THE SPIRIT OF ANGER, Part 1 (From St. John Cassian)

John Cassian, 4th Century

St John Cassian 2

John was born in the Danube Delta in what is now Dobrogea, Romania, in about 360. In 382 he moved to Bethlehem and after several years there he, along with his friend Germanus,  journeyed to Egypt to meet with some of the greatest Christians of that time. They remained in Egypt until 399. Upon leaving Egypt they went to Constantinople, where they met John Chrysostom, who ordained John Cassian as a deacon.  He had to leave Constantinople in 403 when Chrysostom was exiled, eventually settling close to Marseilles, where he was ordained priest.   John’s most famous works are the Institutes and the Conferences, which provide details of conversations between John, Germanus and the Christians they met in Egypt.  John died peacefully in 435.

— We have heard that some people try to excuse this most destructive disease of the soul by attempting to extenuate it by a rather detestable interpretation of Scripture. They say that it is not harmful if we are angry with wrongdoing brothers, because God Himself is said to be enraged and angered with those who do not want to know Him or who, knowing Him, disdain Him. For example: “The Lord was angry and enraged against His people” (Psalms 106:40). And when the prophet prays and says: “Lord, do not rebuke me in your fury, nor in your anger correct me” (Psalms 6:1). They do not understand that, in their eagerness to concede human beings the opportunity for pernicious vice, they are mixing the injustice of fleshly passion into the divine limitlessness and the source of all purity.      

— And so the Christian who is on the way to perfection and who wishes to engage lawfully in the spiritual struggle must in every respect be free of the vice of anger and wrath. He should listen to what the vessel of election (Acts 9:15) commands of him: “All anger and indignation and uproar and blasphemy should be removed from you, as well as all malice” (Ephesians 4:31). When he says: “All anger should be removed from you,” he makes no exception at all for us as to necessity and utility. He should strive to cure a wrongdoing brother, if need be, in such a way that, while bringing relief to one who is perhaps laboring under a rather slight fever, he does not get angry and bring upon himself the more baleful malady of blindness, so that as he sees the speck in his brother’s eye he does not see the beam in his own eye (Matthew 7:3-5). For it behooves the one who wishes to heal someone else’s wound to be healthy and untouched by any disease or illness, lest the gospel saying be applied to him: “Physician, heal yourself first” (Luke 4:23). And how will a person see to remove the speck from his brother’s eye if he carries about a beam of wrath in his own eye? 

 — For any reason whatsoever the movement of wrath may boil over and blind the eyes of the heart, obstructing the vision with the deadly beam of a more vehement illness and not allowing the sun of righteousness to be seen. It is irrelevant whether a layer of gold or one of lead or of some other metal is placed over the eyes; the preciousness of the metal does not change the fact of blindness.

— Yet we have a function for anger placed quite appropriately within us, and for this purpose alone it is useful and beneficial for us to take it up — when we wax indignant against the wanton movements of our own heart and are angered at things that we are ashamed to do or to say in the sight of human beings but that have found their way into the recesses of our heart, as we tremble with utter horror before the presence of the angels and of God Himself, whose eye penetrates everywhere and everything and from whom our consciences can hide no secrets at all.

— And so we are commanded to get angry in a healthy way, at ourselves and at the evil suggestions that make an appearance, and not to sin by letting them have a harmful effect. The following verse opens itself to this same understanding in clearer fashion: “Be struck with compunction on your beds for what you say in your hearts” (Psalms 4:5). That is, whatever you think in your hearts when unexpected and deceitful suggestions rush in upon you, amend and correct with the most salutary compunction, removing all the noise and disturbance of wrath by means of moderate counsel, as if you were peacefully in bed.

When the blessed Apostle made use of the text of this verse and said: “Be angry, and do not sin,” he added: “The sun should not go down on your anger, and you should not give room to the devil” (Ephesians 4:26). If it is dangerous to let the sun of righteousness go down on our anger, and if we immediately give room to the devil in our heart when we are angry, why did he previously command us to get angry, when he said: “Be angry, and do not sin”? Does he not clearly mean that you should be angry at your vices and your rage lest you grow dark on account of your wrath and Christ, the Sun of Righteousness, begin to go down in your dusky minds and, once He departs, you offer room in your hearts to the devil?

— But what is to be said of those persons (and this I am unable to mention without shame) on whose implacability even sundown itself places no limits and who draw it out for days on end? They maintain a rancorous spirit against those with whom they are upset and, although they deny orally that they are angry, they manifest the deepest anger by their actions. They neither approach them with an appropriate word nor speak to them with ordinary civility, and in this regard they do not consider themselves in the wrong because they do not demand vengeance for their annoyance. Yet, because they do not dare to or at any rate cannot bring it out into the open, they turn the poison of their wrath back to their own destruction, brooding over it in their hearts and in glum silence digesting it within themselves. They do not at once and with strength of mind cast out their bitter sadness; instead they mull it over, and eventually as time goes on they deal with it equably.

Matthew 5:21-26

James 1:19-22

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