15 Lessons on Anger from the Desert Fathers

As a teen and young(er) adult one of the biggest things I struggled with was anger.  This, contrary to what we might want to believe, has never been constructive or righteous, but has always been about my own need to feel secure or in control. Anger is a kind of protected sin in our culture. We have a superhero whose power is fueled by getting (or more recently always being) angry.  We’re told not to repress our anger, but to express it. We even read it into the story of Jesus cleansing the temple when the text never mentions that he was angry. But the earliest Christians would have had a different opinion  than we do.

I was convicted and motivated when I read Meg Funk‘s summary of the Desert Father’s teaching on the issue.

Desert Fathers on Anger

The Desert Father’s on Anger

Anger rises.

Anger can be noticed, faced, squared off with, confronted, and felt.

But anger need not be expressed as the object of a quarrel.

Expressing anger is practicing how to be angry.

Finding truth, expressing righteousness, seeking justice, and keeping peace are deliberate, discerned actions instead of consenting to anger.

Taking action on behalf of justice is compassion; we replace anger with right action. Anger can never be expressed toward another or toward ourselves to relieve the symptoms of this uncomfortable passion

Right action can’t be seen while one is blind with rage.

Anger agitates and creates a response of more anger and the cycle of violence continues.

Patience and long suffering is the opposite of repression.

Anger is a form of pride that indicates that I know the right action for another or that my dignity was insulted or that I’m to be the judge, jury, and executioner.

Humility would say that I don’t know the right action without the grace of the Holy Spirit and that I have no dignity except in Christ Jesus. To imitate Christ’s suffering is appropriate; anger is displaced by compassion. We understand and take action and seek no reward and are detached from both the good and the harm that might come to us.

Anger agitates the mind. Calm abiding and a contemplative gaze either at others, God, nature, or even myself is reduced in proportion to anger.

We cannot pray when we are angry. No one can pray with us, either.

Anger makes us sick.

To practice laying aside thoughts of anger is the opposite of repression. Patient waiting to respond in kindness at the appropriate moment is the opposite of reactive expression. To use language crafted by Father Adrian van Kaam we could say that we aspire to “transpression,” which is to notice the emotion, lift it up toward God in humble prayer for the guidance of taking action on behalf of others. Anger is a teacher than can lead us to purity of heart but only if we believe the good news that anger can be entirely rooted out, that with practice anger need not be expressed, nor repressed and that there are no residual effects that damage others or our psychological well-being.

What do you think? Are Funk and the Desert Father’s right? Or is getting mad sometimes a good thing?