Friday, May 19, 2017

Wrath and its daughters


We’ve examined lust and its daughters.  Turning to another of the seven deadly sins, let’s consider wrath.  Like lust, wrath is the distortion of a passion that is in itself good.  Like lust, it can become deeply habituated, and even a source of a kind of perverse pleasure in the one who indulges it.  (Hence the neologism “rageaholic.”)  And like lust, it can as a consequence severely impair reason.  Aquinas treats the subject in Summa Theologiae II-II.158 and Question XII of On Evil.  (Relevant material can also be found in the treatment of the passion of anger in Summa Theologiae I-II.46-48.)

Now, anger per se is not bad; on the contrary, it is natural to us, and good.  It serves the function of moving us to correct injustices, broadly construed.  We are angry with murderers, thieves, and other criminals because we know they have inflicted undeserved harm on others.  Anger moves us to redress this disordered state of affairs by stopping evildoers from committing further crimes, taking from them their ill-gotten gains, inflicting punitive harms that cancel out the psychological and material benefits they have already acquired from their evildoing, and so forth. 

We are also angry at actions that are less grave than such crimes are but that are still in a general sense unjust.  For example, someone cuts you off on the freeway or insults you, and you are naturally angry because the person unjustly endangered you or characterized you in a pejorative way that in your judgment you do not merit.  Your child refuses to eat his vegetables or do his homework, and you are naturally angry because he is not doing what is good for him and not submitting to your legitimate authority over him.  The anger in these cases, no less than in the case of anger at criminal offenses, is directed at injustice in the broad sense of a disorder in things, of things not being the way they ought to be.  Anger is nature’s way of prodding you to do something to set things right.

As Aquinas says in On Evil, quoting St. John Chrysostom, “if there be no anger, teaching is bootless, the judicial process undermined, and crimes unchecked.”  Accordingly, Aquinas concludes, “some anger is good and necessary” (p. 373, Regan translation).  The absence of anger in cases where it is called for is, for that reason, a moral defect, and a habit or tendency to respond to injustices with insufficient anger is a vice.  As Aquinas writes in the Summa:

Anger… [is] a simple movement of the will, whereby one inflicts punishment, not through passion, but in virtue of a judgment of the reason: and thus without doubt lack of anger is a sin

Hence the movement of anger in the sensitive appetite cannot be lacking altogether, unless the movement of the will be altogether lacking or weak. Consequently lack of the passion of anger is also a vice, even as the lack of movement in the will directed to punishment by the judgment of reason

The lack of anger is a sign that the judgment of reason is lacking.

End quote.  The sin Aquinas speaks of is manifest today in those who are excessively lenient toward criminals, those who are suspicious of the very idea of punishment, those whose knee-jerk response to even the most horrific crimes is always to talk only of forgiveness and mercy whether or not the evildoer is repentant, and so forth.  Such a reflexive attitude is not the Christian attitude but rather a crude caricature of the Christian attitude.    

What Christianity condemns, and what Aquinas condemns, is not anger per se but rather the opposite vice of excess where anger is concerned.  Anger becomes disordered and sinful when the passion is so strong that it overwhelms reason, when the punishment the angry person seeks to inflict on the evildoer is out of proportion to the offense, when the person at whom one is angry is in fact innocent of injustice, when the angry person acts out of hatred rather than justice, and so forth.  And habituation to disordered anger is a vice. 

If deficiency in anger is common today, excess is of course no less common.  Bizarrely, the defect and the excess sometimes exist in one and the same person.  Consider that curious character familiar from modern political life, the militant pacifist.  For even the worst murderers and dictators, he has nothing but compassion.  Their sins, he assures us, are regrettable but understandable – a result of bad upbringing or weakness of will, an overreaction to social injustice or American imperialism, or what have you.  In sharp contrast, for defenders of capital punishment or just war, the militant pacifist has nothing but venom.  He attributes to them only the basest motives – bloodthirstiness, hatred, political calculation, war profiteering, and so forth. 

It never occurs to him how deeply irrational and incoherent is this combination of attitudes.  For example, if the militant pacifist is going to try his best to show mercy to and understand the motives of murderers and the like, how much more should he show mercy and understanding to defenders of capital punishment?  (“They mean well, they’re just misguided!”)  Or if he is peremptorily going to condemn the latter as hateful and bloodthirsty, how much more peremptorily should he condemn those who kill innocent people? 

(My favorite example of this sort of incoherence is the sentiment sometimes expressed by critics of the doctrine of hell to the effect that the only people who deserve to go to hell are people who think some people deserve to go to hell.  Since critics who say that are thereby acknowledging that they themselves think some people deserve hell – namely those who think some people deserve it – these critics are implicitly including themselves among those worthy of hell!)

Illumination is provided by Aquinas’s account of the daughters of the vice of wrath – the further disorders of the soul which follow upon disordered anger – of which there are six.  The first two have to do with disorders of thought, the next three with disorders of speech, and the last with disorders of action.  (See Summa Theologiae II-II.158.7 and On Evil XII.5.)

