Summer 2004

Acedia: Enemy of Spiritual Joy

Jean-Charles Nault

"Acedia drives man to turn his back on the situation of tribulation, which is that of the Christian living in the world without being of the world."

It is told that in the days of the desert Fathers, “one Saturday evening, the brothers were eating at the church of the Kellia. As they brought the soup to table, Abba Helladios the Alexandrine began to cry. Abba James said to him: “Why are you crying, abba?” He answered: “Because the joy of the soul has come to an end, that is, the joy of the fast, and now begins the satisfaction of the body.”1 The conception of joy particular to these spiritual masters of Egypt, living in the fourth and fifth centuries, perhaps makes us smile. Undoubtedly we do not have the same experience of their main preoccupation, summed up in a single, fundamental question: how is one to be saved? Such was the goal of their asceticism and the deepest aspiration of their hearts. Such was the source of their joy, but also of their tears. In this their insight revealed to them an intimidating obstacle towering on the path of salvation. They named this obstacle akèdia, which literally meant: the lack of care for one’s salvation.

What is acedia? How did the monastic and theological tradition understand and study it throughout the centuries? Does it concern a curse from another age, or is it still a problem today? These are the questions that we will attempt to answer in the following pages.


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1. Helladios S1, in Les Sentences des Pères du désert. Collection alphabétique (Solesmes: Éditions de Solesmes, 1981), 329.