My attention was recently drawn to the work of Leon Podles on anger, which asserts that anger has a very important role to play in the virtuous life. He contends:
Wrath is a necessary and positive part of human nature: “Wrath is the strength to attack the repugnant; the power of anger is actually the power of resistance in the soul,” wrote Josef Pieper. The lack of wrath against injustice, he continued, is a deficiency: “One who does good with passion is more praiseworthy than one who is ‘not entirely’ afire for the good, even to the forces of the sensual realm.”
He also cites St. Thomas Aquinas:
“lack of the passion of anger is also a vice” because a man who truly and forcefully rejects evil will be angry at it. The lack of anger makes the movement of the will against evil “lacking or weak.” He quotes John Chrysostom: “He who is not angry, whereas he has cause to be, sins. For unreasonable patience is the hotbed of many vices, it fosters negligence, and incites not only the wicked but the good to do wrong.”
Podles’ article gave me pause to think. Elsewhere on this blog I have stated:
I will say without fear of contradiction that I have never seen a single case of human “righteous indignation.” Just as I have never met a man who was pure in heart, neither have I man a man who is pure in anger.
I have great regard for the writings of the Fathers – and certainly for Chrysostom – though I often find that Chrysostom was a broad enough preacher that a quote for almost any position can be found somewhere in his voluminous writings. As it turns out, it is even easier to find a quote of Chrysostom on a subject, if you include in his writings those of the Opus Imperfectum, the source of Podles’ quote from the great Church Father. The Opus Imperfectum is so named, because, though once thought (in the Early Middle Ages in the West) to be a work of Chrysostom’s, it was, in fact, a 5th century work by an Arian Presbyter in the region of the Danube.
This is not necessarily a problem (Aquinas uses the quote most effectively) if the statement is correct. But of course, this raises the question of anger again. Is there a good anger? I offer here an alternative quote from Chrysostom (the real one):
Anger is no different than madness – it is a temporary demon; or rather it is worse than having a demon; for one who has a demon may be excused, but the angry man deserves ten thousand punishments, voluntarily casting himself into the pit of destruction, and before the hell which is to come suffering punishment from this already, by bringing a certain restless turmoil and never silent storm of fury, through all the night and through all the day, upon the reasonings of his soul (Hom. on St. John’s Gospel, XLVIII.3).
I do not mean to offer an academic argument on the definitive position of Chrysostom on anger. I am not a scholar in the area (owning a copy of his works, finding a quote and offering it does not make one a scholar). What I mean to do is bring the question of anger to the place that Chrysostom notes in this last quote. He describes an experience of anger that is a form of insanity, a “temporary demon.”
Podles has an argument – well established in Aquinas’ Summa Theologica, that there is a form of anger that is a proper energy of the soul whose absence would even be a sinful lack. The discussion in Aquinas comes from a fairly theoretical section on the passions. As an “energy of the soul,” anger certainly has a place within someone who is spiritually whole. It is possible, as St. Paul says, “to be angry and sin not” (Eph. 4:26). I will readily grant such a theoretical possibility. Nevertheless, I maintain my earlier observation:
I will say without fear of contradiction that I have never seen a single case of human “righteous indignation.” Just as I have never met a man who was pure in heart, neither have I man a man who is pure in anger.
Just because I have not seen it, does not mean it does not exist.
Podles argues that there is a strange lack of anger in modern clergy (particularly modern Catholic clergy). Podles, of course, has famously written about a dangerous “feminization” of our religious culture – thus it is perhaps possible that this lack of anger seems unmanly to him (cf. The Church Impotent). He cites in particular the failure of moral outrage in the face of sexual abuse of children within the ranks of the clergy.
My experience of clergy over the past 30 or more years of ordained life – whether Protestant, Catholic or Orthodox – is that anger is not somehow lacking. I have no idea why someone would think that there is no anger among clergy. In many cases, I have found them to be among the angriest people I know. The issue is rather – why no anger over this particular issue? And there, I suspect, the answer would be found. Try another issue and indignation will flow down like rivers.
But this presence or absence of anger is in neither case an argument for a good anger. I again agree that there may be such in the panoply of redeemed passions. However, it is the man of redeemed passions whom I find lacking.
I believe the path to virtue – to right-living in Christ – is ultimately found in the keeping of God’s commandments and the ascetical disciplines of the Church. Most especially do I think this is the case with regard to our treatment of others. In St. Luke’s gospel (6:35-36) Christ states:
love your enemies, do good, and lend, hoping for nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High. For He is kind to the unthankful and evil. Therefore be merciful, just as your Father also is merciful.
His admonition is not unlike that of St. John Chrysostom (after his observations on anger being like a demon):
Let us therefore, that we may deliver ourselves from the punishment here and the vengeance hereafter, cast out this passion, and show forth all meekness and gentleness, that we may find rest for our souls, both here and in the Kingdom of Heaven.
A last point. Podles, following Aquinas and Pieper, argues that the lack of anger results in the failure of a moral will – particularly in righting injustices and in addressing things which must be corrected. This is true, if, again, we are speaking on a theoretical level. We currently have no lack of anger in our public life. And yet, for all the anger, we have little action. Rather, we have the demon of which Chrysostom spoke:
… a certain restless turmoil and never silent storm of fury, through all the night and through all the day, upon the reasonings of his soul….
I have been witness to several major social upheavals. I think particularly of the Civil Rights movement in the 1960’s. There was certainly plenty of moral indignation and little lack of anger (on many sides). Martin Luther King Jr.’s political struggle often included the difficult task of urging non-violence upon those who were rising up in great indignation. It is a great moral task indeed.
My experience is that what progress has been made within the heart of my native culture has been made through mercy and the appeal to kindness and compassion. To a large extent, I believe the same is true in the modern struggle with the rights of the unborn. It is the continued appeal to their humanity and to society’s compassion that has gradually moved hearts towards their protection.
I will easily give way to those whose experience has been other than mine. I can only bear witness to my own heart, in the end. There I find that in the mercy of God I am able to love, to forgive, to do justice and to defend the defenseless.
There may be a good anger – but in the midst of the sea of anger in which we now dwell – it is hard to find.
What about Christ and the moneylenders in the temple? Surely here we have a case of genuine human righteous indignation – though of course this might have been aided by the fact that He was God as well! Thus God is the only truly righteous one.
I can see how anger is healthy when it is “the strength to attack the repugnant” (as with Christ in the temple). For example, I would venture to say that my own anger at hearing about child abuse on the news is ‘purer’ (has better motives) than my anger at the bus which doesn’t get me to work on time.
Perhaps, like with any other battle, you just have to keep trying until you get it right?
Certainly, Christ is without sin, and His indignation with the money-lenders is pure. Though I’m not certain about continuing to “practice anger until I get it right.” You’re probably right as well that some experiences of anger are more pure than others (certainly less self-concerned). Such experiences have a better chance of rising to righteousness. However, most of what I see in even our “righteous indignation” is a modern penchant for “feeling” about causes, engendered by the news cycle. In any given night, our passions will rage from indignation to every other known energy of the soul, as the media play on our sympathies and appetites. But, generally speaking, nothing comes of these exercises other than opinions and worse. Indeed, such manipulations are probably a force in the moral decay of our species since they do not create in us an exercise of the will or any particular moral formation.
We have become something of a culture of opinion. Everybody has plenty of them and is all too glad to share them. Even on the streets of London, I have been accosted twice for simply wearing a cassock (and thus being an identifiable Christian). The causes don’t matter – but the anger was there. I have to say I’ve encountered such unpleasantness in the heart of the Southland here in the U.S. as well. I’m not certain what I was supposed to have done wrong – only that some stranger had a store of anger waiting for an unsuspecting Orthodox priest. The same people (it would not surprise me) likely do not vote, give money or time, or engage constructively in any way with their passions.
Truth told – it’s not just righteous indignation that is lacking – but righteous anything. Kindness and mercy are the two of most common actions that I encounter that have the quality of righteousness about them. I suppose it is why I suggest that people start with them and slowly, after years of strenuous ascetical effort, work their way up to righteousness indignation.
To me anger is like the other passions. It is good to experience all of them but the questions is what do we do with them. If anger is properly directed with the help of God’s grace it can lead us to fight against injustice. I think it is probably anger that motivates the fight. In this life it is rare or never that it is perfectly directed and for this I thank God for the reconcilliation that He freely offers me.
I do not find the fight to be well fought that is motivated by anger.
Anger, too, is the natural state of the intellect for without anger we cannot even attain purity unless we are angry toward all that which is sown by the enemy. Just as Finees, the son of Eleazar, became angry and slaughtered the man and woman, the Lord’s temper against his people was shattered. Yet this anger within us was turned against our neighbor in regard to such senseless and useless matters.
