Summary of The Noonday Devil: Acedia, The Unnamed Evil of Our Times by Jean-Charles Nault, OSB

3 Definitions of Acedia

#1: “Spiritual lack of care.” – Evagrius of Pontus

  • Evagrius of Pontus (345-399), who was the first to present a coherent doctrine on acedia, adapted the original Greek understanding of acedia as a physical “lack of care” (specifically with regard to not arranging a funeral for your deceased family members) into a spiritual “lack of care” (with regard to your own spiritual life). Evagrius personified acedia, calling it “the noonday devil” (cf. Ps 90:6) and the “most oppressive of all the demons” because acedia is able to conceal itself from the one who experiences it.

“Acedia is the temptation to withdraw from the narrowness of the present so as to take refuge in what is imaginary; it is the temptation to quit the battle so as to become a simple spectator of the controversy that is unfolding in the world” (135).

#2: “Sadness about spiritual good.” – St. Thomas Aquinas

  • Aquinas says that acedia is a negative reaction (sadness) about participating in God’s life (spiritual good) because we are unwilling to renounce a particular carnal, temporal, limited, apparent good that stands in the way of our true good.

With acedia, we are discouraged, spiritually depressed, and fall into despair. We choose to live in mediocrity, usually manifest through little everyday infidelities. “We are unable to believe in the greatness of the vocation to which God is calling us: to become sharers in the divine nature” (117).

#3: “Disgust with activity.” – St. Thomas Aquinas

  • Since “our acts are like steps that either bring us closer to the vision of God or else distance us from it, depending on whether they are good or bad” (74), an interior, spiritual disgust (weariness, sloth, boredom) with activity is, therefore, an obstacle to beatitude.
  • This definition of acedia is rooted in John Cassian’s (360-433) presentation of acedia as a lack of impetus to work.
  • We feel a constant need to change, to move, an inability to accomplish any task, rooted in a self-sufficiency that presents itself as a false humility in not striving for greatness.

“I have discovered that all human misfortune comes from one thing, which is not knowing how to remain quietly in one room” (Blaise Pascal).

The Importance of Acedia

Acedia is both the most forgotten topic of modern morality and perhaps the root cause of the greatest crisis in the Church today. Acedia is not only “the monastic sin par excellence” (11) but also “the major obstacle to enthusiastic Christian witness” (13)

Remedies for Acedia

#1: Joyful perseverance

  • “The strategy to be deployed against the devil of acedia can be summarized in the phrase: joyful perseverance” (134).

  • We must resist, stand fast, remain faithful to our routine and rule of life, and persevere in God’s sight.

“Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and uphold me with a willing spirit” (Ps 51:12). This is the prayer that must dwell in our hearts on days of acedia. It sums up perfectly our spiritual attitude when confronted by temptation. We are radically saved, restored to life with Christ: our sadness has definitively been changed into joy (Jn 16:20). This gaudium resulting from the Resurrection of Christ is something that we must show; we must witness to it. We are called to a marvellous work: to help others – to the merger extent that we can, in other words, by our excellent actions – to walk toward our perfect fulfillment in Christ. Now this requires magnanimity, greatness of soul” (142-3).

#2: Be faithful in the little things

  • We must live the present moment in all its spiritual intensity, knowing that it is an opportunity to encounter the Lord.
  • We must be faithful in the very little things (Lk 16:10; 19:17; Mt 25:21), especially in ora et labora, that is, prayer and work.

#3: Use the Word of God

  • Use a verse from Scripture to confound the devil. We must “raise our eyes toward heaven, toward Him who waits to see us fight” (136): “O God, come to my assistance; O Lord, make haste to help me” (Ps 69).

St. Benedict (480-547) situated acedia within the context of lectio divina, prescribing praying with the Word of God as the true antidote against acedia: “When evil thoughts come into one’s heart, to dash them against Christ immediately” (St. Benedict).

#4: Meditate on death

  • This gives meaning to passing time and helps you fight against self-love:  “keep death daily before one’s eyes” (St. Benedict).
  • “Make me know the shortness of my life, that I may gain wisdom of heart” (Ps 90).

“Someone asked an old man: “What do you do to avoid falling into acedia?” He replied: “Every day I wait for death.”

#5: The Incarnation

  • Since God became man so that man might become God, that is, participate in God’s divine life, the Incarnation, being “the most efficacious assistance to man in his striving for beatitude” (Aquinas), is the definitive remedy for acedia because it proves that man is capable of being united to God in beatitude. By Christ’s Incarnation, we are given “proof” that God loves us and wants us to share His own life. Thus, we are freed from the despair of acedia and restored to the joy of being saved.

By His Incarnation, Christ reminds us of our own greatness, reopens for us the way to heaven, and gives us hope to arrive at our vocation for beatitude: “Christian, recognize your dignity” (St. Leo the Great).

One Last Thought: Joy

“Joy is clearly the unerring criterion, the spiritual barometer that directs us concerning our spiritual life. A Carthusian monk understood this perfectly: “Sadness is looking at oneself; joy is looking at God.” This joy is gaudium, fruit of communion with a personal being. It is the anticipation, in faith, of the full and definitive union with the God of Love” (143).  

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