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Dossier Zelfkennis: Waarom monniken in de woestijn eertijds niet in slaap wilden vallen

Over de 8ste doodzonde die met één van de 7 anderen werd versmolten.
door Tsenne Kikke - vrijdag 21 mei 2021 6:29

Ditmaal heb ik het over de 8 hoofdzonden. Acht en geen zeven? Wel, de meest voorname hoofd- of doodzonde werd over de eeuwen heen weggelaten. Het was paus Gregorius I, die er in de 6de eeuw verantwoordelijk voor was.

Volgens de schrijver van onderstaande Engelstalige tekst werd 'Acedia' uit de oorspronkelijke lijst weggelaten. Die man is verkeerd, maar anderzijds is 'Acedia' die 'zonde' waarom mensen, die aan Zelfkennis beginnen, het onmogelijk kunnen volhouden. Zelfs vandaag de dag zijn er geestelijken die niet beseffen dat acedia vooral iets te maken heeft met de woorden: "Ontwaak!" - "Word wakker!" - "Ontslaap!".

Maar, waarom zou een mens, die in de veronderstelling leeft dat hij klaarwakker is en bewust door het leven gaat, trachten die woorden te be-grijp-en én op zichzelf toe te passen? Zelfs Jezus' eigen leerlingen vielen tot driemaal toe in slaap. Ontwaken is een werkwoord. Er moet dus aan gewerkt worden.

In elk geval kunnen we op Wikipedia lezen dat acedia nog immer als 7de hoofdzonde wordt aangeduid. Wel is het de waarheid dat er aanvankelijk sprake was van acht hoofdzonden, zoals bijvoorbeeld bij de Egyptische woestijnvaders Antonius (252-356) en Evagrius Ponticus (346-399).

Evagrius had het in zijn werk 'Practicos peri toon logismoon' over acht categorieën van zonde die een monnik moest mijden, zijnde: gulzigheid, onkuisheid, gierigheid, toorn, droefheid, traagheid, ijdele glorie, en hoogmoed.

Het was hoogmoed die uit de reeks verwijderd werd, en niet acedia, dat meestal als traagheid, gemakzucht, slaap, luiheid of vadsigheid wordt vertaald. In de daaropvolgende eeuwen zal ‘ijdele glorie’ gaan samenvallen met hoogmoed, waardoor hoogmoed terugkeert in de lijst van de hoofdzonden en het er toch maar zeven blijven. Het zijn er niet toevallig zeven, dit getal is immers sterk symbolisch beladen in de christelijke traditie. En, ja: er zijn eveneens zeven hoofddeugden.

Feit is: ongelooflijk veel mensen lijden aan uitstelgedrag. Dit betekent niet dat ze niets doen, maar wel dat ze alles doen behalve datgene wat ze zouden moeten doen - of, zichzelf hadden voorgenomen. Zoals werken aan hun innerlijke Zelf, bijvoorbeeld. Het maakt deel uit van de hypnotische slaap, 'acedia' genaamd. Heb jij daar ook last van? Zo ja: til daar niet al te zwaar aan  - want, al de andere 7,8 miljard mensen zijn er ook mee behept. Je bent dus niet de enige, en da's goed nieuws, hé!

Uiteindelijk gaat het erom om te beseffen wat 'acedia' daadwerkelijk inhoudt, en waarom het elke mens tegenhoudt om dat 'spirituele' in zichzelf te doen 'ontwaken' en daaraan te doen wat hij/zij zou moeten doen. Hier volgen dan enkele teksten daarover, in het Engels...

(Ik was van plan om het te vertalen en aan te vullen, maar koos voor de gemakkelijkste weg.) devil

Before Sloth Meant Laziness, It Was the Spiritual Sin of Acedia...

                                  ..., and why early monks in the desert didn’t want to fall asleep during the day.

The seven deadly sins may seem familiar and, with that familiarity, less a matter of life and death and damnation. Sure, greed and envy aren’t great, but who hasn’t overindulged in this or that without grievous consequences? But when the list of Christian cardinal sins was first created, they were a big deal: eight of the biggest threats to a devout life as a monk in the desert. Eight? One among those that isn’t included among the sins today, called acedia, was perhaps the greatest threat of all to those monks.

Acedia comes from Greek, and means “a lack of care". It sounds a little like today’s sloth, and acedia is indeed considered a precursor to today’s sin of laziness. To Christian monks in the fourth century, however, acedia was more than just laziness or apathy. It was more like dejection that made it difficult to be spiritual, avoiding ascetic practices, boredom that led to falling asleep while reading, and frustration with life in a monastery - but the meaning is nuanced and has changed over time. The evolution of the word’s use shows just how much the concept of cardinal sin has shifted through the centuries.

