In a sermon I preached at St. Alban’s parish yesterday I quoted The Rt. Rev. Francis Paget. Paget was consecrated as Bishop of Oxford by the Archbishop of Canterbury in 1901 and had previously served as the Regent Professor of Pastoral Theology at the University of Oxford.
I had come across Paget because of some earlier writing I had done about him and because in the early stages of the sermon I was addressing a question inspired by the day’s parable from The Gospel According to Luke (16.19-31): “Why was the rich man apathetic?”
Apathy has a rich history in Christian thought. It’s defined as sloth in the seven deadly sins and as acedia (or accidie) by Aquinas in the 13th century, who likened it to restlessness and instability. Much earlier, in the 4th century, St. John Cassian described the sixth combat, acedia, to be spiritual weariness or distress of heart. According to Cassian the troubles born of acedia include talkativeness, gossiping, listlessness, somnolence and lack of faith and courage. Marchanitus (17th c) likens accidie to lukewarmness; to love of comfort and inconstancy and perhaps to the death of one’s heart: “His sin is deadly who is gloomy and is downcast by the deliberate consent of his will, because he was created for grace, for good deserts, for glory.” Dante described accidie as the failure to love God with all of one’s heart, mind and soul resulting in an absence or insufficiency of love.
The quote I used from Paget came from The Spirit of Discipline: Introductory Essay Concerning Accidie, London, 1891. In it Paget likens fortitude as accidie’s antidote. Here’s the quote:
“There is something in the very name of Fortitude which speaks to the almost indelible love of heroism in men’s hearts; but perhaps the truest Fortitude may often be a less heroic, a more tame and business-like affair than we are apt to think. It may be exercised chiefly in doing very little things, whose value lies in this, that if one did not hope in God, one would not do them; in secretly dispelling moods which one would like to show; in saying nothing about one’s lesser troubles and vexations; in seeing whether it may not be best to bear a burden before one tries to see wither one can shift it; in refusing for one’s self excuses which one would not refuse for others.”
By the time I finished yesterday’s sermon I had chosen to speak more about courage than apathy and likened this spirit to the witness of Jeremiah (32.1-3a, 6-15) rather than the absence of love that characterized the rich man in Luke’s gospel. In the introduction to The Spirit of Discipline Paget suggests that the title of the book comes from the fact that most of the sermons contained in it point toward “the thought of the power which the grace of God confers on men (sic) to extend or strengthen, by spiritual self-discipline, the empire of the will.”
At a time when the words “I do not like green eggs and ham, I do not like them Sam-I-Am” are now part of the congressional record, I find the rich history of Christian theology and thought to be quite refreshing, and just maybe, a cure for our sin sick souls. May God’s grace fortify us all.