There is an animal found in the jungles of South & Central America that has been named the sloth. It was so named because it was slow in all its movements. Scientists believe that the lethargy of the sloth is due to its extremely low body temperature.
When Vagrius around A.D.400 created the first known published list of the Seven Deadly Sins the name he gave to this sin was “Acedia”. It is a Latin word and means “without care”. He coined the word from his experience of life in a monastery. He saw that the great sin of many of the monks was that they had become indifferent to their duties and obligations to God. They had lost interest. They couldn’t care less.
This disease affected spiritual life. It was observed in the prayerlessness of those who had committed themselves to a life of prayer. It resulted in spiritual dryness and prolonged nights of the soul.
It affected the emotional life. There was a sadness about the self and about the world. Melancholy set in, and this led to the despair of making any difference in the world around them.
It affected the intellectual life. The monks became bored with study. Since study had little practical output, it was hardly needed. This only increased their apathy and inertia.
Sloth also affected the physical life. With this sin came physical laziness, idleness, indolence, tardiness, and oversleeping. In fact it was a vicious circle. Pessimism about the self and the world led to lack of physical involvement, and lack of physical involvement led to a weariness of spirit.
In a phrase then, what is this sin of Sloth? Dorothy L. Sayers is eloquent as she describes it. “It is not merely idleness of mind and laziness: it is that whole poisoning of the will which, beginning with indifference… extends to the deliberate refusal of joy and culminates in morbid introspection and despair.”
Dorothy L. Sayers, “The Divine Comedy – Purgatory” (Baltimore: Penguin, 1955.) p.209
Why are we not more productive and reproductive as persons and churches? The ancients would have reminded us of that great sprawling sin of sloth.
“Sloth – In the world it calls itself Tolerance; but in hell it is called Despair. It is the accomplice of the other sins and their worst punishment.
“It is the sin which believes nothing,
cares for nothing,
seeks to know nothing,
interferes with nothing,
finds purpose in nothing,
lives for nothing,
and only remains alive
because there is nothing it would die for.”
Dorothy L. Sayers, “The Other Six Deadly Sins,” Creed or Chaos, (NY: Harcourt, Brace and Company, 1949), p.81.
Published in Light and Life, September-October, 2004