The Beatitudes and Acedia
December 3, 2011
The Beatitudes are a familiar feature of the gospels - eight ways to happiness that Jesus describes in his Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5: 1-12). Perhaps less familiar is the notion of acedia. The Fathers of the Church describe it as a crippling moral defect that makes even the smallest step towards God, or the spiritual life, or even simple human flourishing, seem impossible - not worth the effort. To one afflicted with acedia, the thought of God awakens not joy but sadness. The Beatitudes, on the other hand, begin with eight seemingly impossible propositions, that not only lead to happiness, but are themselves portraits of joy.
Acedia did not disappear at the end of the Patristic Age. Many contemporary authors name it as a prevalent problem in our own society. It shows itself, sometimes in lethargy, sometimes in that intense but superficial busyness that we know as "avoidance". We find its symptoms in the materialism, escapism, meaninglessness, and hopelessness that mark the lives of many. Do the Beatitudes - those eight ways to happiness - have anything to say to acedia, that dark doorway to sadness?
This talk reviewed what contemporary authors are saying about acedia and looked to the Beatitudes as a possible remedy, a pathway back to joy and hope.