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Wrath, from the Seven Deadly Sins. By Jacob Ma...

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I have been reproducing a bit of the seventeenth century Puritan Edward Reynolds’ Treatise of the Passions and Faculties of the Soul of Man, as it provides some insightful counsel regarding anger. In the work, Reynolds suggests nine ways of managing this passion. Before giving the fourth, eighth and ninth ways, here are the other six briefly summarized:

  1. Let anger have an eye upward
  2. Convert anger towards our own errors
  3. Do not join too hastily to anger
  4. (see below)
  5. Remove the occasions of anger
  6. Give not an easy air to suspicions
  7. Interpret the cause candidly

The fourth way to manage anger then:

4. Keep it not long; it is the spawn of malice and contention; and time will hatch it.

It is a corroding thing, which will fret and stain the vessel, in which it is kept.

Let not the sun go down upon it; it is ill being in the dark with so bad a leader.

It may pass through the heart of a wise man; but it ‘resteth only in the bosom of fools.’ (241)

So Reynolds is here developing the Biblical theme of not allowing the sun to go down on our wrath. The way he uses examples from nature to illustrate man’s inner workings (e.g., “hatch,” “corroding”) is quite typical for the entire Treatise. (It is worth noting here that this is a good example of the vestiges of a ‘premodern’ view of nature and reality remaining in the early modern period.)

Now the eighth way of managing anger:

8. Give injuries a new name; and that will work a new affection.

In blind agents, call it ‘chance;’ in weak persons, ‘infirmity;’ in simple, ‘ignorance;’ in wise, ‘counsels;’ in superiors, ‘discipline;’ in equals, ‘familiarity;’ in inferiors, ‘confidence.’

Where there is no other construction to be made, do as Joseph and David did; call it ‘providence;’ and see what God says to thee by it.

Get a mind a conversant with high and noble things; the more heavenly, the less tempestuous. (242-3)

We post-moderns, so keen on therapy and catharsis, do not like the way this one sounds. It sounds very much as if Reynolds would have us play mere word games with our injuries, and this might prevent us dealing with our ‘real issues.’ But the truth is that we, in no small part due to the influence of the Tempter, are more often than not lying to ourselves concerning the world around us. The truth is that we should discipline our minds to view reality from God’s perspective. When we are injured by another, it would, indeed, be good to look at that injury as God looks at it, and to call it by that name. In trying to be “authentic” with our “issues,” in somehow thinking that defining events the way God does is less “honest,” we are really the furthest from authenticity and honesty.

Finally, Edwards offers a ninth way of managing anger:

9. Be not idle, sluggish, luxurious.

We are never more apt to be angry, than when we are sleepy or greedy. Weak resolutions and strong desires are sensible of the least exasperation; as an empty ship, of the smallest tempest.

¶Again, be not over busy neither: That man can hardly be master of his passion, that is not master of his employments.

A mind ever burdened, like a bow always bent, must needs grow impotent and weary, the fittest preparations to this distemper. When a man’s business doth not poise, but press him, there will ever be something either undone or ill done, and so still matter of vexation.

And therefore our minds, as our vessels, must be unloaded, if they would not have a tempest hurt them.

¶Lastly, Wrestle not with that which pincheth thee.

If it be strong, it will hurt; if cunning, it will hamper and entangle thee. He that strives with his burden, makes it heavier.

That tempest breaks not the stalks of corn, which rends asunder the arms of an oak; the one yields, the other withstands it.

An humble weakness is safer from injury than a stubborn strength.

The last advice here mentions several points. Simply put, when we are apt to allowing the flesh to rule us in other arenas, we will be the more apt to let anger rule us. We are more tempted to anger when we are soft. In this way, Reynolds shows a kind of awareness of the tension between body and soul. We should be flexible under injuries. When some small things happens, we should not answer the ‘pinch’ with a wrestling match.

I think Reynolds advice is sound here, and I myself found it very illuminating. May God give us grace through his Son Jesus Christ to be free from allowing this passion to control us and sin against God. In conclusion, Reynolds’s final list:

  1. Let anger have an eye upward
  2. Convert anger towards our own errors
  3. Do not join too hastily to anger
  4. Do not keep anger long
  5. Remove the occasions of anger
  6. Give not an easy air to suspicions
  7. Interpret the cause candidly
  8. Rename injuries
  9. Be not idle, sluggish, luxurious
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