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Step 08

ON MEEKNESS THAT TRIUMPHS OVER ANGER.

1. As water which we pour drop by drop upon the fire, finally extinguishes the flame, so the tears which flow from a heart truly sorry for our sins, suppresses in time the flames of anger and passion. Hence, having spoken of penitential tears, we now proceed in due order to treat of meekness, the offspring of these tears.

2. Meekness, which triumphs over anger, is an insatiable desire of humiliation and abasement; being opposed to vanity, which is an ever craving desire of honour and applause. The victory obtained over anger, is a conquest over nature itself, by suffering all kinds of ignominy without any sensitiveness, which is both the fruit and the crown of our warfare and our perspiration.

3. Meekness is an immutability of soul, which ever continues the same, whether amidst the injuries, or the applause of men.

4. The commencement of this victory over anger, is the observance of silence amidst the troubles which are giving us interior annoyance. Our progress in this victory is the stillness of our thoughts amidst trials of every kind, although we may still slightly experience their bitterness. The perfection of this victory is, a stable and constant serenity of soul amidst the temptations, which the devils, like so many foul winds, are continually exciting for our destruction.

5. Anger is a long and obstinate continuance of a secret and concealed hatred. It is the remembrance perpetually renewed of the injuries which we have received. Anger is a vindictive passion, which induces us to take pleasure in the afflictions and misfortunes of those who may have offended us, or given us any provocation. The quick and violent emotion of choler is an inflammation of the heart, which is excited and extinguished in a moment. Hatred is a feeling of bitterness which takes possession of, and continues its residence in, the mind. Rage is a sweeping storm, which puts all the powers of the soul in commotion, and which renders it altogether frightful and hideous.

6. As darkness retires when the gates of the rosy morn are opened, so in like manner hatred and anger disappear from our souls the moment humility enters to diffuse the sweetness of its perfumes.

7. Some persons, because their anger quickly passes away, and the dark cloud is speedily followed by sunshine, employ no remedies to free themselves from this vice. But these unhappy and deluded Christians do not consider the words of the Royal Prophet: “cease from anger, and leave rage; have no emulation to do evil. For evil doers shall be cut off.”1

8. Some emotions of anger are so violent, that they resemble the most rapid movement of the sails of a windmill. They crush and destroy in our souls more wheat, more grain, in a moment, than others would do in a day. Hence, we ought to watch ourselves incessantly for their effectual suppression. For these ebullitions of anger, like fires suddenly enkindled by impetuous winds, burn and consume in an instant, more spiritual fruits in the garden of our souls, than a slow fire would do in a considerable length of time.

9. Let us not be unmindful, my dear friends, that the demons, the treacherous enemies of our souls, know when to withdraw from us, and discontinue for a time their temptations, that they may lull our souls into a fatal peace, in which we may neglect the greatest evils as if they were trifles, and our interior maladies, through want of attention, may become incurable.

10. When a sharp and uneven stone is frequently rubbed against other stones, it loses its angularity and roughness, and is made by the friction smooth and round; in like manner when an excitable and angry temper comes in contact with other choleric and irascible spirits, it follows that either this inclination to excitement will be worn down and made smooth by the friction of patience, and the acquirement of meekness in the place of anger, or there will be a separation of the conflicting parties, from which the irascible character will perceive his own weakness, and behold it in this his retirement from others as in a mirror.

11. The angry man, when violent, is a spiritual epileptic. He falls down and tears himself voluntarily, through the vehemency of the habit which has become involuntary.

12. There is nothing more opposite to the state of true penitents than the agitations of anger; because in their conversion and return to God, they stand in need of great humility; whereas, anger is the mark of great pride.

13. If it be the perfection of meekness to preserve peace of mind, and the tenderness of charity towards him who has ill-treated us, and who is actually in our presence; it is certainly the height of anger to use both violent language and gestures towards him who has given us displeasure, even when we are alone and he is not present.

14. If the Holy Spirit be called the peace of the soul, and anger the perturbation of the mind, as it really is, we must naturally conclude, that nothing banishes from us the presence of the Holy Spirit sooner than anger.

15. We know of many wretched children of this unhappy parent; yet we know but of one, which, -- like an illegitimate child, enters the world contrary to its mother’s wish, -- is in any way serviceable in the promotion of our welfare. For I have seen persons who, inflamed with rage against some one, have given vent to their passion, and vomited at once all the bitterness which for a long time had been stagnating in their hearts, and who, by this burst of their pent-up wrath, having given occasion to the person that had offended them of testifying his regret, and making them satisfaction, have freed themselves entirely from their long cherished anger. Thus were they delivered from this passion by anger itself.

