The Evil of Acedia

Happy All Souls Day!  Let us strive to make this day happy for the holy souls in purgatory by offering prayers and penances in their place, especially the St. Gertrude Prayer.  How ardently these souls desire to behold the Face of God!

Our Lord Jesus Christ descending into hell on Good Friday. He grasps Adam by the hand in order to lead him to paradise.

A depiction of the Harrowing of Hell.

Interestingly, a vice exists which is diametrically opposed to the desire for heaven.  All vices in some way try to turn us from our final goal, but only the vice of acedia brings people to outright hate it.  If you haven’t heard of this vice, it is because sloth usually holds its place among the seven capital sins.  Sloth tends to be much more easily understood than acedia: it’s easier to understand a distaste for work than sadness at the thought of spiritual goods.  Also, the greatest sufferers of acedia form only a small number of the population: priests, monks, nuns, seminarians, and devout lay persons.

Recently, I read an excellent work on the subject of acedia: The Noonday Devil: Acedia, the Unnamed Evil of Our Times by Jean-Charles Nault of the Order of Saint Benedict.  (I’ll write a proper review of it later.)  In many ways, acedia has been conflated with depression, and medicine or changes in one’s lifestyle–particularly, using one’s gifts and talents to the full–are considered the cures for depression.  Though these things may work for people in the world, those pursuing holiness most ardently find themselves afflicted with the hardest of trials: a distaste or even feelings of hatred (though never hatred deriving from their will) for the very end they pursue!  How is one to become holy when a Big Mac seems more desirable than the presence of God?


This vice first gained attention when monks were discovered with the affliction.  They began detest spiritual exercises and work.  They felt constant anxiety and always wanted to be visited by their fellow monks or were out visiting them.  In essence, they could find no rest in their daily lives.  Many desired to return to the world and give up the monastic life completely.  Even St. Anthony of the Desert, the very Founder of Monasticism, felt himself afflicted by the vice.  He prayed so that he might understand what to do about it.  In a vision, he saw a monk who woke up, prayed, worked, ate, prayed, worked, and did all the normal monastic activities.  From this, St. Anthony discerned that perseverance and discipline were required of him, and, like so many afflicted by the same vice after him, he eventually found profound peace after defeating this demon.

Those of you who’ve read my About page know that I used to be a seminarian, and I can attest that acedia inflicts seminarians almosy universally.  The terrible thing about acedia is that there is no real cure for it.  One can only hope, pray, and remain disciplined–a discipline rendered more difficult by its apparent pointlessness.  Such great faith is required that one is tempted to believe in the doctrine of sola fide!


Yet, the worst thing one can do while afflicted by acedia and feeling that prayer, good works, spiritual reading, etc. are pointless is to give up doing these things and seek earthly compensations.  Yours truly is guilty of that and was ready to give up seeking paradise–to live as a kind of zombie for the rest of his life without a care for heaven.  Heaven and the presence of God are for other people!  This wretch is not worthy and will never be so!  But, at the edge of that abyss, Christ showed him His awesome and unfathomable Love, and let none say that Our Lord experiences no sorrow at the loss of sinners!

At any rate, such is the evil of acedia and the downfall to which it can lead.  Yet, is it not strange that so few know about the malady or the way it ought to be fought?  By the way, click here for an awesome representation of acedia on Deviant Art.  It’s quite well done.

4 comments on “The Evil of Acedia

  1. jubilare says:

    And I have, indeed, never heard of this, though I have experienced it. Wow.


  2. Jo-Shu says:

    Acedia, huh? So that’s what it’s called. I know a little something about this in my own life. But a year ago I was passionate about the things of God — praying, thinking, reading all the Athanasius and Chrysostom I could find. Now I find myself downcast, spiritually lethargic, increasingly consumed by temporal cares. Even my church attendance is getting spotty, and I’m the only one in my family who still bothers going to church at all.

    I don’t want to be an Ignatius J. Reilly, but neither do I want to be like the seed that fell among the thorns. Right now, I’m feeling more like the latter.


    • Acedia is a difficult vice to overcome. One knows that spiritual practices are essential, but, when acedia strikes, there is no delight in them except when God suddenly lifts us up with spiritual consolation, which we can then treasure through dark times. As Thomas a Kempis tells us, God permits periods of extreme dryness so that we can see what we are of ourselves and so that we learn to serve God for His own sake.

      To counteract my own acedia, I’ve found nothing better than the Gospels, Holy Mass, praying the Magnificat, the Litany of the Saints, and other prayers to the saints. I would like to say to St. Mary in particular, and I know that she has helped me; but, though I pray to her every day, I sometimes feel as though other saints help alleviate the gloom more–especially, St. Joseph, St. Anthony the Abbot, St. Bartholomew, St. Jude, St. Michael, St. Magnus of Orkney, and St. Padre Pio. The effectiveness of one’s prayers to the saints often reflects one’s fervor towards them. The basic thing is to consistently adhere to good spiritual practices, to persevere, knowing that God will not allow us to be tempted beyond what we can take–even if it feels that way–and to pray especially when acedia is most oppressive.

      God bless you and give you good cheer and perseverance!


Legens, scribe sententias tuas.

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