Acedia

Aquinas writes about the sin of acedia, or sloth:

I answer that, Sloth, according to Damascene (De Fide Orth. ii, 14) is an oppressive sorrow, which, to wit, so weighs upon man’s mind, that he wants to do nothing; thus acid things are also cold. Hence sloth implies a certain weariness of work, as appears from a gloss on Ps. 106:18, Their soul abhorred all manner of meat, and from the definition of some who say that sloth is a sluggishness of the mind which neglects to begin good.

Now this sorrow is always evil, sometimes in itself, sometimes in its effect. For sorrow is evil in itself when it is about that which is apparently evil but good in reality, even as, on the other hand, pleasure is evil if it is about that which seems to be good but is, in truth, evil. Since, then, spiritual good is a good in very truth, sorrow about spiritual good is evil in itself. And yet that sorrow also which is about a real evil, is evil in its effect, if it so oppresses man as to draw him away entirely from good deeds. Hence the Apostle (2 Cor 2:7) did not wish those who repented to be swallowed up with overmuch sorrow. (ST II-II Q.35)

This is one of the biggest sins with which I struggle. I too easily play the sluggard. Looking around, I see a lot wrong with the world, with my family, with my friends, the Church, myself. My people are in decline. My Southern homeland is disintegrating. My family is rife with sin, ignorance, and apathy. As I am. I see all this, and I am “swallowed up with overmuch sorrow.” I’ve let down my guard and allowed sin to take root in my melancholy heart. I’ve neglected to do the good I ought, which has led to being dishonest in an effort to save face. (Sin seems to multiply faster than Romanist rabbits.)

My sense is that this is a potential weakness of many who have a classically conservative and traditionalist disposition. Or perhaps it’s just me. Either way, it is truly a deadly vice. I’ve felt myself draw back, into myself, to avoid revealing my failures. It’s a vicious circle. You don’t do the good you ought. You try to conceal that. You pull away from those you love to hide it, which means you have less to spur your on to perform your duties. You withdraw from communion with God, wherein your only hope of salvation from this lies. And so you spiral down, down, down.

Our, my, only hope is Christ, the faithful worker who never shirks his duty, who always does the will of his Father. He bore the greatest weight of sorrow, yet did not turn to look back once he put his hand to the plow. His work goes on in his Church. He calls us to unite to his Body, where we find victory over sloth. Victory comes in the joy that his salvation brings. We can rest contentedly in the knowledge and hope of his coming Kingdom and renewal of all things. And it comes in the communion we have with the saints. We share our burdens with one another, and fight them as a united people. That’s why these sins cause us to desire isolation. The Enemy knows that we will overcome when we walk in the light, confess our sins to Christ and to one another, and fight with our King and countrymen. Alone, isolated, thinking of nothing but the evils of life, we have already been defeated.

All is not well in the world, but it will be.

Advertisements

Coke and the Bible

“Do you want a coke to drink?”

If you are asked this in the South and you answer in the affirmative, the response will undoubtedly be something like “What kind? Coca Cola? Dr. Pepper? Pepsi?” I’ve seen this confuse folk who haven’t been to the South before. “I said I wanted a Coke! If I wanted a Pepsi I would have said so,” is the usual reply. It is then explained that Southerners, recognizing the superiority of Coca Cola, have adopted the habit of referring to all soft drinks as “cokes.”

This sort of substitution1 is not unique to Southerners, not even to English speakers. We talk about someone’s “threads,” meaning their clothes. A person’s “bread and butter” is their livelihood. “Suits” are businessmen. “Strings” are stringed instruments. I’m sure you can think of plenty yourself. The idea is that some part of a thing can be used to refer to the whole. Threads make up clothes. Bread and butter are the products of a good job. Part of being a businessman is wearing a suit. Stringed instruments obviously have to have strings to make a sound. We are familiar enough with this that we don’t really think about it. We simply do it.

We use these figures of speech to make our communication interesting and bearable. And so do the authors of Holy Scripture. They do it so much that if we don’t consciously take it into account when we are interpreting the Bible, we risk missing most of what is being taught. Think about the commission of Matthew 28:

Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.” – Matt. 28:19-20a (ESV)

Jesus employs this same kind of part-for-whole substitution to describe the means of making disciples. He says to make disciples by “baptizing and teaching.” He doesn’t mean that baptism and teaching are strictly and simply the only things we have to do to make disciples. Rather, he is using two of the most important aspects of the ministry of the Church to represent the entire ministry of the Church: that of Word and Sacrament.

Or think about Genesis 3 and the curses laid upon the Man and the Woman. The Woman is cursed with pain in childbearing. The Man is cursed with pain in his work to till the field. Is the curse merely that it will hurt to give birth? Or that men will sweat and get hurt when we farm the ground? Or is God using short-hand expressions to represent a more comprehensive frustration of the natural order? It’s definitely the latter. And if we recognize that, we learn something about what it means to be a Man or a Woman.

