Apr 17, 2011

Saint Anselm on Anger (part 6 and end)

Over the last two months, I've explored several aspects of St. Anselm's thought bearing upon anger, hopefully demonstrating that his moral theory, though not addressing anger thematically, has much to say about it, if we put in the necessary exegetical and interpretative legwork (here are parts 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5) We have examined anger as an emotional response, as one of the stirrings of the carnal appetite, as an object of choice of the ultimately free will, as an occasion for temptation and weakness of will, as a set of habits more or less deeply graven upon the human soul, as a common shape injustice assumes in the will, a privation or corruption of right structures, orderings, direction, affections of the will.

Often, anger also involves a fundamental choice, a willing -- though not necessarily or even often one made deliberately, consciously, with entire awareness -- not to align one's will with God's will, but instead to follow one's own course, one's propria voluntas, to use the human rational will's capacity for self-governance, self-determination in a away that seems in the moment to exercise that capacity to the fullest, but which in reality ends up subjugating that will, that freedom, that instrument of choice to objects or persons outside the will or to a portion -- not the better portions -- of the human being, the carnal appetites and desires which like seeds extrude their tendrils throughout the will, setting down the roots of vices.

Christianity contributes a fuller, though very challenging, perspective upon anger.  The task of the Christian moral theologian or philosopher is not only to follow counsels and dictates provided by relevant scriptures, by the example and words of Christ, the saints, even those around one who are better disposed in relation to anger.  It is to bring additional illumination to our understanding of  this tricky, seductive affective response, one so apt to subvert the very rationality and justice that should in some cases block or censure anger, and in others moderate, rightly direct, or temper it. The Doctor of Bec does make such contributions, and in this final entry on Anselm and anger, we'll look at those that have to do specifically with virtues and vices.

In order to be rightly disposed with respect to the emotion of anger one will inevitably and unavoidably feel many times during the course of one's life, what virtues have to be cultivated?  What vices have to be rooted out?  And, how is this effected?  For Anselm, a very significant component of this consists in the contribution made, "form[ing] and reform[ing]" us, by grace bestowed by God.  But he also has and articulates a very clear understanding that grace works in many cases through our own -- and others' -- willing (or even unwilling, or less than entirely willing) cooperation with that divine action.  That is what I am going to focus upon here:  what parts do we have in this process?

What vices are relevant? It is notable that anger --  conceived of and discussed as one main vice by many other Christian authors -- does not come in for any thematic treatment as a vice by Anselm.  He includes it with other related sins and vices in several listings during discussions of De Simultidinibus. In his similitude of the heart and its thoughts as an ever-grinding mill, the Devil tries to damage the human being's heart by arousing harmful thoughts and emotions
So, if at some time he discovers the human heart empty of good thoughts, he immediately fills it up, if he can, with bad ones. Of these evil thoughts, some of them wear away the human heart, like anger and envy; others gum it up and pollute it, like gluttony and prodigality; others take possession of it, like vain things that are not greatly damaging
Anger is likewise listed with envy in another discussion, where the three main currents of vice that flow from self-will, [wrongly ordered] enjoyment (delectatio), exaltation (exaltatio, raising oneself up and over others), and curiosity.  All three of these involve a wrongly ordered will, one in which there is injustice
And from these come all the other ones. For indeed, from enjoyment are born prodigality, adultery, fornication, uncleanness, gluttony of the belly, drunkenness, and other vices of this sort. And, from exaltation, vain glory, envy, anger, dejection, greed, and other like things. But from curiosity, restlessness, murmuring, detraction, and other such vices.
When he plays with the metaphor of the monk as an old testament priest, carrying out animal sacrifices, it is not anger named as such that he mentions, but rather "the lion of cruelty, the wolf of rapaciousness, the bull of wildness," all of which could well be effects of anger, sorts of vicious dispositions anger flows or transmutes into -- though of course, they could also similarly arise from hatred, envy, greed, or vain glory.

