Category Archives: Deadly Sins

The Seventh Deadly Sin: Sloth


-by Br Francis Mary Day, OP

Saint John Chrysostom tells us that, “It is not so much sin as sloth that casts us into hell.” How can this be? Sloth is not the most serious of sins, but in the Christian life, it can be the most dangerous, for to sloth is to anticipate damnation. Saint Thomas Aquinas considers sloth a major factor in the “sin against the Holy Spirit” that Jesus speaks of in the Scriptures (ST II-II q. 14, a. 2):

And whoever says a word against the Son of man will be forgiven; but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come. (Mt 12:32)

[ Ed. Sloth is a sin of omission, in contrast to the other deadly sins which are sins of commission.  It is the most difficult sin to define, and to credit as sin, since it refers to a peculiar jumble of notions, dating from antiquity and including mental, spiritual, pathological, and physical states. Saint Thomas Aquinas defined sloth as “sorrow about spiritual good” and as “sluggishness of the mind which neglects to begin good… [it] is evil in its effect, if it so oppresses man as to draw him away entirely from good deeds.” (ST II-II q. 35, a. 1) According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, “acedia or spiritual sloth goes so far as to refuse the joy that comes from God and to be repelled by divine goodness.”(CCC 2094)

Sloth includes ignoring the seven gifts of grace given by the Holy Ghost (wisdom, understanding, counsel, knowledge, piety, fortitude, and fear of the Lord); such disregard may lead to the slowing of spiritual progress towards eternal life, to the neglect of manifold duties of charity towards the neighbor, and to animosity towards those who love God. (Manning, Henry Edward (1874). Sin and Its Consequences. London: Burns and Oates. pp. 40, 103–117)]

What is sloth but a final resistance to the gift of grace? It is the radical decision of a soul that no longer wishes to share the life of God, but desires to spend its life, and its death, in a state apart from Him. God respects our free will, and He will not violently force Himself upon a soul. This is why Jesus says that a sin against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven in this life or the next.

That being said, this description of sloth can sometimes seem so radical and so intense that it would be impossible to commit. Short of some tremendous personal or social crisis, it can be hard to imagine ourselves falling into the sin of sloth. On the other hand, sloth is often the fruit of another sin that is much more subtle: acedia. Acedia is sometimes understood as the capital sin of sloth, the implication being, as a common phrase goes, “For Satan finds some mischief still for idle hands to do. Satan is the god of sin, the underworld and all things evil.” (“Against Idleness and Mischief“(1715) -by Isaac Watts (1674-1748)).

Josef Pieper, one of the most prominent Catholic philosophers of the last century, describes acedia as “a kind of anxious vertigo that befalls the human individual when he becomes aware of the height to which God has raised him” (On Hope, 55). In an apparent paradox, acedia is sadness over salvation, even though we do not desire to obtain salvation. Pieper tells us, “Man flees from God because God has exalted human nature to a higher, a divine state of being…[a man fallen into acedia] expressly wishes that God had not ennobled him, but had ‘left him in peace’” (On Hope, 56).

This kind of sadness can often lead to discouragement and various levels of inactivity, which is why acedia includes within it what we typically think of when we consider sloth. Acedia can also result in a state of overwork, whereby we try to ignore or bury our nagging guilt and sadness with pointless exercises. This is why acedia is traditionally considered as a sin against the third commandment; it is the inability of the soul to rest in God. Genuine leisure and healthy labor can only come about when a man is at peace with himself and with God.

Sloth is often a result of acedia, but there are other results that accompany it. Acedia may result in a sort of uneasiness or restlessness of mind called evagatio mentis. This is a fancy way of describing something altogether too common, often manifested in observable phenomena: an inability to stay in one place, a lack of purpose, loquaciousness, excessive curiosity, or a lack of quietude. One is reminded of a quotation from the Pensées of the French philosopher, Blaise Pascal: “All of humanity’s problems stem from man’s inability to sit quietly in a room alone.” Other effects of acedia include torpor, which is an indifference to salvation; rancor, which is hatred of anything that reminds us of the divine good; and malitia, which is the inner decision to favor evil.

None of these things start off as something entirely obvious, but they are the logical results of a soul (or a society) that wishes to flee from God. Acedia can only be overcome, St. Thomas says, by vigilant watchfulness. Once you can recognize the temptation to acedia, the war is half won.

Love,
Matthew

The First Deadly Sin: Pride

Through Pride, Satan fell.