God curses the Woman with pain in childbearing. Childbearing, though, represents the whole of the Woman’s calling as wife and mother. It stands in for bearing children, nurturing them, enlivening and keeping the home, making it a place full of life and communion. And if God curses the Woman in this way, it means that is what the Woman is for. The curse is a frustration of the way God meant for things to be. Therefore, her task is to keep the home and bear children, which is no small thing. This is her particular help in subduing and dominating the earth.

Likewise, God curses the Man in his labor in the field, outside the garden. His work to make bread is fraught with danger and failure and hard toil. Working in the field embodies the Man’s calling as the protector and provider for his family. He is to go out into the wild and tame it. He is bringing in the raw materials that his wife and family need. He goes out into the public realm on behalf of his household. Since this is the particular way God afflicts the Man, we can see that this is his natural goal.

We would miss that, though, if we didn’t remember that God, the prophets, and the apostles often use a part of something to refer to the whole. Like we Southerners do when we order a coke.


[1] The technical term is synecdoche, if you’d like to study further.

 

Scattered Thoughts on Union

This is a really rough sketch of my thoughts of late. I covet constructive criticism. Very little, if any, of this is original to me. I’m just trying to put it in a coherent order. It might all be hogwash.

God is particularly interested in union. It’s a (the?) major thread in both creation and redemption. Considering just Genesis 1, you see God joining distinct things, even opposite things. He seems to delight in doing that. Light and darkness are joined as Day and Night; Water and Earth become Sea and Land; Air and Dirt comprise the Heavens and the Earth. Each realm God creates he fills with creatures who fit their realm. The Heavens are populated with the stars and ruled by Sun and Moon. The Sea teams with the fish and is ruled by the great sea beasts. The Air is filled with flocks of birds. The Land gives birth to cattle and vegetation. Principalities and powers unknown roam the domain of spirits. Each people are fitted to their kingdom. They have a certain agreement with it. At the pinnacle of these purely earthly unions, Man and Woman are joined together. They are married and so become one flesh. And this earthly union testifies of the highest union of all: that union creation and created beings have with God.

All this God did by speaking. His words brought the constituent elements of creation into being AND put them in their proper order. He did not merely make them and leave them be; He joined them together in varied, beautiful ways. Creation wouldn’t be complete without that joining. Each union makes something that is greater than the sum of its parts. Light by itself, and darkness by itself, are good, but when united as a Day-Night, they make time. A rhythm is begun. Day. Night. Day. Night. Bass. Snare. Bass. Snare. Man and Woman are joined and a family is created. Their love is incarnated in children. They come together in love and passion and that literally becomes a living child. (What a glorious thing.)

Adam was meant to carry on God’s work of union with words, speech, language as his chief tool. As a ‘young’ man, he is placed in the Garden to expand it and as a time of testing and maturing. He would first bring order, that is, proper unions, to the wilderness outside the Garden. He’s a priest in God’s house, singing and loving God’s word to him. In so doing he would mature as a son of God to the point where he could take up kingship over creation (still under God). At the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, he should have spoken a curse on Satan. He should have pronounced judgment upon him as a rebel and liar. (Satan’s aim and means of attack are opposite those of God and his people: God’s aim is union and speaking truly is the means to that end; Satan’s is disunion and lying is his weapon.) Had he done that he would prove himself to be the rightful king of all creation. He would have pulled the sword (God’s law/word) from the stone, so to speak. We know that’s not what he did. He rather threw in his lot with Satan and became a rebel and liar himself. He plunged all under his headship into that same rebellion.

In redeeming us, God is setting the world to rights. He isn’t erasing the pattern he established. He’s rejoining the bonds that were broken in the fall. That means that the redemptive order is all about union, as well. Union with Christ. The sacramental unions. The communion of saints. Communion with God. Worship is all about union. It assumes union. It strengthens union. It proclaims union. It creates union.

I think all sin can probably be thought of in terms of either dissolving unions that ought to be, trying to make unions where there ought not be, or both.

Lying, particularly, is evil because it is effectual in breaking bonds. It is the inversion of what Man was made to do in his highest state: to call good good and evil evil, as God his Father would do. A lie broke the union between God and man, between man and woman, between man and creation. It even disintegrated the Man himself. Now he will fall apart, back into the dust.

For men, life is frustration now. Where we were meant to see rightly, to understand how things should be united, to speak in accordance with that truth, and to execute our pronouncements, now we are blind, we have darkened minds that can’t put the pieces of creation together as they ought to be, we can’t speak rightly, and we lack the will to do well.

Parables

There once was a servant to a good master. The servant was lazy and wasted his master’s time and wealth. The master gently corrected his servant, and left him to begin working well. The servant didn’t mend his ways, and when his master returned, he was strongly disciplined for his wrong. The servant was sorely grieved.


There once was a farmer who found a treasure in a field. When he found it, he hid it again went home and read a book. Another came along and took the treasure.


There once was a shepherd who was given a beautiful young sheep. The shepherd was careless and one day he could not find the sheep. He mourned the loss of his sheep.


There once was a miner who found a precious ruby that would make him exceedingly rich. He began his journey to the market, but  he started using the ruby to play pitch-and-toss. He lost the ruby in a rushing river.

