Today I chat with Fr. Chris Pietraszko about the sin of sloth.
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Here’s the texts we read:
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 Psalm 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 Corinthians 2:7) did not wish those who repented to be “swallowed up with overmuch sorrow.”
Objection 2. Further, a capital sin is one to which daughters are assigned. Now Gregory (Moral. xxxi, 45) assigns six daughters to sloth, viz. “malice, spite, faint-heartedness, despair, sluggishness in regard to the commandments, wandering of the mind after unlawful things.” Now these do not seem in reality to arise from sloth. For “spite” is, seemingly the same as hatred, which arises from envy, as stated above (II-II:34:6); “malice” is a genus which contains all vices, and, in like manner, a “wandering” of the mind after unlawful things is to be found in every vice; “sluggishness” about the commandments seems to be the same as sloth, while “faint-heartedness” and “despair” may arise from any sin. Therefore sloth is not rightly accounted a capital sin.
Reply to Objection 2. Gregory fittingly assigns the daughters of sloth. For since, according to the Philosopher (Ethic. viii, 5,6) “no man can be a long time in company with what is painful and unpleasant,” it follows that something arises from sorrow in two ways: first, that man shuns whatever causes sorrow; secondly, that he passes to other things that give him pleasure: thus those who find no joy in spiritual pleasures, have recourse to pleasures of the body, according to the Philosopher (Ethic. x, 6). Now in the avoidance of sorrow the order observed is that man at first flies from unpleasant objects, and secondly he even struggles against such things as cause sorrow. Now spiritual goods which are the object of the sorrow of sloth, are both end and means. Avoidance of the end is the result of “despair,” while avoidance of those goods which are the means to the end, in matters of difficulty which come under the counsels, is the effect of “faint-heartedness,” and in matters of common righteousness, is the effect of “sluggishness about the commandments.” The struggle against spiritual goods that cause sorrow is sometimes with men who lead others to spiritual goods, and this is called “spite”; and sometimes it extends to the spiritual goods themselves, when a man goes so far as to detest them, and this is properly called “malice.” On so far as a man has recourse to eternal objects of pleasure, the daughter of sloth is called “wandering after unlawful things.” From this it is clear how to reply to the objections against each of the daughters: for “malice” does not denote here that which is generic to all vices, but must be understood as explained. Nor is “spite” taken as synonymous with hatred, but for a kind of indignation, as stated above: and the same applies to the others.