I have just finished reading a remarkable book, The Noonday Devil: Acedia, The Unnamed Evil Of Our Times, by Jean-Charles Nault, O.S.B., Abbot of Saint-Wandrille. I heartily recommend it to one and all. This is a condensation of a larger formal thesis which has been brought “down to earth” for laypeople and others who are not specialists.
You can get it from the publisher here.
Also from here
It may be a good idea to read it along with another book it constantly references, The Desert Fathers: Sayings of the Early Christian Monks. Here
OK, so now I have pumped this, what is acedia all about?
Best answer is from “The Neverending Story”, by Morla, the Ancient One.
In a nutshell, that’s it.
Of course, if a gif were enough to explain, there wouldn’t be any need for a book, now would there?
The English translation was released last year (2015), and I finally got around to reading it during Holy Week. (Dante’s Comedia was my Lenten discipline, so this fit right in.)
I have known the symptoms of acedia, the blahs, restlessness, etc., all my life, in both my self and in others, but never knew what it was called. By accident, I stumbled into a partial “cure” on my own, praying the Liturgy of the Hours without fail, like it or not.
The book has four chapters, the first deals with describing acedia as seen by the Desert Fathers and Mothers, especially one called Evagrius. Chapter Two is an overview of St. Thomas Aquinas’ thought on the subject. Chapter three discusses the relevance of acedia in Christian life, and Chapter Four looks at acedia in the various states of life: religious, priestly, and lay married or single persons.
Among things found are the definition of acedia as “a lack of spiritual energy”. The five principal manifestations of acedia: interior instability, hypochondria, laziness, neglect of the rule (of life), and general discouragement. This is followed by the five remedies for acedia: tears, prayer and work, Scripture, mediation on death, and perseverance. Then follows examples from the Sayings of the Desert Fathers and a wrap-up mentioning John Cassian St. Benedict, and Gregory the Great.
That is in Chapter One. The rest is no less instructive.
A similar book by the esteemed Kathleen Norris (she of A Cloister Walk) came out in 2008, titled Acedia & me: A Marriage, Monks, and a Writer’s Life. I have not read it, but there are reviews out on the internet for any who might be interested. You can find the book here.
Special, the writings of Evagrius are online. Here.
Please Note — I get no points, cash, or credit for recommending a book or providing a link to where one can purchase it. If I were ever tempted to pick up a reward for shilling a product, I’d close this blog down faster than you could say, “This Way to the Egress.”
Below are some of my thoughts while reading this book. They are very prejudiced and full of my own bias. I place them “below the line” so others can safely ignore them.
Personal Notes — AKA Mad Ramblings:
How much of my ancient problem is simple bipolar depression and how much has been acedia? While I have seized on the idea of acedia, that may be only another level of deception used to cover up something deeper. Or may it be there is a psychological equivalent of acedia? Lastly, even if it is purely psychological (in my case), it seems the prescriptions for spiritual acedia have relevance and efficacy. – They work.
Next, we find this problem of sin versus mental illness (acedia is a sin, bipolar is a mental illness) is interesting. Is laziness a sin? The ancients seemed to believe it was. Is laziness brought on by apathy fueled by bipolar a sin? Moderns tend to think not.
Moderns in general do not appear to believe in Sin (unless one is in opposition to the current fad-of-the-hour) but have substituted psychological analysis for it. (I speak here as one whose undergrad major was Psychology – in the Sixties, before it got messed up.) Have the Moderns really made any progress? To be sure, they all advocate Therapy and cheer for psychotropic drugs, but if the base is still the same, and the patient finds no real improvement?? The cry has gone from “Have Mercy on Me, a Sinner.” To “It’s not my fault, you can’t blame me, I’m a Victim!”
And as everyone knows, Victims are sacrosanct, beyond reproach and beyond challenge.
Yet, the un-locused guilt of modernity remains. It finds expression in the strangest places. (Augustine famously remarked the human heart is restless until it rests in God, and other have noted that restlessness can throw up some really weird substitutes for God.)
Were the Desert Fathers right? Is this apathy, this ennui, this case of major Blahs a manifestation of the Noonday Devil? For relief, should we not go to therapy or drugs, not to withdraw or plunge into business, but to repentance, top prayer, to persistence in the “dull and boring” routines of our spiritual lives?
Moderns tend to proclaim “mental illness” instead of “sin”, but that became stigmatizing, so they found another approach – victimization. Now, and for a few more years, until the fad collapses, a person is not sick or a sinner, they are a Victim, and are Brave for placing their particular form of insanity on display (to the applause of the legions of twisted hipsters.)
The DSM is constantly being revised, in accordance with popular prejudice and not on grounded research, with every shift in the social winds, so a reliable guide, it ain’t.
This is not to say at all real illnesses are not out there. I have too much direct, personal, and agonizing experience with friends and relatives to think otherwise. There as trauma from abused in childhood. There is trauma from events in adult life (shell shock, they called it a century back.) There is chemical imbalance causing biochemical problems in the brain. But the current epidemic of pill-popping and parading silliness has nothing to do with serious problems either. It is a passing thing, seized upon by those whose self-image is of such fragility they cannot, will not, admit to deliberate wrongdoing.
There’s the rub. Acedia is an evil, like lust or envy or pride. Of itself, it is temptation (albeit a pretty powerful one, which sneaks up on a person without warning.) As a temptation it is not a sin. But yielding to it is. And there is the dividing line.
A person who suffers from what they used to call schizophrenia, who hears voices, is not able to tell the voices to shut up and have them go away. All the will-power in the work will not make the disturbance disappear. It can respond to medication and other ancillary treatments, but it will respond . (Think of John Nash, he of A Beautiful Mind.) The devils of acedia respond to spiritual palliatives. Especially repentance. And prayer. And Scripture. (And Confession, and Mass, and… but you know that drill. The hard part is doing it.)