The Desert Fathers and Hildegard of Bingen on Acedia

The “desert fathers” first developed the idea of the seven capital sins.

17th century illumination featuring (l-r) Evagrius Ponticus, John of Sinai, and an unknown desert father. Wikimedia Commons.

An ancient text from the monk Evagrius calls acedia “the noonday demon” that is “the most oppressive of all demons.”

For the desert monks it was considered the most dangerous of the demons, for it tempted the monk to flee from his vocation back to the comforts of “the world.”

Might we translate that insight to today’s world of media and politics where we are tempted daily to leave the arena of love and justice-making and disappear in a place of consumer comforts and massaging of our egos?

Hildegard of Bingen talks about the soul being “weakened by the coldness of indifference and neglect,” which she contrasts to the strengthening of the soul which results in “all manner of good by the fire of the Holy Spirit.”

Lovingly tending the Earth. Photo by almani ماني on Unsplash

For her, acedia “postpones doing good” and lacks the vigor to fight for justice. Acedia prevents one from accomplishing the greatness of one’s work:

Therefore it says to itself, ‘If God exists, let God be, because he does not need my work. I desire nothing more than to live fully.’

For Hildegard, true living includes working fully.

The opposite of acedia is joy, joy at spiritual things. A joyless culture is a culture locked in acedia. Joy is the fruit of caritas, or love. 

A joyless person or culture is one starving for love, out of touch with the real love of the universe and of Spirit that is transpiring all around us and through us. 

Adapted from Matthew Fox, Sins of the Spirit, Blessings of the Flesh: Transforming Evil in Soul and Society, pp. 189f. 

See also, Matthew Fox, The Reinvention of Work.

Banner Image: “Scenes from the Lives of the Desert Fathers.” Painting by Fra Angelico, 1420 C.E. On Wikimedia Commons.

For the written transcript of Matthew’s video teaching, click HERE.

Queries for Contemplation

Do you recognize your work as bringing joy into the lives and work of others? How does that come about?

Recommended Reading

The Reinvention of Work: A New Vision of Livelihood For Our Time

Thomas Aquinas said, “To live well is to work well,” and in this bold call for the revitalization of daily work, Fox shares his vision of a world where our personal and professional lives are celebrated in harmony–a world where the self is not sacrificed for a job but is sanctified by authentic “soul work.”
“Fox approaches the level of poetry in describing the reciprocity that must be present between one’s inner and outer work…[A]n important road map to social change.” ~~ National Catholic Reporter

Upcoming Events

“Wisdom, Grace, Love” – a 3-part online lecture series by Caroline Myss, Andrew Harvey, and Matthew Fox, September 8, 15, and 22, 3:00-4:30 pm Pacific (GMT/UTC-7). Learn more HERE.

Responses are welcomed. To add your comment, please click HERE or scroll to the bottom of the page.

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9 thoughts on “The Desert Fathers and Hildegard of Bingen on Acedia”

  1. Avatar

    It seems to me that acedia is a sin of omission, a standing by and an indifference to injustice, that is almost worse than the injustice itself because it feeds and stokes the injustice.

    1. Richard Reich-Kuykendall
      Richard Reich-Kuykendall

      Sue, you’re right, acedia is worse than the injustice itself because it does feed and stoke the injustice. Thank you for your comment !!!

  2. Avatar

    One of the deeper sources of our modern sins, especially in our Western modern culture is the ignorance (or more politely, lack of awareness) of the true nature of our deeper humanity, our true spiritual being. Consequently we only identify ourselves with our limited ego consciousness and free will, disconnected from God’s Loving Creative Spirit within, through, among, around us, others, all creatures, nature, the Cosmos, and our true compassionate selves….

    1. Richard Reich-Kuykendall
      Richard Reich-Kuykendall

      Damian, I myself have come to the same conclusion, however, instead of calling the problem “ignorance” or “lack of awareness,” what I say is close–but I say a lack of “self-awareness.” Consequently, as Martin Buber wrote in his book, I AND THOU, they identify with “Its” or things rather than you… and themselves. Hopefully, people like Matthew, you and me can help others become more aware people. Thank you for your comment, Damian!

  3. Avatar
    Alexander Lambrou

    “Fox makes the point that religion has so often oversold the concept of “sin” that it has left us without language or power to combat evil.” Absolutely true!

    1. Richard Reich-Kuykendall
      Richard Reich-Kuykendall

      Alexander, you are right in agreeing with Matthew in that “religions has so often oversold the concept of ‘sin’ that it has left us without language or power to combat evil.” This is so easy to see in even the rosary, and in the reciting some of the chaplets, as well as congregational prayers…

  4. Avatar

    I would love to know the artist of the painting on September 1, 2021.
    I believe the art he selects intensifies his important daily message.
    Would it be possible to identify the works of art that accompany Matthew Fox’s daily comments?
    Thank you.

    1. Phila Hoopes

      Hello Sheila,

      Thank you for reaching out! Our team goes to great lengths to credit all the art used in this blog, to the greatest degree humanly possible. For the image at the top of the post, if you look at the endnotes below the essay, you’ll see a listing for “Banner Image.” For this particular DM, the painting is “Scenes from the Lives of the Desert Fathers.” Painting by Fra Angelico, 1420 C.E. On Wikimedia Commons.

      Hoping this helps!
      Phila Hoopes
      Blog Coordinator

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