1 “The word of the LORD came to me: 2 “Son of man, say to the ruler of Tyre, ‘This is what the Sovereign LORD says: “ ‘In the pride of your heart you say, “I am a god; I sit on the throne of a god in the heart of the seas.” But you are a mere mortal and not a god, though you think you are as wise as a god. 3 Are you wiser than Daniel ? Is no secret hidden from you? 4 By your wisdom and understanding you have gained wealth for yourself and amassed gold and silver in your treasuries. 5 By your great skill in trading you have increased your wealth, and because of your wealth your heart has grown proud. 6 “ ‘Therefore this is what the Sovereign LORD says: “ ‘Because you think you are wise, as wise as a god, 7 I am going to bring foreigners against you, the most ruthless of nations; they will draw their swords against your beauty and wisdom and pierce your shining splendor. 8 They will bring you down to the pit, and you will die a violent death in the heart of the seas. 9 Will you then say, “I am a god,” in the presence of those who kill you? You will be but a mortal, not a god, in the hands of those who slay you. 10 You will die the death of the uncircumcised at the hands of foreigners. I have spoken, declares the Sovereign LORD.’ ” 11 The word of the LORD came to me: 12 “Son of man, take up a lament concerning the king of Tyre and say to him: ‘This is what the Sovereign LORD says: “ ‘You were the seal of perfection, full of wisdom and perfect in beauty. 13 You were in Eden, the garden of God; every precious stone adorned you: carnelian, chrysolite and emerald, topaz, onyx and jasper, lapis lazuli, turquoise and beryl. Your settings and mountings were made of gold; on the day you were created they were prepared. 14 You were anointed as a guardian cherub, for so I ordained you. You were on the holy mount of God; you walked among the fiery stones. 15 You were blameless in your ways from the day you were created till wickedness was found in you. 16 Through your widespread trade you were filled with violence, and you sinned. So I drove you in disgrace from the mount of God, and I expelled you, guardian cherub, from among the fiery stones. 17 Your heart became proud on account of your beauty, and you corrupted your wisdom because of your splendor. So I threw you to the earth; I made a spectacle of you before kings. 18 By your many sins and dishonest trade you have desecrated your sanctuaries. So I made a fire come out from you, and it consumed you, and I reduced you to ashes on the ground in the sight of all who were watching. 19 All the nations who knew you are appalled at you; you have come to a horrible end and will be no more.’ ” -Ezekiel 28:1-19


-by Br Nicholas Hartman, OP

“…St. Thomas wrote that we encounter pride not principally in what we think, but in what we desire (ST II-II 162, a.1 ad 2). Through pride, someone desires something disproportionate. What one thinks does matter, however, since by coveting what exceeds him the proud man severs the strings of his swelling appetites from reality. Frequently because of this severing, he distorts his perception of himself and what is good for him. Instead, conceding both his deficiencies and his dignity, he ought humbly to tether his appetites to reality. “For which of you, intending to build a tower, does not first sit down and estimate the cost, to see whether he has enough to complete it? Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it will begin to ridicule him” (Luke 14:28-29).

Jesus identifies pride in the gospel of today’s Mass: “You search the Scriptures, because you think you have eternal life through them; even they testify on my behalf. But you do not want to come to me to have life” (Jn. 5:31-47). The person of Jesus is simultaneously the greatest concession to human deficiency and the greatest affirmation of human dignity. Man rightly desires eternal life and knowledge of God, but he cannot attain these unless God holds him by his right hand. Jesus comes on account of our sinfulness and is the only one who can raise us to life with God. Yet the Pharisees want this life without Jesus.

Similarly, we may try to seek our happiness without Christ, but this is more than tenuous: it is impossible. In an era where human ingenuity has furthered the aims of human health, technology, and scientific knowledge, we have increasingly yielded to the desire to do without God both in society and in our daily lives. Nevertheless, in our quest for self-reliance we are increasingly confounded by questions of an ultimate nature and of a purpose to life…our grandiose desires result in less-than-picturesque outcomes. We either fall far short of our intended goal, or we despair, winding up unhappy. To remedy this, we must modify our desires. Of course we should desire nothing less than eternal happiness. Nevertheless, we should desire this with the help of grace and in the life to come. Jesus promises this happiness, and because we cannot attain it on our own, he gives us the grace. If we seek this grace, we can be confident that he will give it.”

Love, pray for me to especially be given the grace to overcome this sin, this greatest of temptations mine. Lord, make me humble!!! (…with thanks to St Augustine, “But, not yet?” 🙂 )
Matthew