Something happened today that made me really angry. Not the "this frustrating situation is more than mildly annoying to me, but I'm sure it will get resolved in time" sort of upset, nor the "I don't quite understand why that person felt the need to say such a hurtful and inappropriate thing, but I'm sure I've done worse in my life, so I'll do my Christian best to forgive them their trespasses" kind of mad -- no, those both happened a little earlier in this week not quite from heaven. Today's situation was a true injustice that brought about more of a "Don't mess with this Catholic!" response from deep within me. This caused me to reflect on the role of emotions, and anger in particular, in the life of a Christian and whether our anger can be compatible with a life of grace and virtue.
Josef Pieper, a 20th century German Catholic philosopher, spoke of St. Thomas Aquinas actually relating just wrath to the virtue of fortitude. In his book, The Four Cardinal Virtues, Pieper shared this interesting insight:
“The fact, however, that [St.] Thomas assigns to (just) wrath a positive relation to the virtue of fortitude has become largely unintelligible and unacceptable to present-day Christianity and its non-Christian critics. This lack of comprehension may be explained partly by the exclusion, from Christian ethics, of the component of passion (with its inevitably physical aspect) as something alien and incongruous—an exclusion due to a kind of intellectual stoicism—and partly by the fact that the explosive activity which reveals itself in wrath is naturally repugnant to good behavior regulated by ‘bourgeois’ standards. So Thomas, who is equally free from both these errors, says: The brave man uses wrath for his own act, above all in attack, ‘for it is peculiar to wrath to pounce upon evil. Thus fortitude and wrath work directly upon each other.’” (Josef Pieper, The Four Cardinal Virtues, p. 130)In other words, while modern Christians tend to reject anger as unacceptable in the realm of morality and ethics, this view is inconsistent with the bigger picture of the Christian moral principles, which makes a very clear link between courage and the ability to harness a justified anger to combat evil and work for truth and right. When a person sees that a great good is being threatened and is difficult to preserve, the moral virtue of fortitude helps to arm that person in spiritual combat and sometimes necessitates use of a righteous anger. When tempered by appropriate zeal, charity, and the right limitations of balanced reason, anger can go beyond being merely justifiable, but can even be seen as praiseworthy. Of course, anger can become sinful "when it is sought to wreak vengeance upon one who has not deserved it, or to a greater extent than it has been deserved, or in conflict with the dispositions of law, or from an improper motive" (New Advent).
So I guess what I've taken from all of this is that anger, even justifiable anger, needs to be accompanied by sincere prayer in the hopes of directing that anger toward heroic and virtuous action, rather than negative (and possibly sinful) reaction. So we can go from this:
Easier said than done, right?
Let's all pray for one another as we journey along the path to conquering vice and growing in virtue -- a path wrought with joys and sorrows, victories and injustices, giving us daily opportunities for redemption and transformation into the people God made us to be.
Peace and all good,