Some one wrote in the following question:  

How would you respond to a someone who (in Zen like fashion) states that anger is always counterproductive?  Is anger always a sin?

The simple answer is “No, anger is not always a sin.” In fact, in some situations anger is the appropriate response. If anger were always a sin, the Jesus never got the memo since he displays quite a lot of anger in the Gospels. We’ll look at that in a moment.

To being with, some distinctions are in order.

  1. We ought first to distinguish between the internal experience or feeling of anger and the external manifestation of it.The internal expereince of anger as a passionate response to some external stimulus is not sinful since we cannot usually and immediately control the arising of feelings or passions. Anger usually arises out of some sense of threat. It signals us that something is wrong, threatening or inappropriate as we understand or interpret the data. Sometimes our perceptions are incorrect but often they are not. Anger, in this sense, is not only sinless, but necessary as it alerts  us to the need to respond to something that is a threat or unjust and it gives us the energy to address it. In this sense, it is not sinful. It is a passion and an energy to set things right or to address a threatening situation.
  2. Now it is possible that our anger can arise from less than holy reasons. Some of the things we fear, we should not fear. Some of our fears are rooted in pride, and an inordinate need for status and affirmation. Some of our fears come from misplaced priorities. For example we may be excessively concerned with money, property, popularity  or material things. And this concern triggers inordinate fears about things that should not matter so much. And this fear gives rise to feeling easily threatened at loss or diminishment. This in turn triggers anger, since we sense that something is wrong or threatening. But we ought not be so concerned with such things since they are rooted in pride, vanity and materialism. In this case the anger may have a sinful dimension but the sin is more rooted in the inordinate and sinful drives than merely the anger itself. This is because, even when anger arises from poor motives or objects, it is still not something all that voluntary.
  3. Now external manifestations of anger can and do sometimes have a sinful dimension when they are beyond what is reasonable. If I am experiencing anger there may be little or no sin in that. However if I express that anger by hurling insults, or physically attacking someone I may well have sinned by a sinful expression of my anger. Even here there can be exceptions. It may be appropriate at times to physically defend myself. I can think of no exception to the rule against hurling insults and personal attacks. However, it remains true that we live in thin-skinned times and people often take personal offense when they should not. We will see in a moment that Jesus did not often hesitate to describe his opponents’  in rather vivid ways.
  4. Hence, of itself, anger is not a sin.The Scriptures say, Be angry but sin not (Ps 4:4) So anger is not the sin. However, the expression of anger may become sinful. Further, it is possible that some of our anger springs from less than holy sources.

When is the external manifestation of anger an appropriate response?  Most simply put, anger is appropriate when its object is appropriate and reasonable.

For example, it is appropriate to experience anger when we see or experience injustice. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. harnessed appropriate anger of Americans toward the injustice of racism. He elicited it,  and focused  its energy in productive ways. Notice that he was very careful to teach against violence and revenge. Anger did not to give the Civil Rights Protesters the right to hate. What Dr. King did was to elicit a just anger on the part of many Americans. This anger in turn gave them the motivation to act creatively and energetically to resist  injustice and effect change through non-violence. This sort of angry response was appropriate, reasonable and even holy. The tradition of non-violent resistance to injustice remains strong in those who protest abortion, and other sins, crimes and social injustices. It is the anger that motivates the desire to speak and the zeal to take action to rectify injustice.

Anger is also appropriate and even necessary in some forms of fraternal correction. To fail to manifest some level of anger may lead to the false conclusion that the offense in question is not really all that significant. For example if a child belts his brother in the mouth and knocks out a tooth a parent ought to manifest an appropriate amount of anger to make it very clear that this sort of behavior is intolerable. To gently correct a child in a smooth and dispassionate way with no inflection in the voice can lead to the impression that this really isn’t so bad. Proper anger has a way of bringing the point home and making a lasting impression. Again, note that the anger in question should be at a proper level, not excessive, and not too weak. This of course requires a good bit of self-mastery.