Likewise, hatred is the natural state of the intellect. When Elijah discovered this, he killed the prophets of shame, and Samuel acted similarly against Agag, the king of the Amalechites, for without hatred against the enemy, no honor is bestowed on the soul. This hatred of ours has been twisted, however, into a state that is contrary to nature, so that we hate and loathe our neighbor, and this hatred chases away all the virtues.
Abbah Isaiah of Scetis, Ascetic Discourses, Second Discourse.
It’s also hard to distinguish between good anger and well the more usual one we experience. O_o
I agree with Ss. Thomas Aquinas, John Chrysostom, and Josef Pieper. I believe that anger can be a force for good in the world and like all responses, needs to be approached with Faith and Reason. There are many examples of righteousness within Scripture and both James and Paul’s letter to the Ephesians talk of anger and righteousness as good qualities.
Yes, the majority of the world is sinful, selfish, hateful and entirely too prone to anger. It has been that way since the Fall. Nevertheless, righteous men and women — and those do indeed exist — can and should channel indignation on behalf of the Lord, and even as I write this, there are some of those improving our world through the energy of channeled righteous indignation.
When provoked, either anger is your slave, or you are its slave. The first is useful, but the latter is not. I think when Chrysostom was referring to it as a demon perhaps he was thinking of it as unbridled and not restrained with discipline. In other words, it is often said that people can become a slave to their demons/passions. When I think of Jesus and the money changers (in which it can be argued the Gospels tell of three unique occasions), I think of Jesus taking his time to fashion an instrument with which to scatter them (and for good reason). It sounds to me that this was a disciplined sort of indignation in which you don’t become a victim of the anger in itself.
Just a quick comment on this –
“He cites in particular the failure of moral outrage in the face of sexual abuse of children within the ranks of the clergy.
This is true. I think there was disbelief by many that Catholic priests in such numbers would abandon their vows which led to no action, and even cover-ups. I think the expected anger was replaced with shame for many. However, this subject is a bit more complicated than what the media reveals to the public, and yet it ties into the theme of femininity in this post. 90% of the abuse victims were post-pubescent boys. In other words, the perpetrators had same sex preferences… not prepubescent urges since they represented only 10% of the victims in age. The elephant in the room that the media will not dare mention is that this was a homosexual scourge. Numbers and Quotes
“To a large extent, I believe the same is true in the modern struggle with the rights of the unborn.”
This is an area where it cannot be denied that the Catholic Church has brought a Christian witness, where sadly other churches have not. Can it be characterized by anger? If you understand the devil, you will be angry, but he does a bang up job of convincing people he is not the devil. So it depends on how much you believe the world versus the Church when it comes to issues of life. When the rule of law allows the most innocent to be murdered… everything sacred and good is threatened.
No argument that these things have their place. I simply have not encountered them other than in their “twisted” state that is “contrary to nature.” I’m not arguing with the theory – only with those who would use the theory to justify what is twisted and contrary to nature.
I am unclear about “improving the world.” I understand obeying the commandments of God and acting with kindness and mercy, etc. But I am quite doubtful about various constructs of social improvement and various political/social/moral agendas – generally finding them to be essentially secular arguments. I have an article on this that might explain a bit of my thought on the topic.
Again, no argument about the existence and possibility of a good anger. Doubtless it is manifest in Christ. A disciplined outrage would also seem possible – but I find such discipline simply to be lacking. I’ve seen lost of outrage, not much discipline.
Your thoughts on the sexual scandal are similar to my own – though I don’t think I need say more.
The Catholic Church has been the single most important witness to the rights of the unborn. There is a growing partnership in Europe between the Vatican and the Moscow Patriarchate on social issues which is quite interesting to me. There is a very uphill climb in that setting (and everywhere). The teaching of the Orthodox Church concerning the life of the unborn does not differ from that of the Catholic Church.
John Paul II’s description of American culture as a “culture of death” was a prophetic word – wellspoken.
I have enjoyed your posts very much fatherstephen. They are short, but still very deep and thoughtful.
Anger is a peculiar case. I am young and most certainly not wise, but I learned quickly that when I act in anger, the consequence is usually sin. Usually, my anger stems from some deficiency I believe to see in a person. Rather than being angry about the deficiency, I am all to ready to be angry with the person. In my limited experience, the most good I have reaped from anger is the inspiration to greater humility. I believe St. Poemic said something like, “How can I find blame with someone who has killed one man when I have killed myself countless times?” Or I think about the beams that are in my eyes.
Otherwise, anger has only been useful when I subject it to the Lord’s will. In this way, my anger is tempered by patience and love. It helps me identify what injustice has been done to me or that i have done to another person. I remember when I was younger my siblings and I got lost walking trails at a park. When we were found, my father was furious. I was mature enough to realize how greatly we had disobeyed our parents and how terrified they had been. I knew that my father’s anger did not stem from hate, but from selfless love.
That said anger is not something I seek. I pray that some day that I might first think that the injustice was my doing before someone else’s. Also, I wonder if other passions are as misused as anger. I think that pleasure has frequently exceeded its importance. To many people, it has become the rule for morality. Anger is not the sole passion that can lead to sin; though, my experience has shown that it can be the most easily manipulated for the cause of evil.
The homily from the Prologue of Ohrid today (Oct. 4th) was about “useful anger”:
“Be angry and sin not (Psalm 4:4).
Be angry with yourself, brethren, and sin no more. Be angry at your sins of thoughts and deeds, and sin no more. Be angry with Satan the father of lies (John 8:44), and no longer do his will. Be angry at sin in the world and the trampling of God’s holy Church by godless men, but beware that you do not cure sin by sin. Be angry with your friends when they sin; but be angry with the intention to correct them, and not to embitter them even more. The anger of a friend toward a friend, and the anger of parents toward their children-and of God toward men-is not a storm that uproots the tree but a wind that strengthens the tree, and rids it of rotten fruit so that the healthy fruit will increase in number and beauty. But let your anger have measure, so that it may be healing and not poisonous. In order to have this kind of control, keep God before you in your anger. There is no stronger containment for anger than God. All anger that is not in the name of God and God’s righteousness is a sin. Do not become angry for the sake of idleness, but become angry for that at which God is angered. If your will is firmly set in God’s law, you will always know when it is necessary to be angry, and how much is needed. This cannot be expressed entirely in words, nor can it even be explained to the uneducated. Anger, in its place, acts as mercy does in its place. O my brethren, do you see how various powers are placed in our souls, and man, by his free will, can utilize them for life or death? Anger toward oneself can never be recommended enough. Here is a wonderful example: the more a man learns to be angry with himself, the less he is angry with others. Carried away with anger at his own weaknesses, he either does not see the weaknesses of others, or when he does see them, he judges them kindly.
O Lord God, Thou only righteous One, implant in us the remembrance of the Day of Thy righteous anger, so that we may protect ourselves from spiritual sin.
To Thee be glory and praise forever. Amen.”
I know anger can be a big problem for me. I don’t know what to do with it, and sometimes try to redirect it towards myself, because that seems “safer” or something. But sometimes that just brings me to despair. I guess I’m just too angry of a person. And then I don’t know what to do with it. I don’t trust myself enough that I feel I should direct it towards others, but I don’t know that I should direct it towards myself either because that just seems to feed the despair. I know I’m doing something wrong here.
Sorry, Fr. Stephen. I was just going to share the quote, but I guess I got carried away. Useful or righteous anger can be rather a mystery to me. I suppose it can exist, I just don’t know if I’ve ever seen it in my own heart.
These are such wonderful ideas 🙂 The correlation between opinions and anger is especially interesting. I just want to say sorry for being unclear earlier: I didn’t mean we continue to practice anger until we get it right – rather to continue to try and purify our anger until it is pure.
He looked around at them in anger and, deeply distressed at their stubborn hearts, said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” He stretched it out, and his hand was completely restored.
This is the anger I was talking about. In Jesus it was perfectly ordered, in us not so much. Much of the struggle in the spiritual life is to get all of our passions properly ordered. For example, lust is perfectly purified eros that has been mangled and distorted. In the same way hatred is perfectly purified anger that has been mangled and distorted. The fight motivated by hatred is not well fought.
Dear Father, bless!
The passionate outrage fueled by media coverage of certain hot button social issues you describe is something that is tearing at the very fabric of a family very close to me. It is something that causes untold grief for me on a regular basis.
James, for a young person, I find your comments quite insightful–hold onto those thoughts! As a parent, I fully understand that had your father not loved you and your siblings very much, he would not have been angry with your disobedience and the anxiety over your well being it engendered. It certainly was a mark of your maturity to recognize what was ultimately behind his anger.
