St. John Chrysostom on Anger

St. John Chrysostom

On Anger

“But the Jews came there from Antioch and Iconium and having persuaded the people, they stoned Paul and dragged him out of the city, supposing that he was dead. But when the disciples gathered about him, he rose up and entered the city; and on the next day he went on with Barnabas to Derbe. When they had preached the gospel to that city and had made many disciples, they returned to Lystra and to Iconium and to Antioch.” (Acts 14:19-21)

Believe me, there are things worse than what Paul suffered that one may endure now. Those enemies wounded him with stones; but there is a wounding with words that is even worse than stones. What then must we do? The same thing that he did. He did not hate those that cast stones at him, but after they dragged him out of the city, he entered it again, that he might become a benefactor to those who had done him such wrongs. If you also bear with one who harshly insults you and has done you wrongs, then you too have been stoned. Make no excuse for vengeance saying, “I have done him no harm yet he has wronged me.” For what harm did Paul do that he should be stoned? He was announcing a kingdom, he was bringing men away from error, and bringing them to God; these benefits are worthy of crowns, of a proclamation by the voice of heralds, worthy of a thousand good things, not of stones. And yet, far from resenting, he did just the contrary. This is a splendid victory. “And they dragged him out of the city, supposing him to be dead”, it says in the Acts. Those who wrong us, they also drag us. But do not be angry, on the contrary, preach the word with gentleness.

Has someone insulted you? Be silent, and bless if you can and in so doing you also have preached the word, because you have given a lesson of gentleness, a lesson of meekness. I know that many do not ache as much under wounds, as they do under the blow that is inflicted by words, as indeed the one wound the body receives but the other is received by the soul. Yet let us not grieve, rather let us endure the pain. Don’t you see the prize fighters, how with heads sorely battered, they bite their teeth into their lips, and so bear their pain kindly? There is no need for us to grind the teeth or to bite the lips. Remember your master, and by this remembrance you have at once applied the remedy. Remember Paul: reflect that you the beaten have conquered the beater; and he, the beater, is defeated; and by this you have a complete cured. By such reflections you have turned the scale in a moment and you have achieved all. Do not be carried away by passion; do not even move and you have extinguished the whole fire. What great eloquence of persuasion there is in suffering anything for Christ! You do not preach the word of faith but you preach the word of patience.

But, you may say of your adversary, “The more he sees my gentleness, the more he sets upon me.” Are you grieved because he increases your rewards? Will you say, “It is bad for him that he should go unpunished for this makes him unbearable“? This is a mere pretext of your own littleness of mind. “On the contrary: avenging yourself against him is certain to make him unbearable. If God had known that withholding revenge {i.e., patience, forbearance} makes the unjust man unbearable, then He would not have withheld revenge from him Himself – rather He would have said to us, ‘Avenge yourselves.’ But He knows that more good is accomplished through forbearance.”

Do not make for yourself a law contrary to God; but do as He bids you. You are not more kind than He Who made us. He has said, “Bear to be wronged”; and yet you say, “I requite wrong for wrong, so that my adversary may not become unbearable.” Do you have more care for him than God? Such talk is mere passion and ill temper, arrogance and setting up laws against God’s laws. For even if the man was hurt by our forbearance, wouldn’t it still be our duty to obey God? When God orders anything let us not make up a rule that is contrary. “A submissive answer,” we read, “turns away wrath” (Prov. 16:1), not one of opposition. If it profits you, it profits him also. If it hurts you who are expecting to set him aright, then how much more will it hurt him? “Physician heal thyself.” (Luke 4:23) Has one spoken ill of you? Commend him. Has he reviled you? Praise him. Has he plotted against you? Do him a favor. Requite him with contrary things, if you care in the least for your own salvation; and do not even wish to avenge your sufferings.

