Mar 6, 2011

Saint Anselm on Anger (part 3)

The last two Sundays, I posted installments of serialized set of posts, part 1 and part 2 of a longer study of how anger fits into Saint Anselm's moral theory.  That study in its turn forms part of a broader-scope, ongoing set of examinations of anger (and connected topics) as understood by philosophers, theologians, psychologists, and (perhaps later) literary figures, ultimately intended to be housed in books (one of which, dealing with Aristotle on anger, I'm working on currently). Here, in this format, I work out and provide for interested readership the shorter, more preliminary studies of anger that later find their way into more systematic, academic manuscripts.

The last post on Anselm identified four Anselmian virtues bearing on anger:  patience, meekness, humility, and justice, and noted that each of these virtues was a particular habitual and dispositional structure of the human will, instantiated not only in the uses the human person chooses to make of his or her will, but even more so in  lasting affective currents of desire, fateful shaping, character, what Anselm calls will as affectio.

In order to better understand virtues, and their opposite, vices, we have to understand the will, and that requires us to understand a number of other interrelated matters.  There are good reasons why we human beings are so often mysteries to ourselves even when we think we best understand and know ourselves, and Anselm touches on this while mimetically representing what must have been a common enough occurrence in his life and teaching, begging off from giving his views and rational reflections on a divine mystery in Cur Deus Homo:
we need an analysis of ability and necessity and will and of other notions which are so interrelated that no one of them can be fully examined apart from the others. . . . For an ignorance of these notions produces certain difficulties which become easy to deal with as a result of understanding these notions.
I identified several of those interrelated notions -- at least if our intent is to understand virtue, vice, and anger in an Anselmian way -- singling out five:  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.  Though much more could be said about the first topic than the short treatment given in the last post, enough has been said to pass now to the other topics, Through these Anselm's definition of justice as "rectitude of will maintained for its own sake" will take on fuller meaning and greater determinacy.  In this post, I am going to explore the second topic and its significance for anger.

As a thoroughly and deliberately Christian thinker, Anselm's views on the will are shaped by meditation upon the implications of key doctrines, experiences, and concepts.  I have explored at length elsewhere the question whether Anselm's Christian thought deserves to be called Christian philosophy and discussed the various modes by which Christianity exercises its influence on the development of his philosophy, so I will just say here that Christianity does not simply supply Anselm with dogmas to be assimilated philosophically within a rational system of thought, but also opens horizons without and within the human being, permitting new questions to be coherently asked, new ideas to be explored, new arguments and lines of thought to be worked out.  Virtues, vices, and the human take on clearer, sharper, more distinct lines in such light, affording better vantage upon their complex structures.  One of the essential features, a relational one, of the Anselmain will  is its poise between two fundamental alternatives and its necessity of fateful commitment to one or to the other of them: God's will or self-will.

Put alternately -- and I have to caution against any hasty or oversimplistic identifications at this point -- the choice is between justice in the will or injustice in the will.  Any given human being's will is in a basic, fundamental, over-arching way oriented towards justice, i.e. justly, or it is directed or attracted towards towards something else, some other object, involving a lack of justice where it ought to be in the will (Anselm is Augustinian in his view that injustice is actually a lack, a privation, and does not have independent reality or existence).

What is the ultimate criterion and orgin of justice in the human (or for that matter, the angelic or the animal) will?  It is in fact the divine will, Anselm maintains, and the will is just when it accords with God's will.  But, we must be careful not to assume that he holds or puts forth any simplistic conception of God and the human being which would identify the divine will with dictates simply imposed from on high on a passively obediental subject whose only appropriate response is to blindly and unthinkingly obey.  Reason, and the rationality permeating the human will, are among the greatest gifts, the most deeply rooted and characteristic of our nature, with which the Creator endowed human beings, and the desire of, the striving for, the will to justice takes its full shape, in Anselm's view, through employing our capacities to better and better grasp what God does in fact will of us.

