In “The Consolations of Theology”, six Australian theologians seek to adapt the philosophical tradition started by Boethius but continued somewhat more profitably by de Botton to outline how the Queen of the Sciences can offer solace in the harshness of life. On Anger, they turn to Lactantius, an early theologian who tutored the son of Constantine and is widely considered a bit of a substitute for the dream team of Patristic Fathers.
Against the common schools of the day that sought to eliminate anger as a destructive emotion, Lactantius outlined a nuanced approach to anger that contrasted it against its sister kindness. Both arise seemingly spontaneously. Both need to be cultivated so that they are appropriate in response to the stimuli that prompt them. He said:
As I said, wisdom is not concerned with control of these feeling buts in control of what causes them, because emotions are stirred from the outside, and putting curbs on them is particularly inappropriate since they are capable of being slight where there is much wrong and of being huge where there is nothing wrong; they should have been related to particular times, circumstances and places, in case feelings which one may correctly exercise become vices. It is good to walk straight and bad to go astray; so too it is good to be emotionally moved in the right direction, and bad in the wrong direction.
I have often been in the company of Christians who were to varying degrees, terrified of anger. Their own and others. I recall a good friend at the time of Abu Ghraib challenge and counsel me that it was not fitting to get so furious about things and that I should have somehow sought rest in God.
Since then there have been other encounters where people (rightly) rejected my anger at things as an over-the top response but all too often (perhaps wrongly) suggested I should quell the anger itself.
To quote Richard Gibson in his discussion of Anger and Lactantius, anger “is not something that God expects us to uproot, but to exercise in our struggle against sin. Sin’s corruption of this impulse should not obscure its essential goodness, and its capacity for invigorating and energizing our lives to do God’s will.”
The lack of fury over Abu Ghraib is an example of a great failure of the global church. But perhaps I shouldn’t want to punch the guy at the train station for his rudeness at my sincere complaints.
I think it exceptionally cool that Christianity bursts in on the world in its view of the emotional life. Emotions are not to be stoically endured and silenced as well, the Stoics would have it. Neither are they to be warped out of proportion as the Epicureans would want it. Instead, emotions are holistically integrated with the whole human person. They are to be cultivated as a great source of good and an active opposition to bad, even when they can end up doing bad things. It is a view of anger specifically and emotion generally that simultaneously makes more sense on a big level that the alternatives but is nuanced and humble in individual cases. The consolation of theology, I suppose.
Your Correspondent, Not that easy, not your horse to water.