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Acedia vs. Leidenschaft

Acedia vs. Leidenschaft

In the Divine Comedy, Dante quotes two biblical stories to illustrate the vice of acedia and the remedial virtue of passion. Here they are

Read: Exodus 14:12

This is a negative example and it is about the “people dead to whom the sea was opened”.

Dante here quotes the passiveness of the children of Israel in following Moses when the Red Sea is opened:

  • they are standing before the Red Sea
  • Pharaoh is coming with all his chariots to get them
  • they are petrified with fear
  • and in their heart is the sin of acedia, summed up in the sentence “leave us alone”

They recall the pitiful condition of being slaves and making bricks under the sun, and all they can say is “it would have been better if you had left us alone”. They had seen the phenomenal deeds of God in the 10 plagues, but now they say “ah, to be left alone”. They are about to witness one of the greatest deed in their history: the parting of the Red Sea and the defeat of the Egyptian army, but their heart is dead: “leave us alone”.

And here we see acedia: there is no love for themselves, for their condition or for their families;  there is no love for God nor anticipation of his wonders; there is no love for the future of the promised land and of adventures with God at their head

Is this you? Are you in a pitiful condition? Don’t let the sin of acedia keep you slave. Is God working mighty deeds around you? Don’t let the sin of acedia blind you. Are standing before a Red Sea that could lead you to a new level of adventure and passion for life?  Don’t let acedia keep you in the murky comfort of the Egyptian mud pits.

So if this is the disease, what is the medicine?

Read: Luke 1:39

Dante quotes Mary as an example of overcoming acedia: Mary in haste unto the mountain ran.

Mary is living a very upsetting moment in her life, to say the least: she is young, pregnant, unmarried, bearer of a vision and a secret that no one seems to share. But her thoughts do not focus on herself nor does she shut down and lapse into sleep mode.

Immediately after the apparition of Gabriel she “hurried to the hill country” to Elisabeth’s home.

Why did she go?  Perhaps to share the wonder with Elisabeth, perhaps for love of her elderly relative, perhaps to protect herself and gain strength to face her calling… we don’t know.

What we do know is that we see a pregnant teenage girl, packing her bags, hiking up on rocky path into a hilly countryside and facing the dangers of such a journey (apparently alone) to go visit an elderly woman.

This can be you! In the intense moments of your life, you can not think of yourself, but choose to direct your love to others and to God’s plans! You can find determination in your footsteps as you climb the hilly countryside! You can “hurry” like Mary!

You can have plans, objectives, and passionately seek the plan of God in your life even when these plans are unclear!

Dante in Purgatory has those who sin of acedia cured by continually running to make up for lost time.  If you are free from sin in Christ, you can harness your will, not in reckless activism, but in running the race of life.


A prayer:  Lord keep my heart and soul from the cold silence of acedia. Remove from me the desire to be left alone and close myself off from love.  May I be like young Mary, making haste to that which is next in my life.

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