Meekness- And this leads us to an important beatitude and fruit of the Holy Spirit which helps us to master anger: Meekness. In modern English, meekness has lost its original vigor and tends to signify a person who is a bit of a pushover and easily taken advantage of. But,  in its original meaning, meekness describes the vigorous virtue wherein one gains authority over their anger. Aristotle defined meekness (πραΰτης ) as the mean between being too angry, and not being angry enough. As we have noted, there is a place and a need for anger. The meek person has authority over their anger. They are able to summon its energy but control its extremes.  Hence the meek are far from weak. They are the string ones who have gained authority over their anger. St. John Chrysostom says in this regard: He who is not angry when he has cause to be, sins. For unreasonable patience is a hotbed of many vices. (Homily 11). St Thomas Aquinas says: Consequently, lack of the passion of anger is also a vice, [for it is] a lack of movement in the will directed to punishment by the judgment of reason (II, IIae 158.8).

What of Jesus? One the one hand Jesus seems to have taught very strongly against anger:

“You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘Do not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’  But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to his brother, ‘Raca,’ is answerable to the Sanhedrin. But anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell. (Matt 5:21-22) 

On the face of it it would seem that Jesus condemns anger without exception. However, if that is the case then Jesus broke his own rule for he exhibited a lot of anger in the Gospels. What Jesus DOES clearly condemn here is unrighteous and wrathful anger. Notice that he give two examples of the kind of anger he means. The first example is to use the term of contempt: Raca. This term is hard to translate so it is simply rendered in the Aramaic. Essentially what it means to do is to strip a person of any dignity and to regard them with utter contempt. Notice that Jesus links this kind of anger to murder since, by it, the other person is so stripped of any human dignity that to murder them is no different than killing an ox or mule. This sort of anger depersonalizes the other and disregards them as a child of God. The term fool; has a similar, though less egregious, purpose. Hence, it would seem that the Lord is not condemning all anger her but rather the anger of contempt and depersonalization. To absolutize Jesus’ teaching here to include any anger would seem unreasonable given what we have said above and it would also call into question Jesus’ own example which includes not a little anger.

Most people are familiar with Jesus’ anger in the cleansing of the temple. But there are other places as well where he manifest not a little anger:

 Jesus said, “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You build tombs for the prophets and decorate the graves of the righteous. And you say, ‘If we had lived in the days of our forefathers, we would not have taken part with them in shedding the blood of the prophets.’ So you testify against yourselves that you are the descendants of those who murdered the prophets. Fill up, then, the measure of the sin of your forefathers!”You snakes! You brood of vipers! How will you escape being condemned to hell? (Matt 23:29-33)

Jesus said, “You belong to your father, the devil, and you want to carry out your father’s desire!  He was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies. Yet because I tell the truth, you do not believe me! Can any of you prove me guilty of sin? If I am telling the truth, why don’t you believe me?  He who belongs to God hears what God says. The reason you do not hear is that you do not belong to God!” ( John 8:44-47)

Passages like these do not exhibit the “Mr Rogers” kind of Jesus common in the modern imagination. Jesus was no “Caspar Milquetoast.”  His vigorous anger is also on display in the video below.

What to make of these angry displays?

  1. Not sinful – Clearly they are not sinful displays of anger since the scriptures assure us that Jesus never sinned (e.g. Heb 4:15).
  2. There may be an important cultural dimension to remember here. In the culture of the ancient Jews there seems to have been a wider acceptance of the expression of anger than in our own American setting. Even in America there is a wide variance in the acceptance of anger. I once dated an Italian girl in college and she and her mom could really set to it: lots of loud shouting in Italian!  And then in a moment it was over and they were on to the next topic. In their family anger was a more accepted expression than in the typical American setting. The cleansing of the Temple by Jesus was also an expression more acceptable than our culture would usually permit. Turning over the tables etc. was a “prophetic action.” Prophets did things like this. In that culture it was more acceptable than perhaps in ours. But even we find a place for civil disobedience. We may not always like it, but we respect that it has a place in our culture.
  3. Yet Jesus clearly is angry. He is grieved at the hard heartedness of his opponents and his strong tone is an authoritative summons to repent. A lowered and lyrical voice might not convey the urgency of the situation. These are hardened men and there is a need for pointed and passionate denunciation. This is righteous anger.
  4. We ought to be careful before simply taking up Jesus angry tone for two reasons. First, he was able to see into their hearts and properly conclude as to the proper tactics necessary. We may not always be able to do this. Secondly, the wider Western culture in which many of us live may not be as prepared to accept such an angry tone. It may be a less effective tactic in our setting and  prudential judgment is a necessary precursor to using such tactics.

