We then are angered upon persons, animals and things since they all from time to time cause us some kind of evil. Now, the sentiment of anger, which proceeds from the will, consists of a strong desire to repel and punish that which is being aggressive towards us. Therefore, we can say that there is a lawful sentiment of anger. A righteous indignation which is strong but rationed. Which is strong, but seeks just retribution upon the guilty. That’s what we call anger as a virtue — because God gave it to us, to protect us.
In order for anger to be righteous, to be justified, it has to meet three criteria. First, it has to be just. It has to be just, objectively. It must seek to punish only those who deserve punishment. We can’t be angered for example because of an unjust cause. Second, it has to be tempered by moderation in its execution. It can’t be overdone. This is why it is possible, for example, to have a just cause but have excessive anger over the just cause. There has to be a balance between the crime and the punishment so to speak. And third, it must be motivated by charity. Anger must not be animated by hatred, but must animated by a zeal for good and for the conversion and the amendment of the person that’s guilty.
When these three conditions are lacking, whenever there is no objective just reason, when it’s not tempered by moderation and when it’s not animated by charity, if any of the three are lacking, then there is moral guilt in our anger.
Now, let’s talk about wrath, or anger, as a capital vice. As a capital vice anger is a violent and disordered desire for punishing others. And often this anger is accompanied by hatred, which goes with the often mere removal of aggression and seeks revenge, seeks to inflict evil for evil. It’s one thing, for example, to take away the aggressor, but it’s another thing for us to inflict evil back upon him. The first movement, or the first sign we could say, of simple anger is impatience. Impatience is a form of wrath. And this gives rise to a show of temper and from this flows agitation then violence and finally fury. And anger can degenerate into hatred which sometimes can even go to the point of desiring the death of one’s adversary or desiring something really bad to happen to a person.
So then, we ask ourselves: how sinful is it to be angry or to experience wrath? When anger is merely a passing impulse of a passion, because we all get angry, then it is a venial sin. This is true even when you lose your temper. The usual family battles: where husbands and wives may yell at each other from time to time, are ordinarily venial sins. But they can become mortal if our anger has a serious effect, in other words, if we greatly insult someone (words beyond what is necessary), or if we cause serious injury to them.
So, for example, if you say something horrible; if you offend your wife or your husband; if you call them horrible names, or worse yet, even strike them — then this a mortal sin because it is beyond just a passing thing; it’s deliberate and willful. Even so if you merely wish this in your heart and doesn’t make any physical act.
This is what Our Lord means when He says to us in Holy Scripture: But I say unto you, That whosoever is angry with his brother [without a cause] shall be in danger of the judgment: and whosoever shall say to his brother, Raca, shall be in danger of the council: but whosoever shall say, Thou fool, shall be in danger of hell fire.
If the impulse of hatred is not deliberate, in other words, we don’t want to do this, then it is a venial sin because we know that mortal sins require deliberation. Sometimes, when we are angry a feeling of hatred will well up inside of us but if we don’t consent to that feeling and if in our calmer moments we don’t want to have that feeling, then we have sinned venially. However, if we cultivate the feeling, we think about it, we consent to it, if we sort of plan how we are going to inflict evil on a person, then we have sinned mortally.
Now what are the effects of anger, or what are the effects of wrath? Anger causes many evils in both family and society. It is responsible for murder. It is responsible for civil wars; for wars between nations. All of this is fed by anger. It is a cause of divorce; of misery in the family. Whenever someone is angry, there is unhappiness. Some families live in perpetual unhappiness because someone in the house is always angry. Typically the husband will raise his voice in an unjustified and immoderate display of his passion. He’ll say cruel things to his wife and children. He will slam doors and smash things and sometimes even become violent with his family.
On the other hand, sometimes the wife will be screaming. She will incessantly criticize everyone. She will whine about the work she must do and barks at everyone as they pass by. She becomes the opposite of what she should be — the source of love and gentleness and peace. She becomes many times, someone to avoid because of her anger.
Children display their anger by tantrums, when they are young, and later through rebellion and murmury against their elders. This anger is the cause of the gruff attitude that we often see in teenagers. They feel they are oppressed by their parents. They have a disordered desire to want to be independent and to be adults right away and they are angry inside because they feel that any kind of authority is an oppression. And they go around in perpetual unhappiness: with sour looks and scowling and murmury and everyone around them is unhappy.
Anger also blocks our spiritual progress because we lose our good judgment. We can’t think straight when we’re angry. It makes us lose our gentleness. It makes us blind to the rights of others and it destroys our interior peace which makes us lose our spirit of recollection.
So what can we do to root out this capital sin? Or what are the remedies against anger? The first one is what we call recollection. And recollection is paying attention to the presence of God in our souls. What stops the flow of passion and anger is calling to mind that our souls are the temple of God. And we have to think about this often. The second remedy is humility. People who are given to anger are almost always prideful. Their pride makes them excessively sensitive about themselves and how others treat them. They are moved to anger for false causes. Their pride seeks only their own good and despises the good of others. The humble person on the other hand, cares little about himself and bears patiently the wrongs that are done.
The third remedy of course is prayer. We must daily pray to overcome anger and to make resolutions to avoid it. No supernatural virtue can be acquired by natural means anymore than you can go to the moon, for example, in a car. Supernatural virtues require supernatural means and the supernatural mean is prayer. And the last remedy is what we call meekness.
Sacred scripture has some very moving passages about anger. In the book of Proverbs we hear: A fool immediately showeth his anger, but he that dissembleth injuries is wise.
In Ecclesiastes: Be not quickly angry: for anger resteth in the bosom of a fool.
In Ecclesiasticus: Anger and fury are both of them abominable, and the sinful man shall be subject to them.
Again in Ecclesiasticus: Be not as a lion in thy house, terrifying them of thy household, and oppressing them that are under thee.
And in the letter of St. James: That every man be swift to hear, but slow to speak, and slow to anger.