The eighth sin

I read a lot of fiction, and I have a particular fondness for writers from whose books I am guaranteed to learn at least one new word.

Colin Dexter (the Inspector Morse guy) is #1 on my authors list when sorted in this order. Another writer, who has become a recent favorite, is Paul Torday. He started writing when he was 59 (that should give some of us wannabe novelists a morale boost!) and has consistently brought out about one book a year. Most of them are very good.

I recently read a new Torday novel, called “The Hopeless Life of Charlie Summers”. The book itself was a very pleasant (and quick) read. But I also learnt this new word: accidie.

Accidie is the ‘eighth deadly sin’, the step-sister of the seven famous ones. But it’s potentially a lot more destructive. Accidie means ‘giving up’ – a lack of enthusiasm, a sense of futility and pointlessness in life, expressed as simply not caring about anything – not even caring that you don’t care.

Accidie is normally associated with melancholy and sometimes depression, but it’s not an illness – it’s a sin! It tempts every one of us at some time or another. What many of us call ‘burn-out’, or ‘the TGIF syndrome’, might possibly have been diagnosed by medieval clergymen as indulging in accidie.

Many medieval writers thought that of all the eight deadly sins, accidie was the one that was most likely to lead to the downfall of great people. I have gone through many bouts of accidie myself. It is not always easy to come out of quickly, and if left unchecked, it can lead to lower and lower productivity, until finally, you’re taking a vacation in all but name, chilling out, not giving a damn.

The interesting thing about accidie is that it has physical manifestations also. Thomas Aquinas, who wrote about it in detail, mentioned that it is characterized by a general sleepiness, joint pains, and maybe also fever.

Good food and vigorous exercise always help me get out of a bout of accidie. I suppose an endorphin rush is the surest and safest way of evading this deadly sin!



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