The first daughter is what Aquinas calls “indignation,” which (as Aquinas says in the Summa) is directed at “the person with whom a man is angry, and whom he deems unworthy” (emphasis added).  In On Evil, Aquinas adds that “angry persons contemplating the harm inflicted on them magnify the injustice in their minds” (p. 387).  The idea here seems to be that a person habituated to wrath tends to turn over and over in his mind the notions of how depraved are the people against whom he is angry and how grave are their imagined injustices.  He creates fantasy enemies who are more evil in their character and their actions than any real world opponents are, and directs his rage at the latter while mistaking them for the former.

The second daughter is what Aquinas refers to in the Summa as “swelling of the mind,” and in On Evil he says that this is manifest in angry persons who “mull over different ways and means whereby they can avenge themselves.”  Whereas indignation focuses on the imagined depravity of the objects of one’s anger, swelling of the mind focuses on the harms that might be inflicted on these supposed evildoers. 

The third daughter of wrath is referred to by Aquinas in the Summa as “’clamor,’ which denotes disorderly and confused speech.”  Think of the person who is so filled with rage that he cannot get a coherent thought or line of argument out, but simply rants uncontrollably.

The fourth daughter of wrath is “contumely” or harsh and insulting language.  Think of the person so consumed by anger that he characterizes his enemies in unjust and uncharitable ways.  Contumely is essentially the verbal expression of what Aquinas calls the wrathful person’s “indignation” and “swelling of mind.”  (Note that, just as anger is not per se bad, neither is harsh or insulting speech per se bad.  Christ famously characterized the Pharisees as “a brood of vipers” and “whited sepulchers.”  What is bad is harsh or insulting language that is unmerited and/or flows from excessive passion rather than reason.)

The fifth daughter of wrath is blasphemy.  Like contumely, it involves a kind of injurious speech, but in this case directed toward God rather than other human beings.  (Needless to say, this daughter will follow from disordered anger only if God is the object of the anger.)

The sixth daughter of wrath is “quarreling.”  The wrathful person, naturally, is prone to give expression to his disorders of thought not only in his speech, but also by picking fights with various enemies or imagined enemies. 

Now, as with lust, wrath and its daughters are associated with pleasure, and as with lust, this pleasure has a tendency to “lock” or “glue” the person exhibiting the vice onto his disordered behavior.  This is harder to see in the case of wrath than in the case of lust, because anger is directed toward the rectification of perceived injustice, and the perception of injustice is unpleasant.  However, the hope of rectifying injustice is pleasant.  As Aquinas writes, “anger is always accompanied by hope, wherefore it causes pleasure” and “the movement of anger has a… tendency… to vengeance… which it desires and hopes for as being a good, wherefore it takes pleasure in it.”  What Aquinas calls “indignation,” “swelling of the mind,” contumely and the like can therefore be pleasant, and thus addictive to the one exhibiting them, deeply habituating his tendency toward disordered anger.

Taking account of the daughters of wrath, it is easy to see why the sort of person I have called the “militant pacifist” exhibits such non-pacific behavior.  Anger, if one is not careful, can become disordered whatever its object.  This is as true of people whose anger is directed toward capital punishment, war, or the like as it is of people angry over any other perceived injustice.  With the “militant pacifist,” though, we get the paradoxical result that someone angry over what he regards as disordered anger in others comes himself to exhibit disordered anger precisely toward those others.  He might become so obsessed with his cause that he falls into “indignation” in Aquinas’s sense, constructing in his mind a phantom enemy that is far more sinister than the real world people who disagree with him.  He is led thereby into “clamor” and “contumely,” hurling insults and ranting and raving rather than soberly addressing the arguments of his opponents.  And so forth.

Indeed, the “militant pacifist” may, ironically, be more prone to fall victim to the daughters of wrath than other people are.  The reason is this.  Anger, again, is in itself good and natural to us.  It is nature’s way of getting us to redress injustice by punishing evildoers.  Now, some injustices are so extremely grave that nothing less than death would be a proportionate punishment.  And some evildoers are so dangerous that nothing less than war can effectively counter them.  Unsurprisingly, then, large numbers of people continue to support capital punishment and to believe that war is sometimes necessary to deal with evil regimes.  Even in countries that have long ago abolished capital punishment, opinion polls sometimes show that a majority still support it, despite decades of propaganda directed against it.

In light of these facts, opponents of capital punishment, war, and the like are bound to be tempted to conclude that enormous numbers of their fellow citizens are simply depraved.  (It does not occur to them that what is in fact going on is that widespread continued support for the death penalty and for just war reflects a residual grasp of the demands of the natural law.)  Frustrated by the persistence and popularity of attitudes they regard as immoral, those of what I am calling a “militant pacifist” mindset are bound to become even angrier at these perceived injustices – with a spiral into wrath and its daughters being the sequel.

Moreover, precisely because the militant pacifist’s position is always bound to be a minority view (contrary as it is to human nature), it is tempting for the militant pacifist to think of himself as possessing greater virtue than most people.  In particular, he is bound to think of himself as more merciful, more compassionate, more understanding than the great unwashed.  Such self-righteousness can be intoxicating, and contribute to the sense of being “superior” that Aquinas, in On Evil, says is part of the psychology of “indignation” (p. 387).