But in the end, anger is not, ipso facto, sinful or wrong. It is sometimes the proper and necessary response. We do well to be careful with our anger, for it is an unruly passion. We ought to see above all the fruit of the Spirit which is meekness and ask to Lord ot give us authority over our anger and a prudence as to its effective use.

 This video shows Jesus’ anger:

38 Responses

  1. CastingCrown says:

    My go-to verse on anger:

    “My dear brothers, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, for man’s anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires. Therefore, get rid of all moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent and humbly accept the word planted in you, which can save you.” – James 1:19-21

    • OK. But what of the other things mentioned on the article: Jesus anger, the place of righteous anger, MLKs example, the quotes from Chrysostom and Aquinas and the gift of meekness per Aristotle ??

  2. Nick says:

    Many people forget that the sins that cry out to Heaven anger God.

  3. Frank Weathers says:

    Thanks for this post Monsignor, and for the clarification as to the sinfulness (or not) of anger. And thanks for explaining fuller the meaning of meekness. I wrote a post that was much less satisfactory than yours, but along very similar lines, a few days ago. Because I’m Billy Jack (Not Francis of Assisi).

    Semper Fidelis

  4. Patt says:

    There is justified anger, but we must control the way in which we respond to it? That is my understanding.
    Thank you for the commentary, well done. It seems many get confused about it, especially those on the wrong end of it.

  5. tim says:

    look, i just went through this discussion in my mens spirituality group two days ago. there seems to be quite an issue with the difference in cultural meaning behind the idea of meekness in todays tolerant society and Christ’s day. what we ought to keep focus on, is that the Gospel, and for that matter all of scripture in it’s entirety, must be kept in focus while discerning the messages we take from scripture. to stand flat-footed shaking our heads against the idea that anger is sometimes necessary, and fruitful, is to give credence to those who would like to have us believe that scripture is full of inconsistencies. the issue here is never the reliability of any part of scripture, and we must realize that it lies in our own poor catechesis and the fact that we have not maintained our collective ability to understand the culture in which our Lord taught in the first century.

  6. Grandpa Tom says:

    Anger is a good source of energy when used for good, or it can bad. Chrysotom says: “He that is angry without cause shall be in danger; but he that is angry with cause, shall not be in danger: for without anger, teaching will be useless, judgements unstable, crimes unchecked. Therefore anger is not always an evil.” St. Thomas Aquinas says in Question 158 (Summa Theologica) in the ‘I answer that’ reply to the First Article: “If one is angry for the right reason, one’s anger is deserving of praise. When it is directed against vice and in accordance with reason, this anger is good and called ‘zealous anger.’ Anger is ‘sinful’ when vengeance, hate, or other desire for punishment, or harm is moved upon, because it is a desire for evil.”

    Anger and Wrath are listed among the 7 deadly sins.

    If you are angry, let it be without sin. The sun must not go down on your wrath; do not give the devil a chance to work on you (Ephesians 4:26-27).

    As a Combat Veteran, I know anger coupled with adrenaline can be good, and offer protection and power. A book titled “I can’t get over it (Aphrodite Matsakis, Ph.D.),” explains; Military training is itself a stressor. One of the goals of such training is to surrender to military authority, which entails some loss of a soldier’s sence of individuality. In general, the military encourages the numbing of most emotions except one; anger. In the military, anger is not only permitted, it is incouraged. You were given weapons and permission to kill and act out your aggressions ( Chptr. 17 War and Combat; P. 344-345).