In De Concordia (and several other works) Anselm tells us: “rectitude of will is present in someone when that person wills what God wills them to will.”  This is quite determinate and specific , as another formulation in an earlier work, De Libertate, indicates:  “keeping rectitude of will for the sake of that very rectitude is, for each person, to will what God wills that person to will."

Notice that the scenario he sketches is not simply that God wills something, commands it, and then we either will that or will something else (or perhaps deliberately will-against what God commands).  God's will bears upon the very framework and fabrics of our wills, the interior of our beings.  He wills that our wills be (self-)directed towards certain objects, actions, commitments, that our wills conceived on a larger, less momentary scale be fundamentally oriented in certain ways and not in others.  If we keep this in mind, then we better understand Anselm when in Cur Deus Homo he says:  “Every rational will of the creature should be subject to the will of God. . . . This is justice or rectitude of will, which makes people just or upright [rectos] of heart, i.e. of will."  Later in the same work he stresses: “Every rational creature owes [debet] that obedience to God."

Humans possess a number of complementary means for more or less successfully grasping what God's will in fact is, both generally and as applied to the specific situations, actions, thoughts, emotional responses, and volitions that are the building blocks of actual human lives.  Among those Anselm mentions in his works are right application and development of reason, Scripture and the norms of Christian doctrine and practice, proper education, proper attention to cues and insights provided by one’s moral environment, purification and full development of the will and reason, and acceptance of and collaboration with divine grace.  All of these provide guidance and determinacy to "willing to

Anselm also regards aligning one's will with God's will as progressively recovering and realizing the full potentialities of created human nature, obscured and damaged through original sin as well as through effects of our own personal sins, our own acts of injustice contravening the divine will in favor of self-will.  There is what we can call a teleological structure built into will and reason, an "ought" (debere), or put in Anselm's own terms a "what they were made for," which we realize only through the right uses of those very faculties of will and reason.

The alternative to aligning one's will with God's will is to choose what Anselm calls by the difficult to translate term propria voluntas, "self-will," also rightly rendered by Hopkins and Richardson as “autonomous willing,” if a particularly modern sense of “autonomous” is kept in mind.  Self-will is an end of the will, choosing itself, and also to (attempt unsuccessfully to) be like God.  It is also a disordered condition of the will itself, since to will itself as opposed to willing what God wills inevitably involves willing other objects than solely one's own autonomy (really, on a basic motivational level, one wills that for the sake of other objects, contra Kant) -- any of the other goods of the created or even uncreated order, whether real or just imaginary.  It becomes further disordered, bifurcated, divided against itself because unfortunately, when the human subject resists ordering its will more or less along the lines the divine will suggests, prioritizing itself over the divine will, inevitably it succumbs to and becomes subordinated to some other power, attractive, exploitative, even addictive to it.

The most paradigmatic (and in a metaphysical sense, original) case of self-will is the devil’s, who “willed something (by) an autonomous will, which was set under none other” and even “not only willed to be equal to God because he presumed to have autonomous will, but even willed to be greater [than God] but willing what God did not will him to will, so much he set his own will above God’s will.”

In the De Similitudinibus, Anselm describes the situation of the human will as being set not only between ranges of various objects possible for it to choose, but as having to decide itself more fundamentally between the alternatives of choosing for itself God's will or choosing itself, self-will, and thereby choosing an alignment with God's (and humanity's) enemy, the devil.  He frames this in a matrimonial metaphor.

