The Vice of Spiritual Sloth

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The Catechism of Saint Pius X

1 Q: What is a Vice?

A: A Vice is an Evil Disposition of the Mind to shirk Good and do Evil, arising from the frequent repetition of Evil Acts.

2 Q: What difference is there between a Sin and a Vice?

A: Between Sin and Vice there is this difference that Sin is a Passing Act, whereas Vice is a Bad Habit, contracted by continually falling into some Sin.

3 Q: Which are the Vices called Capital?

A: The Vices called Capital are Seven: Pride, Covetousness (Avarice), Lust, Anger (Wrath), Gluttony, Envy and Sloth.

4 Q: How are the Capital Vices conquered?

A: The Capital Vices are conquered by the exercise of the Opposite Virtues: Thus

littlegoldcross.gif (962 bytes) Pride is conquered by Humility;
littlegoldcross.gif (962 bytes) Covetousness (Avarice) by Liberality;
littlegoldcross.gif (962 bytes) Lust by Chastity;
littlegoldcross.gif (962 bytes) Anger (Wrath) by Patience;
littlegoldcross.gif (962 bytes) Gluttony by Abstinence;
littlegoldcross.gif (962 bytes) Envy by Brotherly Love;
littlegoldcross.gif (962 bytes) Sloth by Diligence and Fervor in the Service of God.

5 Q: Why are these Vices called Capital?

A: They are called Capital because they are the Head and Fount of many other Vices and Sins.

6 Q: How many are the Sins against the Holy Ghost?

A: The Sins against the Holy Ghost are Six: (1) Despairing of being Saved; (2) Presuming on being Saved without Merit; (3) Opposing the known Truth; (4) Envying another's Graces; (5) Obstinately remaining in Sin; (6) Final Impenitence.

7 Q: Why are these Sins specially said to be against the Holy Ghost?

A: These Sins are specially said to be against the Holy Ghost, because they are committed through Pure Malice, which is contrary to Goodness, the Special Attribute of the Holy Ghost.

8 Q: Which are the Sins that are said to cry to God for Vengeance?

A: The Sins that are said to cry to God for Vengeance are these Four: (1) Willful Murder; (2) The Sin of Sodomy; (3) Oppression of the Poor; (4) Defrauding Laborers of their Wages.

9 Q: Why are these Sins said to cry to God for Vengeance?

A: These Sins are said to cry to God for Vengeance because the Holy Ghost says so, and because their Iniquity is so great and so manifest that it provokes God to punish them with the Severest Chastisements.

Seven Capital Sins - from the Catechism of Saint Pius X

 

sheen.gif (6584 bytes) "The great Greek Historian, Lecky, said that the surest sign of Utter Degradation is when Men speak of Virtues as if they were Vices, and of Vices as if they were Virtues. "They altered", he says, "the customary meaning of words in reference to actions. Men looked on Deeds of Infamy and were not shocked. The Sin of the World and its Moral Corruption infected the air. Men were Naked and not Ashamed, not because they were Innocent, but because no Sense of Guilt assailed them".

Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen

 

The Vice of Sloth

by Father Paul A. Duffner, O.P.

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Because of the Fall of our First Parents, we come into this World with an Inclination to Evil, that is, with certain basic tendencies that incline us away from the Goal for which we were created - Union and Friendship with God. The Catechism of the Catholic Church, (CCC) lists these Inclinations as follows:
Pride
, Avarice, Envy, Wrath, Lust, Gluttony and Sloth (#1866).

These Inclinations are not Sins in themselves, but they give rise to Sins when one Acts Knowingly and Willingly under their influence; and one will Act under their influence unless Disciplined by the Practice of the Christian Virtues with the aid of Divine Grace. Those Seven (7) Inclinations are commonly referred to as Capital Sins, not because they are the Greatest of Sins, but because they can and do give rise to many other kinds of Sin. For example, the Inclination to Pride can be the Root Source and Cause of one Breaking every one of the Ten Commandments.

Every Sin is an Action against some Particular Virtue, the purpose of which is to direct our Actions Godward in accordance with the Light of Reason Enlightened by Faith. Among the Capital Sins there is One (1), Spiritual Sloth (also called Acedia), which is Directly Opposed to the Love of God and the Joy that results from Generosity in His Service.