    According to psychologist Carl Jung, every human has a persona; the face or mask he or she represents to the world, however every human also has a shadow, or darker side. Residing in this shadow are lust, greed, murderousness, and other socially unacceptable feelings. In combat the dark side is not only acknowledged, but encourged – if not glorified. Men are frequently rewarded for acting on aggressive or murderous feelings that would be unacceptable in civilian society.

  7. Joe says:

    I am only 23 years old so I ask that you bear with my youth. However, I have done some reflecting on anger because of my own personal experience with it and I have asked whether or not it was a sin many times. I agree wholeheartedly with the distinctions you make at the beginning of your post. However, I am not so convinced when it comes to saying that Jesus “exhibited a lot of anger in the Gospels.” Even in reading the accounts of the cleansing of the temple, his anger is never mentioned explicitly. I’m not saying it’s not there, I’m just saying that it is perhaps a quick jump to make. For me, when one chooses to act against something which has caused the internal anger, in order for it not to be a sin one must put aside that passion and act assertively but not aggressively. If anger remains in the action, no matter how just it may be, the action becomes aggressive and not assertive. I think it’s a fine line, as you mentioned, but even more important to discern in our culture because of the difficulties you mentioned. I also think the use of a video to prove that Jesus was angry is very weak, but it is an interesting way to reflect on that story. Finally, I’ve come across the following 3 things from Augustine that deal with anger and have helped my own reflection on the topic…

    “We must watch lest hatred of any one gain a hold upon the heart, and so not only hinder us from praying to God with the door of our chamber closed, Matthew 6:6 but also shut the door against God Himself; for hatred of another insidiously creeps upon us, while no one who is angry considers his anger to be unjust. For anger habitually cherished against any one becomes hatred, since the sweetness which is mingled with what appears to be righteous anger makes us detain it longer than we ought in the vessel, until the whole is soured, and the vessel itself is spoiled. Wherefore it is much better for us to forbear from anger, even when one has given us just occasion for it, than, beginning with what seems just anger against any one, to fall, through this occult tendency of passion, into hating him. We are wont to say that, in entertaining strangers, it is much better to bear the inconvenience of receiving a bad man than to run the risk of having a good man shut out, through our caution lest any bad man be admitted; but in the passions of the soul the opposite rule holds true. For it is incomparably more for our soul’s welfare to shut the recesses of the heart against anger, even when it knocks with a just claim for admission, than to admit that which it will be most difficult to expel, and which will rapidly grow from a mere sapling to a strong tree. Anger dares to increase with boldness more suddenly than men suppose, for it does not blush in the dark, when the sun has gone down upon it. Ephesians 4:26″
    Augustine, Letter 38

    For it comes from the righteous anger of God, whereof the Scriptures say, Man, that is born of woman, is of few days and full of anger: Job 14:1 for the anger of God is not like that of man, the disturbance of an excited man, but the calm fixing of righteous punishment.
    Augustine, Tractates on the Gospel of John (124 John 21:19-25)

    Nor is He enraged with a passion similar to human anger, but is angry, not in the sense of desiring vengeance, but in the peculiar sense of giving full effect to the sentence of a righteous retribution.
    Augustine, Contra Faustum, Book XXII

    I would love to hear more thoughts on this subject. Thanks for your post!

  8. Jon Zimmer says:

    Seen on a bumper sticker recently:

    “WWJD? [What would Jesus Do?] Get a whip and beat the **** out of some bankers!”

  9. Bob Hallahan says:

    Padre,

    Important topic, good to see people writing about it. Your brother & I have recently been talking about anger on my own site.