I know from studies I have made about emotional dynamics and anger, both in books and in my own heart, that in the situation James described what I would really have wanted and needed to do as a parent is weep with relief over my found children! It is because of my pride that I would likely not easily do this, but rather express anger as a cover for the vulnerability that tears would expose. Because of the wounds we sustain in a fallen world, anger is erected largely as an edifice to protect the ego and hide the more tender and vulnerable emotions that we experience. I rather suspect, however, that tears would have a provided a much purer expression of the love that I feel for my kids. They would have to have some maturity to understand that my anger in such a circumstance was an expression of love, but I think no such mediating maturity would be necessary for understanding a parent’s weeping from relief in the same context. I could be wrong, but these are just some of my own reflections in light of this post and James’ comments.
a sinner, how kind God is with His timing. I’m in the midst of a difficult struggle where I really needed to see that entry from the Prologue right now. Thanks!
I once experienced what I thought at the time to be good anger, when someone seemed to be clearly behaving perversely, and in the habit of doing so. Eventually I have him a rather sharp and harsh answer, which took him somewhat aback. And I thought that perhaps that was righteous anger. But it actually didn’t change his behaviour, and the next time he behaved like that, I reacted angrily again, and then realised that it was not at all righteous, but just a bad habit I was falling into, and that if I persisted it would lead me into hatred. So it was a slippery slope, and anything but dispassionate.
My experience agrees with what C.S. Lewis says in “Screwtape Letters.” Anger usually arises because I feel that someone has infringed on some “right” I think I have — to quiet reading time, or rest, or getting to the head of the line. Righteous anger, on the other hand, can only be impersonal (since we are commanded to forgive people, not get angry with them) and directed against sin, corruption, or injustice. The only way I could have truly righteous anger is if I perfectly understood everyone’s heart, my own heart, and the nature of sin. So it’s no wonder if only Jesus has shown it.
(The only exception I’ve known — a rare one — might be a loving anger directed at me when I have sinned badly, and I’ve been grateful for that. It felt more like love than anger.)
Probably the most compelling thing I’ve read on your blog in the last few years is that the degree to which we love our enemies is the measure of our Christian maturity. I don’t see where anger enters in to that.
father, thank you for another thoughtful blog. my biggest challenge at this time in my life is the anger or indignation i feel when those around me continue in destructive behavior. i am not judging them, because i know i have many vices, but it is the neighbor who goes to church every sunday and is addicted to pain pills and never gets help, the family member who lives in chaos and enables her grown children to stay little girls, and prays daily, and never changes the behavior, the society who worships celebrities whose behavior is disgusting. i know that this is coming across as judgmental but it’s everywhere i look, and at times it makes me want to “stay away from the world” and i know i can’t or should not do this! i do pray daily to “worry about myself” and not the shortcomings of others. you can only change yourself.
I know several of the Desert Fathers talk about the “incensive power” of the soul, and it seems to bear some relation to anger, and yet be different. Could you comment on this or clarify with relation to this article?
Father Stephen, This was a thought provoking topic. I have the book by Thomas Aquinas that you spoke about. In it is the following quote from St Gregory the Great in Moralia V: “It is needful to take great care that the same anger that we adopt as an instrument of virtue never gain dominion over the mind, nor take the lead as a mistress, but like a handmaid, prompt to render service, never depart from following in the rear of reason; for then anger stands up more firmly against vicewhen it as a subject serves reason.
Thanks for writing about this.
a sinner, I share the experience that you relate in the final paragraphs of your comment as well. Self-directed passionate anger it seems to me only fuels shame which fuels despair. I shall be interested to see what advice Father can give us. In my experience, such anger is just another expression of a judgmental and critical spirit (the accuser internalized?)–it does not rid me of anger and judgment toward others, but rather can intensify it. If I am unable to truly accept God’s mercy into myself for myself and His forgiveness which ends unrighteous anger, then I cannot extend it toward others either. At best, I can maintain a facade of restraint, which will always crumble when the chips are down.
I guess good anger is when you’re sick and tired of the same-old, same-old sinful state you’re in, and begin to get mad and angry at yourself in a positive manner and wake up from your spiritual lethargy to “kick some @$$” and put your life in order (or at least try to). 🙂
Thank you, Karen. My experience can be very similar.
“…But I tell you that any man who is angry with his brother must answer for it before the court of justice, and any man who says Raca to his brother must answer for it before the Council; and any man who says to his brother, You fool, must answer for it in hell fire.” – Matthew 5:22 et. seq. (R. Knox Translation)
I think that all in all, Fr. Stephen’s approach to the anger question is the safest and best bet for a Christian struggling to become Christlike. The Church fathers that are quoted describing anger (or an incensive aspect of the soul) as natural and God-given nearly always qualify their statements with the difference between anger at evil or demons versus anger at humans. The latter puts us in the position of judges, which we are most definitely not. In other words, anger at demonic temptation within us is good; anger at humans is a sin.
While there may be cases of “righteous anger” (such as the example given by St. Isaac the Syrian of the priest Phineas slaying the sinners–though I think because Israel’s mission was in a different mode that that case may not even apply to our present situation), it’s a greater risk to sit in the judgment seat of Christ. The safer route is prayer and pity.
As an illustration, if we see someone commit murder, pedophilia, rape, thievery, and so on, the standard knee-jerk reaction is anger. But are we saying that we are not capable of something as heinous? When we see a human commit a sin, it should register with us that we, as humans, are just as capable of that sin. This mindset will not rid us of the disgust we feel toward the sin (and it shouldn’t), but it will form pity for the sinner. The same St. Isaac quoted on “righteous anger” above is the same St. Isaac that said that holy people feel pity for even the demons! What is worse than a demon? And yet, they were once angels. Is there anything worth more pity? He goes on to say that this pity is a form of love, and that God himself pities them.
For those of you who didn’t hear Father Stephen’s sermon this Sunday, he highlighted the sheer volume of so-called “righteous indignation” present in the media, particularly television. It’s easy to get swept up in it, particularly political arguments (in this regard, Keith Oberman and Rush Limbaugh are really two sides of the same coin). I know I have. I got angry at the chancellor from Constantinople lately for attacking Metropolitan Jonah, and I realiated against him on an internet forum. I initially patted myself on the back for having spine (which is important), but in hindsight I could have handled myself with more tact and pity. And really, come judgment day, I figure that I’m more likely to get a “who do you think you are?” than an “attaboy”. Point is, everywhere we look, as Father said, anger abounds–even in Church dialogues! It’s too easy in these situations to move from concern to rabid hate-mongering, so Father Stephen’s approach is the best way.
Two helpful benchmarks:
1. If I’m angry at a human, I’m very likely outside God’s intended use of that faculty.
2. “Vengeance is mine, saith the Lord”: if I am retaliating against anyone for anything, my anger has turned to wrath, which is totally unacceptable.
I close with two quotes I passed along to Fr. Stephen yesterday:
“You must direct your wrath only against the demons, for they wage war upon us through our thoughts and are full of anger against us.” –St. Philotheos of Sinai
“For it is . . . not anger used in accordance with nature for the chastisement of sin, but its use against one’s fellowmen.” –St. Peter of Damaskos
Anger as much a component of humanity as is laughter – and we endowed to us by our Creator who from the beginning made everything “very good”.
As with all of our gifts from God they can be used for good, or evil.
Anger – as a gift from God – according to what I have read (where – I will never remember), is appropriate only when applied to anger at the devil and anger at our sins & weaknesses.
The human condition, when redeemed through baptism, can use all of its endowed faculties for our salvation – provided it is done in submission to the Will of God and piety. e.g. Lust sounds like a ‘bad’ emotion too, unless you are in a loving relationship with your spouse, where it is transformed into an intimate form of love.
please forgive me, for i am a very ignorant man, and according to my ignorance, i am unsure what the last paragraph of your last post means.
“The human condition, when redeemed through baptism, can use all of its endowed faculties for our salvation – provided it is done in submission to the Will of God and piety. e.g. Lust sounds like a ‘bad’ emotion too, unless you are in a loving relationship with your spouse, where it is transformed into an intimate form of love.”
especially the first and last sentence, please, can you expound for the sake of my simple mind?
Dr. Conrad Baars (.com) was a Catholic psychiatrist liked by Popes JP2 and Paul Vi, who followed Aquinas in his practice. He said anger was what kept him alive in the concentration camps, when virtually all his comrads died; an anger at the evil around him. The Nazis’ actions exemplified both not guiding your feelings with reason, and choosing evil. Dr. Baars hid his angerl while it fueled survival and the keeping of data about the truth of man in his heart until his release. He wrote “Doctor of the Heart”
, “Feeling and Healing Your Emotions”, and more. 9He also predicted the priest scandal and tried to offer helps; but Americans tended to like Freud, Kinsey and other short-circuited remedies instead, sadly. His views on anger overlap Father’s.
