Book Talk Tuesday, Introduction to the Devout Life, Part 3, Chapter 8

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CHAPTER VIII. Gentleness towards others and Remedies against Anger.

THE holy Chrism, used by the Church according to apostolic tradition,
is made of olive oil mingled with balm, which, among other things, are
emblematic of two virtues very specially conspicuous in our Dear Lord
Himself, and which He has specially commended to us, as though they,
above all things, drew us to Him and taught us to imitate Him: “Take My
yoke upon you, and learn of Me, for I am meek and lowly in heart.” [76]
Humility makes our lives acceptable to God, meekness makes us
acceptable to men. Balm, as I said before, sinking to the bottom of all
liquids, is a figure of humility; and oil, floating as it does to the
top, is a figure of gentleness and cheerfulness, rising above all
things, and excelling all things, the very flower of Love, which, so
says S. Bernard, comes to perfection when it is not merely patient, but
gentle and cheerful. Give heed, then, daughter, that you keep this
mystic chrism of gentleness and humility in your heart, for it is a
favourite device of the Enemy to make people content with a fair
outside semblance of these graces, not examining their inner hearts,
and so fancying themselves to be gentle and humble while they are far
otherwise. And this is easily perceived, because, in spite of their
ostentatious gentleness and humility, they are stirred up with pride
and anger by the smallest wrong or contradiction. There is a popular
belief that those who take the antidote commonly called “Saint Paul’s
gift,” [77] do not suffer from the viper’s bite, provided, that is,
that the remedy be pure; and even so true gentleness and humility will
avert the burning and swelling which contradiction is apt to excite in
our hearts. If, when stung by slander or ill-nature, we wax proud and
swell with anger, it is a proof that our gentleness and humility are
unreal, and mere artificial show. When the Patriarch Joseph sent his
brethren back from Egypt to his father’s house, he only gave them one
counsel, “See that ye fall not out by the way.” [78] And so, my child,
say I to you. This miserable life is but the road to a blessed life; do
not let us fall out by the way one with another; let us go on with the
company of our brethren gently, peacefully, and kindly. Most
emphatically I say it, If possible, fall out with no one, and on no
pretext whatever suffer your heart to admit anger and passion. S. James
says, plainly and unreservedly, that “the wrath of man worketh not the
righteousness of God.” [79] Of course it is a duty to resist evil and
to repress the faults of those for whom we are responsible, steadily
and firmly, but gently and quietly. Nothing so stills the elephant when
enraged as the sight of a lamb; nor does anything break the force of a
cannon ball so well as wool. Correction given in anger, however
tempered by reason, never has so much effect as that which is given
altogether without anger; for the reasonable soul being naturally
subject to reason, it is a mere tyranny which subjects it to passion,
and whereinsoever reason is led by passion it becomes odious, and its
just rule obnoxious. When a monarch visits a country peaceably the
people are gratified and flattered; but if the king has to take his
armies through the land, even on behalf of the public welfare, his
visit is sure to be unwelcome and harmful, because, however strictly
military discipline may be enforced, there will always be some mischief
done to the people. Just so when reason prevails, and administers
reproof, correction, and punishment in a calm spirit, although it be
strict, every one approves and is content; but if reason be hindered by
anger and vexation (which Saint Augustine calls her soldiers) there
will be more fear than love, and reason itself will be despised and
resisted. The same Saint Augustine, writing to Profuturus, says that it
is better to refuse entrance to any even the least semblance of anger,
however just; and that because once entered in, it is hard to be got
rid of, and what was but a little mote soon waxes into a great beam.
For if anger tarries till night, and the sun goes down upon our wrath
(a thing expressly forbidden by the Apostle [80] ), there is no longer
any way of getting rid of it; it feeds upon endless false fancies; for
no angry man ever yet but thought his anger just.

Depend upon it, it is better to learn how to live without being angry
than to imagine one can moderate and control anger lawfully; and if
through weakness and frailty one is overtaken by it, it is far better
to put it away forcibly than to parley with it; for give anger ever so
little way, and it will become master, like the serpent, who easily
works in its body wherever it can once introduce its head. You will ask
how to put away anger. My child, when you feel its first movements,
collect yourself gently and seriously, not hastily or with impetuosity.
Sometimes in a law court the officials who enforce quiet make more
noise than those they affect to hush; and so, if you are impetuous in
restraining your temper, you will throw your heart into worse confusion
than before, and, amid the excitement, it will lose all self-control.

Having thus gently exerted yourself, follow the advice which the aged
S. Augustine gave to a younger Bishop, Auxilius. “Do,” said he, “what a
man should do.” If you are like the Psalmist, ready to cry out, “Mine
eye is consumed for very anger,” [81] go on to say, “Have mercy upon
me, O Lord;” so that God may stretch forth His Right Hand and control
your wrath. I mean, that when we feel stirred with anger, we ought to
call upon God for help, like the Apostles, when they were tossed about
with wind and storm, and He is sure to say, “Peace, be still.” But even
here I would again warn you, that your very prayers against the angry
feelings which urge you should be gentle, calm, and without vehemence.
Remember this rule in whatever remedies against anger you may seek.
Further, directly you are conscious of an angry act, atone for the
fault by some speedy act of meekness towards the person who excited
your anger. It is a sovereign cure for untruthfulness to unsay what you
have falsely said at once on detecting yourself in falsehood; and so,
too, it is a good remedy for anger to make immediate amends by some
opposite act of meekness. There is an old saying, that fresh wounds are
soonest closed.

Moreover, when there is nothing to stir your wrath, lay up a store of
meekness and kindliness, speaking and acting in things great and small
as gently as possible. Remember that the Bride of the Canticles is
described as not merely dropping honey, and milk also, from her lips,
but as having it “under her tongue;” [82] that is to say, in her heart.
So we must not only speak gently to our neighbour, but we must be
filled, heart and soul, with gentleness; and we must not merely seek
the sweetness of aromatic honey in courtesy and suavity with strangers,
but also the sweetness of milk among those of our own household and our
neighbours; a sweetness terribly lacking to some who are as angels
abroad and devils at home!
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[76] S. Matt. xi. 29.

[77] “La grace de Saint Paul,” in one old edition: in another, “la
graisse de Saint Paull;” the latter probably is the true reading, as
there was a quack salve formerly in use for the bites of snakes, partly
compounded of adders’ fat. The name is obviously derived from S. Paul’s
adventure with the viper in the Island of Melita. (Acts xxviii.)

[78] Gen. xlv. 24.

[79] S. James i. 20.

[80] Eph. iv. 26.

[81] In the English version it is, “Mine eye is consumed for very
heaviness” (Ps. xxxi. 9), but in the Vulgate we find, “Conturbatus est
in ira oculus meus.” (Vulg. Ps. xxx. 10.)

[82] Cant. iv. 11.
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