 

How Sloth Opposes Charity

Charity is an Infused Virtue by which we Love God above all things for His Own Sake, and our Neighbor as ourselves because they are His Children and Members of His Mystical Body. It is a Virtue which establishes a Friendship between God and Ourselves. "You are My friends if you do the things I Command you" (John. 5:14). As a Rule, one delights in the presence of a friend, and that should be especially true of one whose Love for another is motivated by Charity, for one of the effects of Charity is Joy (Cf. Saint Thomas II II, 28). However, Friendship with God has its Obligations, and those Obligations can in time come to be seen as Burdens, as Joy-Killers rather than sources of Joy; and can give rise to a Sadness that stands in the way of fulfilling those Obligations. “This peculiar sadness,” comments Fr. F. Cunningham, O.P., “which leads to a neglect of the spiritual duties that flow from sharing in God’s friendship is called Sloth . . . a kind of spiritual paralysis that leads to the neglect of our duties”. To examine this Problem more deeply, it will be useful to look a bit more in detail at the kind of Joy that is proper-to Charity, and the kind of Sadness that is proper-to Sloth.

 

The Joy of Charity

The Saints are singled-out for their great Love of God, because Perfect Charity is the essence of Christian Perfection; and that Love fills their Heart with great Joy. It is the Joy of Knowing and Experiencing how much they are Loved by their Divine Friend Whose Goodness is beyond their Capacity to comprehend. It is the Joy of being Appreciative of the Priceless Gifts He has bestowed on them, namely: a Share in His Own Divine Life through Sanctifying Grace - bringing the Indwelling of the Divine Person of the Trinity in their Soul; a share in His Own Divine Love and Truth through the Infused Virtues and Gifts of the Holy Spirit; a Knowledge of the Eternal Beatitude to which they are called if they remain in His Friendship; and the Divine Gifts (the Sacraments) He has given them to help attain that End.

Where there is Charity, there is Joy. And where that Joy is found, the Divine Life of Love is lived more Intensely. Joy, therefore, is both an effect of Charity and an aid in its exercise - whether that Charity be exercised by the scrubbing lady or by one in authority, whether it involves Failures or Successes.

This Joy, however, has nothing to do with the Feelings. It is rooted not in the Body, but in the Will, and is Compatible even with Suffering, as Saint Paul declared: “I rejoice in the sufferings I bear for your sake; and what is lacking in the suffering of Christ I fill up in my flesh for His Body, which is the Church” (Colossians 1:24).

It is not something experienced only by those who have received the Gift of Mystical Prayer, but all who strive to be Faithful to their Divine Friend. It is not blotted-out by the Sorrow of the loss of a friend, or by setbacks beyond one's power to control, for the Will of God is seen and accepted. The more one is aware of God's Love and Wisdom and Concern for us in the midst of Trials, Misfortunes and Sickness, the more he/she will be buoyed-up and maintain a Joyous Trust and surrender to his/her Divine Friend. The Joy of Charity is not Insensitive to Sorrow and Suffering, it is accompanied by a Deep Confidence and Loving Trust that God can use every situation for our Good and the Good of others.

However, if one allows this Knowledge and Awareness to be Overshadowed or Blotted Out by Worldly Concerns and Occupations so that he/she becomes unmindful of God's Indwelling Presence and the Priceless Gifts he/she has received, he/she is gradually deprived of that underlying Joy that gives all Christian Life its flavor. If his/her whole attention is fixed on the Sorrows, the Misery and Misfortunes of life, he/she has not only blocked-off the source of Christian Joy, but is preparing the way for an actual Distaste for Divine Things that will Tempt him/her to Choose what is not compatible with Friendship with God.

The Human Heart must have Joy, and if it is not forthcoming from one's Friendship with God, one will begin to look for it elsewhere to fill that need. As Aristotle, the Pagan Philosopher, declared: “No one can long remain in sadness without any joy” (Ethics, VIII,5). And when Spiritual Joys are absent because of one's own Negligence, he/she will not delay in seeking Pleasures of a Worldly Nature. This condition is accompanied by a gradual Disdain for the Things of God because of the Effort and Sacrifices they require. Such a one is drawn more-and-more to the Attractions of the Flesh, and less-and-less to the Joys of the Spirit. In place of those Joys that flowed from the Love of God and the use of the means of Grace, there has developed a Spiritual Boredom that has brought an actual Distaste for Spiritual Things that formerly brought Joy. This condition to which one has drifted is called Spiritual Sloth.

 

The Oppressive Sadness of Sloth

Sloth, as understood in Theology, is a Sadness or Dejection of the Will about the Divine Good one possesses, and arises from a Lack of Esteem for that Good, and for one's Last End and the means to attain it. It occasions an Aversion or Repugnance in the Will to the output of Energy - whether Physical or Intellectual - in the Service of God, and a Tendency to Negligence, arising from a Lack of Desire for, and Joy in the Divine Good. To clarify more precisely what is Sloth and the Sadness it occasions, it will be helpful to see what it is not.

