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St. John Cassian, "Of the Spirit of Anger"

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  • Christopher Orr
    From The Twelve Books on the Institutes of the Coenobia Book VIII. Of the Spirit of Anger. Chapter I. How our fourth conflict is against the sin of anger,
    Message 1 of 1 , Feb 25, 2007
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      From "The Twelve Books on the Institutes of the Coenobia"

      Book VIII. Of the Spirit of Anger.

      Chapter I.

      How our fourth conflict is against the sin of anger, and how manyevils
      this passion produces.IN our fourth combat the deadly poison of anger
      has to be utterlyrooted out from the inmost comers of our soul. For as
      long as thisremains in our hearts, and blinds with its hurtful
      darkness the eyeof the soul, we can neither acquire right judgment and
      discretion,nor gain the insight which springs from an honest gaze, or
      ripenessof counsel, nor can we be partakers of life, or retentive
      ofrighteousness, or even have the capacity for spiritual and
      truelight: "for," says one, mine eye is disturbed by reason of
      anger."1Nor can we become partakers of wisdom, even though we are
      consideredwise by universal consent, for "anger rests in the bosom of
      fools."2Nor can we even attain immortal life, although we are
      accountedprudent in the opinion of everybody, for "anger destroys even
      theprudent."3 Nor shall we be able with clear judgment of heart
      tosecure the controlling power of righteousness, even though we
      arereckoned perfect and holy in the estimation of all men, for
      "thewrath of man worketh not the righteousness of God."4 Nor can we
      byany possibility acquire that esteem and honour which is so
      frequentlyseen even in worldlings, even though we are thought noble
      andhonourable through the privileges of birth, because "an angry man
      isdishonoured."5 Nor again can we secure any ripeness of counsel,
      eventhough we appear to be weighty, and endowed with the
      utmostknowledge; because "an angry man acts without counsel."6 Nor can
      webe free from dangerous disturbances, nor be without sin, even
      thoughno sort of disturbances be brought upon us by others; because
      "apassionate man engenders quarrels, but an angry man digs up sins."7

      Chapter II.

      Of those who say that anger is not injurious, if we are angry
      withthose who do wrong, since God Himself is said to be angry.Wig have
      heard some people trying to excuse this most perniciousdisease of the
      soul, in such a way as to endeavour to extenuate it bya rather
      shocking way of interpreting Scripture: as they say that itis not
      injurious if we are angry with the brethren who do wrong,since, say
      they, God Himself is said to rage and to be angry withthose who either
      will not know Him, or, knowing Him, spurn Him, ashere "And the anger
      of the Lord was kindled against His people;"8 orwhere the prophet
      prays and says, "O Lord, rebuke me not in thineanger, neither chasten
      me in thy displeasure;"9 not understandingthat, while they want to
      open to men an excuse for a most pestilentsin, they are ascribing to
      the Divine Infinity and Fountain of allpurity a taint of human passion.

      Chapter III.

      Of those things which are spoken of God anthropomorphically.For if
      when these things are said of God they are to be understoodliterally
      in a material gross signification, then also He sleeps, asit is said,
      "Arise, wherefore sleepest thou, O Lord?"10 though it iselsewhere said
      of Him: "Behold he that keepeth Israel shall neitherslumber nor
      sleep."11 And He stands and sits, since He says, "Heavenis my seat,
      and earth the footstool for my feet:"12 thoughHe "measure out the
      heaven with his hand, and holdeth the earth in his fist."13 And He is
      "drunken with wine" as it is said, "The Lordawoke like a sleeper, a
      mighty man, drunken with wine;"14 He "who only hath immortality and
      dwelleth in the light which no man canapproach unto:"15 not to say
      anything of the "ignorance"and "forgetfulness," of which we often find
      mention in Holy Scripture: nor lastly of the outline of His limbs,
      which are spokenof as arranged and ordered like a man's; e.g., the
      hair, head,nostrils, eyes, face, hands, arms, fingers, belly, and
      feet: if weare willing to take all of which according to the bare
      literal sense,we must think of God as in fashion with the outline of
      limbs, and abodily form; which indeed is shocking even to speak of,
      and must befar from our thoughts.

      Chapter IV.

      In what sense we should understand the passions and human arts which
      are ascribed to the unchanging and incorporeal God.And so as without
      horrible profanity these things cannot beunderstood literally of Him
      who is declared by the authority of HolyScripture to be invisible,
      ineffable, incomprehensible, inestimable,simple, and uncompounded, so
      neither can the passion of anger andwrath be attributed to that
      unchangeable nature without fearfulblasphemy. For we ought to see that
      the limbs signify the divinepowers and boundless operations of God,
      which can only be representedto us by the familiar expression of
      limbs: by the mouth we should understand that His utterances are
      meant, which are of His mercycontinually poured into the secret senses
      of the soul, or which Hespoke among our fathers and the prophets: by
      the eyes we canunderstand the boundless character of His sight with
      which He seesand looks through all things, and so nothing is hidden
      from Him ofwhat is done or can be done by us, or even thought. By
      theexpression "hands," we understand His providence and work, by
      whichHe is the creator and author of all things; the arms are the
      emblemsof His might and government, with which He upholds, rules
      andcontrols all things. And not to speak of other things, what else
      doesthe hoary hair of His head signify but the eternity and perpetuity
      of Deity, through which He is without any beginning, and before
      alltimes, and excels all creatures? So then also when we read of the
      anger or fury of the Lord, we should take it not... according to an
      unworthy meaning of human passion,16 but in a sense worthy of God, who
      is free from all passion; so that by this weshould understand that He
      is the judge and avenger of all the unjustthings which are done in
      this world; and by reason of these terms andtheir meaning we should
      dread Him as the terrible rewarder of ourdeeds, and fear to do
      anything against His will. For human nature iswont to fear those whom
      it knows to be indignant, and is afraid ofoffending: as in the case of
      some most just judges, avenging wrath isusually feared by those who
      are tormented by some accusation of theirconscience; not indeed that
      this passion exists in the minds of thosewho are going to judge with
      perfect equity, but that, while they sofear, the disposition of the
      judge towards them is that which is theprecursor of a just and
      impartial execution of the law. And this,with whatever kindness and
      gentleness it may be conducted, is deemedby those who are justly to be
      punished to be the most savage wrathand vehement anger. It would be
      tedious and outside the scope of thepresent work were we to explain
      all the things which are spokenmetaphorically of God in Holy
      Scripture, with human figures. Let itbe enough for our present
      purpose, which is aimed against the sin ofwrath, to have said this
      that no one may through ignorance draw downupon himself a cause of
      this evil and of eternal death, out of thoseScriptures in which he
      should seek for saintliness and immortality asthe remedies to bring
      life and salvation.

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