“Please, Sir, I Want Some More”: Acedia and Short Rations under an Iron Dome

“And so, at the age of 58, I find myself something I haven’t been in over 30 years: irreligious. I’m still baptized; I could start attending Church again and get out the prayer books and icons and keep the fasts and follow the praxis again, but I really don’t care to these days. I’ve got no answers.”

Anti-Gnostic, Comment at Motus Mentis (April 20, 2022)

I feel a profound sympathy with this sentiment of our reader Anti-Gnostic, and I daresay many of you have an inside knowledge of the acedia that haunts, and may sooner or later paralyze, the kind of Christian that stops by here. The truth is that alienation, ostracism and disappointment bring most dissidents, in the end, to either madness or sadness. The mad end their lives in an impotent and in some cases lethal frenzy. The sad sink into the terminal torpor that goes by the name acedia.

Acedia is, I am afraid, one of Aquinas’ seven deadly sins. Often translated as sloth, acedia should not be mistaken for simple indolence or want of industry. The lazy, loitering lay-about is an economic drag and a social pest, but Aquinas tells is that acedia is a spiritual sin against God, and not a carnal sin against society. Aquinas moreover tells us that acedia grows from deficient charity, which is not to say alms-giving, but rather the capacity to give and receive divine love. Aquinas in one place defines acedia as tristitia de bono divino, de quo caritas gaudet, which may be roughly translated as, depression respecting divine love, in which charity rejoices.

In other words, Aquinas tells us that acedia is the subjective experience of a culpable estrangement from God.

Anti-gnostic says as much in his comment, although he describes acedia as starvation and not sin.  I agree with Anti-gnostic and think he says important things in these grim lines:

“I wonder if modernity (technology, secularism, hubris) has erected an ‘Iron Dome’ over us such that we are no longer capable of perceiving the transcendent . . . . Long story short, the Church has done a lot of craven things in servility to the secular State and has done nothing to care for her flock other than exhort them to individual pieties.”

Exhort them to individual pieties and declare that the alleged Iron Dome is really nothing more than iron hearts. The sheep who bleat that they are not fed are really just very bad sheep.

When I think of acedia, and the Iron Dome, and the official reaction to the bleating of hungry sheep, I am reminded of the official reaction to  Dicken’s Oliver Twist when he said he was still hungry and wanted more.

“He rose from the table, and advancing, basin and spoon in hand, to the master, said, somewhat alarmed at his own temerity—

‘Please, sir, I want some more.’

The master was a fat, healthy man, but he turned very pale. He gazed in stupefied astonishment on the small rebel for some seconds, and then clung for support to the copper. The assistants were paralyzed with wonder, and the boys with fear.

‘What!’ said the master at length, in a faint voice.

‘Please, sir,’ replied Oliver, ‘I want some more.’

The master aimed a blow at Oliver’s head with the ladle, pinioned him in his arms, and shrieked aloud for the beadle.

The board were sitting in solemn conclave when Mr. Bumble rushed into the room in great excitement, and addressing the gentleman in the high chair, said

‘Mr. Limbkins, I beg your pardon, sir; Oliver Twist has asked for more.’ There was a general start. Horror was depicted on every countenance.

‘For more!’ said Mr. Limbkins. ‘Compose yourself, Bumble, and answer me distinctly. Do I understand that he asked for more, after he had eaten the supper allotted by the dietary?’

‘He did, sir,’ replied Bumble.

‘That boy will be hung,’ said the gentleman in the white waistcoat; ‘I know that boy will be hung.’

Nobody controverted the prophetic gentleman’s opinion. An animated discussion took place. Oliver was ordered into instant confinement; and a bill was next morning pasted on the outside of the gate, offering a reward of five pounds to anybody who would take Oliver Twist off the hands of the parish.”

* * * * *

The antidotes to acedia that one find in the old Christian moralists are what Anti-Gnostic calls “individual pieties.” The sixth century monk Saint John Climacus personified acedia and put these words in her mouth:

“They who summon me are many; sometimes it is dullness and senselessness of soul that bids me come, sometimes it is forgetfulness of things above; ay, and there are times when it is excess of toil. My adversaries are the singing of psalms and the labor of the hands; the thought of death is my enemy, but that which kills me outright is prayer, with the sure hope of glory.”*

This is no doubt good advice, so far as it goes; but its obvious limitation is that acedia is nothing other than a profound disgust with, and distaste for, just these sorts of personal pieties. And this limitation in the approved antidote is cruelly aggravated for those of us who suffer acedia under the Iron Dome, and who are moreover scolded and shamed when we ask our Church,

“Please, sir, I want some more.”


