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Work and Acedia: R.J. Snell on Our Original Vocation

A certain distinguished school leader, when asked when he would retire from his work, replied, “the day that I wake up and do not want to go to work.” A reply such as this perhaps strikes the modern ear as senseless. For many of us, work fills the greater portion of our daily lives, but do we feel ourselves thereby fulfilled? Especially today, we may often feel trapped in what seem like unspectacular sisyphean cycles.

This week, R. J. Snell, editor-in-chief of Public Discourse and director of the Center on the University and Intellectual Life at the Witherspoon Institute in Princeton, New Jersey, talks to HeightsCast about the virtues of work and its opposing vice, acedia. Drawing on insights from his book, Acedia and Its Discontents, R. J. helps us think through how these concepts are realized in the context of family life and life on campus.

As we will hear, our everyday work is the ordinary means by which we participate not only in the perfection of God’s creation but also in the perfection of our very selves. Our work is where the rubber meets the road; it is where mere aspiration is turned into actual reality. Ultimately, work is where heaven and earth merge. In realizing this often hidden truth, we may thereby discover that divine drama which is not a sisyphean cycle, but a spiral staircase.


  • 3:27 Work as a gift
    • 4:33 Error of thinking that work is a result of the Fall
  • 5:43 Garden of Eden as in a state of potency: Adam and Eve are called to fill it
  • 7:40 Work as part of being made in the image of God
  • 9:27 How work fulfills us
  • 9:47 Husbandry of the self
  • 10:36 God’s rule through our own self rule: participated theonomy
  • 12:18 Work as the primary way of exercising self-governance
  • 15:00 Cultivating the soil: on the way to beauty
  • 16:35 The friendly universe
    • 18:00 Grace perfects nature
  • 18:51 The three tests of good work
    • 20:55 The integrity of work and the worker’s integrity
    • 21:40 Bright-eyed children
    • 23:35 Work as furnishing God’s house
  • 26:13 Education as cooperating with Grace
  • 28:17 Acedia: a hatred of reality
  • 29:15 Judge Holden and the desire for radical self-autonomy
  • 32:10 Desert Fathers on acedia and the refusal of God’s friendship
  • 33:10 Sloth as the vice of our age
  • 3:46 Natural history as the counter to acedia and reductionism
  • 37:13 The little foxes: recognizing acedia creeping in
  • 38:05 What you are doing now is where God is calling you
  • 39:50 The divine drama of the most mundane things
  • 41:00 Sabbath and rest

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About the Author

RJ Snell

Editor-in-Chief of Public Discourse and Director of Academic Programs at the Witherspoon Institute
R.J. Snell is Editor-in-Chief of Public Discourse and Director of Academic Programs at the Witherspoon Institute. Previously, he was for many years Professor of Philosophy and Director of the Philosophy Program at Eastern University and the Templeton Honors College, where he founded and directed the Agora Institute for Civic Virtue and the Common Go...

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