During the industrial revolution the captains of industry complained about “sloth,” as the deadly sin of acedia was translated at that time. They considered anyone who did not want to work 14-hour days, six days a week, alongside 12 year old children to be “slothful” and lazy (it took the union movement to break the chains in the workplace and achieve a 40-hour five-day work week with vacations and an end to child labor) .
Today, we are exploring the meaning and deeper medicine for acedia. “Acedia is the misdirected energy of the first chakra. It is what happens when people live without a cosmology. For Dante, who shared a strong cosmology with Aquinas, it is Love that ‘moves the sun and the other stars.’
Etymologically, the word ‘acedia’ has two derivatives. One is a-kedos in Greek, which means not caring. The other is from the word for sour: There is a not caring aspect to acedia and there is also an attitude of sourness or cynicism toward life. It is said that acedia consists in loving a great good with less intensity than it deserves; it is ‘slow love.’ Slow love is Dante’s definition for acedia. A ‘slow love’ is one that fails to connect to the cosmic love.”
Hildegard says humans become “weakened by the coldness of indifference and neglect” whereas we can work “to all manner of good by the fire of the holy Spirit.” Acedia, she says, lacks the vigor to fight for justice.
The opposite of acedia is joy. Joy brings fire. Joy is the fruit of love. A joyless culture is a culture locked in acedia. A joyless person or culture is one starving for love, one out of touch with the real love of the universe transpiring all around us.
A joyless person or culture is one starving for love, one out of touch with the real love of the universe transpiring all around us. Such a culture would be indifferent or in denial about the threat that climate change poses to our planet.
Acedia is the first of the sins of the spirit because it is where our energy dries up. The daily addictions of consumerism put us into a sleep of acedia. Hildegard asks: “O Human, why do you live without passion? Why do you live without blood?”
The Via Positiva is all about awakening our passion. The cure for acedia. And the starting point for com-passion.
Adapted from Matthew Fox, Sins of the Spirit: Transforming Evil in Soul and Society, pp. 189f.