*) Quoted in Francis Paget, The Sorrow of the World (London: Longman Green, 1912), p. 10.

15 thoughts on ““Please, Sir, I Want Some More”: Acedia and Short Rations under an Iron Dome

  1. Yes, I am 52 and really feel the same as Anti-Gnostic. For me, individual pieties have always been very hard and spiritual life has been very dry. Now it is like climbing a mountain after days without eating.

    In my case, acedia is general. It does not limit to the spiritual life. When all your dreams have been broken and life is only an endless succession of days, going on is a bore. There is no happiness and no pain, there is only boredom and discouragement.

    19th-century Spanish poet Gustavo Adolfo Bécquer captured the feeling perfectly. First the translation in English followed by the original in Spanish.

    Today like yesterday, tomorrow like today,
    and always the same!
    A dreary gray sky, an endless horizon,
    and it goes on… and on!
    My heart is beating mechanically, like
    a stupid machine;
    my sluggish intellect sleeps in the corner
    of my brain.
    My soul longs for a paradise
    and searches without hope;
    a pointless effort, a wave that rolls on,
    without knowing why.
    An incessant voice that sings the same song
    with the same tone;
    a drop of water that drips monotonously
    and never stops falling.
    This is how the days keep sliding by,
    one after the other,
    today the same as yesterday… and all of them
    without joy or sorrow.
    Alas!, sometimes I feel a longing
    my former suffering…
    Sorrow can be painful; but at least
    to suffer is to live!

    ORIGINAL IN SPANISH

    Hoy como ayer, mañana como hoy,
    ¡y siempre igual!
    Un cielo gris, un horizonte eterno
    y andar… andar.
    Moviéndose a compás como una estúpida
    máquina el corazón:
    la torpe inteligencia del cerebro
    dormida en un rincón.
    El alma, que ambiciona un paraíso,
    buscándole sin fe;
    fatiga sin objeto, ola que rueda
    ignorando por qué.
    Voz que incesante con el mismo tono
    canta el mismo cantar,
    gota de agua monótona que cae,
    y cae sin cesar.
    Así van deslizándose los días
    unos de otros en pos,
    hoy lo mismo que ayer… y todos ellos
    sin gozo ni dolor.
    ¡Ay! ¡a veces me acuerdo suspirando
    del antiguo sufrir!
    ¡Amargo es el dolor; pero siquiera
    padecer es vivir!

    • From personal experience (I am older than you), let me advise you, if you will let me, that the greatest gift we ever receive, certainly that I have ever received, from the Cosmos is the annihilation of our most cherished ideals. Only then can we begin to glimpse what really IS. The pain or boredom or whatever sensation it causes in you is totally immaterial. That is the effect. In time, with persistence, you may (it is not guaranteed) discover what will take you into another, better realm of consciousness.

    • nobody – I have accomplished exactly zero of what I set out in my youth to accomplish. At this point, I earn a decent living, take pleasure where I can find it, and try to expand my number of healthy human interactions. I see no need to keep fasts in a society that has so much surplus it pays stupid, violent people to exist and prey on the rest of us. What is the point? What do my tithes buy me, other than salaries for clerics who tell me I need to give alms to human filth so they can afford drugs?

  2. That’s the second time I’ve encountered St John Climacus this week. Prior I had never even heard of him. I wasn’t raised Christian. Here’s the other quote

    “Meekness is a rock overlooking the sea of anger, which breaks all the waves that dash against it, yet remains completely unmoved.” ~ St. John Climacus

  3. One must look for the invisible transcendent by first positing that it IS. The discovery of it has been, for me, most readily apparent in what has been called for centuries (millennia?) Beauty.

    It is not true that Beauty is in the eye of the beholder — it is not relative, this Beauty which I have discovered, but a principle, and its expression in the world is the human approximation of its aesthetic nature in physical form. I had never seen it before I came to learn to posit that it IS and then the examples came teeming forth. The Iron Dome lies, I suspect, entirely within.

