I have already written about perseverance and in some ways this is just another look at the same idea. Diligence has a special place, however, as it is traditionally seen as the antidote to sloth. The ancients knew sloth, being one of the seven deadly sins, as accidie. Benedicta Ward defines it as “despondency, depression, listlessness, a distaste for life without any specific reason.” In more contemporary terms, accidie could be defined as “meh.”
Diligence is a virtue that checks sloth. It is not a quick fix—virtues seldom are. They must be cultivated and pursued, and we must look to God to grant them. Virtues are like crops; we plant seeds, till ground, pull weeds, and deter pests, but only God gives the increase.
Diligence is a foundational virtue, along with humility. Without both functioning in our lives, it would be impossible to make progress in temperance, chastity, kindness, liberality, and patience. To make progress, we have to stick with it. Those who spend one day of hard work in the spring starting a garden but then fail to maintain it, do not reap much of a harvest.
While the other six virtues are the “how to” of growing in Christ-likeness, diligence is the “want to.” This is critical because without a “want to,” “how to” is useless. This is why in the Rule of Benedict we read of the arduous hurdles seemingly put in the way of those desiring to join a monastery. The one seeking admission was first left outside knocking on the door for four or five days.¹ If the aspirant finally got in the door, they spent months under a period of instruction that was hardly a sales pitch.
“Let a senior also be appointed for him, who is qualified to win souls, who will observe him with great care and see whether he really seeketh God, whether he is eager for the Work of God, obedience and humiliations. Let him be shown all the hard and rugged things through which we pass on to God.”²
This sounds more like the introductory phase of special operations training than a church welcome class. The idea is clearly to weed out those who lack the “want to” or a prerequisite degree of diligence, and it is under-applied today.
This is one reason morning prayer is central in the lives of so many saints. It is not only an act of devotion; it is an act of diligence. For every morning we awake rested and then read and pray with our souls moved, finishing with joy and gladness, there are many more when we are tired and acutely aware of the cold floor and dark room and we feel like we are going through the motions. But as in so many aspects of life, progress is built on showing up and trying again and again and again.
¹ Rule of Benedict, chapter 55