Jan 30, 2011

Anselm on "In What Way an Upright Person. . . "

For today, taking a cue from John Allen, who from time to time supplies translations from Arabic on his blog Thicket and Thorp, instead of continuing the series of recent posts discussing various facets or theories of anger, I've decided to provide translation of chapter of a yet untranslated Latin work, the Dicta Anselmi.  It does have to do with anger, in a somewhat oblique manner, since the passage has to do with the approach one ought to take not only towards good people but also bad people.  Among the possible approaches towards the actions of bad people is to feel and act out emotions of anger (or righteous indignation, or hatred) towards them.

Anselm cautions against following the dictates of our carnal, i.e. fallen and fleshly, appetites, and counsels following the dictates of reason and God's precepts.  The human will is placed between these, and in anselmian moral theory, has the capacity to tilt itself towards following the call of one or the other.

Two last words -- in this translation, which bears on the "good person" (homo), rather than writing "man" or "he or she," or alternating back and forth between masculine and feminine, I have just used that generic, increasingly found, though admittedly ungrammatical, "they" as the third person singular.-- I have also translated the scriptures Anselm quotes rather freely, simply following his Latin.

Dicta Anselmi, Chapter VI: 
In What Way an Upright  Person Turns to Use Every Good Person and Every Bad Person
A good person derives profit for themself from every good person and from every bad person.   For if they hear of something good happening to a good or bad person, they rejoice and give thanks to the all-powerful God on that account.  And from this they receive from God the wages of a good will, as if they were the co-worker in that same work. But if they hear of something bad befalling [one of them], they are pained.  This is reckoned towards their wages on their part, as if they were a destroyer or diminisher of the bad thing.  And thus the upright person wisely acquires a good wage for themself with both the good and the bad.

But someone says:  "I cannot be pleased by the good and the prosperity of my enemy, nor am I able to empathize in sadness and their harm.  Now, if I were to claim with my mouth that I rejoiced in their benefit or to be saddened by their harm, I would be lying, since what I say, I do not have in my heart.  And since Scripture says: "The mouth that lies kills the soul," and "You destroy all who speak a lie," I ought to take great care, lest I put forth one thing with my mouth, but think another in my heart.
I cannot really deny this, but it is worth pondering how one who wants to make progress should take on the power for themselves, so that they will be able to make progress.  For, although my carnal appetite desires the harm of my enemy, still I should not call for this by mouth, but rather to lament this harm and -- against my carnal appetite -- to speak well of their prosperity,  and to say -- just by words if I cannot [think this] in my heart at the same time -- that their harm displeases me.  For the Lord teaches us to love our enemies. 
And so if I cannot love them by affection, since I cannot turn my carnality towards love of them, nevertheless I ought to will that I be able to love them, and so far as I can to do this, i.e. to say openly something  -- which is in my power -- good and not bad about them.  And when I do this, I do not lie when I say that I love them, since "The will is given to me, but I do not have its being brought about."  Still, I am feeling joy for another by the Lord's precept so far as the reason of my spirit loves them, even though the corruptibility of my flesh turns back from my taking delight on the other's account.

And so when I by my will [following the dictates] of reason agree consent to God's precept, though the carnal pleasure or desire feels something different, "Now I do not work that, but sin resides in me."  For it is one thing to feel something, another to consent to it.  For when I feel anger, temptation, or some other contrary to the good, if I do not consent to it, it causes no injury.  "For there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, those who do not live according to carnal desires."  Now the bad person, to the contrary, takes to themself bad from both good and bad people, since they are jealous of the good things and they display liking the bad things. "Their end is destruction," death, and tribulation; "but the just person's end is Christ, life and exaltation.
Anselm is discussing a very important issue here, one brought to its sharpest point in a number of the the "hard sayings" of the Sermon on the Mount, as well as in other Christian teachings and texts -- not a problem in any way confined to Christianity, it ought to be pointed out, since we see similar tensions arising even in Plato's dialogues, where the good person does not harm even the bad, refrains from retaliation, while at the same time, the bad would benefit by punishment. In the Jewish Wisdom Literature -- the Psalms in particular depict this repeatedly, as does the book of Wisdom --  a common and consistent theme is that the good must share the world with the bad, who threaten, harass, even hate the good, who in their turn are not to resort to the methods, to revert to the assumptions and approaches, however tempting, indulged in by the bad -- to let God sort it out, allow the bad to fall into their own pits, or to fall upon each other.  In Stoicism -- very clearly articulated in Epictetus' Discourses -- we are to nurse ourselves away from responding to evil, even repeated, malicious, malignant evil -- with anger, hatred, or ill will, to choose a different, admittedly harder path.

It is indeed much easier to feel and act sympathetically towards those whom we already love or like, feel affection or admiration for, maintain friendships or relationships with, than it is towards those who are -- in whatever sense -- our enemies, our adversaries, even our rivals. Adding moral goodness and badness into the mix makes it yet more difficult, for even if the good strive not to make enemies of the bad, the bad are all too willing to foment such antagonism and hostility, whether openly or in concealment.  As Anselm quips in one of his Letters (63, to Prior Henry):
[V]ice always envies virtue.  If you want to be free of the persecution of jealousy, therefore, either find a place where you can hide concealed from wicked people, or renounce virtues.  But you will do neither of these, because one is impossible and the other detestable.
Making these matters even tougher, we do have a natural human tendency -- one exacerbated in Anselm's view by the damage done to our nature through original sin -- toward desiring harm to those we perceive to be our enemies, those who bear us ill-will, who want to harm us or those we care for -- or who have indeed already inflicted such harm.  He calls these the "carnal appetites," following Paul and a whole line of Christian theologians.  It is hard to do as we are bid -- we are tempted to take pleasure in harm imposed or even imagined on those we fear, detest, find ourselves inevitably at odds with, and we experience difficulty taking joy in their successes, the goods they enjoy, perhaps even in the fact that -- when this is the case -- they are becoming better, making moral improvement, being weaned from vice towards virtues.

Added to this is a legitimate concern about exhibiting a kind of insincerity, perhaps even hypocrisy.  Isn't it more honest just to come out say that we can't find it in us to rejoice in goods bad people experience or attain to, and that we find it incredibly difficult not only to feel any sympathy towards them when they suffer, but perhaps even to see in their suffering a kind of poetic justice in which we'd like to partake?

Anselm's advice is quite simply:  all this being acknowledged, do what you can do.  If you can't love your neighbor, let alone your enemy, at least act rightly -- not acting as if you love them in the sense of making pretenses, but acting lovingly towards them.  Recognize the divided condition of your will -- your carnal appetites steer your will towards hatred of your enemies, but you also want to follow God's command and example -- and that you still retain the capacity to choose which motive will predominate.  Without involving oneself in falsehood or mendacity, there are ways one can  speak well of a person of whom one does not think or feel well, to lament harms done to them, to speak well of their success and what measure of happiness they enjoy. As he says, this is "worth pondering over."