In my own post on Podles’s article a few months ago, I noted that there are a few ascetic Fathers that refer to a natural anger, but for them such anger is to be primarily directed against the demons and against ones passions. Nevertheless, in my personal circumstances I found it hard not to be sympathetic to Podles’s thesis.
You never fail to challenge me. I must admit that I am a member of the clergy often beset with anger and I agree with you that acting as a result of anger is rarely if ever a good thing. Even in those cases where it is a so-called “righteous anger”, the result of that anger is never good for me nor for others. There is a pride behind it that is destructive.
What has been a better motivating factor for me is love. But this is much more difficult to achieve.
With regard to the lack of anger over the recent sexual abuse scandal, it seems to me that it is not the lack of anger that is disturbing, but rather the lack of action and the lack of penance made with and for our brothers who did terrible wrongs against others.
Thank you for the post.
The opposite of passion is not purified passion. The object of Christian ascetic struggle is dispassion (which, in turn, should not be confused with passivity).
For those interested in the Eastern Orthodox understanding of sin, the passions, and spirituality, I strongly suggest Fr. Dumitru Staniloae’s “Orthodox Spirituality”.
Robert> Constantine Cavarnos has pointed out that the difference between Christian and Stoic uses of the word ‘passion’ is that for the former, ‘passion’ means only ‘movements of the soul that are contrary to nature’, whereas for the latter it means all emotions generally. So in the usual sense of ‘passion’ what you say is perfectly true. Nevertheless, it remains the case that the Fathers teach that there are ‘movements of the soul’–which they sometimes designate by names, such as ‘anger’, that we ordinarily use to refer to the ‘passions’ in this sense–that can be ‘according to nature’ as well. In other words, there is a sense in which ‘passions’ can be good if they are directed toward their proper object. A person in whom the ‘passions’ operate in this way can still rightly be called ‘dispassionate’ in the usual Patristic sense. Even Evagrius, who may well be the first to use the term ‘dispassion’ in this way, admits this.
Fr Alexander> My post on Podles’s article cites several Fathers that say something like your statement on anger.
I’m not sure about ‘lust’ though. I think a totally different term is needed for a dispassionate ‘lust’–perhaps ‘eros’?
Fr Alexander> Sam Lawhord has a couple such quotes at the end of his comment above, too.
I’m not arguing that there is no such thing as a “purified anger” or a “good anger.” However, it is speaking, I think, in theory. My statement is simply that I have never seen such a “dispassionate” anger, or an anger which was as the Fathers posited. I do not doubt that there is such or that the fathers were in error.
But, I think to speak of such a dispassionate anger, and then to use it in the way that Podles does in his article is a mistake. True, dispassionate anger, comes as a result of genuine purification of the heart and ascetic struggle. To leave all that aside and then discuss political issues and the like and the lack of anger or the importance of anger in confronting them, is ignoring all that the fathers actually have to say about the passions. There is nothing, absolutely nothing, dispassionate about almost anything I can think of in our culture – even in most of what I see in the Church.
It’s not anger that is lacking – but true repentance and the deep asceticism of the heart. Righteous indignation does not come from an impure heart.
Thus, it’s not the theory that is lacking. The teaching in the fathers seems quite clear and I do not question it. But a right use of any of the passions (regardless of terminology) is not theory. It is a great struggle and a gift of great grace. Podles does not seem to mention these. Perhaps elsewhere he might. I do not know.
I still contend that I have never seen “good anger.” Maybe some of my readers have. I mostly see it eating people alive.
I once had a monastic abbot tell me that after the Vietnam War he had many young people coming to his monastery for help. “They were deeply angry about peace.” I remember those years. We were a very angry nation (at each other more than at anyone else). It also made us a very sick nation. We’re still infected with anger – more now – over the past decade or two – than I can recall at any time in my life. And it’s not just here. I found the same anger in Europe. When I was in the Mideast, need I say, the anger was at unimaginable level.
However, it was in the Judaen desert, at the monastery of Mar Saba, that I met a monk who said, “We are monks. We have no enemies.” One of the few peaceful men I’ve met. He was a great encouragement (and his monastery still has monks killed occasionally simply because of the surrounding strife).
Anybody can get indignant – I see it all the time – and it is largely useless and deeply destructive.
“Acquire the Spirit of peace and a thousand souls around you will be saved,” said St. Seraphim of Sarov. This is a great miracle.
I think that Podles generally discusses the issue of anger on a “moral” level. To a large extent, I think that morality is a secular phenomenon, a rationalizing discussion about something that is instead existential and ontological. Morality ultimately is about behavior – whereas the Christian faith is about a transformed person. It is why we begin with repentance and then live every moment in repentance – because it is about a new creation and not a mere change in behavior.
But I’ve probably said too much (or not enough). It is a subject of true interest to me – both for my own soul and the souls of others around me. Telling them to turn their anger to useful things is quite misleading, I believe. They need to be told to embrace the life of repentance. We cannot order the passions ourselves. This is the work of grace that flows within the life of repentance.
I understand you, Father, and I think we basically agree. My sympathy for Podles’s thesis was largely on the personal level–I sometimes think victims of crimes like sexual abuse need someone to be somewhat angry on their behalf. Maybe this isn’t a good thing, but it’s hard not to sympathise with.
Your distinction, however, between the Fathers’ teaching of an ideal and the attempt to apply that ideal to everyday life without acknowledging the ascesis is involved is well taken.
Aaron – quite right, although I am not sure anger would be a so-called “natural passion”. The Fathers do not equate or limit passions to emotions (although they certainly can be that). Nonetheless, strictly speaking Cavarnos is correct and makes a helpful distinction. My post however was made in the context of the conversation and specific comments made above.
This is a subject where the divide between “east” and “west” palpably manifests itself. As Fr. Stephen points out, there is plenty of moralizing but this is not Christian spirituality.
Robert> Again, I’m inclined to agree with you on the difference between moralising and real spirituality. But when I said that according to the Fathers anger has the potential to be ‘according to nature’, I was referring to such comments as this by St Gregory of Sinai:
‘Once our conscience is active, what some call righteous indignation and others natural wrath is roused in three ways—against the demons, against our nature and against our own soul; for such indignation or wrath impels us to sharpen our conscience like a keen-bladed sword against our enemies. If this righteous indignation triumphs and subjects sin and our unregenerate self to the soul, then it is transmuted into the loftiest courage and leads us to God.’
Aaron – yes it has the potential, I would wholeheartedly agree and I concede you are absolutely right.
In the context of the larger conversation here, however, I would say this is a quite irrelevant point. The opposite of anger is not purified anger, but rather the virtue of forgetfulness of the evil of others. See St. John Climacus Step 8 on Placidity and Meekness. St. Stephen’s last words were not those of righteous anger (although he had every right to be), but of love and forgiveness “Lord, lay not this sin to their charge” (Acts 7:60) It was said he was “full of the Holy Ghost”.
Robert> Then what you mean is that the opposite of anger at one’s fellow man is the virtue of such forgetfulness. I have added the wholly relevant qualification that there are other kinds of anger which are perfectly righteous. The opposite of passion is dispassion, but the opposite of passion directed against the wrong object is passion directed against its proper object. This point is entirely apropos.
Due in part perhaps to a misunderstanding, the larger conversation has ventured beyond Fr Freeman’s modest claim that he has never seen truly ‘righteous anger’ exhibited by a human being. In this context, a discussion of the Fathers’ elabourate teachings on anger is very much to the point. Let’s not oversimplify!
Another point is that I’m not sure we should be ‘forgetful’ of evil committed against our neighbour. One must be careful raising ‘the virtue of forgetfulnes of the evil of others’ in the context of discussing an article about the sexual abuse of children. Anger against the perpetrators may be impure or misguided, and ‘lay not this sin to their charge’ is of course in order, but for the children’s sake we mustn’t forget that evil was done. This is a good way to end up with more abused children.
Robert, well said. How beautifully St. Stephen’s last words echo our Savior’s from the Cross as well.
Aaron, I think you are right that anger managed and properly redirected toward the devil and toward that within us which is inclined to cooperate with sin is not inappropriate and not what Fr. Stephen, following the Fathers, is cautioning against here. I think what you, he and Robert are saying are in harmony.
I think anger when directed toward another human being (including oneself if in an improper way) is always a veneer obscuring, if not even obliterating, our purer motives (i.e., grief, perhaps, which in turn is an expression of love for another or love of what is good/right). The best expression of those purer motives is only revealed when we can clear the anger out of the way. The ascetic struggle is in view here as Fr. Stephen has said. May the Lord help us all in this struggle.
