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Acedia is a word from ancient Greece describing a state of listlessness or torpor, of not caring or not being concerned with one's position or condition in the world. It can lead to a state of being unable to perform one's duties in life. Its spiritual overtones make it related to but distinct from depression.[1] Acedia was originally noted as a problem among monks and other ascetics who maintained a solitary life.

The Oxford Concise Dictionary of the Christian Church [2] defines acedia as "a state of restlessness and inability either to work or to pray". Some see it as the precursor to sloth - one of the seven deadly sins.


Description of acedia

In his sustained analysis of the vice in Q. 35 of the Second Part (Secunda Secundae) of his book Summa Theologica, theologian Thomas Aquinas identifies acedia with "the sorrow of the world" (compare Weltschmerz) that "worketh death" and contrasts it with that sorrow "according to God" described by St. Paul in 2 Cor. 7:10. For Aquinas, acedia is "sorrow about spiritual good in as much as it is a Divine good." It becomes a mortal sin when reason consents to man's "flight" (fugam) from the Divine good, "on account of the flesh utterly prevailing over the spirit." (ST, II-II, 35, 3). Acedia is essentially a flight from the world. It leads to not caring even that one does not care. The ultimate expression of this is a despair that ends in suicide.

Aquinas's teaching on acedia in Q. 35 is rendered fully intelligible when read in light of his prior teaching on that to which the vice is directly opposed, charity's gifted "spiritual joy," which he explores in Q. 28 of the Secunda Secundae . As Aquinas says, "One opposite is known through the other, as darkness through light. Hence also what evil is must be known from the nature of good." (ST, I, 48, 1).

The demon of acedia holds an important place in early monastic demonology and psychology. Evagrius of Pontus, for example, characterizes it as "the most troublesome of all" of the eight genera of evil thoughts. As with those who followed him, Evagrius sees acedia as a temptation, and the great danger lies in giving in to it.

In the medieval Latin tradition of the seven deadly sins, acedia has generally been folded into the sin of sloth. Moral theologians, intellectual historians and cultural critics have variously construed acedia as the ancient depiction of a variety of psychological states, behaviors or existential conditions: primarily laziness, ennui or boredom. The demon of acedia manifests itself in a range of psychological and somatic symptoms that is far broader and more complex than the familiar tradition in the West.

Acedia is the subject of the recent (2008) memoir by Kathleen Norris.[3] For a detailed and in depth investigation of acedia in modern thought, see the CBC radio program "Tapestry" for August 2, 2009 [1]

The Signs of acedia

Acedia is indicated by a range of signs. These signs (or symptoms) are typically divided into two basic categories: somatic and psychological. Acedia frequently presents signs somatically. Such bodily symptoms range from mere sleepiness to general sickness or debility, along with a host of more specific symptoms: weakness in the knees, pain in the limbs, and fever. An anecdote attributed to Amma Theodora[4] also connects somatic pain and illness with the onset of acedia.

A host of psychological symptoms can also signify the presence of acedia, which affects the mental state and behavior of the afflicted. Some commonly reported psychological signs revolve around a lack of attention to daily tasks and an overall dissatisfaction with life. The best-known of the psychological signs of acedia is tedium, boredom or a general laziness.

See also


  1. ^ "Acedia, Bane of Solitaries". 2004. Retrieved Dec 22, 2008.  
  2. ^ The Oxford Concise Dictionary of the Christian Church. Oxford University Press. 2006. ISBN 978-0198614425.  
  3. ^ Norris, Kathleen (2008). Acedia & Me: A Marriage, Monks, and a Writer's Life. Riverhead. ISBN 978-1594489969.  
  4. ^ The Forgotten Desert Mothers: Sayings, Lives, and Stories of Early Christian Women by Laura Swan. Paulist Press, 2001. ISBN 0809140160; ISBN 978-0809140169

External links



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