in the very life of God.  This paralysis cutting us off from God is not an external obstacle but an interior one.  Acedia can even be a mortal sin.

Acedia is opposed to faith inasmuch as it becomes a lack of confidence in the human being's ability to succeed in their God-given vocation to be a child in the Son.  It is also a lack of faith through its expressed lack of fidelity and trust.  The book, citing Cardinal Ratzinger, states that the nature of acedia is the flight from God, the wish to be alone with oneself and one's finiteness, and not to be disturbed by the presence of God.  Acedia causes the subject to turn in on himself — to stop orienting one's whole life toward God.  Obsessed with murmuring and criticizing, the afflicted one is loath to praise God in prayer.

Then, as Evagrius promises, when someone succeeds in resisting acedia, a state of peace and ineffable joy will dominate the soul.

Acedia is opposed to hope.  It crushes the impetus of our desire and disdains mercy.  Acedia entices us to make nonsense out of the moral life. It presumes that absurdity might be the last word in human life.  The most dangerous aspect of acedia is the temptation of nihilism — the genuine hatred of being.

Acedia is opposed to the joy of charity.  The 4th-century ascetic and theologian Evagrius of Pontus held that the demon of acedia infects its victim with the hoax that love has disappeared and that there is no one to console them.

The devil of acedia sets to work by making the soul feel the weight of time; the day seems just endless so that the victim can no longer concentrate.  The resulting oppression annihilates all the individual's strength, leaving them exhausted, reduced to total emptiness.  Acedia poses the supreme threat of the disintegration of the human person.

At the same time, the devil of acedia does everything in his power cunningly to stay hidden and unknown to the person he is attacking so that that the victim fails to perceive their condition.

How to deal with acedia

How do we cede from acedia?  It is important to remember how our infidelity and listlessness began.  It is usually the result of insignificant little everyday infidelities.  Thus, it is imperative to remain faithful in the little things.  Indeed, any trial we face can be a bona fide reason for hope.  Trials must not be interpreted as burdens, but rather as opportunities for perseverance and tested fidelity leading to our liberation.

To defeat acedia, we must live the present moment intensely, realizing that it is a graced chance to encounter the Lord.  We are to set a measure for ourselves in every work, and not to let up until we have completed it.  And, since acedia is a sin against memory, it is therefore essential to be ever mindful and attentive — to recollect the particular marvels that God has accomplished in our personal history.

Then, as Evagrius promises, when someone succeeds in resisting acedia, a state of peace and ineffable joy will dominate the soul.

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Acknowledgement

cameronFather Peter John Cameron, O.P. "The Noonday Devil: Acedia." lead editorial from Magnificat (July, 2017): 3-5.

Reprinted with permission of Magnificat.  

The Author

cameron1 cameron2 Father Peter John Cameron, O.P. is Editor-in-Chief of Magnificat. He is also a playwright and director, the author of more than a dozen plays and many books including: Mysteries of the Virgin Mary: Living our Lady's Graces, Made for Love, Loved by God, Praying with Saint Paul: Daily Reflections on the Letters of the Apostle Paul, Jesus, Present Before Me: Meditations for Eucharistic Adoration, and Benedictus: Day by Day with Pope Benedict XVI.  

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