On the Anger of God

From The Twelve Books on the Institutes of the Coenobia by St. John Cassian (+435)

Book VIII. Of the Spirit of Anger.

Chapter I.

How our fourth conflict is against the sin of anger, and how many evils this passion produces.IN our fourth combat the deadly poison of anger has to be utterly rooted out from the inmost comers of our soul. For as long as this remains in our hearts, and blinds with its hurtful darkness the eye of the soul, we can neither acquire right judgment and discretion,nor gain the insight which springs from an honest gaze, or ripeness of counsel, nor can we be partakers of life, or retentive of righteousness, or even have the capacity for spiritual and true light: "for," says one, mine eye is disturbed by reason of anger." Nor can we become partakers of wisdom, even though we are considered wise by universal consent, for "anger rests in the bosom of fools." Nor can we even attain immortal life, although we are accounted prudent in the opinion of everybody, for "anger destroys even the prudent." Nor shall we be able with clear judgment of heart to secure the controlling power of righteousness, even though we are reckoned perfect and holy in the estimation of all men, for "the wrath of man worketh not the righteousness of God." Nor can we by any possibility acquire that esteem and honour which is so frequently seen even in worldlings, even though we are thought noble and honourable through the privileges of birth, because "an angry man is dishonoured." Nor again can we secure any ripeness of counsel, even though we appear to be weighty, and endowed with the utmost knowledge; because "an angry man acts without counsel." Nor can we be free from dangerous disturbances, nor be without sin, even though no sort of disturbances be brought upon us by others; because "a passionate man engenders quarrels, but an angry man digs up sins."

Chapter II.

Of those who say that anger is not injurious, if we are angry with those who do wrong, since God Himself is said to be angry.Wig have heard some people trying to excuse this most pernicious disease of the soul, in such a way as to endeavour to extenuate it by a rather shocking way of interpreting Scripture: as they say that it is 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 with those who either will not know Him, or, knowing Him, spurn Him, as here "And the anger of the Lord was kindled against His people;" or where the prophet prays and says, "O Lord, rebuke me not in thine anger, neither chasten me in thy displeasure;" not understanding that, while they want to open to men an excuse for a most pestilent sin, they are ascribing to the Divine Infinity and Fountain of all purity 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 understood literally in a material gross signification, then also He sleeps, as it is said, "Arise, wherefore sleepest thou, O Lord?" though it is elsewhere said of Him: "Behold he that keepeth Israel shall neither slumber nor sleep." And He stands and sits, since He says, "Heaven is my seat, and earth the footstool for my feet:" though He "measure out the heaven with his hand, and holdeth the earth in his fist." And He is "drunken with wine" as it is said, "The Lord awoke like a sleeper, a mighty man, drunken with wine;" He "who only hath immortality and dwelleth in the light which no man can approach unto:" 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 spoken of as arranged and ordered like a man's; e.g., the hair, head,nostrils, eyes, face, hands, arms, fingers, belly, and feet: if we are 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 a bodily form; which indeed is shocking even to speak of, and must be far 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 be understood literally of Him who is declared by the authority of Holy Scripture to be invisible, ineffable, incomprehensible, inestimable,simple, and uncompounded, so neither can the passion of anger and wrath be attributed to that unchangeable nature without fearful blasphemy. For we ought to see that the limbs signify the divine powers and boundless operations of God, which can only be represented to us by the familiar expression of limbs: by the mouth we should understand that His utterances are meant, which are of His mercy continually poured into the secret senses of the soul, or which He spoke among our fathers and the prophets: by the eyes we can understand the boundless character of His sight with which He sees and looks through all things, and so nothing is hidden from Him of what is done or can be done by us, or even thought. By the expression "hands," we understand His providence and work, by which He is the creator and author of all things; the arms are the emblems of His might and government, with which He upholds, rules and controls all things. And not to speak of other things, what else does the hoary hair of His head signify but the eternity and perpetuity of Deity, through which He is without any beginning, and before all times, 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, but in a sense worthy of God, who is free from all passion; so that by this we should understand that He is the judge and avenger of all the unjust things which are done in this world; and by reason of these terms and their meaning we should dread Him as the terrible rewarder of our deeds, and fear to do anything against His will. For human nature is wont to fear those whom it knows to be indignant, and is afraid of offending: as in the case of some most just judges, avenging wrath is usually feared by those who are tormented by some accusation of their conscience; not indeed that this passion exists in the minds of those who are going to judge with perfect equity, but that, while they so fear, the disposition of the judge towards them is that which is the precursor of a just and impartial execution of the law. And this,with whatever kindness and gentleness it may be conducted, is deemed by those who are justly to be punished to be the most savage wrath and vehement anger. It would be tedious and outside the scope of the present work were we to explain all the things which are spoken metaphorically of God in Holy Scripture, with human figures. Let it be enough for our present purpose, which is aimed against the sin of wrath, to have said this that no one may through ignorance draw down upon himself a cause of this evil and of eternal death, out of those Scriptures in which he should seek for saintliness and immortality as the remedies to bring life and salvation.