  4. After decades of laboring for that which perishes, constructing a life of wood, hay and stubble I turned back to God and he gave me a revelation. The crushing reality of the spiritual war we are in as echoed in CS Lewis’s words “Our leisure, even our play, is a matter of serious concern. There is no neutral ground in the universe. Every square inch, every split second is claimed by God, and counterclaimed by Satan.” was impressed upon my spirit and soul. Not only was the reality of the spiritual attack(s) upon me revealed but an actual understanding that there is no political or cultural solution. Our ancient foe is relentless, this raging battle is very personal, he is armed with lies and cruel hate. What I’ve known known intellectually for decades was quickened within me, now I really know. The spell was broken, the call to arms has been issued. Grace through faith allows me to armor up in defense and I’ve been issued a sword, an unbreakable, unbeatable weapon whose strength lies not in me who wields it but in the one who issued it to me. Lines of communication with headquarters are established, unbroken and I’m encouraged to report and make requests without stopping. Even I, as laity, have been called to battle. The battlefield can be found in the hearts and minds of my neighbors as well as within myself. Every individual engagement is of eternal importance, vastly more important than trying to retake the lost earthly citadels that failed us. This is urban warfare, hand to hand combat for the individual souls of men. Power is promised from on high, our celestial citadel. Take heart! We are assured victory in the end, to arms!

    • “Our leisure, even our play, is a matter of serious concern. There is no neutral ground in the universe. Every square inch, every split second is claimed by God, and counterclaimed by Satan.”

      Ron – this dovetails with my comment (once it gets thru moderation). If the stakes are really that high, and I think they are, then there is no public benefit to individual praxis. We don’t need pious old people praying the daily Hours; we need young fighters with combat training. We need to take collective action and throw off the shackles of a godless, apostate State, not meekly support it with our tax dollars.

      The battlefield can be found in the hearts and minds of my neighbors as well as within myself. … This is urban warfare, hand to hand combat for the individual souls of men.

      I would be very surprised if you go around to your Jewish, Buddhist, Muslim and Hindu neighbors and tell them they need to abandon the faith of their fathers and be baptized in Christ.

      • Rather than make plans for conversion of the heathen, we should make plans to prevent our own conversion to heathenism.

  5. Its not really sloth on our part but God’s. The relationship in modernity seens onesided. When will God arise and slay the gays? Let him do so or be rightly forgotten, which is what he must want if he allows this madness to prevail. Now perhaps he has awoken and decided to do something, as we see DeSantis making some progress. But if that non-woman ape on the SCOTUS who doesn’t know what a eoman is because she isn’t human strikes down DeDantis’ law, then again I say the realtionship seems onesided and God needs to answer my prayer to arise and slay the gay. But at the ending of my rant I find I disagree with what I said before: It is Christians’ faults rather than God’s because they let Satan convince them that imprecatory prayers are sin (despite Psalms being full of them). If I were to tell your average Christian that I prayed “Arise O Lord and slay the gays” then they would tell me that prayer is “against God” and a sin. So indeed the sloth is on the part of Christians who refuse to pray for God to slay the wicked.

  6. Pingback: Sunday Morning Coffee 03/24/2022 – A Mari Usque Ad Mare

  7. JM Smith: thank you for deeming my comment worthy of a post! Here is my response.

    I can put my disappointment with the Church a little more succinctly: Christianity needs a Christendom, and the bishops will not fight for one.

    I watched a parent’s tearful exchange with a bishop, as she pointed out her devotionals and moral instruction are lost in a tsunami of godless propaganda from the State and its patrons and asked him what was to be done. No answer. Literally. The bishop would not say anything. We pay taxes for this.

    I was taught that we kiss the icons, we kiss the cross, we kiss the hands of the hierarchy (because those hands have touched God), we eat and drink one Bread, one Cup. This was part of the catechesis. Then, per State decree, all such praxis was suspended until further instruction from the State. The bishops, there is no other way to put it, no longer believe in the Faith. If they did, they’d have told the State: go to Hell, arrest us. We will not stop true worship.

    Speaking of Hell, a priest at a former parish told one congregant that he was going to Hell for not getting the COVID vaccination. He gathered his family and left. Three young daughters get to see a man of the cloth tell daddy he’s going to Hell for not getting the government’s mark of the Beast. I expect they’ll grow up and drift away from such a poisonous institution.

    As Steve Sailer points out, the growing religions are the ones that try to knock off the sharp corners of life for their adherents: the Amish, the Muslims, the Hasidim. They arrange marriages for young people, jobs for young men, support for young mothers. They set up little “Zions” to facilitate living their creeds. The Christian bishops instead maintain a manic focus on individual praxis and doctrinal adherence. That’s great; our middle-aged, increasingly geriatric book clubs in the catacombs will be models of individual piety and orthodoxy.

    Don’t even get me started on Catholic and Orthodox ecclesiology. Of course, they can’t figure it out either.

