Thursday, August 03, 2017

Acedia and Philautia

Acedia (sometimes called 'despondency') is a condition of the soul that comes at the practical end of philautia ("that all-hating passion, which manifests itself in a thousand ways as a state of being stuck in oneself that renders one incapable of love" - G. Bunge). It is impossible for an acedic person to be patient. Not only is he concerned only with himself, being tossed between the jagged poles of anger at what he is and desire for what he wants to be outside God, but he is in horrible, distracting pain. "Stuck in oneself" is Bunge's way of glossing what St Augustine (via Luther) calls "incurvatus in se", of being "curved inward on oneself": imagine a man doubled over so sharply and severely that his eyes can only always see his navel. Any provocation, any disturbance which might cause him to lose his balance -- a slight breeze, or the fickle mood of a child -- creates such anxiety of further pain and loss of equilibrium (such as can be had in such a state) produces an outsized reaction of rage, hostility, shame, guilt.

But, frozen in such a stance, the only way forward seems to push farther in, drawing closer to the corrupted self, till the eyes can receive no outside light, being enfolded in this corrupted and corruptible flesh. Tears and sweat mingle, at turns cooling and irritating the eyes, but now the tears are not those of repentance, but of angry pain and self-pity. There is, at this point, no reality outside the self: a self with full knowledge of its own impending death, seeing itself as a failed god without recourse. Such is Hell.

There remains hope; but it is a painful hope, and a long slog of spiritual traction and stretching. To be brought upright, to stand up again (anastasis), cannot be done by himself, but by those who have been healed -- or are being healed -- gathering around to slowly pull and set the soulish spine aright. Patient encouragement -- this is the hard work of years and decades -- are what is needed: philautia leads to a myriad kinds of despair. We must never give up on each other, but we must first feel compassion ("suffering together with") those in this state. The Church joins into Christ's pure, other-loving, suffering so that she might join those suffering from themselves. Spiritual warfare is revealed to be a war to join Christ's Passion.

All are wronged by an acedic person -- there is nothing he can do but hurt others. But to be brought upright, out of the prison of the self ("superbia" in the Latin understanding of the Capital Vice of Pride), opens them up to the brightness of Christ's love shining out from His eternal energies and through the faces of His people whom have the love of God poured out in their hearts. Here -- the state we were made for -- can he become pure flame, truly human and so shine out like shook foil the Light that is Love.

I am that acedic person. Forgive me as I have sinned against you.


Virgil T. Morant said...

Hello, Russ. Have you read St. John Cassian's Institutes? He says quite a bit about akedia in Book X (and Book IX is on a related topic well suited to preceding it). Worthy your time, if you haven't studied it, or indeed worth revisiting, if you have.

By the way, here on your page the first paragraph is in a white box and the rest of your essay is dim. If this is not just some oddity in my browser, you might have some kind of formatting issue going on here.

In any case, I hope you are well. Glad to have just seen you pop up in my news reader, which I don't look at too often these days. So a lucky day for me to have checked it out. :-) Best to you and yours.

Russ Warren said...


Good to hear from you. Thanks for pointing out the formatting -- I copied and pasted this from a Facebook status, so that might explain it. I think I've gotten it fixed.

I've only read Conference XIII of St John's, just to show myself that, in fact, he wasn't a "semi-Pelagian." I need to read more of him. Thanks for the recommendation.