Anger and Augustine

God Running is a place for anyone who wants to (or even anyone who wants to want to) love Jesus more deeply, follow Jesus more closely, and love people the way Jesus wants us to.

Last post we put up a quote from a letter Augustine wrote when he was at the end of his life. In that same letter he goes on to talk about anger. And what he writes amazes me.

We are not delivered from offenses, but it is equally true that we are not deprived of our refuge; our griefs do not cease, but our consolations are equally abiding. And well do you know, my excellent brother, how, in the midst of such offenses, 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

St. Augustine

“No one who is angry considers his anger to be unjust,” Augustine says. And yet “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”

Augustine goes on to compare the wisest way to approach anger with the best way to approach helping strangers. It’s better to help a person even if you think they might be a bad person than it is to risk shutting out a good person.

The opposite rule holds true for anger. Augustine says, “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.”

This is the way of Jesus in my experience. He fed people, he helped people, some of whom turned against him in the end. He had to have known this would happen, but he did it anyway.

Concerning anger, the further back I go toward the time of Christ, the more I find this approach to anger prevalent among Jesus followers, Augustine being just one example.

Also concerning anger, the people in my life who best reflect the nature of Jesus are those who treat anger the way Augustine admonishes his friend to treat anger. At the end of our text Augustine says this:

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.

St. Augustine

Image of St. Augustine via Wikimedia Commons

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One Comment on “Anger and Augustine

  1. I so wish we would focus more on being like the Father. This was THE purpose of the Son’s life, death and resurrection. It seems we are focusing more on the Son than following the Son’s example of focusing on the Father

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