Feb 27, 2011

Saint Anselm on Anger (part 2)

Reprising the subject from last Sunday's post, Saint Anselm on Anger, I'm going to delve a bit deeper and in somewhat greater detail into what an Anselmian theory of anger would look like.  As I noted in that entry, Anselm does not discuss anger overmuch, nor does he provide any systematic treatment of it.  In general, he regards it as bad, but simply knowing that leaves many important questions unanswered.  What we have to do then is take his scattered references to anger and situate them within his more comprehensive and explicitly developed moral theory.

I introduced several important aspects of that moral theory, not least what we can call Anselm's moral anthropology -- his viewpoint bearing on the different parts or aspects of human being -- and discussed how anger fits partly under what Anselm (following St. Paul, and a host of Christian writers) calls the "carnal appetites," which arise in our bodies but then give rise to corresponding desires in the soul, within the ambit of the human will to be precise.  In this post, I'm going to set out some of Anselm's teachings about the complex faculty which the human will is, and set anger within them,

First, though, I want to pick up where I left off, mentioning several states of character, virtues, which bear upon anger, primarily in negative manners, i.e., by preventing anger entirely, or by lessening its intensity, its ease of provocation, its duration, even by keeping legitimate anger directed properly, preventing it from  spilling over to other people, bleeding into other matters or occasions.  Those are patience, meekness (mansuetudo, also translated as "mildness" or as "gentleness"), humility, and justice.  The last two exercise absolutely architectonic roles in Anselm's moral theory -- indeed all of the virtues are connected in fundamental ways with both of them -- but the first two more specifically bear on anger.  Now, we unfortunately don't possess all  that much of the great monastic teacher's thought on these.  We do know from Anselm's biographer, Eadmer, a monk of Canterbury, that he both taught and counseled on these subjects. He tells us that during the common meals, Anselm discussed these at length and in depth:
For if I were to describe him as he discoursed about humility, patience, gentleness . . . or about any of the innumerable and profound subjects on which we heard him talk almost every day, I should have to compose another work and put aside the one which I have undertaken.
 In fact, at the risk of digression, I should point out that Anselm so embodied these virtues, even in his role as Archbishop of Canterbury, that he drew criticism on their account (even from his biographer).  The very next chapter of the Vita Anselmi relates:
It is certain that from the moment he assumed a religious habit to the time of his elevation to the episcopacy, he devoted himself to the cultivation of every virtue, and by word and example sowed these virtues in the minds of others whenever possible. . . .He was often even blamed and suffered in his reputation on account of his undiscerning [indiscreta]. . . . cultivation of the virtues which were more fitting for a monk of his cloister than for the primate of so great a nation. His high humility, his boundless patience. . . .were all in this respect noted censured and condemned.  And above all he was blamed for his lack of judgment in the mildness of his proceedings, for -- as most people saw it -- there were many on whom he ought to have inflicted ecclesiastical discipline, who took advantage of his mildness to remain in their wickedness as if by his consent.
Still, Anselm appeared to have a particular gift for a different type of discernment, "adapt[ing] his words to every class of men, so that his hearers declared that nothing could have been spoken more appropriate to their station."  Interestingly, among the advice given to the laity, specifically to married people, we find the wife charged to "diligently encourage [her husband] in well-doing, and calm his spirit with her mildness in he were perchance unjustly stirred up against anyone."  Anselm praises Queen Matilda precisely for this in more than one of his Letters -- in fact, I suspect that the very word "anger" is used most often in Anselm's Letters and in Eadmer's Vita Anselmi of her husband, King Henry, who made numerous demands Anselm could not rightly grant (one reason why Anselm is a pivotal figure in the history of Church-State relations), and was angered with Anselm (and really, anyone connected with him!) on many occasions.

Eadmer also tells us of fruits of Anselm's commitment to spiritual disciplines and to unfolding the rationality implicit in the faith:
Being thus inwardly more clearly illuminates with the light of wisdom and guided by his powers of discrimination, he so understood the characters of people of whatever sex or age that you might have seen him opening to each one the secrets of his heart and bringing them to the light of day.  Besides this he uncovered the origins and, so to speak, the very seeds and roots and process of growth of virtues and vices, and made it clearer than light how the former could be attained  and the latter avoided or subdued.
This was oral teaching and interaction, and we lack any Anselmian ethics book reflective of this embodied achievement (though one of my current book projects attempts to provide a best approximation to such a work). Still, in Anselm's treatises, in his Letters, in the Vita Anselmi, in the Dicta Anselmi, even in his prayers, a number of illuminating references to virtues and vices, their interconnections, their natures, structures, and objects, have come down to us, some of them helpful in understanding anger, for instance when he remarks in Letter 37 that "meekness is the inseparable companion of patience."

Anselm inherits and does not question a classic view that virtues and vices are habitually developed, structured, and expressed dispositions of the soul, tying in not only with our outward actions, but also with our desires, emotions, orderings and understandings of goods and evils.  As noted in the first post in this series on Anselm on anger, the will figures absolutely centrally in Anselm's moral theory, and because Anselm distinguishes different dimensions of the will, it is of very wide scope, encompassing much of the human being in one way or another.  The upshot of this is that virtues and vices, including those which bear upon anger, will in fact be ways in which the will (specifically the dimension of will Anselm termed affectio) is disposed, structured, turned and grown rightly or deformedly twisted.  Virtues and vices are, as I have discussed elsewhere, best understood in an Anselmian matrix as specific affectiones of the will, as determinate modes of freedom or of unfreedom of the will, and as particular forms of justice or of injustice in the will (justice in its overarching sense -- in this respect, Anselm is like Aristotle, seeing all of the virtues as being in some sense components of "complete justice")

So, in order to understand virtues and vices, including those bearing on anger, more fully -- before we get to the destination we are seeking, concrete, determinate structures of our character, good or bad -- we need to clarify and unpack a few key Anselmian doctrines about the will.