Finally, precisely because he is so militantly opposed to the purported disordered anger of others, the militant pacifist is deluded into thinking that he, of all people, cannot be subject to that particular vice.  He is utterly blind to the mercilessness and hatred he directs toward those whom he regards as merciless and hateful.

43 comments:

  1. Am I alone in conjuring images of a breaded, rotond, Catholic commentator while reading this post?

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    1. Not sure i want to picture him 'breaded' lol!

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  2. This is great Ed, but I think it can be enhanced by adding ideology to the mix: as Voegelin showed us, an ideology is an attempt to substitute a dreamworld for reality. The anger of ideologues is exacerbated by the fact that their project is impossible and thus is always failing: if they do not want to abandon their ideology, they must find a scapegoat. It is NOT that the ideology is a futile fantasy: the problem is "capitalists" or "Jews" or "intellectuals" or "Christians" who evilly stand in the way of creating heaven on earth.

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  3. Ed,
    I have used the phrase "militant pacifist" for several years in my classes to describe these people, in contrast to pacifists of the Amish type. One militant pacifist professor, now at a different university, apparently has a Jesus/Che Guevara poster. How he reconciles this with his supposed pacifism, I have no idea. Did you come across the phrase "militant pacifist" anywhere?

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  4. Hi Anon,

    I guess I need to add the disclaimer that any resemblance to any actual person, living or dead, is in no way coincidental.

    Hi Gene,

    Yes, I agree that ideological thinking plays a big role in the specific sort of example I was describing (i.e. the behavior of the "militant pacifist" personality type). For purposes of this particular post, though, I wanted to focus on the paradox of someone who opposes wrath in a way that is itself wrathful -- that is to say, on the dubious manner in which he defends his position, rather than the dubious content of it (which is where ideology comes in).

    Hi Tim,

    No, I just came up with the term -- great minds think alike and all that! -- and I'm not completely satisfied with it, since someone might be of the personality type I'm describing even if he is not a strict pacifist (e.g. even if he thinks CP or war might in very rare cases be justifiable). So I mean "pacifist" somewhat loosely (to include people who at least strongly tend in the direction of favoring pacifist-type policies).

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  5. In both this and the vice of lust, I sense the pattern of pride popping up. I suppose this is why pride is said to be the greatest sin.

    I do hope you will provide writings on the pride and the other sins as well.

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  6. Now, anger per se is not bad; on the contrary, it is natural to us, and good.

    I understand the analysis where wrath is evil because it is excessive, whereas anger in good measure is good. Only it does not fit with the reality of life as I experience it. There has never been a case where I didn’t come to be sorry for my thoughts, words, and deeds under the influence of anger. In my life anger is the most common face of the deceiver. It always diminishes my love for the person I am angered with, and I have then to work to bring back the love I lost. I don’t recall a single case where something good – such as the correction of some injustice – came out from my being angry with somebody. On the contrary I have often found out that I have myself been unjust in my anger against others. Even in those cases that I felt angry at myself nothing good came out of it. In those cases I did correct some injustice it was not anger but the love of God that moved me. Anger, hatred, fear, and envy directed at my neighbor – these are all acids to my soul. Thank God I have next to no hatred or fear and only little envy – but anger often clouds my mind.

    without doubt lack of anger is a sin

    Well I say one must resort to much self-convincing to not find lack of anger in Christ’s life as described in the gospels. Even His throwing out the merchants from the Temple (if that is a historical event and not a later symbolic account) does not strike me as being driven by anger. And there is of course Christ’s moral teaching which is as explicit as can get. For example “But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment” in Matthew 7:22. Not to mention the beatitudes where He blesses the meek, and those who hunger for righteousness, and the merciful, and the peacemakers.

    It seems to me that Aquinas was certainly a very learned and clever person, but I have the feeling he put his intellect not exclusively in the service of the Light of creation who is Christ.

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    1. Mark 3:5 says that Jesus looked "at them with anger." God's anger is mentioned in Rom 5:9; 9:22; 12:19; 13:4,5; Eph 5:6; Col 3:6 and other places. The issue is more complicated than you suggest.

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    2. Tim Finlay,

      Please consider the whole sentence as well as the context: ”He looked around at them with anger; he was grieved at their hardness of heart” So He looked at them with anger but what He felt was sorrow for them. In the original Greek the verb “sillypamai” means being sad with somebody, in this case the priests and Pharisees who put the letter and the law above the love. And what He did in the next instant was to ignore their theory and help the needy neighbor.

      Christ is our model and I think this story gives us a very good idea of how the perfected human reacts to evil and injustice and hypocricy: Anger at the deed that mars God’s creation, but sadness for the weak evildoer.

