Wednesday, September 11, 2013
Analyzing the Seven Deadly Sins, Pt. 2: Wrath
I say infested because this is what the sin of wrath does. Wrath, or hatred if you will, is an acid within the soul that eats away at the heart until there is almost nothing left - St. John Cassian himself refers to it as a "deadly poison."1 It turns the Christian soul into a volcanic being, literally waiting to erupt and spill over its hate on to whatever it deems as its target and/or its oppressor. Wrath blocks the light of Christ from filling the soul - when one's soul is filled to the brim with whipping torrents of blackened anger, clear judgment and humility of heart are not to be found, and if they are, they are buried beneath layers of ash and fire. In this, we see the truly suffocating effects of wrath.
When I first moved out to be with my Mom and change my life, I noted how gradually, love began to fall like a gentle rain on the scorched earth that was my soul. My insides felt fiery and in constant spiritual pain. The passionate hate I felt within me was like magma surging in my veins. I had let this particular deadly sin overcome and overwhelm me through and through.
"No matter what provokes it, anger blinds the soul's eyes, preventing it from seeing the Sun of righteousness."2 (St. John Cassian) This was true in my own life, and I assume it is in the lives of many others who have been wounded by this deadly sin. It is a sin that places the soul within reach of the flames of Hell, "in danger of the judgment." (Matt. 5:22) If left unchecked, wrath eventually produces the most evil fruits: desire for another's harm or downfall, all-consuming hatred, violence, and many others. "If the passion of anger dominates your soul, those who live in the world will prove to be better than you and you will be put to shame..."3 (St. Theodoros the Great Ascetic)
So, how do we combat this sin and its effects? How are we able to calm a rage within us that seems to have consumed us? The cause of wrath needs to be uncovered beneath the piles of magma that surround the heart - in other words, get to the root of one's rage. The Jesus Prayer has an incredible effect of calming the soul, taming it like a wild beast, and penetrating the heart to replace the fiery heat of rage with a gentle warmth. This prayer can often reveal what has been causing our anger.
"When anger tries to burn up my tabernacle, I will look to the goodness of God, Whom anger never touched... And when hatred tries to darken me, I will look to the mercy and the martyrdom of the Son of God..."4 (St. Hildegard of Bingen) When we find ourselves consumed by the sin of wrath, a sure antidote is found in gazing upon the crucified Savior, who lifted not a finger against His persecutors, never once cried out against them, never once fought back. "Picture to yourself all the torments and indignities of His Passion, and amazed at His constancy, blush at your own weakness."5 (Dom Lorenzo Scupoli)
Here, we see the virtue of humility come to our aid in the combat against wrath, for wrath is intimately linked with pride via self-justification of one's seemingly "righteous" anger, an aspect of wrath which seems to me to speak to the inability to see clearly through one's rage, as outlined above. As Evagrius notes, wrath "darkens the soul,"6 and this darkening causes the Christian to be lost in their own stormclouds within. Humility shines a light through these clouds, and allows us to see clearly once again.
With humility comes mercy and compassion towards others, a sure way of putting out the fires of wrath, for "the limpidity of mercy is known for patience in bearing injury, and the perfection of humility when it rejoices in gratuitous slander"7 (St. Isaac the Syrian), and injury (either perceived or real) is the great spark that sets the sin of wrath into motion. "If you are truly merciful, when you are wrongfully and cruelly deprived of what is yours, you will not be angry within or without..."8 (St. Isaac the Syrian)
1 - Institutes, "On the Eight Vices"
2 - ibid.
3 - A Century of Spiritual Texts, 30
4 - Scivias, IV:7
5 - The Spiritual Combat, 52
6 - Praktikos, 23
7 - On Ascetical Life, VI:8
8 - ibid., VI:9