To Evagrius of Pontius, acedia was the most noteworthy of the eight vices that he felt could tempt monks to abandon their religious lives. The Greek monk listed gluttony, fornication, avarice, sadness, anger, vainglory, pride, and acedia as threats to devout monasticism in Of the Eight Capital Sins, but argued that acedia was “the last of the sins to conquer.” Overcoming the other seven didn’t mean a monk was safe, but overcoming acedia, according to Evagrius, brought one closer to God.

Evagrius was a member of the Desert Fathers and Mothers, a group of devout Christian monks and hermits who lived in the Egyptian desert beginning in the third century. By the time Evagrius joined their ranks in the late 300s, there were several thousand monks living in organized communities. They spent their days fasting, working, and worshipping, often in isolation. When the sun and the heat peaked, life could be quite uncomfortable. So it makes sense that Evagrius dubbed acedia the “demon of noontide", a reference to Psalm 91. Siegfried Wenzel, in his book 'The Sin of Sloth: Acedia in Medieval Thought and Literature', wrote that “in the end acedia causes the monk to either give in to physical sleep, which proves unrefreshing or actually dangerous because it opens the door to many other temptations, or to leave his cell and eventually the religious life altogether.” Acedia could be resisted, but only through endurance, prayer, and sometimes even crying.

John Cassian, a student of Evagrius’s, translated the list of eight sins to Latin and his writings on the subject helped spread the concept of the cardinal sins beyond the Desert Fathers. But as soon as acedia left the desert, the demon of noontide started to become a whole different animal.

The first major edit of the original list happened in the 6th century, when Pope Gregory I shortened it to the seven deadly sins that track roughly what we’re familiar with today. He lumped acedia in with another vice, tristitia, or sorrow. The two terms were often used interchangeably until sloth became a more common catch-all. At issue was whether acedia and tristitia were still just concerns for solitary monks, and how dangerous they really were for laypeople.

Even in the Middle Ages monks still struggled to define and clarify acedia. Peter Damiani, a Benedictine monk in the eleventh century, addressed the vice in some of his writings, where “acedia almost amounts to heaviness of the eyelids", wrote Wenzel. St. Rodulpus, according to Damiani, fought acedia by “tying ropes to the ceiling of his cell, putting his arms through, and singing the psalms.” St. Bernard of Clairvaux agreed with Evagrius’s definition of acedia (as, essentially, the temptation of midday siestas), while Adam of Perseigne felt acedia was an aversion to physical discomfort. Others likened it to a “spiritual loathing” or “inner emptiness”.

Few of these interpretations of acedia made much sense outside the desert or the cloisters. Thomas Aquinas’s definition of sloth in the thirteenth century still carries the connotations of acedia - a spiritual affliction - but it’s clear by then that monks aren’t the only ones affected. Sloth, he wrote, “is sadness about one’s spiritual good.” Geoffrey Chaucer defined “Accidie” as indolence and idleness. Modern interpretations of acedia liken it to depression or ennui, though some religious groups view acedia and depression as separate maladies. The evolution of the sin, from a matter of spiritual inadequacy to the laziness of sloth, reflects the complexity of the history of Christianity and our conception of what is dangerous to the mind and soul.

‘The Noonday Devil’ of ‘Acedia’ is de duivel(in) – want, de verleidster was meestal vrouwelijk, denk aan Eva, bijvoorbeeld - die rond een uur of twaalf de woestijnvaders lastigviel met geraffineerde voorstellen om zich over te geven aan de slaap.

Book Review: 'The Noonday Devil by Dom Jean-Charles Nault'

This is one of the most important books I have read since I began seminary. It is a slim book, but in it Dom Nault makes a weighty claim: the most insidious moral evil which afflicts us in the technologically overdeveloped world is the “noonday devil”, acedia. Acedia is a word we have either never seen before, or else associate, somewhat erroneously, with boredom or sloth. Dom Nault notes that our ignorance or misunderstanding of the term point us to the deceptiveness of acedia. It hides in plain sight. It can manifest itself mere boredom or discontent. It can make use of our desires for food or sex. It can make us doubt God. Yet acedia never wants to merely make us bored, gluttonous, or doubtful. The Noonday Devil wants us to not love God. To that end it makes use not only of temptations to vice, but to apparent virtues, so long as, in chasing those virtues, we cease to love God.

Dom Nault divides this book in two sections. The first is an excellent overview of Christian teaching on Acedia; the second deals with how Christians in various states of life – monastic, clergy, married, and single – can overcome the temptations of Acedia.

Acedia is not mentioned as such in the Bible and is hardly on the radar of contemporary spiritual teaching. So we might be justified in wondering just how Dom Nault gets off with calling it the “unnamed evil of our times”. Could we not just as well say that the “capital” or “deadly” sins, considered separately, do a good enough job of leading us away from God, and forego this probing of the depth in search of some shape-shifting and primordial wickedness? There is no shortage of orcs, so let’s not theorize about Balrogs. Dom Nault’s claim, however, is rooted in the spiritual wisdom of the earliest Christian hermits (ch. 1), and the development of this wisdom by St. Thomas Aquinas (ch. 2).