The human will "is between God and the Devil, like a wife between her legitimate husband and some seducer. Her husband commands her to conjoin only with him, but the seducer tries to persuade her to copulate with him.” If the will opts for God, i.e. keeps justice (or if it has lost it, seeks and accepts it when it is offered again by grace), joining itself to the divine will, to “God’s rulership” (imperium eius) in obedience, like a “legitimate spouse, it brings to birth legitimate children, i.e. virtues and good works.”  The soul and its powers then become, as he says, “opened to doing what God commands.”
For the soul is opened to the inclination of the virtues and to willing what should be preferred, memory to the remembering what ought to be remembered, thought to thinking what ought to be thought upon, understanding to distinguishing what should be willed or remembered or thought. And, the mind is raised up to charity, is disposed to humility, is strengthened towards patience, and is opened to the other virtues that should be generated.
Choosing self-will (which Anselm identifies as pride) also brings along in its train effects upon the will exceeding the immediate situation of choice.  Anselm articulates these through several well-chosen similitudes:
For [self-will] is like a stream, which divides into three main parts, from which derive different and innumerable tributaries, which in certain places are separated from each other, and in other places two or more of them are joined back together. For in such a way self-will is divided into three main kinds, from which arise different and numberless vices; and these are sometimes disjoined from each other in a human being, and sometimes two or more are conjoined
Indeed, self-will is like some adulterous queen, who conjoins herself with that adulterous king from whom she has three children. For, from these three, all the other children and grandchildren are generated and likewise multiplied, so that they cannot be numbered. All of these remain in this king and queen's family, and each one of them performs their bidding in its own way. And, when the king, with the queen and the assembled army of sons and grandsons, opposes some other king, he makes war upon and then plunders the other king's kingdom.
And after self-will has joined itself to [the devil], it conceives three principal vices from his seed (i.e. from the perverse suggestion), namely wrongful pleasure, exaltation, and curiosity, and through the five corporeal senses it lets them out, as if giving birth. Truly, from these three so many of the other vices are born and so are multiplied, so that they are without number. And all of these arise from the family of the Devil and self-will and from themselves they produce a quite wondrous multitude. And so the Devil and self-will oppose God the king of kings, and the assembled army of the vices makes war on his kingdom, namely the world, and plunders it. And this army invades the human race in such a way that either many vices seize upon many human beings, or one vice seizes one person, or many one, or one many, in different places. And whoever they are able to master, having bound them by bad habits [consuetudine] they throw them into hell, where each of the vices demands from the person whatever they committed by them [i.e. by the vice]. And since this would never be able to be satisfied, the person will never not be in misery.
These are not all of the illuminating metaphors through which Anselm reveals how self-will structures the soul and the human will for the worse, but we ought here to consider the application of all of this to anger.  Where does anger fit, if we consider it in terms of the Anselmian alternative between aligning one's will with God's will or freeing it to pursue its own ends, structure itself, and ultimately lose itself in a servitude to its own desires and those other wills with which it enters into commerce to satisfy or at least slake those desires?  Two aspects of anger immediately arise as relevant:  what the conscious Christian knows God's will to be respecting anger; anger's arousal, motivation, prolongation or intensification, and habitual structuring in the will.

Saint Anselm, as remarked in earlier posts, does not seem to regard or speak of anger as ever positively good.  There he contrasts with Aristotle (and with his latter interpreter, Thomas Aquinas), follows in the steps of John Cassian (on whose views about anger, I have written here in an earlier series -- part 1, part 2), and accords with Augustine, who does acknowledge legitimacy to some anger, but who also counsels heightened caution lest originally right anger be allowed to linger, transforming into the much more problematic and unambiguously bad emotion of hatred.  In Letter 403, just for one characteristic example, writing to a group of nuns, Anselm brings up a passage from the Sermon on the Mount central to Christian reflection on anger:
Do not think that any sin is small, although one may be greater than another. . . . What sin will be small if Truth bears witness that one who is angry with his brother will answer for it before the court of justice; one who says 'Raca' must answer for it before the council; and one who says 'you fool' must answer for it in hell fire.
In Letter 414, writing to another group of nuns, he mentions anger along with envy and vainglory as examples of "unbecoming emotion[s] of body or soul" likely to arise, suggests remedies for dealing with them, and provides a useful moral maxim for assessing whether one's will is aligned with God (and thus whether one must reflexively employ one's will to restructure one's own will:
If you wish to know whether your intention is right: what is subject to the will of God is certainly right.  Whenever you plan or think of doing anything great or small, speak thus in your hearts: ' Does God want me to want this or not?' . . .  [If] your conscience tells you that God does not want you to have that intention, then turn your heart away from it with all your might. 
This has direct bearing on anger.  If one actually stops to consider whether one's will, one's emotional response is rightly aligned and directed, when one is angry, even without bringing any divine teaching into the mix -- if one is really honest with oneself about one's anger, and does not allow anger's propensity to seduce rationality into its service to lead one into thinking one's angry response perfectly reasonable! -- in most cases the conclusion is clear:  I shouldn't be feeling this, or I shouldn't be so quick to respond in anger, or feel it so intensely, letting it spill over into everything else, against other people . . . .  If one brings in Christian teachings about anger, its risks, the picture is even more clear.