    I think it would be useful if you delved into the differences between anger’s power to motivate & inform action, and other emotions’ power to do the same. For instance, you credit anger toward civil injustice as a motivator to right action in opposition to that injustice. But I think that there is more there than just anger. Certainly anger can motivate action, but anger will fade; it is a transient emotion associated with all sorts of ill health and destructive results. Action taken through the motivation of anger will be unreliable, scattered, and disorganized. I suggest that there are forces more reliable on which to found action; I am thinking of compassion in particular. In our example, I would say that compassion for the victims of injustice, is the stronger and more reliable long-term motive for right action, than anger towards the injustice

    While I don’t deny the existence of anger, in our present over-agitated and over-aggressive world it is far more likely to be a cause of negative action than it is to be a cause of positive action. Therefore I think it more useful to recognize anger as a trigger, or an indicator of the need to do something. Exactly what that something is that needs doing, is probably better informed in a calmer state of mind.

    Cheers

    • Granted, anger alone is not usually as helpful as when it is coupled with other passions and emotions as well as thoughts. But the question before us was anger and if my posts get to long, people don’t read. However, comments such as yours go a long way to add to the discussion for people who wish to read more and I think you for your additions.

  10. Jon says:

    Msgr. Pope,

    I need to reconcile some of this with some of my previous “education” on anger.

    Have you ever read “How God Changes Your Brain” .. ? ( http://www.amazon.com/How-Changes-Your-Brain-Neuroscientist/dp/0345503414 )

    The book covers a range of topics, including the neurological effects of notions of God, religious practices, and anger. What concerns me is the raw scientific data to suggest that anger, even in “lesser” forms such as sarcasm, necessarily inhibits rational thought. And, I don’t disagree that anger itself is not inherently evil, not only because the emotion is often beyond our own control, but also as you stated, it is potentially the most “rational” response to gross injustices, offenses against God, etc. But, I think I’m in need of some further, Catholic, explanation — why is anger necessary, rather than sorrow or shock, for instance?

    When God (Jesus) displays His anger, he’s acting out of *perfect knowledge* — something humans do not possess. He knows the offense, inside and out, from all directions, as well as the effects His anger will have. When WE act out of anger, we act out of flawed knowledge, further inhibited by a mental state which “necessarily” inhibits rational thought. (according to a variety of studies cited in the book, which agree with observable reality and make sense in themselves) We have no idea what the situation looks like from the perspective of others, nor what the result of our anger will be.

    If memory serves, a portion of the brain, the anterior cingulate, effectively balances “power” between the frontal cortex and the “old brain”, the emotional center of the brain. For anger to occur, power (blood + energy ?) must be drawn away from the frontal cortex, the part the effectively does the *thinking* in the brain. The effect is multifold and generally destructive:

    * as already stated, a decreased ability for rational thought
    * hardens your stance by increasing self-confidence and confidence in your viewpoint
    * prevents you from detecting obvious flaws in reasoning (combination of first two effects)
    * decreased ability to recognize anger? (i *may* have made this one up — but i vaguely recall reading it in the book)
    * a weakening of the ability to resist anger in general
    * increased aggressiveness — makes you more likely to aggressively shove your now hardened, “unchangeable” opinion down your “opponent’s” throat

    In addition, the human brain is wired to respond to the emotions of others with like emotion. (mirror response??) Anger causes a neurological anger response in those you interact with. This could be especially detrimental in cases where the anger is initially mild.

    Given what I’ve learned thus far, I do not see any positive effects that anger can have on an individual with less than perfect knowledge. For one with perfect knowledge, I can see where a loud, aggressive action can send a strong signal. Though, these actions will have been founded on perfect knowledge, requiring no further rational thought: the viewpoint is correct from the start.

    For us lesser beings, we must be open to adjust our viewpoints as an argument or situation progresses. And since anger physically, chemically inhibits this ability, I’m not sure I can justify non-God beings submitting to anger. And even for God-beings, I doubt that a mirror-response of anger is typically the intention either. (it could be in some cases, I suppose)

    Could you give an example (or general rule?) in which a *person*, with their already limited knowledge, is truly *right* in submitting to anger?