Perhaps you will say, “Although he has often met with long-suffering from me, he has become worse.” This is not your problem but his. Do you care to learn what wrongs God suffered? They cast down His altars, and slew His prophets (I Kings 19:10), yet He endured it all. Couldn’t He have launched a thunderbolt from above? But He would never do so! And when He had sent them His prophets and they killed them, He then sent His Son.(Matt. 21:37) Thus the greater the impieties they wrought, the greater were the benefits God bestowed upon them. And you too, if you see one who is exasperated, then yield the more to him, since this madness has greater need of soothing. The more grievous his abuse of you, the more meekness he needs from you—just as a gale when it blows strong requires yielding to, so also he who is in a passion. When the wild beast is most savage then we all flee; in the same way should we flee from him that is angry. Do not think that this is an honor shown to him; is it an honor we show to the wild beast or to the mentally ill, when we turn aside out of their way? By no means! It is a dishonor and scorn; or rather, it is not dishonor and scorn, but compassion and humanity. Wrath is a fire—a quick fire needing fuel. Do not supply fuel to the fire, and you have quickly extinguished the evil. Anger has no power in itself, it needs another to feed it; and so for you there is no excuse. Your adversary is possessed with passion, and doesn’t know what he is doing; but when you, seeing what he is, fall into the same evils, and are not brought to your right senses by the sight of his madness, what excuse can there be for you? Do you consider it an excuse to say, “I was not the first to begin?” This condemns us, that even at the sight of the other in that condition we were not brought to our right senses. Thus for this very thing you deserve punishment, that even after the warning of such a spectacle you did not restrain yourself.

He that is in a passion of anger is like a drunken man who is vomiting. But even more than a drunken man who is vomiting, the angry man’s veins are distended, his eyes inflamed, and his bowels racked. He vomits forth words far more filthy than that food; everything he utters is crude, nothing is duly digested, since his passion won’t allow it. But as with the drunk an excess of fumes make an uproar in the stomach and often it rejects all its contents; so too here, an excess of heat making a tumult in the soul does not allow him to conceal that which should be left unsaid, but things proper and improper to be spoken, he says all alike, not putting the hearers but himself to shame. Just as we get out of the way of those who vomit, so too let us depart from those who are angry. Such a man is as a swine that eats dung, for nothing is more stinking than the words they utter.

What then is more abominable than an abusive man? What filthier than the mouth that chews such food (that is, abusive language)? I had rather sit at table with a man who eats dirt, than one who speaks such words. Abusive men think they are disgracing others, while in fact they are disgracing themselves.
It is plain that they themselves undergo the disgrace, since more often than not they speak lies in their railings. And even if they speak the truth they disgrace themselves. How? Let me show you: Let us suppose, there is for instance, some notorious harlot and she has a fight with an abusive person. Then the latter casts up to her what she is, and she retorts upon him the same reproach: which of them is the most damaged by the words? Not the harlot—for being what the other calls her, she is just where she was before. The disgrace is to him; and that not from the harlot’s words, for they do not fit: but rather the disgrace comes from his own indecent railing. Therefore in thinking to disgrace her he has much more disgraced himself. He is more disgraced by calling her what she is, than he is by her calling him the thing that he is not.

And again let there be some hidden actions, and let them be known only by the person who is abusing. Then keeping it secret until now, let him openly parade the reproach; even so, he himself is more disgraced than the other. How? Because he makes himself the herald of wickedness and he acquires for himself the reputation of one not to be trusted, being unable to conceal anything confidential. And all men will at once accuse him saying, “You can’t tell him anything because with his quick temper he is sure to blab it all.” And they will avoid him as being not even human; they will hate him, and say that he is a wild beast, fierce and cruel. Yet the other one they will pardon rather than him.

We do not hate those that have wounds as much as we do those that compel them to uncover and show them. Therefore that man has not only disgraced the other, but himself as well and his hearers, and the common nature of all men. He has wounded the hearer, having done no good whatsoever. For this reason Paul says, “Let no evil talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for edifying, as fits the occasion, that it may impart grace to those who hear.” (Eph. 4:29)

Therefore I beseech you, considering how the wickedness of mocking others has come to such a great height, so that many even boast of it and consider it an art, let us return to our senses. Let us revive those who are sick of this madness; let us make our tongue gracious, and rid it of all evil speaking. Then being clean from sins, we may be able to draw down upon us the good will from above, and to have mercy vouchsafed unto us from God; through the grace and love towards mankind of our Lord Jesus Christ to Whom be glory together with the Father and the Holy Spirit, now and ever and unto ages of ages. Amen.