The emotional response of anger -- or even the situation preceding it liable to produce anger -- sets before the affected person the alternative between justice or injustice in the will, preferring to align one's will with God's will (even against a portion of one's will) or to privilege one's own will in opposition to God's.  This is not to say that simply feeling anger stirring in oneself is immediately and in every case equatable with injustice -- as mentioned in the first post, and as will be discussed in later posts, even saints have to contend with the carnal appetites -- the question is what one does then.

Of course, to the degree that one's will contains pockets of self-will, portions compartmentalized apart inconsistently from God's will, even to the extent that one's previous election of self-will has affected lasting structures of the will for the worse, so long as it reverberates through one's soul, one's desire's, one's relationships, one's thoughts, like unmuted discordances previously struck whose notes have not yet entirely ended, insofar as any of these are our case, we will more liable to anger.  For anger arises when one's will is contravened, and if one is following one's own waxing, ill-structured will, it is much more likely to be crossed by others' wills, actions, words, even by their thoughts or emotions expressed.

To one who conceives of religious life as a preserve set aside for the pious and saintly who are not beset by the same trials and temptation as everyone else, the attention Anselm devotes to stressing the requirement for bringing one's will into harmony with wills of other people -- not only for one's own or the others' benefit, but so that there can be a livable religious community that does not give scandal within and without in place of fulfilling its function  -- the number of times Anselm brings this up would be remarkable. He even, on an occasion about which I've commented elsewhere, remonstrates with another abbot over the deformation his ill-thought-out, in fact sinful, regime of punishment imposes on the wills and characters of young monks.

Anger has a paradoxical tendency to incorporate what is finest in us, our rationality, not just to overwhelm it, but to twist it to its own uses.  What might be reasonable in one's response of anger is all too easily escalated into seemingly rational but on a higher level unreasonable volitions. If one becomes angry through the myriad devices, desires, dodges, defense mechanisms comprised within one's self-will, the anger in its turns ministers to that self-will, eventually solidifying into a structure of vice, connected with, serving, provoked by other vices, other malformed structures of the will, which in their turn flow back into that current of self-will

Anselm has no illusions about how deep and lasting the damages within the will can go, and he does not think that once the will turns from self-will and back towards the divine will, everything -- on indeed anything -- is immediately repaired.  Anger, once it has set its roots and grooves within the human will and learned its ways into and around inside reason (and this for most of us starts already in childhood) is particularly difficult to tackle, to disentangle, to bit by bit make better.  But being able to see a bit more rightly does give some advantage.

Understanding the vice of anger as one determinate shape of self-will, as a specific configuration of injustice in the will, as willing something else rather than keeping rectitude of will for its own sake --  objects of satisfying ones desire to hurt in response, to take offense unduly, to nurse one's resentment rather than striving to forgive -- willing something other than what God wants one to will (and God wills for one what will ultimately be best for one), this does fill in a portion of the picture and lend some perspective to this emotion and its associated vice.