16. Others, on the contrary, I have observed, who by a pernicious dissimulation appeared to bear patiently all that displeased them; but who dwelt upon it so much the more bitterly in their hearts, as they forcibly stifled by silence all outward resentment. These latter seemed to me more unhappy than the former, who vented their spleen at once, and were thus entirely set free from its morbid feelings. Whereas they who retain this passion under the mask of silence, banish and efface the whiteness and the simplicity of the dove by the dark and deceitful humour of the serpent, against which we should guard ourselves as carefully as against the demon of impurity; because, like this last named vice, it is favoured by our natural disposition, which is prone to anger.

17. I have witnessed persons so enraged, that they would not take their food, and by this indiscreet and unreasonable abstinence, aggravated their former evil, and added poison to poison. Whilst others have fallen under our observation, who, in a spirit contrary to the former, made their anger a justifiable excuse for gluttony, venting their rage upon the various meats at table, thus falling from a pit into a gulf. Some I have noticed much wiser, who, like skillful physicians, blending together two different ingredients, and producing from this mixture a pleasant and healing medicine, have avoided extremes, and preserved themselves in the gold medium, by cooling down and quietly suppressing their anger, with the moderate indulgence and refreshment which they allowed their bodies.

18. Having occasion to visit the anchorites, I heard them, whilst I was sitting outside their hermitage, vex and excite themselves, though alone in their cells, by the vehemency of their anger and rage, like partridges flapping their wings against the cage in which they are pent up, and quarreling with those who had offended them, as if, though absent, they had been really present, and actually ready to rush upon them in their rage, and do them some bodily injury. When I beheld them in this deplorable condition, I charitably advised them not to dwell alone, lest from men they might become demons. When I saw others, on the contrary, who were licentious and given to intemperance, love their brethren with an affection that was not very spiritual, and which was blended with courtesy and flattery, I exhorted them to apply the remedy proper to their condition, by retiring into the solitude of the desert, which is the enemy of sensuality and intemperance, lest otherwise they might fall from the state of reason and the nature of men, to that of irrational beasts. When I heard some complain that they were subject to these two disorderly passions, anger and sensuality, I forbad them ever to follow their own guidance, and I charitably recommended their superiors to allow them to spend some time in retirement, which is an excellent corrective of sensuality, and then another portion of their time in the exercises of religious obedience, which is very serviceable in the suppression of anger. In both cases, however, they were to be perfectly submissive and obedient to him, under whose rule and guidance they were placed.

19. With respect to the solitary who is prone to licentiousness, he not only destroys his own soul, but it may be, that he also kills the soul of him who chooses him for his master and director. But anger is a wolf, which often throws the whole flock into confusion and terror, and which wounds many of the brethren by its humiliating and afflicting bursts of passion.

20. It is a great evil to disturb the eye of the soul by fury, according to the testimony of holy David: “My eye is troubled through indignation.”2 It is a far greater evil to make known by our words the violent agitation of our hearts. But nothing is so inimical to, so unworthy of, a religious life, which should be both angelical and divine, as to allow our passion to hurry us to blows.

21. If you are desirous of curing your neighbour of some particular sin, of extracting a mote from his eye, or, rather, if you believe yourself able to effect this cure, do not employ for this purpose a clumsy and improper instrument, which would only bury the particle deeper in the tender substance of the eye, but select a probe both fine and smooth in this delicate operation. The rough and clumsy instrument is no other than harsh language, violent and unbecoming gestures, such as are displayed by a person in anger. The fine and smooth instrument is a mild exhortation, a charitable and well-timed reprehension. “Reprove,” says St. Paul to Timothy, “reprove, entreat, rebuke in all patience and doctrine,”3 but strike not. If, however, it be necessary to employ bodily correction, let it be seldom, and never from yourself.

22. If we watch closely the inclinations of many that are prone to anger, we shall perceive that they embrace with great fervour, fasting, watching, and solitude. For the object of the devil is to urge them on, under the pretense of penance, to things which nourish and foster their disposition to anger.

23. If one religious, as we have already observed, can by the aid of the demon of anger disturb, and, like a wolf, put into disorder the whole flock, so may a religious, with the cooperation of the angel of peace, soothe them by his presence, and throw oil upon the troubled waters. Thus may he save the vessel, and by his meekness calm the anger of his brethren, and procure their salvation. Certainly the severity of the punishment the first will incur, will be the measure of recompense awarded to the second, who by his mildness has been a model to all religious, and whom they ought to imitate, if they wish to be useful to their neighbour.