I certainly don’t believe prioritizing this struggle precludes standing up against tangible evil (confronting the offenders) and doing our part to be used of God in restraining the expression of evil in others, but it certainly has a great deal to say about how this is rightly done. Perhaps many of the evils we see besetting even the Church at this time are because those of us who may consider ourselves the victims of such, or standing with the victims to defend them, have not yet purified our own passions such that the wrongs may be righted through the one power that can effectively do so–the power of the Holy Spirit (Who is Love).
father, thank you for your insight. shouldn’t TRUE repentance and a new creation change our behavior?? it’s so easy for us, myself included, to talk the talk! it’s so hard to walk the walk. my father, before he died said he only wanted two statements in his obituary. i was born and i died! he felt that our life, our behavior, speaks for itself. eulogies are useless. i spoke with someone recently who is one of the most spiritual persons i have ever met. he lives it. he left me with these words, “look at the person’s life, how they are living it, not what they are saying!!
“The wrath of man worketh not the righteousness of God,” says St. James. Certainty, as Fr. Stephen has noted, if the Fathers speak of a truly righteous anger, then it must be possible. But I think that, all too often, our “righteous indignation” stems more from pride, from seeing ourselves as the avengers of the wronged or some such thing, than anything else.
I have heard St. Paul’s exhortation to “be angry and sin not” explained as (maybe it was on this blog, maybe elsewhere) more acknowledging that we do sometimes get angry, but when we get angry, do not let that anger lead us to sin. He says right afterward, “let not the sun go down on your wrath,” which would seem to mean that we should not hold on to anger. Just a little later, he says, “Let all bitterness, and wrath, and anger…be put away from you, with all malice.”
I am also reminded of somewhere in Proverbs, where we are cautioned not to rejoice when evil befalls our enemy, lest the same should come upon us. In a similar vein, I have been long impressed with King David in that, twice, at least, when an enemy was killed, his response was not joy, but grief.
It seems to me (though I am often wrong) that when we see a person commit an evil act, we should, instead of anger, feel grief. Obviously, we should grieve for the victim, but we should also grieve for the perpetrator. That they may not even realize the damage they are doing to their own soul should, at the least, be enough cause for grief. Also, I am reminded of a quote, I think was attributed to Charles Spurgeon upon seeing a man headed to the gallows, “There, but for the grace of God, go I.”
Also, I would be wary of any action motivated by anger. Even if what the person desires to do is good, the anger will ruin it. You will end up flailing about, never quite finishing one thing before rushing to attack another. In the end, you will have done more harm than good. Anger can reduce the most skilled and eloquent speaker to childish and incoherent babbling. In fact, it is, as I recall, a common tactic in a confrontation, especially when outmatched, is to attempt to anger your opponent, so as to increase the likelihood of his making a mistake.
Finally, regarding anger at oneself, I suspect that even this can be dangerous. Anger at oneself can easily lead to self-loathing, to worldly grief. It can quickly bring you down the road to despair, because anger is impatient. Anger cannot simply wait for things to be righted, for the slow process of sanctification to bring us to improvement. It seems to me it is better to be patient with myself; when I fall, to repent, make confession, and get back on the path and keep trudging along, and give thanks that God knows the infirmities of my soul.
Karen> Thank you. Yes, I have not to my knowledge disagreed with Robert on these points. I was only trying to add a qualification. He wrote that my qualification was irrelevant, but I’ve tried to argue that it was an important one. Of course, I agree with him about matters of such moment that all questions of qualification are, in comparison, trivial.
I have one more observation to make from my own experience. When I am confronted with my own sin and this is done in anger, I find it very difficult to repent! I see the same grudging and resentful, but unrepentant, external compliance in my children when I confront their errors in anger and demand change. It is extremely difficult to repent anyway (and the more serious the sin, the more this is true), but it is almost as if anger in the one confronting, however justified, is a powerful tool of the enemy to make my repentance that much more difficult and unlikely, if not near impossible. On the other hand, if the one confronting my sin, shows an obvious love for me and solidarity with me as a fellow human being facing the same temptations, and confronts my sin, that is a different matter. It’s interesting, too, that we can even put a gentle face on our confrontation of another, but if it isn’t supported by a true empathetic and loving solidarity with them in our mutual weakness as sinful human beings that is from the heart, it is as ineffective as overt anger in helping a true repentance. At least, that is what I’ve observed.
Thank you Aaron and Karen for your insightful comments!
I agree about anger and repentance. “A broken and contrite heart, O God, Thou wilt not despise.” Which is different than an angry heart. I am not unfamiliar with “anger at the devil” and have one or two experiences of it being beneficial (not in a sustained manner, but in a momentary action of the will).
Dostoyevsky, as usual, says everything that needs to be said about “righteous indignation” and those who construct a critique of the world around it, in The Devils. On the other hand, we can log on to any revolutionist Forum and smell the sulphurous fumes of rage and hatred for ourselves. We can study the history of the twentieth century…
…I forebore also to mention also the “Crisistianity” of RC TradWorld…
Of course it’s all there in Dostoevsky! Thanks be to God!
I regard anger as an emotion and as such it can function as a signal that something is wrong, almost like a light shining in darkness. But it does not function well as an energy to look into what’s wrong because it can so easily shape-shift into revenge, hatred and the like. We are vulnerable to this shape-shifting and then we are into the passion of anger that takes us into destructiveness.
The way I have begun to examine myself concerning anger is to see if there is pride or something I want that I’m not getting (such as praise, material things, etc.) I often notice that it signals that something is not right in my life and I am learning how to direct it to change what I can that needs to be changed (according to God’s will). I appreciate what Molly said about anger functioning as a signal. I notice this alot in my life. I have four children and my anger flares up when there is too much chaos. I try to direct my anger into disciplining them if I have failed to do that or to beg God for wisdom, mercy and gentleness as I try to create more order by His grace. I find I must depend completely on God because many things are not in my control. (I have actually been told that nothing is under my control).
When I have anger as a result of unrighteousness around me, such as in other people, I am learning to ask God for a merciful heart and to do everything I can to help them.
I don’t pray with the attention and intention that I ought, nor do I honour my wife, parents, superiors, etc, as I ought – yet I am still commanded to do it. I do not perfectly do my work as unto God, but these is still the 4th Commandment; ie I am to labour and do all my work despite my lack of entire sanctification. I am to “be angry and sin not;” does my inability to sinlessly be angry means that I must eschew anger all together – even though I am commanded to “be perfect as (Christ is) perfect?” Pleaase advise, and thank you.
I think we simply do the best we can in struggling against any sin – and be aware of where we fail. Where we fail, we go to confession and ask God’s forgiveness. We will fall short of being perfect – no doubt. But that’s different than embracing a lifestyle in which we treat anger as an acceptable behavior.
I like the advice given by an old monk in the movie Ostrov: “Do your best. And try not to sin so much.”
“But that’s different than embracing a lifestyle in which we treat anger as an acceptable behavior.”
Right! And what is considered “acceptable behavior” is all too easily and often defined on our terms. This is precisely why the Eastern Orthodox living tradition with an emphasis on the ascetic struggle is so refreshing (and challenging 😀 ).
Re: Dr. P’s inquiry, I thought I read somewhere (likely on your blog) that the language of “Be angry and sin not” is not to be understood as a command to become angry as it is sometimes taught. Rather in context it is simply an admonition that when we do become angry (anger accepted as a fact of life in a fallen world, not a command) we must seek to not compound it with more sin. Add to this also, as the larger context, the many admonitions in Scripture to rid ourselves of anger.
I do think the phrasing of this Scripture can be encouragement at least to admit that we are and do get angry. Where a truly biblical goal of “forgiving all by the Resurrection” and completely ridding ourselves of unrighteous anger is accepted, there comes the temptation to kid ourselves and/or others that we have mastered this to a degree far more than we actually have and to bury our anger or deny it instead of confessing and releasing it with God’s help.
I guess I should also say that I should be noting the unrighteousness within me more than anything else. I wrote about anger in my heart when I have failed to discipline my children. I guess the better thing to say which encompasses disciplining them would be I am failing to love them as I should.
Thank you for your quick riposte, although I believe we’re talking past each other. I completely agree with you that anger has no place in our lifestyles; that said, I cannot fathom how it therefore is to be completely absent from our lives. You – and haven’t we all?! – seen much anger with little intermixed righteousness; I – and doubtless you – have seen much falsehood in the church; ie “the pillar and groundwork of the truth.” Neither of us countenance the quixotic search for the perfect church; wherefore the zendo and stoic view of anger per se? Again, please advise, and thank you for your patience.
No stoicism here. The original post was a response to an article that treated anger as an important and all too frequent missing component in the virtuous life – which I disagreed with.
Doubtless we’ll all have anger and rather unrighteous anger at that. It’s a matter of sin and confession (as with all our imperfections).
This is not stoicism, but striving to at least rightly understand the life to which we are called, rather than justifying my anger as part of “correcting the ills of society” as the original article I was addressing did.