      Come to think of it I would like to correct what I wrote before. It is good to feel anger at the evil deed but it is bad to feel anger, the slightest anger, at the fellow human. It is not only bad for it produces bad fruit – I think on the right metaphysics it is incoherent. But when we today speak of “anger” we almost always mean anger at people. See for example what Feser writes in the paragraph where he argues that anger is not always bad: “We are angry with murderers, thieves, and other criminals” That anger I say is always bad. Now is it humanly possible to be angry with the murder but not with the murderer? I would say that no, in our fallen state it is not. Speaking for myself if somebody killed a person I love I would be very angry indeed at her. But the ideal towards which we should strive is to be like Christ. Christ calls us to do what is impossible in our current state. It is a fair deal: “Do you wish to be with Me? Then be like I am.”

      Finally I submit that “anger at a deed” is actually a different experience than “anger at a person”. The first drives one to do something positive to help, the second drives one to negative thoughts and words and to punishing behavior, and sometimes to violence. The difference is sometimes subtle. I remember I once felt angry and hit my daughter – but that was an immediate reaction to her doing something that could have physically and seriously harmed her. Was the anger I felt directed at her or at the dangerous thing she had just done? I suppose both. But I did not hit her because of my anger, but because of my love and care for her. I practically never hit her, and I wanted her to register how serious her mistake in this case was. My hitting her was not meant as punishment but as a lesson. The relation between parent and offspring is a special relation anyway. Not entirely different than the relation between God and humankind.

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    3. Moderns, I think, are continually conflating anger with hate, although they are not the same thing. You may hate the sin, but must love the sinner. But anger has a formal and a material aspect. It is a desire for revenge and a disturbance of the blood around the heart -- an Aristotelian observation borne out by modern physiology. It would hardly seem just to hold a man guilty for a natural physiological response; only for entertaining it and nurturing it, for allowing it to outrun reason to the point where the vengeance is inordinate -- too great for the offense or carried out by one unauthorized by law to do so.

      As Aquinas points out, anger is always directed at a deed, never at a person. It is one of the four markers distinguishing anger from hate. (De malo, XII)

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    4. And yet ...
      "Hate the sin, love the sinner," right? Punish the sin, but don't punish the sinner? Deal with the crime harshly, but leniently with the criminal?
      This is not just a problem with our fallen state; our words and actions come from what we are and help to make us what we are. Yes, we are angry with the criminal; how do you punish a theft once it has happened? You punish the thief.

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  7. Ed, that quote is from Homily XI in the Opus Imperfectum, which was mistakenly attributed to John Chrysostum. From a cursory search on "anger" in the Church Fathers, it seems that Chrysostom, Cassian and the Eastern Fathers seem to be more opposed in general to anger than are Lactantius and Augustine in the Latin tradition.

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  8. Hi Ed. Thanks for the fascinating article. From my very layman's perspective, I have to admit I do wonder if the article does perhaps overemphasize the supposed good parts of anger. Christ obviously says, "But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to a brother or sister, 'Raca,' is answerable to the court. And anyone who says, 'You fool!' will be in danger of the fire of hell." I'm not really sure how to reconcile that with the commentary above. I had a quick read of what I could find in the Catechism on this topic. I do find it hard to believe that anger at someone who cuts you off in the traffic is really good! Aren't we supposed to turn the other cheek to something like that? Thanks Ed.

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  9. Good Day Dianelos,

    You said:

    Well I say one must resort to much self-convincing to not find lack of anger in Christ’s life as described in the gospels. Even His throwing out the merchants from the Temple (if that is a historical event and not a later symbolic account) does not strike me as being driven by anger. And there is of course Christ’s moral teaching which is as explicit as can get. For example “But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment” in Matthew 7:22. Not to mention the beatitudes where He blesses the meek, and those who hunger for righteousness, and the merciful, and the peacemakers.

    First, let me just say that Christ shows anger in more places than just the clearing of the temple. For example, when he calls the Jews "Sons of the Devil" (John 8:44), or calls Peter "Satan" (Matthew 15:23), or calls the Scribes "serpents" and "vipers" (Matthew 23), it seems fairly clear that there is righteous anger there.

    But more importantly, I find your claim above rather telling in that you try to undermine the clearing of the temple incident, which is an obvious counterpart to your whole "anger is a sin" narrative, by subtly offering the idea that maybe the clearing of the temple was not a historical incident. But the funny thing is, two can play at that game. After all, perhaps I have good reasons to think that the beatitudes are not historical, and that the clearing of the temple is much more in-line with who Jesus really was. Thus, it is Jesus the Temple-Clearer who is the best manifestation of Jesus, not Jesus meek and mild.

    My point is that I often see people subtly undermine parts of the gospel that they do not like, which is something that you seem to be doing in this case. Be very careful with this strategy. Because if you can do it one way, I can do it in another way, and that way might be in a manner that you really do not like.

    Cheers,

    Damian Michael

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  10. Good Day Comment and Dianelos,

    You both mentioned this point in your comments:

    ...Christ obviously says, "But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to a brother or sister, 'Raca,' is answerable to the court. And anyone who says, 'You fool!' will be in danger of the fire of hell."...

    Re-read those verses again. Notice that nowhere does Christ say that the person who does these things will surely go to hell. Rather, the person will be subject to judgement and the court. Why? Because the court will determine if the person's anger was justified / proportionate or not. That is why the person is "in danger" of the fire of hell, but he is not surely being sent there.

