On the Vice of Anger
by Saint Alphonsus Liguori
Saint Jerome says that anger is the door by which all vices enter the soul. "Omnium vitiorum janua est iracundia". Anger precipitates men into resentments, blasphemies, acts of injustice, detractions, scandals, and other iniquities; for the passion of anger darkens the understanding, and makes a man act like a beast and a madman. "Caligavit ab indignatione oculus meus" - Job 17:7. My eye has lost its sight, through indignation. David said: "My eye is troubled with wrath" - Psalm 30:10. Hence, according to Saint Bonaventure, an angry man is incapable of distinguishing between what is just and unjust. "Iratus non potest videre quod justum est, vel injustum". In a word, Saint Jerome says, that anger deprives a man of prudence, reason, and understanding. "
"Ab omni consilio deturpat, ut donee irascitur, insanire credatur". Hence Saint James says: "For the anger of man worketh not the justice of God" - James 1:20. The acts of a man under the influence of anger cannot be conformable to the divine justice, and consequently cannot be faultless.
A man who does not restrain the impulse of anger, easily falls into hatred towards the person who has been the occasion of his passion. According to Saint Augustine, hatred is nothing else than persevering anger. "Odium est ira diuturno tempore perseverans". Hence Saint Thomas says, that "anger is sudden, but hatred is lasting". It appears, then, that in him in whom anger perseveres, hatred also reigns. But some will say: I am the head of the house; I must correct my children and servants, and, when necessary, I must raise my voice against the disorders which I witness. I say in answer: It is one thing to be angry against a brother, and another to be displeased at the sin of a brother. To be angry against sin is not anger, but Zeal; and therefore it is not only lawful, but it is sometimes a duty. But our anger must be accompanied with Prudence, and must appear to be directed against sin, but not against the sinner; for if the person whom we correct, perceive that we speak through passion and hatred towards him, the correction will be unprofitable and even mischievous. To be angry, then, against a brother's sin, is certainly lawful. "He", says Saint Augustine, "is not angry with a brother, who is angry against a brother's sin". It is thus, as David said, we may be angry without sin. "Be ye angry, and sin not" - Psalm 4:5. But, to be angry against a brother on account of the sin which he has committed, is not lawful; because according to Saint Augustine, we are not allowed to hate others for their vices. "Nec propter vitia (licet) homines odisse".
Hatred brings with it a desire of revenge; for, according to Saint Thomas, anger, when fully voluntary, is accompanied with a desire of revenge. Ira est appetitus vindictoe. But you will perhaps say: If I resent such an injury, God will have pity on me, because I have just grounds for resentment. Who, I ask, has told you, that you have just grounds for seeking revenge? It is you, whose understanding is clouded by passions, that say so. I have already said, that anger obscures the mind, and takes away our reason and understanding.
As long as the passion of anger lasts, you will consider your neighbor's conduct very unjust and intolerable; but, when your anger shall have passed away, you shall see that his act was not so bad as it appeared to you. But, though the injury be grievous, or even more grievous, God will not have compassion on you, if you seek revenge. No; He says: Vengeance for sins belongs not to you, but to Me; and when the time shall come, I will chastise them as they deserve. "Revenge is mine, and I will repay them in due time" - Deuteronomy 32:35. If you resent an injury done to you by a neighbor, God will justly inflict vengeance on you for all injuries you have to him, and particularly for taking revenge on a brother whom He commands you to pardon. "HE that seeketh to revenge himself, shall find vengeance from the Lord . . . . Man to man reserveth anger, and doth he seek remedy of God? . . . . He that is but flesh, nourisheth anger, and doth he ask forgiveness of God? who shall obtain pardon for his sins? - Ecclesiasticus 28:1,3,5. Man, a worm of flesh, reserves anger, and takes revenge on a brother; does he afterwards dare to ask mercy of God? And who, adds the Sacred Writer, can obtain pardon for the iniquities of so daring a sinner? "Qua fronte" says Saint Augustine, "indulgentiam peccatorem obtinere poterit, qui praecipienti dare veniam non acquiescit". How can he who will not obey the command of God to pardon his neighbor, expect to obtain from God the forgiveness of his own sins?