    Again, I don’t necessarily disagree with you here. I need to reconcile the dissonance though …

    Perhaps anger is meant to serve solely as a signal? As flawed humans, perhaps we need to recognize anger as nothing more than a signal of a great offense. Perhaps we ought to assume that we’re not qualified to act in anger, and only force it to re-emerge once we’ve fully meditated on the outrage that caused it. (though, in doing so, I often find that my own anger isn’t justified … )

    Please help me understand.

    Thanks.

    • Jon says:

      … perhaps anger, in *pure* form, is the correct response to injustice. Human anger was perverted, and at present is [almost] always less than perfectly justified?

    • Yes, I am concerned that you may be over-analyzing anger a bit here and I’m a little lost in some of it. We are more than a brain on a stick and hence there are aspects of anger in the soul not just the brain, or so it would seem. I did mention in the article that before we adopt the “it’s OK to be angry cause Jesus got angry” argument, we have to remember that Jesus knew the inner motives etc. of his interlocutors. We do not. However I would avoid categorical statements such as “anger can never right” Finally I would not use the phrase “submit to anger” but rather would speak of directing the energy of our anger toward craetive solutions.

      • Jon says:

        I think the difficulty is this: I see my body as part of me. In the very least, it’s the representation of me and the “device” that I use to interact with others. And, although I don’t know precisely how the soul and body interact with each other, I know that a significant portion of my thinking and decision making is done in close cooperation with the body.

        For instance, the US military found that for an average sized man, the caffeine equivalent of two cups of [brewed] coffee is the ideal amount to enable a person to perform with peak mental power. (I find that about 1 1/2 cups is sufficient for me) So, after two cups of coffee’s worth of caffeine, the average man’s mental capacity and performance is at its peak. A person’s IQ is literally at its highest when it is affected by a certain level of caffeine. (roughly 220mg, I think)

        On the other end, it’s fairly well known that alcohol impedes mental capacity. It temporarily lowers IQ, inhibits inhibition, and leads to choices that would otherwise be decided differently. Despite a person’s soul being “separated” from the alcohol, since alcohol is physical and the soul is not, the person’s thoughts and decisions in this case are clearly a result of biological functions, rather than spiritual ones.

        Normally, these substances are introduced willingly, but as most of us know, not all mind-altering substances are willingly introduced into the body. And many substances *are* mind-altering which we may not realize. I say this to preemptively argue the point that the soul is choosing to yield some of its “power” to the body or that the body is simply reflecting decisions of the soul. It’s clear that external stimuli have the ability to unconsciously alter a person’s thoughts, feelings, and decisions. (without their consent) The catechism supports this conclusion by stating that the guilt of sin may be absent in cases where a sinful action is not “fully” or “consciously” chosen.

        So, without getting in much more *unnecessary* detail about the interactions between body and soul, it’s fairly clear (to me) that, for our purposes here, we can treat the brain is the “thinking” portion of a person. I don’t intend to deny that there is a soul, or that the soul has influence over the body and vice versa. But, it does seem clear to me that we can accurately treat the brain as a person’s “thought and decision center” without worrying too much about how it interacts with the soul, because we simply “know” that the brain ultimately decides our thoughts and actions. This can be verified with brain scans that show how certain neurological activities necessarily precede certain thoughts, feelings, and decisions.

        Just as the body is free to ignore a signal from the brain to move an arm, so too is the brain free to ignore the soul when it calls the flesh to think or feel a certain way.

        I apologize for the rambling. Here’s the point:

        The brain ultimately gets to decide what happens. When you combine that knowledge with the knowledge that anger cripples rational thought while increasing one’s confidence that they are thinking and action rationally, it seems immoral NOT to stifle anger, when possible. Doesn’t it?

        And, even if we take this out of the biological context. I know that other people share this experience with me–hence the Buddhist teaching: When I get angry, I seek to prove my point, prove my opponent wrong, and often use irrational arguments and insults that later serve only to embarrass me. That’s not to say I’m always wrong in these cases, even when I am right, I often sincerely regret my actions and statements in getting the point across. I often say things that would not have convinced a rational person, and are embarrassingly silly as I look back on them–even if my “opponent” never realizes how simple and stupid the winning argument was.