Again, thank you for your response. I too read the Podles article, as well as his excellent work /The Church Impotent/. I am not a Catholic and thus have no personal stake in what had transpired. I am all too familiar with the clerical and lay passivity in the face of schande (I know no adequate English word to describe such behaviour) against which Podles reacted, which cloaks moral cowardice and/or retardation with faux spirituality, those people acting as if they believe themselves to be soaring above it all. We have all met the perpetually angry cause-mongers you wrote of above, but I still can’t see any connexion between their anger as SOP and indignation over schande, other than that between drunken debauchery and a glass of merlot with dinner – which a previous ecclesiastical affiliation of mine would equate.
Probably depends on what you do with your indignation. Not to have acted decisively in these cases was/is a very grave sin. On the other hand, many drink their indignation as casually as those who enjoy their merlot.
One thought about never “seeing” righteous anger. Could it possibly be that truely righteous anger is invisible by it’s very nature. It’s really easy to find unrighteous anger, just turn on the radio.
Father Stephen & Leonard: Christ’s righteous anger with the hawkers and moneychangers was eminently visible and palpable, as was God’s wrath upon his enemies as shown in the Psalms. Equally visible and too often palpable (olfactory?) are unrighteous anger and religious hypocrisy. Could it be that our lack of examples of seeing righteous anger (and true religion) is a function of the church’s declension rather than oxymoron?
What you suggest is quite possible. However God’s wrath in the Psalms seems to be a separate question, at least according to many of the Fathers. But that is a separate topic. For we are speaking about anger as a human manifestation (of which Christ’s anger would be an example). Again, I have not said there is no such thing as righteous indignation, just that I have not seen it.
Doubtless it’s absence is not because of the growth of virtue, but the growth of vice (in the world, in the Church, etc.). If I draw a point, it is not that we need more righteous anger (though we might) but that people should not be lead into thinking that every time they get bad about something (political, social, religious) does not mean they just had an experience of righteous anger – normally it is not. Righteous anything is a gift of God, received in repentance and with prayer and fasting. I think it is important to call things by their right names and not to confuse ourselves in such matters.
Father Stephen: I think we’re 99% in agreement; perhaps our difference is more on what we perceive Podles to have concerned himself with. What I read was an educated layman’s response to the RCC’s latest schanden: the sexual abuse scandal, and the lack of moral indignation by an hierarchy which responded more like Spock-coddling “tertium quids” (vs men) than true shepherds with those comforting rods and staves. As one who has worked in corrections for most of his career, I would add that we need fewer police and gaols, and more angry fathers. I did not see Podles in any wise to have suggested norming anger or people deceiving themselves by viewing their every peeve as a godly response, and can’t imagine that Podles would have meant such. That being said, if you know of any pastoral references on righteous anger and evaluating one’s own responses to unpleasantries, I would appreciate the tip. Thank you again.
Fr Stephen bless,
this beautiful poem sums it up:
That God may forgive us, let us forgive men.
We are all on this earth as temporary guests.
Prolonged fasting and prayer is in vain
Without forgiveness and true mercy.
God is the true Physician; sins are leprosy.
Whomever God cleanses, God also glorifies.
Every merciful act of men, God rewards with mercy.
He who returns sin with sin perishes without mercy.
Pus is not cleansed by pus from infected wounds,
Neither is the darkness of the dungeon dispelled by darkness,
But pure balm heals the festering wound,
And light disperses the darkness of the dungeon.
To the seriously wounded, mercy is like a balm;
As if seeing a torch dispersing the darkness, everyone rejoices in mercy.
The madman says, “I have no need of mercy!”
But when he is overcome by misery, he cries out for mercy!
Men bathe in the mercy of God,
And that mercy of God wakens us to life!
That God may forgive us, let us forgive men,
We are all on this earth as temporary guests.
St. Nikolai Velimirovich, The Prologue of Ohrid
Greetings. Came over here for the first time from a link on the Touchstone blog.
My apologies if I repeat something already said above. I did not read all of the comments, but only skimmed some.
I liked Podles’ article and I think I agree with it in essence. Fr. Stephen’s concern about anger being a human response that can easily bend in the direction of sin (and most of the time, does) is certainly well taken. Indeed, anger is fraught with danger.
Fr. Stephen not having personally witnessed righteous indignation exercised without sin actually reinforces Podles’ observation in his article, that Christians today (I assume he means Christians who take the spiritual life seriously, who pray, who strive to grow in sanctity) tend to suppress anger, believing that any and all anger is un-Christian.
I would like to suggest a parallel. I think it works quite well.
Consider lust versus chaste sexual desire (for which I’ll use the term “eros”). Eros (like anger), because there is sin in the world and in our souls, is a dangerous thing. Nonetheless, it would be a harmful deformation of our humanity to try to safeguard against the evil of lust by going so far as to try to wipe out eros altogether. We need to redeem our passions, and gradually allow grace to heal, purify, and transform sexual desire. A correct Christian response is not simply to turn one’s back on all erotic emotion because it has the potential to be denigrated by sin. Granted, we cannot do this on our own. But with grace, we can.
I think it is the same with anger. Doing away altogether with anger because it is so widely misused, as Fr. Stephen seems to suggest, would be an approach similar to eliminating lust by repressing all eros–because it is so widely misused. Just because a powerful human passion (like sexual desire, and similarly, anger) is liable to going awry in a destructive fashion is no reason to repress it altogether–even in an era when it is widely abused. This simply points out how poorly we are doing at asking for and embracing divine grace. We need discernment, wisdom, and sanctity, not repression.
[And please note, I don’t imply by this that righteous indignation, used well, should be a frequent and common, everyday thing. Yet, the social context of one’s society and one’s immediate environment obviously pertain to how a saint is called to respond.]
Scott: thank you for articulating my position with greater clarity than I had. The abuse of a God-given emotion does not make the emotion ungodly, but rather the emoter.
Scott and Dr. P,
I have not said that anger is inherently bad. I do contend that there is absolutely no lack of anger out there, particularly among clergy – but not the right anger, at the right time, for the right reason. It’s not about “suppressing anger” or any of the psychological stuff. Rather, if there is to be any righteous anger, it will come as a result of righteousness, which is God’s gift, and received with humility and ascesis. I have not suggested “repression” anywhere. I have instead put forward proper repentance (which is a constant way of life when rightly understood) and ascesis. This is the Orthodox way.
There is no where in Orthodox understanding that any of the passions or energies of the soul are dealt with in any other fashion.
God has given us the sacrament of marriage for many reasons. But even there, eros can be lust and destructive. There is no place in the human life in which repentance and ascesis is not needed. I thought that Podles was too easy in his analysis of the question and not properly governed by the spiritual tradition of the faith in his suggestions.
We have choices other than “express or repress.” Freud is not among the fathers.
“Freud is not among the fathers.” Now I have another banner I have to carry around everywhere! I don’t mean to reduce your posts to bumper stickers, but there are many eminently quotable sentences on this blog, and I enjoy them. They act as anchors or reminders in everyday life. Thank you.
Dear Father, bless! It seems to me that the valid Orthodox choice is rather to “confess” our anger. That is, to acknowledge it, be honest about it, and deal with it according to the manner given us in the Scriptures and the Church.
“… Very clear teachings on anger and the incensive power can be found in the first volume of The Philokalia, in the teachings of St. John Cassian, a Holy Father of the fifth century. According to St. John Cassian, all anger directed at other people all such wrong use of our incensive power blinds the soul. He writes: “We must, with God’s help, eradicate the deadly poison of anger from the depths of our souls. So long as the demon of anger dwells in our hearts … we can neither discriminate what is good, nor achieve spiritual knowledge, nor fulfill our good intentions, nor participate in true life…. Nor will we share in divine wisdom even though we are deemed wise by all men, for it is written: Anger lodges in the bosom of fools (Eccles. 7:9). Nor can we discriminate in decisions affecting our salvation even though we are thought by our fellow men to have good sense, for it is written: Anger destroys even men of good sense (Proverbs 15:1). Nor will we be able to keep our lives in righteousness with a watchful heart, for it is written: Man’s anger does not bring about the righteousness of God (James 1:20)….
“If, therefore, you desire to attain perfection and rightly pursue the spiritual way, you should make yourself a stranger to all sinful anger and wrath. Listen to what St. Paul enjoins: Rid yourselves of all bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, evil speaking, and all malice (Eph. 4:31). By saying all’ he leaves no excuse for regarding any anger as necessary or reasonable. If you want to correct your brother when he is doing wrong or punish him, you must try to keep yourself calm; otherwise you yourself may catch the sickness you are seeking to cure and you may find that the words of the Gospel now apply to you: Physician, heal yourself (Luke 4:23), or Why do you look at the speck of dust in your brother’s eye, and not notice the beam in your own eye? (Matt. 7:3).
