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Chapter 8: The Modes of Responsibility Which Specify the First Principle

Question A: What is the first mode of responsibility?

1. The first mode is this: One should not be deterred by felt inertia from acting for intelligible goods. One who violates this mode fails, without any real reason, to act for some human good and so does not proceed in a manner consistent with a will toward integral human fulfillment.

2. Sometimes a person feels sluggish, lazy, depressed, unenthusiastic, or the like. One thinks of doing something worthwhile, sees no reason for not doing it, but refrains out of sheer emotional inertia. This is not the same as the situation in which a person refrains from an activity which might actually be too taxing or chooses to take a needed rest. A person who violates the first mode has no such reason for inaction.

3. Here is an example of the violation of this mode: Simply out of laziness, a man sleeps past the time when he had decided to get up and so fails to do something he had judged worth doing. Again: A woman in authority realizes that a particular situation requires attention but somehow just doesn’t get around to dealing with it.

4. The virtuous disposition corresponding to this mode has various aspects and is usually named in reference to some particular sphere of action. Various aspects are referred to by certain uses of words like “ambitious,” “energetic,” “diligent,” “industrious,” and “enthusiastic.” Words which name the opposed vice include “lazy,” “sluggish,” “lackadaisical,” “slothful,” and “dilatory.”

5. Even before Jesus, divine revelation deepens the foundation for this mode of responsibility. In making himself known as always active and creative, God provides a model for human energy. Revelation also shows the dignity of human activity within the plan of providence and makes clear God’s readiness to support good work. The greatest deterrent to human effort is the sense of hopelessness induced by evil, when opportunities to do good are cut off and efforts on behalf of human fulfillment come to naught. By making God known as liberator, revelation counteracts hopelessness. With faith comes a renewal of hope, and with hope comes energy to act.

The sluggard is advised to learn from the industrious ant (see Prv 6.6–8) and is compared with a stone in the mud or a lump of dung (see Sir 22.1–2). Sleepiness is disparaged: “How long will you lie there, O sluggard? When will you arise from your sleep?” (Prv 6.9). While the sluggard naps, poverty and want will sneak up like bandits (see Prv 6.10–11). Torpor is characteristic of fools; to teach them is like trying to talk with someone in a deep sleep, who at the end of the lesson says: “What is it?” (Sir 22.8).

St. Paul urges his converts to work hard and to encourage the listless (see 1 Thes 4.10–12; 5.14; 2 Thes 3.7–12). He clearly regards laziness as a vice. He claims credit for himself and his fellow workers for their hard work and sleepless nights (see 2 Cor 6.5; 11.27). Christian life is urgent business: “Besides this you know what hour it is, how it is full time now for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed” (Rom 13.11). The Christian who grows lazy (as part of a genera1 pattern of lukewarmness) is crucifying the Son of God a second time (see Heb 6.6, 12).

The parable of the silver pieces teaches a similar lesson. Servants are to be reliable and industrious, not merely to keep safe the gifts they receive. The servant who failed to make a gain on the funds left in his care is condemned as worthless and lazy (see Mt 25.26). A false sense of caution and nervous reluctance to take minimal risk of acting is no excuse. The unprofitable servant loses what little he had and is condemned to exterior darkness (see Mt 25.29–30).