+ Cardinal George Pell, Archbishop of Sydney
9 Jun 2013
"Don't get angry, get even" is a pagan, not a Christian saying.
Poets have spoken in different ways about this all too human emotion. The ancient Roman Horace spoke of anger as a "brief madness" and about nineteen hundred years later the greatest poet of the First World War, the Englishman Wilfred Owen, wrote of the "monstrous anger of the guns" slaughtering the tens of thousands of young men "who die(d) as cattle".
Today we talk of "anger management" which is always made more difficult by alcohol and by drugs.
Some are quick tempered, coming quickly to the boil and often subsiding just as quickly; but not always before damage is done.
Others can take a long time and much provocation to become angry, while they often only return to equilibrium very slowly.
Losing one's temper can easily become an unpleasant habit by reacting to minor irritations, but a lack of self control can have disastrous consequences in extreme situations.
Aristotle, the greatest ancient Greek philosopher distinguished anger which aims to inflict pain from the deeper fault of hatred which aims to inflict evil on the enemy. Anger is always unpleasant bringing some pain and psychological disturbance to the angry person, but hatred can not only be felt without pain, but can be enjoyed.
The first great epic in Western literature, the Iliard, written by Homer around 900B.C. begins with the words "the wrath (or anger) of Achilles", which became for him "sweeter by far then the dripping of honey". This brought with it terrible destruction; hatred writ large.
Plutarch, an early Roman philosopher gave some useful tips suggesting that an angry man should use a mirror to see how ridiculous he looks and play some quiet music.
Unlike another group of ancient Greek philosophers, the Stoics, Christians are allowed to express a righteous anger or indignation against evil and injustice.
The Old Testament Scriptures speak frequently of God's anger and our good and merciful God, who gave us freedom, certainly has to put up with a lot of evil; wars, violence, abuse and trafficking of minors, drug running.
However Christ showed us God loves every person, but hates evil and urges us to turn the other cheek and forgive, rather than pursue an angry vengeance. This is often hard work.
St. Paul put it nicely: "Even if you are angry . never let the sun set on your anger".