Althusius on the Clan

It struck me as a I read Chapter Three in Althusius’ Politca that I’ve never seen an explicit teaching on the extended family. When a society is as mobile as ours is, you end up functionally without a family. The result of this is to replace the natural support system with a civil support system; I’m not convinced that has worked out well. An upshot of what Althusius is saying here is that we have a duty to stay close to our family geographically, unless extraordinary circumstances arise.

The kinship association is one in which relatives and in-laws are united for the purpose of communicating advantages and responsibilities.

This association arises from at least three persons, but it can be conserved by fewer. Frequently it consists of a much larger number.

He is called the leader (princeps) of the family or of any clan of people, who is placed over such a family or clan, and who has the right to coerce (jus coercendi) the persons of his family individually and collectively.

The rights communicated among the persons who are united in this natural association are called rights of blood (jura sanguinis). They consist partly in advantages, partly in responsibilities, and in the bringing together and sustaining these advantages mutually among the kinsmen.

Such advantages are, first, the affection, love, and goodwill of the blood relative and kinsman.

From this affection arises the solicitude by which the individual
is concerned for the welfare and advantages of his kinsman, and
labors for them no less than for his own.

Second among the advantages of the family and kinsmen I refer
to the communion in all the rights and privileges belonging to the
family and relationship. And to this point I refer the enjoyment of the clan or family
name, and of its insignia.

Third among the common rights of the family and relationship I refer to the provision for support in case of necessity or want.

Fourth, a privilege granted to one of the kinsmen is extended by right of relationship to his family, wife, children, and even brother.

The responsibilities of the family and relationship are services and works that the member owes to his kinsman, such as forethought, care, and defense of the family and of the members of the household.

The leadership in meeting these responsibilities rests upon the paterfamilias as master and head of his family.

Upon the older members of the family rests the duty of correcting and reprehending their younger kinsmen for mistakes of youthful indiscretion and hotheadedness.

These advantages and responsibilities are intensified as the degree of relationship among the kinsmen increases. Therefore they are greater between parents and children. For parents should educate their children, instruct them in the true knowledge of God, govern and defend them, even lay up treasures for them, make them participants in everything they themselves have, including their family and station in life, provide suitable marriages for them at the right time, and upon departing born life make them their heirs and provide optimally for them.

Johannes Althusius on Husband and Wife

Althusius was a Reformed political philosopher writing at the dawn of the 17th century. He drew deeply from Aristotle and the Western natural law tradition. One of his most important emphases was on the family as the base of society, and subsequently federalism and subsidiarity.

The following represents the virtually unanimous voice of the Christian, and specifically Reformed, tradition’s understanding of the family. From his Politics:

“…The conjugal association and symbiosis is one in which the husband and wife, who are bound each to the other, communicate the advantages and responsibilities of married life. The director and governor of the common affairs pertaining to this association is the husband. The wife and family are obedient, and do what is commanded.

The advantages and responsibilities are either proper to one of the spouses, or common to both. Proper advantages and responsibilities are either those the husband communicates to his wife, or those the wife communicates to her husband. The husband communicates to his wife his name, family, reputation, station in life, and economic condition. He also provides her with guidance, legal protection, and defense against violence and injury. Finally, he supplies her with all other necessities, such as management, solicitude, food, and clothing.

The wife extends to her husband obedience, subjection, trust, compliance, services, support, aid, honor, reverence, modesty, and respect. She brings forth children for him, and nurses and trains them. She joins and consoles him in misery and calamity. She accommodates herself to his customs, and without his counsel and consent she does nothing. And thus she renders to her husband an agreeable and peaceful life.

There are also common advantages and responsibilities that are provided and communicated by both spouses, such as kindness, use of the body for avoiding harlotry and for procreating children, mutual habitation except when absence may be necessary, intimate and familiar companionship, mutual love, fidelity, patience, mutual service, communication of all goods and right (jus), management of the family, administration of household duties, education of children in the true religion, protection against and liberation from perils, and mourning of the dead.”

Fey Desire

I read the old fairy stories, and in them I find a world that stirs my heart. As I turn the pages of that book, a longing long buried deep within my soul rushes to the fore of my mind. My intellect, my will, my affections, they are all overcome by a conviction that *that* world, the one of the fairy stories, is the *real* one. The air in that land smells more real than our own. The bells ring forth truth. The waters pulse with life. I feel I know that realm better than my own, even though many places there are shrouded by dark clouds or illuminated by unapproachable light. I expect mystery there. One time, I turned down a path and discovered some well of blessed water. That was truly a delight. Often I’ve entered the hall of the King and eaten at his table while his bards tell stories of ancient and mighty deeds. Faery is a perilous place to sojourn: one goes there and comes back changed. Wounded, more often than not. I went, only to have an intoxicating desire aroused, and then I had to close the book. Now, I sit here in my room, returned from a land of light and enchantment, back in a world that, I am told, lacks the wonders of Faery.

And yet, what if there really are holy waters and enchanted bread and elixirs of life? What if ordinary things can be caught up in Mystery and used for purposes beyond what we’ve imagined? What if the things of Faery were actually the echoes, the shadows, hints of our world?

I think they are.