In a café or L’Absinthe
In a café or L’Absinthe by Edgar Degas, 1873, a selection. Wikimedia Commons.

Listers, acedia is the noonday devil. In his 2013 work, The Noonday Devil: Acedia, the Unnamed Evil of Our Times, Jean-Charles Nault, O.S.B., the Abbot of Saint-Wandrille, presents a fascinating if not unsettling argument that the modern age is steeped in the sin of acedia. In fact, Abbot Nault received the Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger Award for his compelling thesis on acedia. The text is tremendous and is highly recommended to anyone who wants to pierce the fog of modernity and understand the ills of our times. Many of the great lessons of the work, however, do not lend themselves to quotes. The following are selected in the hope that those who have not read the book will be led into doing so, and that those who have read the work may be reminded of its prescient lessons. 1

Quotes from the Noonday Devil

  1. “Although the midday sun comes to bathe everything in its dazzling light, acedia, like an obscure malady, plunges the heart of the person that it afflicts into the gray fog of weariness and the night of despair.” (page 20)

  2. “Acedia endures. It is not a short-lived crisis. It is a radical, chronic evil. In Evagrius’ view, it causes a stifling of the intellect, the nous, whose function is precisely to contemplate God.” (27)

  3. “We see here that the morality of Saint Thomas Aquinas is more than a morality of the virtues: it is a morality of act. it is even a morality of excellent activity, since virtue, which is the principle of the act, has in itself a connotation of excellence: it simultaneously renders good the act and the person who places it… our acts are like steps that either bring us close to the vision of God or else distance us from it, depending on whether they are good or bad.” (74)

  4. “The law is the schoolmaster who is there to help us. When virtue has become more firmly rooted in us, we no longer need the law; we can act easily and joyously in the Good.” (77)

  5. “Remember that Saint Thomas presented moral action as being directed toward a goal: the vision of God, in other words, participation in his own life. This goal is what gives action its meaning, its sense, so that this action can become an anticipation of beatitude and a preparation for it. From this perspective, acedia appears as the temptation to make nonsense out of the moral life. Thus the profoundly immoral character of this vice becomes evident: acedia admits that absurdity might be the last word in human life.” (109)

  6. “The end of the will coincides with the era of pure indifference, with the disappearance of the major goals and great enterprises for which life deserves to be sacrificed.” (116)

  7. “Humility, indeed, is not self-deprecation; it is good, on the contrary, always to aim higher, as long as we do not rely on our own strength but place our trust in God’s help.” (121)

  8. “Finally, the strategy to be deployed against the devil of acedia can be summarized in the phrase: joy perseverance.” (134)

  9. “Let us never forget that the Church is the Body of Christ and therefore the essential place of Christian action, the activity that unfolds in space and time under the direction of the Holy Spirit.” (139)

  10. “What, then, does acedia have to do with memory? Maybe more than one might think at first glance. Indeed, if the Christian is tempted to abandon his own place, the place of his specific calling, it is because he no longer remembers the quality of the motives that led him, earlier, to make this or that fundamental choice. In this sense, no doubt, we can speak about acedia as a ‘sin against memory.’” (141)

  1. Pagination is taken from the 2015 English Edition, Ignatius Press. ↩︎