    Think of it like this. A cop who uses force to arrest a person will be subject to judgement. He will be answerable to the court. And he is in danger of going to jail for his actions. But he will only go to jail if the force he used was excessive and unjustified. If, instead, the force was both justified and proportionate to the threat, then the cop will be found innocent by the court. Well, it is the same thing with anger and judgement.

    So, Christ's words in this case do nothing to support your point. In fact, given that Christ himself got angry and essentially called people fools, and yet given that Christ did not sin, then this combination of facts obviously seems to support my contention, which is that anger will make you liable to judgement, but that does not necessarily mean that your anger will be found as being sinful.

    Cheers,

    Damian Michael

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  11. Hey Dianelos,

    This is my last comment for a while, but I just wanted to reply to this:

    I understand the analysis where wrath is evil because it is excessive, whereas anger in good measure is good. Only it does not fit with the reality of life as I experience it. There has never been a case where I didn’t come to be sorry for my thoughts, words, and deeds under the influence of anger. In my life anger is the most common face of the deceiver. It always diminishes my love for the person I am angered with, and I have then to work to bring back the love I lost. I don’t recall a single case where something good – such as the correction of some injustice – came out from my being angry with somebody. On the contrary I have often found out that I have myself been unjust in my anger against others. Even in those cases that I felt angry at myself nothing good came out of it. In those cases I did correct some injustice it was not anger but the love of God that moved me. Anger, hatred, fear, and envy directed at my neighbor – these are all acids to my soul. Thank God I have next to no hatred or fear and only little envy – but anger often clouds my mind.

    Obviously, I cannot speak to your experiences, nor do I know your background, but my speculation -- and speculation is all it is at this point -- is that perhaps your life has been a little too sheltered if you have never found anger useful or if anger never brought about something good in your life.

    In my own past experiences working in law enforcement, for example, let's just say that anger was often the fuel that kept me working past the point of fatigue and exhaustion because I wanted to catch a particular sexual predator or criminal. And anger was the thing that drove me to push out an extra sprint and tackle the domestic-abuser who was running from me and was about to get away.

    Love of justice is excellent in the abstract, but when you are actually physically fighting with evil people who are fighting back at you, anger -- not rage, but anger -- is the actual fuel that helps bring about justice.

    So, for me, anger has brought about a great deal of good, and I thank God that he gave me that emotion. After all, sometimes you just have to clear out the temple, and only anger will help you do that.

    Cheers,

    Damian Michael

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    1. All good points. I especially liked the examples of anger moving you to act in furtherance of justice. That shows the moving power of e-motions. I also find it to be strange that we can't be angry at an evildoer, only his actions. After all, I love people, especially family members and close friends, not just because they are in God's image, or my relatives, but in part what they do, the kind of character they have and so on. I don't just love those good deeds they do, but them for their deeds as well. The same should hold with anger at evil deeds by evil people. Of course, we'd prefer mercy, but that's beside the point here.

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    2. To love is to wish the good for someone. We wish the evil-doers also get what's good for them; viz., that they be caught and prevented from doing further evils.

      One of the things that Catholics ought to realize is that not only do bad things happen to good people, but that good people may wind up doing bad things despite themselves. And vice versa. Winter Aid, a program to deliver food and coal to people who were cold and hungry in Bavaria was instituted and carried out by the National Socialist Party, whom we normally think of as evil-doers.

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    3. Hi Damian, thank you for the good comments.

      I was thinking about the Christian scripture. Christ Himself did not write down a single word, a significant fact that deserves more discussion. The oldest documents that we possess were written about a generation after Christ’s passing. Actually it is doubtful that we have a single document by somebody who knew Christ personally. We can only be confident that several or many of Christ’s sayings have come down to us in their original form, because in that time it was customary to memorize such sayings and repeat them at sermons, and probably some lists of sayings were written down. All other written testimony that has come down to us has been written in the context of a nascent church of great dynamism and power – and their end was soteriological, administrative and political, not historical.

      How then should we read Christian scripture? I think we should read it in the way we listen to music: by its power to move on our soul. Our soul was created by the same person Christian scripture is about, and as it were it recognizes its master’s voice and moves in joy. At the same time we should consider scripture only as a stepping stone into our life in Christ. For if Christianity is true then Christ is present and working in His church. With infinite power and infinite gentleness.

      One more thing. You write: “anger will make you liable to judgment, but that does not necessarily mean that your anger will be found as being sinful.

      Point well taken. Now we all agree there is divine judgment – even though it’s a big discussion what exactly it consists of. Let me only point out that elsewhere Christ warns us against being judged. I am referring to the famous ”Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and the measure you give will be the measure you get.” in Matthew 7. What comes out clearly from this passage is that divine judgment is different than what goes on in our courts of law. In the latter you have specific rules: the law of land. In divine judgment how one has judged others defines the rules by which one will be judged. Which is a momentously important revelation. Not only for Christian soteriology, but also I’d say for Christian metaphysics. Our relation to our neighbor appears to be part of the very fabric of reality.

