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Acedia and Its Discontents

Metaphysical Boredom in an Empire of Desire

R.J. Snell

While the term acedia may be unfamiliar, the vice, usually translated as sloth, is all too common. Sloth is not mere laziness, however, but a disgust with reality, a loathing of our call to be friends with God, and a spiteful hatred of place and life itself. As described by Josef Pieper, the slothful person does not “want to be as God wants him to be, and that ultimately means he does not wish to be what he really, fundamentally is.” Sloth is a hellish despair. Our own culture is deeply infected, choosing a destructive freedom rather than the good work for which God created us. Acedia and Its Discontents resists despair, calling us to reconfigure our imaginations and practices in deep love of the life and work given by God.

Praise for Acedia and Its Discontents

“In the arid wasteland that is academic writing, amid the wider desert that is modern secular thought, R. J. Snell’s book on acedia is an oasis of flowers and fruit and fresh water. Professor Snell reminds us that man must never be made subordinate to work, nor even to the empty ‘vacations’ that are but interruptions in work. He diagnoses the besetting disease of our time—spiritual torpor—and prescribes as a remedy the joyful celebration of the Sabbath. A stupendous book, filled with the happiness of wonder.”

— Anthony Esolen​, author of Ten Ways to Destroy the Imagination of Your Child

“A whole book about just one vice, ‘sloth’? Ah, but this book is different—and devastating. It exposes a deeply hidden and deeply destructive fundamental attitude that pervades our culture, an attitude that comes not just from the flesh (laziness) or from the world (world-weariness, cynicism), but from the Devil: disgust and rebellion toward Being itself, natural as well as supernatural. Know your enemy. Read this book!”

— Peter Kreeft​, author of Practical Theology: Spiritual Direction from St. Thomas Aquinas

“Acedia—the sin of sloth, so often confused with laziness—is the most overlooked but widespread illness of the modern age; the emptiness under the mask of the world’s frantic activity. R. J. Snell helps us see why this is so and what Christians can do about it with elegant, penetrating insight. This is a terrific book about a badly misunderstood ‘deadly sin’ and its antidotes.”

— Charles J. Chaput​, O.F.M. Cap., Archbishop of Philadelphia

“Our modern Empire of Desire manufactures endless appetite while simultaneously denying that anything is objectively good, beautiful, or desirable. The result is not great yearning or passion, but acedia or sloth, a pervasive ‘noonday demon.’ In this learned study, R. J. Snell draws on the vast spiritual and intellectual resources of the Christian tradition to diagnose the deep structure of our contemporary nihilism, exposing this demon and its far-reaching effects with elegance and profundity and thereby providing the weapons necessary to slay it.”

— Michael Hanby​, author of No God, No Science: Theology, Cosmology, Biology

About the Author

R.J. Snell

R. J. Snell is professor of philosophy at Eastern University in St. Davids, PA, and executive director of the Agora Institute for Civic Virtue and the Common Good. His recent books include Authentic Cosmopolitanism (with Steve Cone) and The Perspective of Love: Natural Law in a New Mode.