        In these cases, it’s clear that anger simply inhibited my ability to think clearly, act intelligently and morally. But, perhaps I’m confusing “intelligent” and “rational” with right and good?

        Is irrational, unintelligent zeal and aggression the “right” thing to do at times? (to send the signal, perhaps, that a severe offense has been made) But even if so, how does a person who is already inhibited by anger rationally decide whether a topic is important enough to get angry about? Doesn’t this sort of discretion require one to “leave” the anger and re-instill that anger if necessary?

        I’m not sure I am even capable of this … Not only subverting an already-present rage, but then reinstating it to send a well-needed message … ?

    • Joe says:

      Jon, I agree with a lot of things you said and are suggesting. I think some of those ideas are what I was trying to get at my earlier reply with the Augustine passages that I was thinking about and you just talked about it in a different light. When you ask “why is anger necessary, rather than sorrow or shock, for instance?” what are you thinking? My thought was that those are emotions too and need to be handled in a similar manner as anger, that is, carefully because they too have the ability to inhibit our rational thought. In Scripture, for example, it says, “For godly sorrow produces a salutary repentance without regret, but worldly sorrow produces death.” (2 Cor 7:10). Is this what you were thinking or meant by that question?

      Next, I like your distinction between God’s anger that comes from perfect knowledge and human anger which has a flawed characteristic. However, I think this is why we, as Christians, would say there is a need for prayer. Like Bob suggested above, turning our anger into compassion seems like a good strategy. I would argue that this is what prayer helps us do. Through prayer, we unite ourselves to God’s compassion, we can begin to see the situation from another perspective and it can help correct our flawed knowledge. As to knowing the “result of our anger”, if there is the mirror effect that you talk about then isn’t that why it would be critical to act compassionately? Granted we can’t know the result of our compassion but if we have the choice between the two wouldn’t it be best to come down on compassion’s side? I agree that there are probably no positive effects that anger can have on an individual with less than perfect knowledge, but perhaps anger is the test we are given in order to exercise compassion more perfectly? Thus, I agree with your “signal” idea and compassion is what makes the difference between the Christian response to anger and that of any man who considers his anger just. (“No one who is angry considers his anger to be unjust” –Augustine).

      I think I would disagree with you that when God, or one with perfect knowledge, acts on or with anger that it is necessarily a loud/aggressive action. I would use words like firm or assertive because I think it is a thin line between assertive and aggressive but that line makes all the difference as you pointed out in your second reply. I like the saying that “you can be right all the way to hell” because I think it shows the importance of how we present what is right, whether it’s aggressive and with anger, or assertive with compassion. I don’t think irrational, unintelligent zeal is ever the right thing to do and that’s why I think it is important to distinguish between anger and zeal, since the former is not used but the latter is, in the cleansing of the temple but I would ask for some direction there as to what distinguishes them.

      Really good stuff that you’re saying and I enjoy thinking about it. Thanks.

  11. Doctor Victoria A. Howard, Anchoress says:

    People who never get angry about anything don’t stand for anything. If you are angry with your brother out of envy, you are a sinner. If you are angry about your brother’s sins and want to help him to change his ways, then you care about him. Sometimes one must exhibit emotion, the emotion of anger, to get anything right to happen.

  12. Bill says:

    Anger is a perfectly natural human emotion. It is how we handle that anger that makes us who we are. Anger can cause us to sin should we fail to control ourselves.

  13. Vijaya says:

    Good post. I struggle with this being a mother … my kids make me angry, very angry, in fact. But I find that they also listen and obey and behave much better when there is an expression of that anger. Anger also gets us up and makes us do something about the evil in this world.

    But uncontrolled … it is evil and can lead to destruction.