Let us implore the Lord to preserve us from yielding to any strong passion, and particularly to anger. "Give me not over to a shameless and foolish mind" - Ecclesiasticus 23:6. For he that submits to such a passion is exposed to great danger of falling into a grievous sin against God or his neighbor. How many, in consequence of not restraining anger, break out into horrible blasphemies against God or His saints. But, at the very time that we are in a flame of indignation, God is armed with scourges. The Lord said one day to the prophet Jeremiah: "What seest thou, Jeremiah? And I said: I see a rod watching" - Jeremiah 1:11. Lord, I behold a rod watching to inflict punishment. The Lord asked him again: "What seest thou? And I said: I see a boiling caldron" - Jeremiah 1:13. The boiling caldron is the figure of a man inflamed with wrath, and threatened with a rod, that is, with the vengeance of God. Behold, then, the ruin which anger unrestrained brings on man. It deprives him, first, of the grace of God, and afterwards of corporal life. "Envy and anger shorten a man's days" - Ecclesiasticus 30:26. Job says: "Anger indeed killeth the foolish, and envy slayeth the little one" - Job 5:2. All the days of their life, persons addicted to anger are unhappy, because they are always in a tempest. But let us pass to the second point, in which I have to say many things which will assist you to overcome this vice.
In the first place, it is necessary to know that it is not possible for human weakness, in the midst of so many occasions, to be altogether free from every motion of anger. No one, as Seneca says, can be entirely exempt from this passion. "Iracundia nullum genus hominum excipit". All our efforts must be directed to the moderation of the feelings of anger which spring up in the soul. How are they to be moderated? By meekness. This is called the virtue of the Lamb - that is, the beloved virtue of Jesus Christ. Because, like a lamb, without anger or even complaint, He bore the sorrows of His Passion and Crucifixion. "He shall be led as a sheep to the slaughter, and shall be dumb as a lamb before his shearer, and He shall not open His mouth" - Isaiah 53:7. Hence He has taught us to learn of Him meekness and humility of heart. "Learn of Me, because I am meek, and humble of heart" - Matthew 11:29.
Oh! how pleasing in the sight of God
are the meek, who submit in
peace to all
injuries! To the
meek is promised the
Kingdom of Heaven. "Blessed
are the meek: for they shall possess the land" - Matthew
5:4. They are called the children of God.
"Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be
called children of God" - Matthew 5:9. Some boast of
their meekness, but without any
grounds; for they are meek only
towards those who praise and
confer favors upon them; but,
to those who injure or
censure them, they are all
vengeance. The virtue of meekness
consists in being meek and
peaceful towards those who
maltreat us. "With them that hated
peace I was peaceable" - Psalm 119:7.
We must, as Saint Paul says, put on the bowels of mercy toward all men, and bear one with another. "Put ye on therefore, as the elect of God, holy, and beloved, the bowels of mercy, benignity, humility, modesty, patience, bearing with one another, and forgiving one another, if any have a complaint against another" - Colossians 3:12,13. You wish others to bear with your defects, and to pardon your faults; you should act in the same manner towards them. Whenever, then, you receive an insult from a person enraged against you, remember that "A mild answer breaketh wrath: but a harsh word stirreth up fury" Proverbs 15:1. A certain monk once passed through a corn field; the owner of the field ran out, and spoke to him in very offensive and injurious language. The monk humbly replied: Brother, you are right; I have done wrong; pardon me. By this answer the husbandman was so much appeased, that he instantly became calm, and even wished to follow the monk, and to enter into religion. The proud make use of the humiliations they receive to increase their pride; but the humble and the meek turn the contempts and insults offered them into an occasion of advancing in humility. "He", says Saint Bernard, "is humble, who converts humiliation into humility".
