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The Thomist 68 (2004): 173-204 RESISTANCE TO THE DEMANDS OF LOVE: AQUINAS ON THE VICE OF ACEDIA REBECCA KONYNDYK DEYOUNG Calvin College Grand Rapids, Michigan THE LIST OF the seven capital vices1 includes sloth, envy, avarice, vainglory, gluttony, lust, and anger. While many of the seven vices are more complex than they appear at first glance, one stands out as more obscure and out of place than all the others, at least for a contemporary audience: the vice of sloth. Our puzzlement over sloth is heightened by sloth's inclusion on the traditional lists of the seven capital vices and the seven deadly sins from the fourth century onward.2 For hundreds of years, these seven vices were distinguished as moral and spiritual failings of serious and perennial importance.3 By contrast, recent studies, as well as the popular imagination, typically associate sloth with, or even define it as, laziness.4 But is laziness in fact a moral failing? 1 Often conflated and confused with the seven deadly sins; see note 3. 2 See especially Morton Bloomfield, The Seven Deadly Sins: An Introduction to the History ofa Religious Concept (East Lansing: Michigan State University Press, 1967), 56-57. 3 A capital vice is one that grows up from pride as its root and then in tum becomes a source (caput) from which many others spring (STh I-II q. 84, a. 3). Capital vices can also easily become deadly (or mortal)-that is, sins that cause spiritual death via the loss ofcharity (see, for example, STh II-II q. 35, a. 3; I-II q. 88, aa. 1-2). Aquinas characterizes the traditional list of seven as capital vices and argues that each can become mortal under certain conditions. • See, for example, the following description by Evelyn Waugh in The Seven Deadly Sins (essays in the Sunday Times reprinted by The Akadine Press, 2002): "The word 'Sloth' ..• is a mildly facetious variant of 'indolence,' and indolence, surely, so far from being a deadly sin, is one of the most amiable of weaknesses" (57). Josef Pieper also comments on acedia's association with laziness in Faith, Hope, Love (San Francisco: Ignatius, 1986), 118. The ordinary conception of acedia also frequently includes apathy and boredom. 173 174 REBECCA KONYNDYK DeYOUNG In this article, I will explore Thomas Aquinas's conception of the vice of sloth and his reasons for including it on the list of seven. For this reason, from here on I will refer to the vice by its Latin name, acedia, rather than the modern English term, "sloth." Aquinas's account deserves special attention because it stands at a key point in the history of acedia, a point at which previous strands of the Christian virtue tradition converge and after which the heuristic force of the traditional schema of virtues and vices is considerably dissipated. His account thus provides an interesting interpretive link between ancient Christian and modern conceptions of this vice. In part I, I will briefly trace the history of acedia in order to uncover the various sources of its association with laziness. In part II, I will analyze Aquinas's two-part definition of acedia, noting especially its opposition to the virtue of charity (caritas). His characterization of acedia as the kind of sorrow opposed to the joy of charity diverges from the tradition (both before and after him) in subtle but interesting ways, and yields an important clue as to why he thought acedia constituted a serious and important moral deficiency, warranting its inclusion on the list of seven capital vices. In part III, I will inquire more specifically into what might cause acedia's sorrow. Here I engage an interpretive puzzle about Aquinas's own description of acedia, which turns out to be a necessary further step in clarifying his understanding of this vice: Is physical weariness the cause of acedia's sorrow, as some passages seem to suggest? Or does acedia have deeper, spiritual roots? Solving this puzzle helps us understand why Aquinas insists that acedia is a spiritual vice and, therefore, much more than laziness. IfAquinas is right that acedia is aversion not to physical effort as such, but rather to what...

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Additional Information

ISSN
2473-3725
Print ISSN
0040-6325
Pages
pp. 173-204
Launched on MUSE
2017-04-05
Open Access
No
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