Returning to the relationship of anger to self-will, and the specificity of anger as an emotional response, and also a vice, that can flow from exaltation from placing oneself above others, there is a dynamic, mutually reinforcing on both sides.  As Anselm says, while self-will, or pride, is the ultimate root of all other vices, the other vices, once existent, once taken shape in the will, in their turn minister to self-will.  It is for this reason that vices in the soul ready the ground for further corruption, for new shapes of self-will in additional vices or even in further configurations of the same vice.  If we think about what anger does, how it works, what it feels like, what our experience of it yields, we notice that it exhibits a tendency to isolate us, to make us yet more self-centered, to stick up for our rights, our own will, our desires.  It tends to make us less attentive to others and their needs and desires -- we also end up doing things, saying things, thinking things that are possibly hateful, do others harm, that make us worse.  Also characteristic of the affective response of anger is the desire to bend the other's will to our own, to attain a sort of false concord through domination of others -- if only in the relatively mild form of wanting to be acknowledged as right, as having been unjustly offended, as having responded correctly and reasonably through one's anger

What virtues bear particularly upon anger?  Five come to mind, two of which are more specifically, though not exclusively, focused on anger, three of which are much broader in scope, more architectonic, in Anselmian moral theory.  The two which more particularly apply to anger include the one rendered by various English words:  gentleness, mildness, and meekness, which Anselm tells us in Letter 37, "is the inseparable companion" of the other virtue, "patience."  As we see in his Life and in his Letters, Anselm himself displays these virtues to admirable extents, enacting them, exemplifying them, as well as exhorting others to learn and practice them.  But he does not discuss them thematically, as he does the three other virtues of justice, humility, and love.

These three may be said to undergird and orient all the other virtues in various ways, and they intersect with, reinforce, and contribute to each other.  I'm not going to discuss these three in detail here, because they will be topics for future posts on Anselm.  Instead, I'll very briefly sketch how justice and humility help to dispose a person well towards anger, and return to gentleness and patience in light of humility and justice, connecting all of these with another state Anselm talks about, concord or harmony, which has to do precisely with the will in relation to others' wills.  The will is where all of these virtues reside, and it is, I suspect, precisely because they so illuminate the structures and directions of the will -- that portion of ourselves so absolutely central to anselmian moral theory -- that justice, humility, and love do get much more thorough and detailed treatment by Anselm in his writings (though perhaps not in his oral teachings and conversations).

Anger takes umbrage at what it perceives as injustice.  Does it do so justly?  It thinks itself a just response to injustice towards oneself or one's own by another, and this is precisely one of anger's seductive traits, that it wrenches our almost always imperfect -- and thus vulnerable -- sense of justice away from right objects, orderings, and orientations, placing the will in an occasion of temptation, an opportunity for seduction by strong forces and feelings that drive us  to seek revenge, to harden our hearts, to ball our hands into fists, to thicken our voices and either darken or bleach our visages.

Justice for Anselm is not simply a set of rules or an abstract principle.  It is something that ought to be present in the will, more and more deeply engrained in our being.  It ought to be not only a disposition to judge rightly, but to feel rightly, a desire, an affective disposition to will and to do what one ought to.  Because we are beings who are in development, who exist in time, with our own histories, our networks of relationships, our successes and failures behind and ahead of us, justice in a full sense also includes a choice to use the will to improve the will through one's other choices, extending even so far as choosing to do what will assist us on the way to feeling, to desiring, to responding affectively as we ought to. 

Justice requires, among other things, aligning one's will with God's, willing what it is that God wills for us to will, rather than choosing pride, self-will. This affects the totality of the human person:
[T]he 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.
All of these will aid the person confronted by their own anger -- and indeed the anger of others (which has a tendency to awaken our own in response) -- in handling it better, in bringing anger moment by moment, occasion by occasion, more fully within the limits justice places upon it.  For some justice will perhaps even more positively enjoin them to gradually replace angry thoughts, angry desires, angry feelings in both the body and the soul -- and the will that consents to these -- with responses stemming from nascent virtues of patience, mildness, love.  That is, in Anselm's view, what a fuller understanding of justice reveals.

