The Table Video

Gerald Sittser

Shortcuts to Excellence: Battling the Unknown Vice of Acedia

Professor of Theology / Senior Fellow in the Office of Church Engagement, Whitworth University
October 21, 2016

Gerald Sittser of Whitworth University explains the vice of acedia, which is the desire to “take a shortcut toward excellence” – a spiritual languor – something similar, but different from sloth. Acedia is rampant in modern life, but we’ve mostly lost it as a category of vice, which makes it all more powerful in contemporary “quick-fix” society.

Transcript:

A desire for a shortcut, that’s really what it implies. That’s why they call it the noonday demon. You know, by the time noon hits when you’re living in a monastery and you’ve prayed for the fourth or fifth time of the day, you look outside and the sun has basically stopped moving.

You’ll look at the clock and it’s stopped ticking. And you feel overcome. Athletes experience acedia, when they’ve gone through drills again and again and again, they feel like they’re not making any improvement and they grow bored with them and restless. Or musicians, or scholars. So that–

Man: Creatives, right?

That’s right. That particular deadly vice, or thought, applies to those who want to figure out how to take a shortcut to excellence. Or to flee. In fact, Cashin talks about the desire to “flee the place”, he says. He says, putting words into an imaginary monk, “If only I could find a better Abbott.” If only I could find a better monastery.

If only I could find a better coach, a better teacher. A better set of circumstances that would simply make the Christian life easier for me, and more convenient. And I can get to excellence somehow more quickly. That’s really what he’s referring to.

Evan: And that syndrome, the “if only” syndrome is just rampant–

It is.

Evan: In our society.

It’s a habit of our society. Sadness on the other hand would best be translated at the lighter side of things, self-pity, and at the harder side of things, despair. Where you face circumstances, experience in life that are simply so hard and you fall into a deep kind of sadness. It’s not depression.

I hesitate to use modern words and apply them easily to ancient wisdom. That takes some nuancing that I’m hesitant to do. So self-pity I think is about right. Self-pity to despair. Envy is the active side of that, by the way, Evan. Because envy is really a way of saying “I hate the people who are succeeding and have not, “or somehow succeeding and have not faced “the difficulties I faced in life, “so I wanna see them fail.” And that’s the deadly sin that Gregory the Great eventually decided on. [gentle music]

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