      So what is divine judgment? In a nutshell I would say that divine judgment is the enforcement of the metaphysical law which keeps us far from heaven. Now on the one hand divine judgment should be considered a good thing since in it divine justice is realized, but from one’s own point of view it is a bad thing for it keeps one away from heaven. Thus it is certainly best to live in a way that does not subject one to stern divine judgment :-)

      Cheers,

      Dianelos

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    4. "The oldest documents that we possess were written about a generation after Christ’s passing. Actually it is doubtful that we have a single document by somebody who knew Christ personally."
      It is quite certain that we have several documents by writers who knew Christ personally - Matthew, John, Peter, James and Jude. Also Paul, if we believe his story about meeting Christ Himself personally on the road to Damascus, and then later being instructed by Him in the desert. Which, why wouldn't you?
      The earliest New Testament writing is generally held to be I Thessalonians, about 42 A.D., so half a generation after Christ. And Luke specifically states that his purpose is to give an account of the events, so even if his purpose, like Plutarch's, was pedagogical, his approach was historical.
      Can't say it looks like you're reading the Scriptures the way the Church does.

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    5. @ thefederalist,

      ”It is quite certain that we have several documents by writers who knew Christ personally - Matthew, John, Peter, James and Jude.”

      It is unlikely that any of the gospels or epistles were written by eyewitnesses of the incarnated Christ, see here. But Christ Himself did not write down a single word kind of signaling that the written word is not that important. An in any case what speaks for scripture is the truth it contains not who the author was.

      Several of Paul’s epistles are genuine though, so we have much that was written by somebody who personally knew several of Christ’s closest disciples including Peter.

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    6. But Christ Himself did not write down a single word kind of signaling that the written word is not that important.

      What a coincidence. We don't have a single word written by Socrates, either. Plotinus was actively hostile to writing his teachings, and was persuaded by Porphyry only by the latter first writing them, then presenting the old man with a fiat accompli.

      The Greeks in general did not trust the written word. You could not get nuance, tone of voice, gesture, and so on. You could not look the writer in the eye and judge his honesty. They much preferred "the living word," i.e., eyewitnesses. Most bioi and historie did not get written down until these eyewitnesses began to die off. Since many of the disciples were martyred, this actually happened more quickly in the case of the gospels than in most other ancient accounts. Hence, the earliest writings are letters, which did tend to be contemporary.

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  12. What a brilliant psychologist Aquinas was

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  13. It is interesting that the Greek New Testament has two words for anger: ὀργή and θυμός. The second of these is for an intense anger, but even this word does not necessarily denote a disordered anger because it can be attributed to God's reaction to extreme wickedness (Rev 14:10, 19; 15:1, 7; 16:1, 19; 19:15). Both Greek words are usually translated as ira in the Latin Vulgate, but when both occur in the same clause in the New Testament, ira is used to translate ὀργή and indignatio is used to translate θυμός (Eph 4:31 and Col 3:8). Aquinas uses indignatio only 19 times in Summa Theologica, never in a positive context, compared to over 1000 usages of ira, used both positively and negatively.

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  14. Two questions arise for me:

    1. What of those who are really expert at abuse? Juvenal gave his name to the type; Waugh is the 20th C Catholic paradigm, though GKC was known to be brutal himself. Just how close to the wind are these guys sailing, and how dangerous is it for us (and I really mean me) to enjoy their flames. Even if the target deserves attack, it is always possible to go overboard.

    2. There is another case which I think more troubling. In combat men often go into a kind of berserker fit. In fact, in Aquinas's day (and any earlier period, and for centuries after, until long range weapons became commone) this was actually something you needed to do, to win or even to survive. This is why decisive victories so often turned into slaughter of the losers; it took an exceptional leader to bring his men back into control. And of course, even modern equipment and methods only alleviate and do not remove the problem. What does that mean for those waging a just war? (Or for that matter, those who are simply obedient citizens, not responsible for the cause they are defending?) Are they all in a state of sin, in that the nature of the case entails a passion which overwhelms reason. We are not machines with an on/off switch. This has long been in my mind.

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    1. What does that mean for those waging a just war? (Or for that matter, those who are simply obedient citizens, not responsible for the cause they are defending?) Are they all in a state of sin, in that the nature of the case entails a passion which overwhelms reason. We are not machines with an on/off switch. This has long been in my mind.

      George, I don't think it necessary to assume that they are all in a state of sin.

      Even with regard to earlier forms of war, I think that the understood ideal - at least in Christian societies - was men who kept control at least to the extent of being able to stop when the need for killing was completed. (Admittedly, Vikings and other cultures may have glorified the berserker, but even medieval Christians could recognize that as disordered.)

      And while it is certainly the case that anger always retains the risk that it will get out of hand, that alone cannot be sufficient rationale for saying we must never succumb to that emotion. There is a perfectly good parallel here with the passion of sexual desire: the passion always retains the risk that it might become excessive, but the good of the human race is wrapped up in the fruitful use and expression of that passion within marriage.

