We Must Overcome Malicious Anger With Love To Be Followers Of The God Of Love

We Must Overcome Malicious Anger With Love To Be Followers Of The God Of Love March 30, 2012

It is quite common for many of us to let anger get the best of us. When we do so, it turns our good intentions into evil. Strife turns us away from the charity which we should have for each other; anger and malice easily find their way into our hearts, possessing us, encouraging us to act contrary to the good under the guise of the good itself. It is easy for us to consider the defense of our pride, the defense of our glory, as a reason enough for “righteous anger.” Yet, it is far from righteous – indeed, it often ends up as idolatrous, the worship of the self, self-adoration, and woe to those who will not bow down to us as the petty god we make ourselves to be. Even the best of us can fall for this fault from time to time. We might realize the error of our ways, repent, and then let ourselves go again and again. To combat this, humility is needed, humility fueled by charity, but that love which we are to have for everyone: how can we seek to strike someone down if we love them, how can we seek to harm them if we love them as ourselves?

“A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity. A man without sense gives a pledge, and becomes surety in the presence of his neighbor. He who loves transgression loves strife; he who makes his door high seeks destruction” (Prov. 17:17 -19 RSV).

We must remember what it is we should be striving for: holiness, and a life of holiness is a life of love. Since love covers a multitude of sins, strife is overcome through love, where we forgive instead of seek retribution for what has been done. This is what we must strive for – and it is something which we can, through work and grace, achieve. Now we might fail, we might let concupiscence take over from time to time – but if we struggle against it, we shall slowly gain victory and find that our fight is not against flesh and blood, but the powers which seek to possess our souls and lead them to transgression.  While sloth can easily be hidden by meekness, all kinds of vice can be performed due to prelest, to some level of self-deception where one believes one is on the right, and this is exceptionally true with sins of malice:

For sometimes the meek, when they are in authority, suffer from the torpor of sloth, which is a kindred disposition, and as it were placed hard by. And for the most part from the laxity of too great gentleness they soften the force of strictness beyond need. But on the other hand the passionate, in that they are swept on into frenzy of mind by the impulse of anger, break up the calm of quietness, and so throw into confusion the life of those that are put under them. For, when rage drives them headlong, they know not what they do in their anger, they know not what in their anger they suffer from themselves. But sometimes, what is more serious, they think the goad of their anger to be the zeal of righteousness. And, when vice is believed to be virtue, guilt is piled up without fear. Often, then, the meek grow torpid in the laziness of inactivity; often the passionate are deceived by the zeal of uprightness. Thus to the virtue of the former a vice is unawares adjoined, but to the latter their vice appears as though it were fervent virtue.[1]

We are so easily led to believe in our own rightness, we rush in, fighting everyone, showing even if we are in the right in one area, we are certainly also in the wrong. Humility is needed. It is not easy. We must fight within ourselves the base egotism which leads us to strike out. If we do not, the charity which we should have will certainly be replaced by malice, the malice which will use some form of the good to lead us to hell if we let it. We must let go – let go of the remembrance of sins of the past. When we keep ours in mind, they become a temptation for us, for what made us to fall into sin will also be before us, encouraging us to seek the pleasure which we once had and make it ours again. On the other hand, remembrance of the sins of others leads us to sin, for it encourages us to malign them, to move out of the dictates of charity and heed the call of malice, as St. John Climacus warns:

Remembrance of wrongs comes as the final point of anger. It is a keeper of sins. It hates a just way of life. It is the ruin of virtues, the poison of the soul, a worm in the mind. It is the shame of prayer, a cutting off of supplication, a turning away from love, a nail piercing the soul. It is a pleasureless feeling cherished in the sweetness of bitterness. It is a never-ending sin, an unsleeping wrong, rancor by the hour.[2]

When we feign pious anger and use it to justify our hatred of others, we quickly find Scriptural proofs to defend our unholy acts. “Malice is an exponent of Scripture which twists words of the Spirit to suit itself.”[3] We can easily find ways to condemn others, to find sins which they have done which we use to prove they deserve reproof. But is not vengeance the Lord’s, and is not the place of spiritual judgment with the Lord and not us?

The way anger and malice affect us should serve as proof as to why we should seek to overcome their effects. As St. Basil writes, they turn us away from all that is reasonable and good, degenerating us so that those qualities which make us human seem to vanish, leaving us as mere ravenous beasts out on the prowl:

For whenever, once reason has been pushed aside, the passion takes control of the soul itself, it makes the human being entirely like a wild beast; it does not hollow him to be a human being, since he no longer has the help of reason. For as venom is in venomous animal, so temper in those who are provoked. They are maddened like dogs; they strike like scorpions, they bite like snakes. [4]

It is one thing to know about the errors of malice, of how it turns us into followers of evil, it is another to win our own internal battle against it. Even the holiest of men and women have been known to take years to gain such a victory; St. Ammonas, the disciple of St. Anthony, once said, “I have spent fourteen years in Scetis asking God night and day to grant me the victory over anger.”[5] We should therefore not despair when we see our weakness but rather, we should rest in grace as we seek to gain the strength needed to be true friends of Christ. Prayer, prayer of the heart to Jesus, heals the heart and helps provide the grace necessary, and indeed, can help us combat those times when anger would rule us. However, true mastery over malice requires more than the elimination of anger, but a heart of charity, a heart which seeks the good of one who has harmed us in some way:

 A true sign of having completely mastered this putrefaction [of  malice- HK] will come not when you pray for the man who offended you, not when you give him presents, not when you invite him to share a meal with you, but only when, on hearing some catastrophe that has afflicted him in body or soul, you suffer and lament for him as if for yourself.[6]

We must strive for this, and remembrance of what true virtue is, the encouragement of it in others, will help us achieve it ourselves. St. John Climacus said that he has seen people overcome malice when they told others of their need to overcome it in their own lives: work of charity clearly lifts the heart and heals the wounds of evil. [7] It is for this reason that one, seeking to achieve this virtue themselves, and finding themselves far from it, can and does reflect upon it, declaring the truth of the saints to others, hoping it will help achieve some good within. The more we dwell on things of heaven, on the path of love, the closer we will find ourselves to a life pleasing of  God, the God who is love.

[1] St. Gregory the Great, Pastoral Rule in NPNF2(12): 39-40 [III-xvi].

[2] St. John Climacus, The Ladder of Divine Ascent. Trans. Colm Luibheid and Norman Russell (New York: Paulist Press, 1982), 152.

[3] Ibid., 153.

[4] St. Basil, “Homily Against Anger” in On the Human Condition. Trans. Nonna Verna Harrison (Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 2005), 81.

[5] The Sayings of the Desert Fathers. Trans. Benedicta Ward (Kalamazoo, MI: Cistercian Publications, 1984), 26.

[6] St. John Climacus, The Ladder of Divine Ascent, 153.

[7] See ibid., 154.

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