    So to reiterate, if the bishops don’t follow the Faith, then I really don’t see why I should. The solution, apparently, is for all of us to retreat into our prayer closets where our individual praxis and doctrinal purity will be unsullied by an apparently hopeless Creation (so why did He create it?). This is a form of suicide, actually.

    • Your comment said something that needs to be said, and this comment enlarges on it. I know that I have an apocalyptic mindset, and may therefore exaggerate the signs of collapse, but the bishops and priests are all acting like nothing has gone wrong. It’s like looking out the window of an airplane and seeing the ground coming closer very fast, while the captain on the intercom drones on about connecting flights at the next airport. Doesn’t he understand that there will be no connecting flights if we continue to drop at this rate? Or does he understand and thinks it best to keep us calm until the moment of impact. To push this metaphor, many bishops and priests act as if the passengers had no windows, and therefore had no information apart from that which comes over the intercom.

      • A good friend and deacon is appalled. He is watching formerly pious teens age into college students and just drift away–the bishops had cancelled all the retreats.

        My former confessor and priest has a stout attitude. He once told me in a confidential conversation, “We need an Orthodox country, and then we need a king.” But he has two kids and a very comfortable position in an affluent parish (and God bless him), so he toes the line. So as much as I trash the hierarchy, one could also say they need more support so they can tell the secular State to eff off. Like I said, I’ve got no answers.

  8. This post and it’s comments fill me with a profound sadness. I wasn’t going to comment but I figured I could at least express honestly my point of view without offering suggestions on how to “fix” anything.

    You and I have talked around this topic before and I am sure you know I am a little more optimistic–maybe you would call it “naive”. I have the good fortune of a good diocese and I don’t know how much my faith would be affected if I had to live and worship in any other diocese. There are two seemingly conflicting truths:

    1- The Church is true and we owe it a duty of obedience.
    2- The representatives of the Church on Earth SUCK and it is extremely difficult to take them seriously.

    I don’t think anyone here denies the truth of the Church (unless they are not Catholic, I know there are a few around here). But I think it is easy to see the public faces of the Church and be disgusted. JM, I know you have brought up the “by their fruits ye shall know them” point and looked at this crop of priests and bishops and wondered what rotten tree must have produced them.

    The thing I have been tackling recently is what duty do we sheep owe to an unjust shepherd? Isn’t that kind of the struggle of the Hebrews in Exodus–they couldn’t understand why God wouldn’t just deliver them and made them suffer for 40 years. We are in a spiritual desert, for sure, but can we keep our devotion to God? Doesn’t that mean we must keep our loyalty to His Church? Even if we have to pay lip service to a bad homily or shrug under the cross of another bad headline, the Church is God’s Church, isn’t it? As the Hebrews needed to learn to trust God in the desert, so do we need to learn to trust God in this strange spiritual desert. Maybe a Moses is on the way to deliver us as we speak, maybe Christ will return tomorrow like a thief in the night–will He find us among the faithful?

    I say all this but neither can I dispute the horrible interactions many have had. The anecdote by antignostic about the priest saying someone is going to hell if they don’t get the vaccine is horrifying. I don’t know what to do about that. But we can’t deny that we need the sacraments. We almost need to prove that we still love God despite his representatives.

    There’s not really a point to this, I guess, I am just struggling to reconcile the fact that many representatives of the Church are bad with the fact that we owe a definite duty to the Church despite those representatives.

    God bless.

    • Thanks for this. I think the question comes down to how one shows loyalty to God’s Church. Your analogy of the Israelites in the wilderness is useful, but I must add that the Israelites did not know that Moses would deliver them to the Promised Land. Their (imperfect) faith in Moses is justified for us because we know the end of the story. They didn’t. When they were finally established in the Promised Land, the Israelites were repeatedly led astray by bad kings who encouraged them to worship false gods. One very clear lesson of the Bible is that many high priests and holy men are wolves in sheep’s clothing.

      I think the oft-quoted “gates of hell shall not prevail” passage does not mean what many take it to mean. The “gates of hell” keep souls in hell, so for the gates of hell to prevail, salvation must become impossible. In other words, for the gates of hell to prevail, everyone must be damned to hell forever. We may be glad of the promise that this will never be the case, but we should not mistake it for the promise that the Church cannot grievously fail. In fact Jesus own description of the end times suggests that Church will fail grievously, just not entirely.

      I think you should continue to make the case for optimism, and that I should continue to make the case for pessimism. We are like two lawyers in a courtroom and achieve justice through dialectic.

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