      So, the correct approach is that because the passion bears on an important good and is an integral feature of being human in action, men should learn to control it. For sexual desire, the normal venue for practicing this discipline early is before marriage, but the mode of proceeding even there is not "never feel the desire" but rather to suppress the desire that is not ordered to marital love, which implies also to CHANNEL the desire felt toward a proximately possible spouse so that the desire is experienced as a desire to consummate a marriage which is proximately considered, not merely "to have sex". Similarly, the discipline of anger is only in part to suppress the passion (when the circumstances don't warrant anger at all), it consists also of practicing to limit anger in other circumstances, and also to practice the manly arts of battle and overcoming another WITHOUT losing control and just wreaking havoc on everyone in sight.

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    2. @Tony: The trouble with that is it is at odds with reality. The real best which was managed was that a very few leaders were able to keep men under control. Certainly the norm for Christian armies doesn't show such forbearance.

      Godfrey de Bouillon did manage to keep those under his DIRECT command from going wild when Jerusalem fell, but the rest went on a slaughtering rampage. Coeur de Lion could do so. Even the very disciplined Macedonian army committed its most brutal butchery when Alexander (no saint, he) was wounded by the Malians, and unconscious. But the sack of Constantinople, and the behavior of most of the Crusaders in Jerusalem were the norm.

      The comparison with lust isn't quite apt, unless you assume that someone else jumps in while we're carried away - not usual in married sex. The soldier swinging a sword is confronted with one enemy, then another, and then someone else who may be an enemy. It's not easy to make quick judgements. That remains true today, as soldiers and cops know. But it was worse when it was hand-to-hand. Yes, I get the principle, but it seems a counsel of perfection.

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    3. The trouble with that is it is at odds with reality. The real best which was managed was that a very few leaders were able to keep men under control.

      I don't know all of history, but I disagree. I think that there are enough examples of Christians warring with Christians that did not degenerate into slaughter of civilians to say that such degeneracy is not all but unavoidable.

      I also think the analogy with sex is more apt than that you let on. When you consider (a) how many men DON'T make the effort to restrain their interior sexual desires (even when they restrain their outward actions); and (b) how difficult it is even for a man who intends to restrain his sexual desire strictly to its only licit use, for him to do so not only usually but always, even in its interior acts. In point of fact, most men fall down in sins of lust, (at least lesser sins), even married men who have a lawful outlet for the passion.

      In reality, most men in most of history have been saddled with many sins throughout their lives, and the depth and extent is grievous. With anger, as with lust and pride and greed, few are the ones who escape unscathed.

      This is one of the reasons we know man to be so deeply broken: that it is nearly impossible for a man to fully and completely live the life of reason. Indeed, without grace it IS impossible, and typically (under God's providence) men move toward perfection in this matter (as in most) slowly, in fits and starts, and with two steps forward followed by one step back.

      Yes, I get the principle, but it seems a counsel of perfection.

      That's funny, because the counsels are set out as something better than what the ordinary man could hope to achieve, something heroic. Most men can manage to keep their greed under control so that they don't steal from others: only the heroic could be so far removed from it as to give up even their JUST AND LEGITIMATE claims to worldly goods. Most married men can manage to keep their lust under control so that they don't actively covet their neighbor's wife; it takes heroic scale to set out to so eschew not only the vice of lust, but even the lawful desires of sex in marriage. Most men can learn to submit to the obligatory demands of the law and the magistrates, and thus avoid excesses of pride; it takes heroism to so forego self-will as to give up directing their own lives even in those lawful and ordinary ways men do it in their own lives.

      Why, then, would it not be similar in anger: it is sufficient for most men that they learn to restrain themselves from unlawful and illicit anger that generates positive sin; it is for the heroic life to pass up even those lawful acts of anger that are conducive to ordinary restraint of evils against the common good. (Which is why priests and religious are permitted to avoid the draft)? You want to set out _not having anger_ as the norm, and having only licit anger as living according to the heroic counsels, but that can't be right.

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    4. The rules of engagement in siege warfare was that if the city resisted, there would be a three-day sack. If there were no resistance, there would be no sack. A siege was terrifying for the besiegers, since they were subject to typhus and other diseases, and the sacks were a sort of reward. We don't relate to that because we sack cities ahead of time from the air. But when combat was mostly hand-to-hand, the fury of combat was a very real thing.

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  15. Dr. Feser, you've definitely hit the mark. Sheamfully, some people might not realize they're being critiqued here.

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    1. hahah...Brilliant!!!

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  16. I guess the simple and pithy retort to the one you described as the "militant pacifist" is the common adage: "Physician, heal thyself!"

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  17. "It serves the function of moving us to correct injustices, broadly construed."

    It's outside the scope of this post, but what arguments does Aquinas (or others) give this claim?

    It would seem that anger is something that exists in animals that have no interest in justice, and we can be moved to correct injustice without anger, so I am wondering what case is made for this?

    Why think it is natural, rather than perverse?

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    1. Emotions certainly exist in animals. Many animals are capable of fear, for example. It is not perverse, but natural, for animals to fear. So from the fact that animals have emotion, one cannot draw the conclusion that emotions are not natural.