“No matter what provokes it, anger blinds the soul’s eyes, preventing it from seeing the Sun of righteousness…. Whether reasonable or unreasonable, anger obstructs our spiritual vision. Our incensive power can be used in a way that is according to nature only when turned against our own impassioned or self-indulgent thoughts. 
Here St. John Cassian is telling us that, when we use our incensive power against temptation against impassioned or self-indulgent thoughts we are using this power as it was originally intended to be used, according to our original, virtuous nature, created in the image of God. However, when we use our incensive power against anything else especially against other people we are misusing it, according to our fallen nature…”
Resentment and Forgiveness
by Hieromonk Damascene
I agree with your 3:19PM post. I didn’t mean to imply that you believe all anger to be inherently bad, though I did read your post as perhaps implying that all uses of anger should be curtailed (including the righteous sort) because of the high potential for its abuse.
And I agree that “repress” may not be the best or most accurate term in this context. But I couldn’t think of a better one to try to characterize what you seemed to be getting at. I definitely agree that repentance and ascesis are always very important and necessary (things which I don’t practice as I should). But I don’t think you would mean that personal repentance and asceticism, as critical as these are, are sufficient when confronted with a clear case of abuse of a person or group of persons which one might have a chance of doing something about through some intervention, would you?
While we should not see “express” or “repress” as the only two avenues for anger (I am not a Freud fan), how can we speak positively about the appropriate use of righteous anger in such a way that we don’t seem to relegate it to something like a tolerable sin?
For sure, you are right that an inappropriate use of anger is all-too-present in many segments of society, including those in which we might hope for there to be less of this than among the general public. But, even so, I do think Podles has a point in that there are situations in which Christians ought to expect a positive use of indignation, such as in the face of the sexual abuse of minors by clergy (and accompanied by an inexcusably tepid response by bishops). And part of seeing our way through these waters is to see the difference between holier-than-thou condescension (which we want to eschew) vs. wanting to stand with those who accept an obligation to protect others who are being harmed and to do all we can toward this end.
To me, underlying Podles’ view is the reality that in a fallen world, Christians have an obligation to come to the defense of the poor and the weak. We should not stand aside when we might do something to intervene when the innocent are being attacked or harmed. And in today’s cultural climate, it is all-too-easy to excuse inaction as an appropriate embodiment of meekness or kindness or peacefulness, etc.
Thanks for prompting this discussion.
I have no problem or argument about intervening for the poor, the oppressed, etc. I think that the issue is clouded by dragging anger into it. In most cases, unless the situation is something that can be corrected very quickly, anger will at best only provide a short burst of action. It is not (even in its righteous form) an energy of the soul that can or should be sustained for very long. Instead, there has to be love that intervenes. It is love that is patient and kind, longsuffering, etc. These are not the characteristics of even righteous indignation. Most problems with which we must deal (including the sort of endemic problem of child abuse that the Roman Church had to confront) require virtues rooted in love if they are to be corrected and healed. Anger is seriously overrated. Too many movies. Real life is slow. Inaction is not meekneess or kindness. Such great virtues are also born of ascesis and repentance. But they are longer-lasting and are more inherent in the formation of character, unlike righteous anger.
Most anger is just useless. What we need is true repentance by real Christians.
I am not trying to be cunning or argumentative here. I truly am a little confused by your most recent comment.
It seems to me that in your earlier remark you at least allowed for the possibility of righteous anger–at the right time and for the right reasons, and exhibited by a righteous person.
But most recently, you don’t seem even to allow for the possibility of righteous anger at all. You seem to consider righteous anger a kind of fantasy that never exists in reality even in the greatest Saint. You write as though you see it simply as always sinful and wrongly considered good no matter the situation or the person.
Do you disagree that anything called righteous anger/indignation can ever be properly considered a virtue (as Thomas Aquinas does; and please note, though I have great respect for Aquinas I don’t make the mistake of presuming everything he held to be equivalent to Christian doctrine, so I don’t automatically think negatively about someone who disagrees with him on some particular point)?
If you simply hold that there is no such thing as a virtuous enactment of righteous anger please say so clearly. Personally I would disagree, but I also would not think ill of you for holding such.
In my opinion, a virtuous enactment of righteous anger is not incompatible with charity. In fact, it is an expression of it. For example, one’s spouse is about to be beaten in the street by some thug walking by who attacks her for no reason. The saintly husband is angered greatly by this unprovoked, violent, unjust attack upon his wife whom he loves, and who is not physically able to defend herself effectively against the attacking man. The husband jumps in with the physical force necessary to defend his wife. He does not hate the attacker, but he is angry at him. And he acts with physical violence out of love for his wife because it is the only possible means at the time to defend her and prevent great harm to come to her. To my way of thinking, a husband who did not become angry with a righteous anger in such a scenario would be a poor defender of his wife. He would be lacking in charity for her.
There are situations in which love would actually require righteous anger–that is, love for someone being attacked. And this is not contrary to love for the attacker. Any violence I might have to commit in defending someone (even my own person) against an unjust attack, does not render me guilty of unjust violence. Self defense, or the defense of others, is long-accepted both by Christians and by civil society as just, so long as it is not disproportionate. If a man in a rage came at me swinging a sword at my head with evident lethal intent, and I had a gun in my hand and shot him in the chest, the attacker would be primarily responsible for the result of my gunshot, not myself.
Then there is the matter of what sort of witness we give to the public about the gravity of the most horrible moral offenses against the human person. This is a part of Podle’s concern as well. When an innocent child is violated in such a devastating way as through sexual abuse, and then a leading public figure (a bishop, for example) who has authority over the attacker does not seem to evidence any passion at all over the crime, it sends a message to the public that this is not really all that serious of an offense. I believe that especially heinous crimes that strike at the heart of human dignity ought to be responded to with some passion. Otherwise, it is suggested to the public that the offense is not that bad. (Please note, by “passion” I do not mean uncontrolled rage or anything of that sort. Righteous anger however forceful is focused, not out of control. Jesus was not out of control at the temple. But He was forceful and passionate.)
Fr. Stephen, what do you make of Christ’s physical violence at overturning tables and using a whip as he threw out the money changers from the temple area? Would you claim he did so without righteous anger? Was he acting contrary to charity? I would claim that this is precisely an example of righteous anger and that Jesus was not sinning in doing so. In fact, he was manifesting a virtue, something that a righteous person might imitate at the right time, and for the right reason, out of love.
Finally, it seems to me you did not really address my point about the possibility of overreacting by throwing out a (admittedly rarely exercised) virtue altogether merely because it is almost never seen in our day. I don’t think you would agree that the realization of a pure and holy sexual desire for one’s spouse should be excised from marriages for the reason that lust very often takes its place. Am I correct? Likewise for righteous anger. If there is the possibility of righteous anger being practiced as a virtue with the help of grace (granting for discussion’s sake that it never happens in our society), then surely it is going too far to hold that it cannot and ought not ever be enacted. If it is a virtue, then when exercised appropriately by a holy person not only would it not be bad for society, it would be a good for society. This would be true even if we never witness this in practice today; as it is true that chaste sexual desire is always a good for society, even though rarely practiced.
Scott what I hear Fr Stephen say is that we are too eager and too quick to assume we are Saints in justifying our sinful anger, whereas in reality we are very far removed from being Saints. (As Father says, “too many movies”.) In so doing we deceive ourselves, notwithstanding our justifications which come often couched in religious and “Christian” jargon.
The case I would make is that by and large we have lost the ability to rightly discriminate what is righteous and what is not. We are sick but we think we are healthy. (I include myself, offender 1st class). We can’t trust ourselves, so we must look to the Fathers, to the Living Tradition of the Church.
I do not mean to be coy. I honestly think there is such a think as righteous indignation. That there can be right anger, in the right manner, at the right time, etc. Just that I think it’s rare, and that most speak of it too glibly as though it were common or easily attained. Nothing more, but nothing less. Robert says it well, I think. But I do think it important to say that it is even in its righteous form, a short thing, not intended to sustain action over more than the shortest period. Thus it is not well invoked for things like social change, etc., that require sustained effort. It does not, even in its righteous form, have this sustained virtue. Christ did not go on a month-long campaign of keeping money-changers out of the temple. They were, no doubt, back at their work within days if not sooner. He had made a prophetic action, not a sustained effort of temple-reform. Very different things.
If I am doing anything here, it is suggesting a lot more reflection on the true character of our anger and how, even in a righteous state, we would find it of limited use (though not of no use). It’s unrighteous manifestation is of no use.
I hope you don’t mind someone else replying to your points, which are very worth exploring. Sometimes, scenarios seem to go further in elucidation than bullet statements, so below are a few to consider. At first, you’ll think, “You’re telling me something I already know.” But please keep reading, because it builds.