In the development of the virtues, Anselm is very clear that humility is just as fundamental as justice or as love.  In Letter 189, he notes that: "the more a man advances in this virtue, the more he is raised on high -- and also in the other virtues."  In De Simultudinibus, he likens humility to "pure soil or ground . . .  whose nature is suited to the other virtues and like a firm foundation sustains them. For, the other virtues are able to subsist, so long as they retain the foundation of humility."  He also identifies "seven levels of humility, by which one attains to its perfection" (of which I will provide a fuller discussion in a later post).
[O]ne who remains in the valley of pride, blinded by ignorance of him or herself, is often beset and abused by all sorts of vices. But, one who, leaving pride behind, begins to climb by the levels of humility, the more of them he or she climbs, the more, the ignorance being dissipated, he is opened to knowledge of himself. And indeed, the vices do not attack him, but instead the very good people, that is, the virtues, approach him. But when he should climb to highest level of humility, he rests with these very virtues in clear knowledge of self.
Indeed, as Anselm says a bit later, the full cultivation of the virtue of humility does not bear merely behavioral fruit, but epistemological, giving its bearer "perfect knowledge of self"

What does humility consist in?  Knowing one's true worth in relation to others -- and possessing such knowledge, not just as a thought, but rooted effectively and affectively in one's will.  This not only assists one when one experiences anger, but helps to prevent anger from  arising, since one will not as easily take offense if one does not regard oneself and one's desires, one's own will, as more important than other rational creatures of the Creator. As Anselm writes in Cur Deus Homo -- a work in which he notes the example Christ gives us of patience, humility, and justice:
[R]evenging yourself in no way falls to you, since you are not your own possession, nor is he who injured you your own or his own possession, but both of you are servants of the one Lord who made you from nothing. And, if you retain avenging yourself for yourself, in pride you assume for yourself judgment over the other person – and this belongs solely to the Lord and Judge of all
Letter 285 provides a contrast between humility and pride useful here in thinking about anger.  There are three kinds of pride, Anselm says there:  in judgement, "when one thinks of himself more highly than he ought"; in will "when someone wants to be treated differently and more highly than he ought"; and in action "when a man treats himself more highly than he ought."  He goes on to say that:
the lightest is the one which is in deed alone because it is done only through ignorance. . .  that which is in the will alone is more to be condemned because it sins consciously.  The one which is in judgement alone is the only one that cannot be cured because it does not disclose itself and appears just to itself.
Now, these can occur singly, as well as in combination with each other.  It is particularly interesting to note the self-reinforcing nature of judgement.  It lends to itself the appearance of being just, of being right, of accurately depicting things as they ought to be depicted.  Again, we should highlight that anger includes several judgements:  a judgement that one or one's own has been injured or slighted; a judgement that this was wrongly or unjustly done; a judgement that one ought to seek and impose redress; a judgement that one is right in all of this, that one feels rightly, that one is rightly judging the situation and what justice demands -- and that anyone else who sees things differently is judging wrongly.

Humility, Anselm says, correspondingly exists in these three modes as well:  action, will, judgement.  But, he reserves the term "humility" for their combination.  One who possesses humility will be geared towards patience, if not towards a forgiving response that returns good for evil to one who slights, who offends, who contravenes one's will, who threatens. . .  at least a response that rightly holds one's emotional response of anger in check.  This is a response which inserts something between feeling and action, even between one moment of the feeling and another, intensified, more bitter, more self-justifying moment of the feeling -- if not a conscious thought expressed in language and associated conscious resolution of the will, at least a volitionary and inferential pause.  Humility, among other things, decouples the automatic movement from he injured me (a fact) to he wronged me, from he interfered with my desires or hindered my activity through my desires or my activity are more important than those of others to he wrongly interfered with me -- and from all of these to he must pay.

The dictates of justice and the practice of humility also lead to what Anselm calls "concord" or "harmony" (concordia).  This has to do specifically with the will in relation to the wills of other people, and is particularly at issue in monastic communities.  I've written about this elsewhere:
Anselm tells monks that they must “strive wholeheartedly to keep peace among yourselves.” He notes that at their basis, discord and violence are matters of the disordered will: “Strife. . .is about the will of each individual, as each one says, ‘Not as you will, but as I will.’” Anselm identifies the most basic precondition for concord: “This you can only follow and preserve if each one of you does not try to make another carry out his will but always, as long as it is according to righteousness and the will of God, to promote the will of another.”
Even further, as Anselm writes to another set of monks, “You will be able to foster and maintain [mutual] love if each one strives not to bend the other to his will, but to bend himself to the will of the other." Another letter contains similar advice, warning that in a true community not only must one not contravene the wills of others, but even permit oneself to be used by them: “whoever does not permit, nor wish that the other members, and even the whole body, make use of him as their own member, I do not see how he can prove himself a member of that body.”
If this advice is followed, of course, anger is much less likely to arise in those who choose to strive for concord of wills, for they will not sense their wills being contravened or resisted by others. And likewise, they will less often give offense to the others of their community. 