I see five subjects bearing on anger (as well as on many other matters):  what justice in the will is fundamentally; self-will (or pride) and its opposition to justice; the two basic affectiones of the will;  weakness of will and temptation;  the order of possible relationships between the carnal appetites and the will.   Right now, I'm going to examine just the first of these, putting off the other four for the next installment.

One of the most original features of Anselm's moral theory is the definition of justice he (and his student, for it is a dialogue) works out in De Veritate.
justice is rectitude of will kept for its own sake.
This involves willing the right thing, for the right reason(s), and it does not apply simply to single acts of will, or even series of volitions, i.e. will as usus.   Now, precisely what this rather formal definition means when we get down to brass tacks really requires us to apply ourselves to figuring out what rectitude or rightness means, both in general principles and in their extension to particulars of situations.  Fortunately, we are not on our own.  We have the faculty of reason and its products, divine precepts and example, teachings of other people -- a number of resources for determining what the right act, willing, speech, state of character, relationship, even thought is.  True, we can often go wrong in this -- but I'm also going to put off that problem for latter posts.

What is the upshot for anger?  Can being angry, so far as it involves the will, ever be right?  Can it be right to will one's angry state, the actions that flow naturally from anger, to remain unreconciled with another?  Or is the right thing always to endure, to forgive or at least strive to, to exhibit or at least try to develop the virtues, the states of will of patience and meekness?  Reading through Anselm's works, one certainly gets the strong impression that his view is the latter.  He tells us, for example, in Cur Deus Homo, that it is not up to anyone to avenge themselves on one who wrongs them.  That lies within God's prerogative, since all are His creatures.  Some must punish, threaten, fight in order to preserve the good of social order, Anselm grants, but that could certainly be done without those people feeling anger, or perhaps feeling it too much.

Of course, one might point out -- and I think Anselm would certainly be receptive to this -- that one who has a vicious disposition with respect to anger could will rectitude of will for its own sake, and to preserve the modicum of rightness of will which they possess.  If they become angry and attempt to counter their anger, even if they do end up ultimately loosing their temper -- which to be sure is a matter of will in one way -- they do will rightly in making the attempt, in willing it, in choosing that good, in choosing against the evil of giving way to anger. If they so will with the laudable motive of moving themselves even just a little (that's so often all we can do, isn't it?) away from the vicious disposition and towards a virtuous disposition, if they willingly make use of the little bit of freedom they have in this to make progress, to render themselves one step closer to mastering their anger, they are willing to preserve rightness of will.  And if they do so because they recognize that this is the right, the good thing to do, not just because somebody is rewarding them  or threatening them, they are willing to maintain rectitude of will for its own sake.  They are willing justice, and to that extent their will is just.

It's quite possible -- in fact, this is usually the case to some extent, in one way or another -- to have a will divided against itself, desiring, even striving for contradictory or at least incompatible objects, one of which ultimately has to be sacrificed or subordinated to the other.  In fact, until we are truly virtuous -- and I only hope someday to grasp the hem of that garment! -- our wills will contain such discordances.  Often we don't want to face up to them, to accept responsibility not only for the good we will but also for the bad.

So, there could be cases where the angry person at least in part wills rightly, wills justly, is just, but such cases will inevitably and always be those in which a person is choosing to employ their will (hopefully aided by the wills of others -- more on that in a later entry in this series) to modify the very lasting structure of their will, or at least to oppose another anger-directed volition within their will.  The person who is habitually angry, who carries within them and colors the world with their rancor, or who is quick to take offense over too many matters, or who flares out into uncontrollable rage over and over again, or who nurses their grudges until the opportunity comes for their wrath to tower and then crash down upon their enemies -- such a person who realizes they are such, resolves to change, struggles to carry forth their resolution, falls but gets up again, they can will rectitude of will maintained for its own sake.

The other circumstances where we might imagine Anselm conceding some possible conflux between the affective response of anger and rectitude of will would be where one ought to defend, impose, preserve, certain goods, whether they be social order, the lives of those one is responsible for, perhaps even one's own body, or a truth worth fighting for -- some have duties to do this.  Those who redress wrongs and punish criminals -- could there be cases in which feeling the emotion of anger, or even nursing a slow-burning flame of it, might carry that person through, steel them to their unpleasant duties?  I think a case can be made that Anselm might accept here -- though doubtless he would point out that anger is so seductive, it is so easy to cross over the line separating the legitimate amount, duration, tenor of anger from the excessive, aided by the pleasure that just as much as pain and desire is a constituent and component of the emotion and its characteristic actions.

So, for the most part, from Anselm's perspective, justice in the will is going to be incompatible with anger as emotion, disposition, and actions considered good, endorsed or even enjoyed by the will rather than endured and opposed by at least part of the will.