24. The first degree of holy patience is to endure with a quiet mind humiliations and reproaches, whatever may be the sorrow or vexation we interiorly experience. The second is to harbour no resentment. The third or last, which is perfect patience, is to receive humiliations as honours and testimonies of esteem. Let the individual who possesses the first degree, be filled with consolation; let him who has attained the second, rejoice; but let him who has arrived at perfect patience, appreciate his treasure in having found his joy and his glory in God alone.

25. I have remarked in irascible persons a disposition arising from vanity, to be vexed, in order that they may be provoked to anger. I grant that they punish themselves for the first fault by the second. I cannot, however, witness this inclination to revenge one offense by another, without a feeling of compassion. Whilst considering with astonishment the artful malice of the devil, little is wanting to make me despair of myself and of my salvation.

26. If any one perceives himself easily conquered by vanity, anger, malice, or hypocrisy; if he has resolved to defend himself against these enemies by meekness and patience, as with a two-edged sword, which he draws from the scabbard of a religious community of strict observance, as from the salutary workshop of spiritual fullers; and if he desires from his heart perfectly to free himself from his vicious habits, that being beaten flat and stretched out by the humiliations and rude behaviors of his brethren, like cloth extended upon the press--with his spirit, too, humbled and trodden down, and sometimes even sensibly suffering from blows on the body--he will undoubtedly be purified from all the stains of corruption which his soul had contracted. To be thoroughly persuaded that nothing cleanses our hearts from the filth of vice so well as humiliation and mortifying reproaches, we have only to reflect upon an expression commonly used in the world. For the worldling, when he has abused some one to his face, and heaped upon him all kinds of raillery and contempt, boasts of it to his companions, and says: “I have washed his head well for him.”

27. There is a difference between the victory, which the humble sorrow of repentance enables those newly converted to obtain over the emotions of anger, and the unshaken tranquillity of the perfect, who are never disturbed or excited by irascible feelings. With respect to the former, we may say that anger is merely checked by the tears of repentance, as with a bridle which curbs and reins it in; whereas with regard to the latter, it is utterly destroyed by the sovereign peace of the soul, as a serpent when killed by the sword.

28. I once saw three solitaries who at the same time had received the same injury. The first felt piqued and disturbed, but because he dreaded Divine justice, held his peace. The second rejoiced at the bad treatment which he had experienced, because he hoped to receive a reward for its patient endurance. Nevertheless, he was grieved on account of the person who had inflicted the outrage. The third thought only of the fault of his neighbour, whom he loved sincerely, and therefore wept for him with heartfelt tears. Thus, in these three servants of God, we behold three different emotions; in the first, the fear of chastisement; in the second, the hope of recompense; and in the third, the disinterested and tender love of our neighbour.

29. As a sensible and bodily fever is but one disease, though there are many causes of inflammation; so may the perturbation and inflammation of anger arise from many different sources. The same may, perhaps, be said of all the other passions. Let me advise each one, therefore, who is sick, to examine carefully the method he ought to pursue for his restoration to health. But the first step in this art of healing is to find out the cause of the disease. For when we have discovered this root of the evil, we may receive from Divine Providence, and the assistance of our spiritual physician, the remedy proper for our cure. Hence let those who, influenced by the Spirit of God, wish to join us in this our search, enter with us into the scrutiny and spiritual judgment which we are about to propose with reference to anger, that they may have a true criterion by which they may know the properties of the passion we have been treating of, together with its various causes.

30. Bind, therefore, anger, as you would a furious tyrant, with the chains of meekness. Strike it smartly with the rod of firm patience. Drag it forward by the cords of holy love; and when you have brought it before the tribunal of reason, oblige it to answer these questions, which you have a perfect right to ask. “Tell us, foolish and disgraceful passion, the names of thy unfortunate father, of thy unhappy mother, and of thy miserable and corrupt children? Declare to us, moreover, who are they that war against thee, and subdue thee?” To which, it would seem, this passion might answer: “There are many different causes of my origin. I have not one father, but many, the chief of which is pride. I have also many mothers--vainglory, avarice, intemperance, and sometimes impurity. My offspring are enmities, retaliations, quarrels, and hatred. My opponents who overcome me, and bind me in chains, are the virtues opposite to my children: moderation and meekness. That which is continually laying ambuscades for my downfall, is called humility, from which you may enquire in turn, whence it derives its birth.”

In this eighth step of our Holy Ladder, the crown of meekness is proposed for our attainment. He who has received this crown only from the hand of nature, may not have obtained any of those, which we receive from the practice of the seven virtues, treated of in the preceding seven steps. Whereas, he who has won this crown by his own industry, labour, and perspiration, has certainly carried off all the other seven crowns.


  1. Ps. xxxvii. 21.

  2. Ps. vi. 8.

  3. 2 Timothy iv. 2.



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