A last question has to be asked: How do we in fact get better?  How do we move from vicious dispositions with respect to anger towards virtuous dispositions?  To some degree our wills can be shaped by rewards or punishments imposed by others.  In fact, Anselm fully recognizes the usefulness of this -- why the monastic life also cultivates the virtue of obedience.  But, this can only go so far.  In fact, what is needed is that the human person comes to recognize and to choose what ought to be done, step by step, decision by decision -- to "take ownership," as we say in contemporary parlance,  of her or his continued moral development.

As we have seen above cultivating humility, a proper understanding of oneself and of others, is absolutely essential.  Likewise cultivating the virtue of justice -- tempering the will-for-happiness by developing and deliberately maintaining the will-for-justice -- and the virtue of charity are needed.  Patience and gentleness also require specific attention.  One has to choose these patters of response -- not only in action, but also in thought, in word, in emotion, in will --  in determinate situations, for by making such choices, when we face temptations to slide down the easy path of anger instead, we build the virtues, we wear away the vices.

Anselm stresses the importance of paying close attention to our thoughts and emotions, good and bad.  Given how anger works, this is particularly important.  the angry person imagines their revenge, turns over in his mind the insult, injury, injustice, recalls to mind patterns of the behavior of the angering person or others like them, considers responses, justifications, and condemnations --  in short dwells on and within their anger, by will, by thought, by action, by word, by all the anselmian dimensions of truth.  To be wrapped in one's anger like that is to live out a sort of untruth, enough truth to anchor in, not enough to be reality, but enough to intervene in it, to continue the provoked emotional response, to become irritable, to further engrave the patterns of habit.  And in doing so, we will and do -- and also become -- what we ought not.

He also emphasizes in a number of Letters as well in other places (e.g. in his similitude of the heart as a mill) that what we occupy ourselves with lies at least in part in our choice, within the scope of our will.  Anselm is very realistic about the dim prospects for banishing thoughts or emotions by sheer will-power, as the advice he gives indicates:
Do not struggle with wicked thoughts or with a wicked intention, but when they molest you do your utmost to occupy yourself with some useful thought and intention until they disappear.  For no thought or intention is ever driven out of your heart except by some other thought or intention which does not agree with it. . . . Do not grieve or be sad because they molest you, as long as . . . you do not submit to them, lest in a moment of sadness they return to your memory and renew their irritation. . . .  [B]ehave in the same way in the face of any unbecoming emotion of the body or soul, such as the sting in the flesh of anger or envy or vainglory.  For such feelings are most easily quenched when we refuse to indulge in them or to think about them or to carry out anything at their suggestion.
He says something similar in the Dicta Anselmi:
For just as one operation excludes another operation that is different in kind from it, so a thought drives out a thought, and a willing drives out another willing. . . . And so, when I think about something useless, I don't think about a usefulness, and when I should think about something useful, I will drive out the uselessness.  And so likewise in this, when I have a bad will about something, I cannot in the same respect hold a good will towards that same thing. . . .So, whoever desires to have a good will or thought, as soon as they perceive a bad one, let them take back up the good one, hold to it, and by its presence he will drive out the bad one.
Later in that same work, he sketches these workings of substitution not only in thought, or volition, but in connected action, framing this in terms of conception, pregnancy, and birth.  He provides a caution as well, with which we will end here:
One who is provoked to anger, if he patiently endures and gives in return pacifying words, from that good seed he conceives patience and his soul is impregnated, and so bears a good fruit.  One who endures whatsoever injury and rationally gives in return good for evil, he conceives by that good seed. . .  . and brings forth good offspring.  Indeed one who is easily moved to anger, who is offended by a small thing, who gets all worked up, who joins in quarrels, who does injury. ..  in the time of birth brings forth a bad child.

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