One way to grasp a spiritual concept is to consider its opposite first. What constitutes the opposite of joy? Sadness is an opposite of joy and so too is the capital sin called acedia.
Acedia is dullness and boredom and apathy; it is often translated as sloth, but that is too narrow an understanding. Thomas Aquinas defined it as “a sadness about divine things” and “the lack of energy to begin new things.”
Is there a “sadness about divine things” at this time in history? Have we forgotten about joy and the energy joy gives? Might this derive from our being cut off from our relationship to the universe, to the whole?
The first chakra, where I place the capital sins of both acedia/sadness and arrogance (tribalism including racism, sexism, heterosexism, jingoism, etc.) is about vibration and therefore relating to the whole.
We know that every atom in the universe is vibrating, i.e. making music and Hildegard, listening to this music, called her collection of songs, “A Symphony of Heavenly Revelations.”
It follows that depression and despair, passivity, boredom and couchpotatoitis are also expressions of acedia and sadness. So too is what Hildegard calls “indifference,” or not caring. She decries how the soul can become “weakened by the coldness of indifference and neglect,–but also how the soul can be re-fired and made strong “to all manner of good by the fire of the Holy Spirit.”
For her, acedia includes dullness born of boredom, sloth, uselessness, and a “numbness” that “postpones doing good” and lacks the vigor to fight for justice. Acedia prevents one from accomplishing the greatness of one’s vocation. One refuses to live and work fully.
Joy, then, is a medicine for acedia, it brings vigor, energy and Spirit that awaken fire. Hildegard addresses the Holy Spirit as “Fire, Love and Music.”
Joy being the fruit of love, a joyless person or culture is one starving for love and out of touch with the love of the universe and earth all around us.
In discoursing at length about joy, Julian and Hildegard call us away from acedia and toward joy. They light the fire of joy in us. Julian invented the word enjoy in English which draws from “rejoicing” (enjoier in old French).
Aquinas teaches that acedia “tears charity out by its roots” and that it derives from “sadness” and Julian’s medicine to sadness and acedia is joy.
To be continued.
Adapted from Matthew Fox, Julian of Norwich: Wisdom in a Time of Pandemic—and Beyond, pp. 28f.
Also see Matthew Fox, Sins of the Spirit, Blessings of the Flesh: Transforming Evil in Soul and Society, pp.185-236
Also see Matthew Fox, Hildegard of Bingen, A Saint for Our Times: Unleashing Her Power in the 21st Century.
To read the transcript of Matthew Fox’s video teaching, click HERE.
Banner Image: “Sad man crying.” Photo by Gadiel Lazcano on Unsplash
Queries for Contemplation
Do you sense in self or society a certain “numbness” that “postpones good and lacks the vigor to fight for justice”? Is the joy of reconnecting with the cosmos an antidote to such acedia?
Julian of Norwich: Wisdom in a Time of Pandemic–and Beyond
Julian of Norwich lived through the dreadful bubonic plague that killed close to 50% of Europeans. Being an anchoress, she ‘sheltered in place’ and developed a deep wisdom that she shared in her book, Showings, which was the first book in English by a woman. A theologian way ahead of her time, Julian develops a feminist understanding of God as mother at the heart of nature’s goodness. Fox shares her teachings in this powerful and timely and inspiring book.
“What an utterly magnificent book. The work of Julian of Norwich, lovingly supported by the genius of Matthew Fox, is a roadmap into the heart of the eco-spiritual truth that all life breathes together.” –Caroline Myss
Now also available as an audiobook HERE.
Sins of the Spirit, Blessings of the Flesh: Transforming Evil in Soul and Society
Visionary theologian and best-selling author Matthew Fox offers a new theology of evil that fundamentally changes the traditional perception of good and evil and points the way to a more enlightened treatment of ourselves, one another, and all of nature. In comparing the Eastern tradition of the 7 chakras to the Western tradition of the 7 capital sins, Fox allows us to think creatively about our capacity for personal and institutional evil and what we can do about them.
“A scholarly masterpiece embodying a better vision and depth of perception far beyond the grasp of any one single science. A breath-taking analysis.” — Diarmuid O’Murchu, author of Quantum Theology: Spiritual Implications of the New Physics
Hildegard of Bingen, A Saint for Our Times: Unleashing Her Power in the 21st Century
Matthew Fox writes in Hildegard of Bingen about this amazing woman and what we can learn from her.
In an era when women were marginalized, Hildegard was an outspoken, controversial figure. Yet so visionary was her insight that she was sought out by kings, popes, abbots, and bishops for advice.
“This book gives strong, sterling, and unvarnished evidence that everything – everything – we ourselves become will affect what women after us may also become….This is a truly marvelous, useful, profound, and creative book.” ~~ Andrew Harvey, author of The Hope: A Guide to Sacred Activism.