The Sadness of Sloth is not the same as Spiritual Dryness, which, in Divine Trials, is accompanied by True Contrition for one's Sins with a Fear of Offending God, Fidelity to Prayer, a Desire for Spiritual Progress, and a Generous Fidelity to Service of God. This is vastly different from the Depressing Sadness of Sloth, the result of Negligence, bringing a Distaste for Spiritual Things.

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Human Body

Body/'Passions'/
'Satisfactions'

'Passions'
Love/Hatred, Desire/Aversion,
Joy/Sadness, Hope/Despair,
Fear/Courage, Envy/Lust/Anger,

'Satisfactions'
Food/Drink/Rest/Sex

Sadness, Depression and Melancholy that are due to Physical or Nervous Causes, and are not deliberately embraced by the Will, do not come under the definition of Sloth.

Sloth differs from Bodily Weariness ('Satisfaction' of Rest) which is not a Moral Deficiency but a Natural Occurrence. However, that Weariness disposes one to the 'Passion' of Sadness, and this in turn may Tempt the Will to Sloth when it concerns Duties owed to God.

Whereas True Devotion brings a Promptness of the Will in the Service of God, Spiritual Sloth Weighs-Down and Oppresses the Soul, bringing a Voluntary Distaste for Spiritual Things which become Joyless Burdens because of the Abnegation and Effort they demand, leading one to Perform Spiritual Duties Negligently, to shorten them, or eventually to Omit them under Vain Pretexts. In spite of Our Lord's Words that “My yoke is easy, and My burden light, the Slothful Person finds them Unbearable, and closes his/her eyes to the Light.

Sloth is not to be confused with Inactivity, for at times Inactivity is necessary, either because our nerves demand it, or because Charity demands it. A certain amount of Distraction and Amusement is often necessary, but one has to be on guard lest what is meant to be a Medicinal Means becomes an end in itself - to the Detriment of other more-important-ends.

Sloth is not mere Laziness. It is not the 'Drag' that is felt getting-up in the morning, nor the Slowness with which one operates getting a job done. It is rather a Perverted Sorrow that moves one to Neglect Things-of-the-Spirit, and holds him/her back from the one important thing in life that will lead him/her to Life's Goal.

 

Definition of Sloth from the New Catholic Dictionary
Sluggishness of the Soul in the Exercise of Virtue, because the Practice of Virtue requires Sacrifice. It is one of the Seven Capital Sins. It denotes a Sadness or Dejection concerning the Divine Friendship, since this must be preserved by the Laborious Practice of Virtue; also an Indolent Shunning of Exertion in performing the Duties of our State of Life.

 

The Capital Sin of Sloth

Saint Thomas defines a Capital Sin as “one which Easily leads to other Sins” (ibid 35:4). The Sin of Sloth causes one to shun many things because of the Sorrow or Unpleasantness involved, and to seek many Unlawful Things as a means of escape from his/her Depressing State; and because of this it begets many other Sins. Thus Sloth involves both a fleeing-from God, and a pursuit-of the World, for as Saint Thomas explains, “those who find no joy in spiritual pleasures, have recourse to pleasures of the body” (ibid. 4, ad 2). In the light of this we will see some of the Sins begotten-of Sloth as explained by the Angelic Doctor:

 

angel_01.gif (2832 bytes) A Fleeing from God: The Divine Goods which the Slothful Man Shuns are both an END and a MEANS. To Forsake the Divine Good as one's Final End leads to the Sin of Despair. It is hoped that Sloth will seldom go to this Extreme, but when it does it is the Sin of Sloth that begets it. To Forsake the Divine Good as a Means to that end can give rise to:

littlegoldcross.gif (962 bytes) Timidity or Faint-Heartedness when it concerns the Evangelical Counsels, making one Fearful of making a Commitment; and

littlegoldcross.gif (962 bytes) Apathy or Indifference with regard to the Commandments of God. This can give rise to an actual Detestation of Spiritual Things.

 

angel_01.gif (2832 bytes) The Pursuit of the World: This Pursuit of Objects-of- Pleasure gives rise to a wandering after Unlawful Things - which may express itself in:

littlegoldcross.gif (962 bytes) An Uneasiness of Mind - when the Mind is desirous of rushing after various things without Rhyme or Reason. Such a one is Lured by the idea that the grass-is-greener elsewhere, and can experience a Tendency to wander after Unlawful Things, i.e., Persons or Places that a True Conscience would tell him/her are Out of Bounds. lucifer.gif (13631 bytes)

littlegoldcross.gif (962 bytes) Curiosity - when one's Mind is Curious about what does not concern him/her, even about things that can open the door to countless Temptations. It was Saint Augustine who said, and no doubt he was speaking from Personal Experience, that many a Grave Sin against Chastity had its first beginning in Curiosity. The Devil understands this far better than we do, and how well he makes use of it through the Modern Media. “Where your treasure is, there your heart also will be” (Matthew 6:21).