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    2. I never said emotions are not natural. I agree that they are, but that doesn't mean particular emotions are.

      Animals fear, it would seem, because they are incomplete and living in a world of incomplete things and beings. We would have to assume that a perfect hare would still fear a perfect fox in a perfect world, even though the fox has no reason to bother the hare, since it won't be hungry, and the hare has no reason to be fearful of the fox, since the fox will not be a threat. Not the best analogy by far, but I think about the pigeons who live around humans so much, they behave very casually around them (or is that not natural?). Animals don't reason, so even if they are perfect, if the rest of the world isn't, then they wouldn't understand that it is imperfect and so are not compelled to correct it in anyway. We do though.

      Anger, similar to sexual arousal and other emotions, from the get go, seems to impede our ability to reason. It would seem that if we are not moved to correct injustices based purely on love and reason, it is a sign that we are not complete. If we were, reason should guide us to the right action, and love should move us. That should be sufficient. Injustice is evidence of the fallen state of the world, and we understand that it is so. I see love as natural to us, since it cannot impede reason and I can't really see a vicious act of love.

      NOTE: I am basically a Thomist, and I do accept Feser's assessment of anger, but I do not find it very compelling. Most likely I am misunderstanding something, which is why I wanted to raise this.

      Cheers :)

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    3. I never said emotions are not natural. I agree that they are, but that doesn't mean particular emotions are.

      Billy, I think the Thomist position is that each species of emotion is natural in the animal that can harbor that emotion. It then falls to us to determine the right time, place, and circumstance for the INDIVIDUAL INSTANCE of the emotion to be rightly felt. It would be, on this account, impossible for man's nature to be capable of the species of emotion 'anger' and yet have no situation in which anger is the right emotion to feel.

      Anger, similar to sexual arousal and other emotions, from the get go, seems to impede our ability to reason. It would seem that if we are not moved to correct injustices based purely on love and reason, it is a sign that we are not complete. If we were, reason should guide us to the right action, and love should move us. That should be sufficient.

      Man was designed originally with the gift of original justice, under which the emotions WERE under the command of reason, so that we would only have an emotion consequent upon the mind discerning "this is the appropriate circumstance". Original sin damaged us and lost us that gift. Now we have to work hard at achieving the 'acquired virtues' under which we act under a habitual conditioning to operate with emotions as reason would approve and not otherwise. The man of virtue, then, DOES act with reason but also with emotions assisting. Even in perfection, man did not act out of love ONLY and without passions.

      It would seem that anger is something that exists in animals that have no interest in justice,

      You are right, that animals act with anger and the object of their emotion is not an injustice. I think the Thomistic answer is that in the animals, the anger is directed at any threat against the animal's good as perceived, and since animals are driven by the sensible good, it is threats against sensible good that is the object of anger. Justice is not a sensible good.

      In man also he can feel anger against any threat against his perceived good, and this includes sensible goods. However, man through his intellect can (and should) know that some sensible goods are not proper and due for us at this time and situation, and so a threat to take away some sensible good is not perceived as a threat against the "true good for me here and now" except as he perceives that sensible good is also "good for me here and now" - i.e. insofar as he considers that good thing is appropriate and fitting for him. Since (for man) an aspect of the judgment of a good being appropriate and fitting is a judgment that it is "my just deserts", a threat against it is also perceived as an injustice. (The man can be - and often is - WRONG in this judgment, but this merely means that he ought not feel anger if that good is threatened, not that he would not feel it.

      A simple example is this: if my brother strikes me for no reason, I get angry. If my brother strikes me the very same way because I ask him to practice a karate move, I do not. Or at least, I should not. But the physical harm is identical in the two cases.

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    4. Thank you Tony for the response.

      "Billy, I think the Thomist position is that each species of emotion is natural in the animal that can harbor that emotion...It would be, on this account, impossible for man's nature to be capable of the species of emotion 'anger' and yet have no situation in which anger is the right emotion to feel. "

      This makes sense, but I guess it brings further questions, but I will leave it there I believe.

      Cheers

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  18. How fortuitous. I've been studying the letter to the Ephesians, and wondered what was meant by "clamor" (ch. 4 v 31, RSV).

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  19. Agreed with the Anons above. Only one (contemporary, Catholic, loud-mouth blogger) person came to mind while reading this post. Spot on.

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  20. The problem today is that the world has trouble with distinguishing and applying righteous wrath. Consequently we get Bosnia, Rwanda, Nazis, Communists and Asian despots. One would think that after several millennia of "civilization" and the philosophy that it engendered, we should be able to distinguish when justifiable physical action needs to be taken to prevent further evil. But, alas, it seems that evil is always one step ahead of us and now manifests as virtue by standing aside and advocating "noninterference" in the affairs of others.

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  21. i also think that anger can be used to prevent further evil, but in the right way, of course.

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  22. explains so much of what SJWs are about today.

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  23. Some Thomists have argued that the very nature of modern warfare makes a just war practically impossible in these days. What would you say about that?

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