"A man of meekness", says Saint Chrysostom, "is useful to himself and to others". The meek are useful to themselves; because, according to F. Alvarez, the time of humiliation and contempt is for them the time of merit. Hence, Jesus Christ calls His disciples happy when they shall be reviled and persecuted. "Blessed are ye when they shall revile you, and persecute you" - Matthew 5:11. Hence, the saints have always desired to be despised, as Jesus Christ has been despised. The meek are useful to others, because, as the same Saint Chrysostom says, there is nothing better calculated to draw others to God, than to see a Christian meek and cheerful when he receives an injury or an insult. "Nihil ita conciliat Domino familiares ut quod illum vident mansuetudine jucundum". The reason is, because virtue is known by being tried; and, as gold is tried by fire, so the meekness of men is proved by humiliation. "For gold and silver are tried in the fire, but acceptable men in the furnace of humiliation" - Ecclesiasticus 2:5. "My spikenard", says the spouse in the Canticles, "sent forth the odor thereof" - Canticles 1:11. The spikenard is an odoriferous plant, but diffuses its odors only when it is torn or bruised. In this passage the inspired writer gives us to understand, that a man cannot be said to be meek, unless he is known to send forth the odor of his meekness by bearing injuries and insults in peace and without anger. God wishes us to be meek even towards ourselves. When a person commits a fault, God certainly wishes him to humble himself, to be sorry for his sin, and to purpose never to fall into it again; but He does not wish him to be indignant with himself, and give way to trouble and agitation of mind; for, while the soul is agitated, a man is incapable of doing good. "My heart is troubled, my strength hath left me" - Psalm 37:11.
Thus, when we receive an insult, we must do violence to ourselves in order to restrain anger. Let us either answer with meekness, as recommended above, or let us remain silent; and thus, as Saint Isidore says, we shall conquer. "Quamvis quis irritet, tu dissimula, quia tacendo vinces". But, if you answer through passion, you shall do harm to yourself and others. It would be still worse to give an angry answer to a person who corrects you. "Medicanti irascitur", says Saint Bernard, "qui non irascitur sagittanti". Some are not angry, though they ought to be indignant with those who wound their souls by flattery; and are filled with indignation against the person who censures them in order to heal their irregularities. Against the man who abhors correction, the sentence of perdition has, according to the Wise Man, been pronounced. "Because they have hated instruction, and received not the fear of the Lord, Nor consented to My counsel, but despised all My reproof. Therefore they shall eat the fruit of their own way, and shall be filled with their own devices. The turning away of little ones shall kill them, and the prosperity of fools shall destroy them" - Proverbs 1:29-32. Fools regard as prosperity to be free from correction, or to despise the admonitions which they receive; but such prosperity is the cause of their ruin. When you meet with an occasion of anger, you must, in the first place, be on your guard not to allow anger to enter your heart. "Be not quickly angry" - Ecclesiastes 7:10. Some persons change color, and get into a passion, at every contradiction; and when anger has got admission, God knows to what it shall lead them. Hence, it is necessary to foresee these occasions in our meditations and prayers; for, unless we are prepared for them, it will be as difficult to restrain anger as to put a bridle on a horse while he is running away.
