Anger: In Due Season and Measure, A Tool from God

St. Paul from a 4th Century Painting

Writing about his hero, St. Paul, St. John Chrysostom noted that Paul at times displayed anger.  For Chrysostom this doesn’t change his assessment of St. Paul, but rather causes him to defend anger as an emotion given to humanity by God to be used for godly purposes  St. Paul quoting the wisdom of Psalm 4:4 wrote:  “Be angry but do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger” (Ephesians 4:26).   Paul obviously did not equate anger with sin but felt there was an appropriate kind of anger that situations called for from God-loving humans.

(In the photo at the left, St. Paul is portrayed in a painting from the 4th Century recently discovered beneath the Vatican’s Church of St. Paul Outside the Walls.  The painting would have been done about the same time that Chrysostom was preaching on St. Paul)

“For if anger could not be resorted to, even when the occasion called for it, it would be useless and pointless to have it.  But it cannot be pointless, since Providence implanted it in us to correct sinners, to stir up spiritual inertia and sloth, and to amuse the sleepy and indolent.  The edge of anger has been given to our mind like an edge of a sword to use it when necessary.  Therefore Paul often resorted to anger, and was angry though he loved more than those who spoke gently, doing all things to spread the Gospel as the opportunity presented itself.

Gentleness is not essentially good, but only when the occasion calls for it, so that, if it is not in season, gentleness is unlawful and anger is contumacious.     ..…      My purpose is to instruct my hearers to use the emotions as occasion demands, as I have said already.” 

(p 102.  St. John Chrysostom, IN PRAISE OF ST. PAUL.   Thomas Halton (Tr).  MA: Daughters of St. Paul.  1963.)

Anger is one emotion that often seems purely negative to me, and yet it can serve a positive purpose as Chrysostom notes when used in an appropriate situation.   Gentleness is not a virtue in a situation which needs an angry person to be energized to push for needed change when others are being harmed.