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Acedia and Visual Media

So my latest theological–and somewhat personal–fascination has been with the concept of acedia, or as it is catalogued in the list of deadly sins, sloth. There is little question in my mind that acedia is the primary bane of my existence. There are literally dozens if not hundreds of worthwhile pursuits that I feel interested in, but when it comes down to uncontested time, I seem to inevitably end up watching an entire season of this or that awesome show. Btw, all you guys should totally check out Deadwood, its like, totally awesome…

St. Thomas has been quoted as providing perhaps the most arresting definition of acedia as “a sadness arising from the fact that the good is difficult.” If that doesn’t describe the sort of lethargy and listlessness that typifies my hours of transfixed attention to HBO series’ I don’t know what does.

Dante also interestingly claimed that acedia alone of all the seven deadly sins arose from a lack, an insufficiency in our love for God. In Purgatorio all of the souls in Purgatory who were guilty of acedia find themselves forced to constantly run at top speed. That’s perhaps the worst post-mortem punishment our generation could imagine.

The LCD screen is perhaps the worst facilitator of acedia to ever be invented. I’m sure writing a blog about this topic is the right move… Are there support groups for visual media addicts? I think I’m a visual media addict. The real world just requires too much attention and activity.


  1. Hill wrote:

    This is why we get along so well. This is something I’ve been interested in for a while, because like you say, it describes more accurately what is wrong with me, and it is a part of the moral vocabulary of Christianity that modernity has lost (to a large extent).

    Friday, May 1, 2009 at 3:30 pm | Permalink
  2. Halden wrote:

    It just seems frighteningly relevant the more the I think about it. I think I’m going to have to read Evagrius on this.

    Friday, May 1, 2009 at 3:32 pm | Permalink
  3. Hill wrote:

    I’m pretty sure that radical hesychasm is likely the only cure for this, so you may be on to something. I’m not even remotely joking, although it is somewhat amusing.

    Friday, May 1, 2009 at 3:35 pm | Permalink
  4. Halden wrote:

    I think the RCC never accepted hesychasm. I hope its not the only solution. But if it is…

    Friday, May 1, 2009 at 3:42 pm | Permalink
  5. Brad E. wrote:

    Wow, Halden. Thank you so much for this post. That definition by Thomas is not only arresting, but convicting. Time to throw down our blogging nets and cast off our laptops!

    Friday, May 1, 2009 at 3:53 pm | Permalink
  6. Hill wrote:

    Never fully accepted Hesychasm. I don’t know how I feel about the essence/energy distinction, but I think sitting in one place and praying the Jesus prayer for the rest of my life could be a good idea.

    Friday, May 1, 2009 at 4:01 pm | Permalink
  7. Halden wrote:

    Yeah, probably so. And, according to St. Thomas, if we feel sadness about performing a spiritual good (acedia), we are guilty of a mortal sin.

    So, it would seem that if we aren’t enthusiastic about this, we already know where we stand. Shit.

    Friday, May 1, 2009 at 4:04 pm | Permalink
  8. Hill wrote:

    I highly recommend reading the entirety of the section on acedia. Truly profound stuff.

    Friday, May 1, 2009 at 5:10 pm | Permalink
  9. J. Gyllenhaal wrote:

    But Deadwood really is that good!

    Friday, May 1, 2009 at 8:52 pm | Permalink
  10. Hill wrote:

    Reminds me of a section from the devotions before confession from my trusty 1962 Missal:

    But, O my good God, what will it avail me to know my sins, if Thou dost not also give me a hearty sorrow and repentance for them? Without this, my sins will be all against me still, and I shall be Thine enemy and a child of hell. Thou insistest upon a change of heart, without which there can be no reconciliation with Thee; and this change of heart none but Thou canst give. Oh, give it me, then, dear Lord, at this time. Give me a lively faith and a firm hope in the Passion of my Redeemer. Teach me to fear Thee and to love Thee. Give me, for Thy mercy’s sake, a hearty sorrow for having offended so good a God.

    Friday, May 1, 2009 at 9:05 pm | Permalink
  11. roger flyer wrote:

    Real, hard-at-work marital love is a tonic for this…
    (Married 30 years…still happy…still slightly acedic. ;) )

    Saturday, May 2, 2009 at 4:32 pm | Permalink
  12. Cornelius wrote:

    Have you read Norris’ latest book — Acedia and Me: A Marriage, Monks and a Writer’s Life?

    Sunday, May 3, 2009 at 5:53 pm | Permalink
  13. Adrian wrote:

    I think I’ve just been diagnosed. I think this is particularly prevalent symptom of most of my friends and fellow theology students. Why bother reading the dogmatics when I can be provided with ever decreasing amounts of listless pleasure as I click link after link of videos and articles. I swear the internet is a drug…
    But seriously, Deadwood is amazing.

    Monday, May 4, 2009 at 12:08 pm | Permalink
  14. Daniel wrote:

    Acedia is the bane of youth. When one is young, the world, including the spiritual world, is an endless series of open doors. The very act of deciding which doors to choose to enter, and the lingering fear that one might not have chosen the best, can be exhausting, and that leads to acedia. As one grows older, there are not fewer doors, but the ability to discern which doors offer possibilities and which do not grows more acute. My best advice for the young is something my grandmother said to me when I was young and listless, “It’s always easier to steer a moving car!” It is perhaps best not to worry so much about open doors all of the time, and instead simply to choose a door and then put all of one’s energies into making the most of the one chosen (even watching Deadwood) without looking back. I’ve always found that a good way to work through/around acedia.

    Sunday, May 31, 2009 at 9:25 am | Permalink

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  1. Once around the block « PeaceableZealot on Monday, June 15, 2009 at 9:34 am

    [...] 15, 2009 by Stephen Since the semester has ended I have caught in the web of acedia. Other than reading a couple of books, I have spent most of my days watching seasons of the some of [...]

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