1. When we see illiteracy, we call it ignorance and we rightfully pity it. When we see racism, we also call it ignorance; yet, we “righteously” condemn it. Is that really right? If we really believed it was ignorance, would we lash out at racists? Instead of being angry about it, wouldn’t it be better to pity the poor soul who thinks this way? Here is a link to a video about a black preacher who defeated the Ku Klux Klan with this kind of understanding and love rather than so-called “righteous anger”: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TBwIRq_hmjg
2. When we see a schizophrenic, we call him sick and rightfully pity it. When we see (let’s pick something really heinous) a pedophile, we also call him sick, yet “righteously” condemn him. As a human being, if he is capable of that state and that sin, aren’t we? Didn’t Nebuchadnezzar lose his mind and eat grass? If we truly believed that the Church is a hospital for the sick, wouldn’t we believe that we are susceptible to this sickness? Wouldn’t we also believe that this sick, sick pedophile is in need of ministry, of the chance to repent from his horrible state, and of true love? Is he more likely to repent if we lash out and accuse him of something he already knows, deep down inside, is disgusting? Wouldn’t he rather become bitter and perpetuate his evil, or try to justify himself? Or is he more likely to repent when we cry for him and beg him to cease from his evil thoughts? Wouldn’t he, in that case, feel a true sense of shame and be brought to tears himself? If he should have acted on his pedophilia, would it be more healing to the child to see the attacker further sickened and enraged by the anger of others, or would it be more healing to see the attacker, shamed by those around him, weep and beg for forgiveness?
3. Your own scenario concerned a man armed with a gun who is about to have his head cut off by another man with a sword. In your scenario, the gunman shoots the swordsman in the chest. Let’s say that the gunman inflicts death. Is the family of the swordsman likely to be understanding, or do you think they would justify the actions of their family member? Wouldn’t they say, “Your Honor, he was sick. The gunman should not have shot him.”? Wouldn’t they be angry with the gunman, despite the justified self-defense? But let’s say that instead, the gunman realizes, “Hey, this swordsman is obviously sick if he’s trying to kill me. I wouldn’t want him to die in that state, so I’m just going to prevent him from hurting me and himself by shooting him in the knee.” In this case, the swordsman lives, albeit with a wound, and the gunman says to the family, “I’m so sorry for his wound. I knew he wasn’t in his best frame of mind when he attacked, so I did my best for him and me.” Wouldn’t the family be more understanding? And wouldn’t the gunman have been shown to have acted in love and self-defense WITHOUT anger?
4. Suppose the devil inspires a banker to murder an attorney. What would the devil hope to achieve by this? He would want the attorney’s family to become enraged at the banker. He would want the banker, in turn, to become angry at the family and say things like, “He deserved it!” or perhaps to deny even committing the crime so the the family gets no closure. Both plaintiff and defendant then go on for decades hating each other. But what would stop the devil’s achievements? The family would say, “If we hate this banker, we will be guilty of the same sin that led him to commit this horrible crime.” So the family, in a Christlike way, prays that God lead this sick man to spiritual health. They visit the man in jail and offer that if he admits his guilt, they will have him charged with a lesser crime (say, second-degree murder). By this act of love, the family begins healing from its grief and loss; the murderer, seeing that he has been shown love and mercy instead of “righteous anger”, is shamed that he has caused so much hurt to such good people, so he admits his guilt and repents. This brings further closure to the family and healing. In this scenario, the devil is burned and burned again. His evil is stopped.
I would be willing to bet that the above scenarios are rather challenging. They are for me. Number 2 is especially hard, because the sin committed may produce a lifetime of pain. And of course, just as soon as we ask, “Who are we to judge him,” we might just as well ask, “Who are we to forgive him?” Ultimately, though, we are not ever expected to be the source of his final forgiveness. That is up to God as much as judgment. But we are asked to recognize that just as soon as we say, “I will never deny you!”, we are likely to do so thrice. We are asked to recognize that if we have sinned in one thing, we have broken the whole law. And we are asked to forgive him–whether he receives forgiveness from God or not–seventy times seven.
Every time we play out a scenario and consider everyone who will be affected by the actions taken, we will find that anger generally perpetuates evil and the devil’s agenda, while love, mercy, and forgiveness cover evil and perpetuate good, virtue, and more love. I believe that this is the basic thrust of everything Fr. Stephen has said. And as hard as the above scenarios may seem, there are people who have acted with love and understanding in those very scenarios. Both they and their enemies are the better for it.
Christ never said that the actual changing of one’s frame of mind to love our enemies was an easy thing, but he did promise that his yoke is easy and his burden is light. And that is felt most especially AFTER one has made the commitment, in faith, to love his enemy. Anger and bitterness, meanwhile, are heavy, aging, and destructive. Love for one’s enemies is THE commandment of all commandments that separates Christians from all others. Christ did not say, “Love your enemies, except those that come to kill you with the sword, those who will rape you and your children, those who will steal from you, those who will lie, and those who will pretend to be good while really being evil.” He said rather, “Love your enemies. Bless those that curse you, and pray for them that spitefully use you…” And shortly thereafter, he did it himself. Not only was he beaten, but he was spat upon and mocked. Not only was he crucified, but he was crucified naked. His mother was mocked. His friends were hunted and persecuted. Still, he forgives. When under attack, he gently asks, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” And if we are hurt for those who are murdered, raped, tortured, cheated, and so on, how much more is their Creator?
When we stop and compare the Cross to all of the instances that are brought up as exceptions to Father Stephen’s urging to avoid anger, we will find that hidden in them is something very sick: the belief that we are not sick, that we are better, that we have no mote in our own eye.
Is it right for us to be upset with someone for contracting syphilis? No. Instead, we should pity him with a loving heart. But is it right for us to be upset with ourselves for contracting syphilis? Indeed, because we committed the sin to attract the disease. Let us then grant that there may be scenarios in which anger has its place, and then let us accept that those scenarios are the sins we find in ourselves.
I agree we are very often too eager to assume we are saintly and we need greatly the example and intercession of those truly holy men and women who have gone before us.
Thank you for this last comment. With this I think I totally agree. Definitely, more reflection and more sanctity is needed.
Your point about righteous anger not being sustainable beyond a short time is good food for thought. Thanks again.
Glory to Jesus Christ!
I am a man with a strong sense of justice; a temperament prone to presumably “righteous anger”. One of the greatest gifts God has given me in my discipline since converting to Orthodoxy is the utter and complete end to presuming my anger is ever righteous.
Jesus Christ was righteous, even in his indignation. When I am Christ, then I too may know how to be angry and not sin. I, and all of us, are so far from this place yet, of perfect union with our ever-loving God.
The comment by Steve much above is about exactly my own experience.
I will repeat it, applying it to myself:
I [often] experienced what I thought at the time to be good anger, when someone seemed to be clearly behaving perversely, and in the habit of doing so. Eventually I have him a rather sharp and harsh answer, which took him somewhat aback. And I thought that perhaps that was righteous anger. But it actually didn’t change his behaviour, and the next time he behaved like that, I reacted angrily again, and then realised that it was not at all righteous, but just a bad habit I was falling into, and that if I persisted it would lead me into hatred. So it was a slippery slope, and anything but dispassionate.
God save us from ever “seeking to justify ourselves”
gentlemen: one ought to eschew imposing a medical model on sin (paedophilia is not a sickness; time spent reading dr thomas szasz would be well spent); the kingdom of heaven is not a psychotherapeutic state. the feelings of the family of the criminous swordsmen towards the righteous self-defender are signally irrelevant. Self-defence and the defence of loved ones and those who are weak are 6th commandment imperatives; ie juries, judges and magistrates are not being “holy” or “compassionate” by failing to exercise their ministries of justice. As a corrections physician who attended the just (albeit delayed) execution of an heinous offender whose daughter’s appeals delayed justice as well as closure for victims’ families and survivors, i heard more than my fill of psychobabble about the perp and nary a sympathetic word to the survivors. for the magistrate to not have executed this man would have been unrighteousness; one’s response to his crimes and their continuing consequences in the lives of many could be righteous (at least, if tempered by the “pity of Bilbo”). Whilst it is true that any of us are capable of doing what that man did – and could then be justly executed therefor – we ought not to forget the 3 uses of the law and God’s grace, which still comport with righteous anger.
I’m familiar with pscyho-babble, however much of your post is not familiar. I write from an Eastern Orthodox tradition, in which a therapeutic understanding of the nature of sin is common (not to be confused with any branch of modern psychotherapy). But if you are not familiar with the Eastern writers in that area, it is a mistake to lump them in with modernist psychobabblers. I am very familiar with the families of victims, having had 2 murders in my own family. I assure you “closure” and (particularly “closure”) is a modern psychobabble term – but seems to be one you like. It is a fiction. It does not raise the dead which is the only justice that would satisfy the heart – and it, finally, the justice of God.
I do not care to comment further in this matter. Thank you.
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