The Desert Tradition

The Desert Fathers and Mothers entered the desert not to escape the world but rather to join the battle begun by our Lord in the Wilderness (Mk 1:12-13). Away from the hustle and bustle of ancient city life, these women and men were able to truly enter the interior desert, the dry and haunted space of the soul where they did spiritual battle to put on the new man of Christ. Consequently, even as Christian dogma was developed in the urban centers of the ancient Mediterranean world, Christian spirituality developed in the wilderness of Egypt, Arabia, and Asia Minor. One of the early attempts to systematically describe Christian spiritual struggle was made by Evagrius of Pontus in a work called 'Praktikos'. In this, he lists the “Eight Deadly Thoughts” or logismoi. Of these, acedia is the most complex and difficult to define. It darkens our intellect by making what is evil appear good, and vice versa. Whereas some vices or temptations are temporary, and based very much on our circumstances, akedia accompanies and afflicts the soul. Evagrius once defines acedia as “relaxation of the soul”, and identifies it with the “destruction that wastes at noonday” of Psalm 91 (90 in the Douay-Rheims cited by Nault).

Acedia attacks from two dimensions: space and time. The spatial dimension arises from acedia’s tendency to make us restless and fidgety. In the desert, a monk feels an overwhelming desire to leave his cell and go back to the city. The temporal dimension, time, has to do with when the demon most afflicts the monk. At noonday, as the shadows stand still, the air is hot, and a sudden restlessness settles on the monk. He is discontent, he is bored, he wants to leave. Within these two dimensions, acedia takes five principal forms: “a certain interior instability”, “an exaggerated concern for one’s health”, “aversion to manual work”, “neglect in observing the rule” (regular prayer), and finally “general discouragement”.

Each of these turns the monk away from God and stunt his response to God’s love by focusing his thoughts and energy on himself. Against these, Evagrius proposed five remedies: Tears, Prayer and Work, Contradiction (responding to evil thoughts with a verse of Scripture, a practice which the Monks of Athos develop into the Jesus Prayer), Meditation on Death,  and Perseverance. These remedies root us in God’s love (tears over sin, contradiction of evil thoughts with true thoughts), and fill time with meaningful responses to that love (prayer, work, recollection of death, perseverance).

In Thomas Aquinas

Thomas teaches that acedia is a sin against charity, specifically, a sin against the joy that springs from loving and being loved by God. In Jesus, the Christian has received limitless spiritual good (Eph. 1:3). For Thomas, as Nault painstakingly explains, joy is the result of being with the object of our love. Furthermore, love is itself a movement outside of myself into communion with another person or thing. This movement can be described in three stages, the “affective union” or the kindling of desire, the moment in which I encounter something lovely. This is followed by “desire” itself, which is resolved in “real union”. One thing essential to this love is that it is a movement outward. My love for my wife takes me outside of myself, otherwise as far as Thomas is concerned, it is not love. And if the action is not love, the result of the action is not joy. Nault identifies this movement with the “love” of 1 John 4:10, “we love because he first loved us”. We should see here that when Thomas speaks of love, and therefore of joy, he is discussing the heart of the Gospel. Acedia, however, is a sadness which poisons our joy and therefore our love. God offers us “every spiritual blessing”. Our right response to this is love-joy. Acedia deforms this into sadness. We do not love because he first loved us.

A result of this sadness with God is a “disgust with activity”, activity here referring not to busyness or sloth per se, but to growth in godliness and virtue. Here Nault turns from describing Thomas’ teaching on love, to his teaching on freedom. Freedom is not the ability to choose between right and wrong. Humans are not (as some later Medieval and Protestant theologians presume) morally neutral beings situated between equal and opposite moral ends, forced to choose heaven or hell! – rather, freedom is the capacity to be virtuous. Nault compares this freedom to the expert precision with which a violinist plays a difficult concerto – we would not call her free or virtuosic if she chose to play the wrong notes, we would call her a bad violinist! For the Christian, however, moral action (and all action is moral action) brings us near or distances us from God. We grow in godliness or we retreat from it. “Disgust with activity”, acedia, makes us retreat from godliness. We shun the habitude (not, Nault points out, the habits) of virtue, and instead drift further away from God, the source and object of love and blessing.

What’s Left

The remainder of Nault’s book is dedicated to practical considerations – and these are excellent. The symptoms of acedia are very familiar to me! Indeed, my life since my baptism makes a lot more sense now that I have read this book. Dom Nault afflicts the comfortable, yet once he has convicted us, he points us back to the source of our Joy and Promise of our new life. Acedia is a terrible enemy, yet through life in the Spirit, through faith and faithfulness, we can defeat it. As Lent closes in on us, I recommend this book as a way of showing us not only the spiritual enemies we can expect to meet in the wilderness, but also of teaching us and encouraging us that though we are pressed in every side, we are not overcome.

Bron: All Saints Anglican Church

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