 

Remedies for Sloth

Sloth slows-down Spiritual Progress, and can even bring it to a standstill, and when it does, as we have seen, one's Heart and Attention are focused Earthward. The Reason is because one is Saddened by the Vigilance, Effort and Self-Surrender that the Christian Life entails. How is this Inertia overcome?

Sloth has especially Weakened Three (3) Key Wirtues, and the vigor of the Spiritual Life will be restored in the measure that those Three (3) Virtues are Strengthened:

littlegoldcross.gif (962 bytes) rosary_transparent.gif (7670 bytes) The Vigor of Faith will be renewed if one Focuses his/her Vision on the Heavenly Beatitude that God has prepared for those who remain in His Friendship. He/she should strive to be more Conscious of God's Merciful Love for us, and for the Priceless Gifts He has Bestowed on us, and for which we will have to give an Account. “The more we think of Spiritual Good”, says Saint Thomas, “the more pleasing they become to us . . . and from this Sloth is diminished”. Fr. Garrigou-Lagrange, O.P. states that “to recover the Spirit of Faith, Enthusiasm and Generosity in the Love of God, we must Daily courageously impose little sacrifices on ourselves in those matters in which we are weakest . . . . The first steps are costly, but after a bit the task becomes easier . . . even when Sensible Joy is lacking”.

One Fruitful Way of focusing our Mind and Heart on Spiritual Things is by the Daily Recitation of the Rosary.

littlegoldcross.gif (962 bytes) Fortitude in the face of Sadness and Unpleasantness will be forthcoming when one overcomes the Fear of embracing God's Will, and is Constant in keeping his/her Resolutions. One must Actively continue to seek God even in the Face of Desolation, even when God seems Distant, and not be Discouraged by Failure. There is no Walk-in-Life so continuously Joyous that it is completely free of periods of Depression. But it is one thing to feel Depressed, and quite another thing to Give-Way to that feeling and allow it to Dominate one's Attitude and Conduct.

Our Lord Himself on the Cross was not spared that Desolation: “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” (Matthew 27:46) So He will be most understanding of our needs in times of Sadness and Depression.

littlegoldcross.gif (962 bytes) The Activity of Charity must be Restored, for this is the Chief Virtue that has been Weakened by Sloth, bringing an Aversion for Spiritual Things, and causing one to turn-away-from God and inward towards Self. One weighed-down by Sloth, therefore, must Counter his/her Selfish Tendencies and strive to be more-conscious of the Needs of others - seen as his/her Brothers and Sisters in Christ, and more Self-Giving through Works of Mercy. Yet, no one can Restore the Activity of the Infused Virtues by himself/herself. He/she can never rise above their Weaknesses unless God (through Grace) gives him/her the Inclination and Strength to do so; and for those Graces he/she should beg God Ardently, Trustingly and Perseveringly.

* * * * * * *

biblewoman.gif (4630 bytes) bibleman.gif (5411 bytes) The Overcoming of the Seven (7) Vices we spoke of in the beginning, is like making a Clearing in a Dense Tropical Jungle. One works hard to clear an area for Cultivation, but as soon as he/she stops working, the Jungle slowly tends to take over again. So it is with the Innate Weaknesses of our Fallen Nature. It takes persistent Effort and Prayer to keep them in-check. It takes a Faith that never loses sight of the Final Goal in Life, and that sees that the Christian Life is but a returning-of God's Merciful Love. It takes a Love and Fortitude that does not shrink-back from the Sacrifices to be made, that does not Lose Heart because of the Hardship to be endured and the Sorrows to be encountered.

It may be that this Root Vice does not reach extreme-levels in most Christians, but it Affects all of us to some extent, and the extent that it does it Stifles the growth of Grace, for it counters the Key Virtue of Charity. It is important to at least be aware of this Subtle Tendency in our Nature, and take means to keep it in-check.

 

Links to other Pages on Virtues and Vices

Three (3) Theological Virtues

Four (4) Main Moral Virtues

Faith

Hope

Charity

Prudence

Justice

Temperance

Fortitude

Species of
Faith

Species of
Hope

Species of
Charity

Species of
Prudence

Species of
Justice

Species of
Temperance

Species of
Fortitude

No Species exist for the
Three (3) Theological Virtues

Wisdom Religion
Piety
Gratitude
Liberality
Affability
Abstinence
Sobriety
Chastity
Continence
Humility
Meekness
Modesty

Patience
Munificence
Magnanimity
Perseverance

Vices

Pride Avarice Envy Wrath Lust Gluttony Sloth Inordinate
Self-Love