    For many who have fallen away from the Church, and one man in particular, it is this wrath of God that is the stumbling block. Esp. in the Old Testament, it is full of God’s wrath as he punishes his chosen people who stray from the righteous path. It’s total annihilation, save for those few who are good. He shows no mercy. So how do I explain to him that God is merciful? That that was then … and this is now. Things changed after Jesus came on scene. The tone of the Bible is different, but the New builds upon the Old and it is still the same God. I am unable to explain and he does not want to go to church and listen to a priest who would be able to explain better. Neither does he want to read books that could help him.

  14. G. Booker says:

    Monsignor Pope,

    Very nicely done. Jesus Christ never tells us to bend over and take it. One of my favorite passages is when Jesus is struck by the guard and Jesus stands his ground questioning the guard.

    Please note: during the cleansing of the temple, the Gospels never mention “anger”. It does mention zeal! I believe there is a world of difference in those words.

    Peace, G

  15. Diane at Te Deum Laudamus says:

    Monsignor,

    Good topic.

    I would like to throw this out for thoughts…

    Alphonsus (chapter 8: love is not prone to anger)

    Still, as we all know, there are times when it seems absolutely necessary to answer insolence with severity. Occasions do occur when we may resort to righteous anger. But this we must remember: It may sometimes be expedient – speculatively speaking – to answer someone severely; but in practice it is very difficult to do so without some fault on our part.

    We should take great care to practice meekness, especially when we are corrected, either by those who hold authority over us, or by our friends. Saint Francis de Sales writes: “To receive a correction cheerfully proves that we love the virtue in which we have failed. And, consequently, this is an indication of growth in holiness”. We should even practice meekness toward ourselves in this case. Anger at ourselves is a deceit of the Devil to make us think that it is somehow virtuous to act in this way after we have committed a fault.

    Gentleness is even more important when we must correct others. Corrections made in anger often do more harm than good, especially when the person corrected is also excited. In such a case, the correction should be postponed. If we correct others when we are angry ourselves, our correction will always be mixed with harshness, and the person being corrected will, consequently, ignore our admonition.

    We must prove how dearly we love Jesus Christ by meekly and gladly accepting every kind of injury and contempt.

  16. Matt M. says:

    I came across your article as I prepared my lesson on Ephesians 4 (Sunday School lesson; I’m a Baptist). Just wanted to say that I appreciate the articulate way you worked through the issues. You were thorough enough to leave the reader well satiated and yet short enough that even someone like me with ADD could read it.

    My favorite philosophical statement is by Augustine. “Adoration of God is both necessary and sufficient for the avoidance of sin”. If your anger toward something displays your adoration of God in a way that honors Him, you probably are following Paul’s words (and Psalm 4), “be angry and do not sin”.

    That’s a target I miss more frequently than I hit… much more.

    Thank you for sharing your wisdom :~)

  17. Dale says:

    I am dealing with a vicious, thieving woman at work who, despite her awful and often horrendously wicked behavior, almost sociopathically so, she’ll claim she is a Catholic. She has driven me back to my psychiatrist.
    I, following the teachings of 1st John to NOT PRAY for certain deliberate practicers of sin,
    do not regard this woman as my sister in Christ and, since she is practicing wicked, mortal sin, arrogantly and with no remorse let alone repentance, do not regard her as a child of God as she, by her horrendous LONGTIME course of evil behavior and robbing of her co-workers (repeated Sin that Cries to Heaven for Vengeance) has clearly driven the Holy Spirit out of her life, which means the EVIL spirit has come it.
    If you practice wickedness without repentance, you are NOT a child of God anymore, and Christ said so
    over and over again.
    Still, I have enrolled this horrendous person in the Seraphic Mass Association to have her prayed for daily
    and have had masses offered for her.
    But I confess that for my, and my coworkers, peace of mind, I **am** praying for God to cause her to get a physical problem (such as a popped kneecap or something) so that she CANNOT any longer work with us (they won’t fire her) and CANNOT anymore steal from us and instead be confined to a desk job or something.
    What she has done warrants arrest hundreds of times over, but I do NOT want THAT to happen to her.
    But she makes me so angry, nearly all the time, that my eyeballs feel like they are on fire.

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