Whenever we have the misfortune to permit anger to enter the soul, let us be careful not to allow it to remain. Jesus Christ tells all who remember that a brother is offended with them, not to offer the gift which they bring to the altar, without being first reconciled to their neighbor. "Go first to be reconciled to thy brother: and then coming thou shalt offer thy gift" - Matthew 5:24. And he who has received any offence, should endeavor to root out of his heart not only all anger, but also every feeling of bitterness towards the persons who have offended him. "Let all bitterness, and anger, and indignation, and clamor, and blasphemy, be put away from you, with all malice" - Ephesians 4:31. As long as anger continues, follow the advice of Seneca - "When you shall be angry, do nothing, say nothing which may be dictated by anger". Like David, be silent, and do not speak, when you feel that you are disturbed. "I was troubled, and I spoke not" - Psalm 76:5. How many, when inflamed with anger, say and do what they afterwards, in their cooler moments, regret, and excuse themselves by saying that they were in a passion? As long, then, as anger lasts, we must be silent, and abstain from doing or resolving to do anything; for, what is done in the heat of passion will, according to the maxim of Saint James, be unjust. "For the anger of man worketh not the justice of God" - James 1:20. It is also necessary to abstain altogether from consulting those who might foment our indignation. "Blessed", says David, "is the man who hath not walked in the counsel of the ungodly" - Psalm 1:1. To him who is asked for advice, Ecclesiasticus says: "If thou blow the spark, it shall burn as a fire: and if thou spit upon it, it shall be quenched: both come out of the mouth" - Ecclesiasticus 28:14. When a person is indignant at some injury which he has received, you may, by exhorting him to patience, extinguish that fire; but, if you encourage revenge, you may kindle a great flame. Let him, then, who feels himself in any way inflamed with anger, be on his guard against false friends, who, by an imprudent word, may be the cause of his perdition.
Let us follow the advice of the apostle: "Be not overcome by evil, but overcome evil by good" - Romans 12:21. Be not overcome by evil : do not allow yourself to be conquered by sin. If, through anger, you seek revenge or utter blasphemies, you are overcome by sin. But you will say: I am naturally of a warm temper. By the grace of God, and by doing violence to yourself, you will be able to conquer your natural disposition. Do not consent to anger, and you shall subdue the warmth of your temper. But you say: I cannot bear with unjust treatment. In answer I will tell you, first, to remember that anger obscures reason, and prevents us from seeing things as they are. "Fire hath fallen on them, and they shall not see the sun" - Psalm 57:9. Secondly, if you return evil for evil, your enemy shall gain a victory over you. "If", said David, "I have rendered to them that repaid me evils, let me deservedly fall empty before my enemies" - Psalm 7:5. If I render evil for evil, I shall be defeated by my enemies. "Overcome evil by good". Render every foe good for evil. "Do good", says Jesus Christ, "to them that hate you" - Matthew 5:44. This is the revenge of the saints, and is called by Saint Paulinus, Heavenly revenge. It is by such revenge that you shall gain the victory. And should any of those, of whom the Prophet says, "The venom of asps is under their lips" - Psalm 139:4, ask how you can submit to such an injury, let your answer be: "The chalice which My Father hath given Me, shall I not drink it?" - John 18:11. And then turning to God, you shall say: "I opened not my mouth, because Thou hast done it" - Psalm 38:10; for it is certain that every cross which befalls you, comes from the Lord. "Good things and evil, life and death, poverty and riches, are from God" - Ecclesiasticus 11:14. Should any one take away your property, recover it if you can; but, if you cannot, say with Job: "The Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away" - Job 1:21. A certain philosopher, who lost some of his goods in a storm, said: "If I have lost my goods, I will not lose my peace". And do you say: If I have lost my property, I will not lose my soul.
In fine', when we meet with crosses, persecutions, and injuries, let us turn to God, Who commands us to bear them with patience; and thus we shall always avoid anger. "Remember the fear of God, and be not angry with thy neighbor" - Ecclesiasticus 28:8. Let us give a look at the will of God, which disposes things in this manner for our merit, and anger, shall cease.
Let us give a look at Jesus crucified, and we shall not have courage to complain. Saint Eleazar, being asked by his spouse, how he bore so many injuries without yielding to anger, answered: I turn to Jesus Christ , and thus I preserve my peace. Finally, let us give a glance at our sins, for which we have deserved far greater contempt and chastisement, and we shall calmly submit to all evils. Saint Augustine says, that though we are sometimes innocent of the crime for which we are persecuted, we are, nevertheless, guilty of other sins which merit greater punishment than that which we endure. "Esto non habemus peccatum, quod objicitur; habemus tamen, quod digne in nobis flagelletur".