Editor's note:

If it feels today that we are in an angry world, Ambrose is here to remind us that this is not a new thing at all. In today’s excerpt from his treatise On the Duties of Clergy, Ambrose shares timeless truths about putting anger under the reins of reason before this passion reigns our souls. 

Hidden in the middle of this piece are three excellent rules for dealing with anger when it rises within:

1. First, calm your mind.
2. If you can not do this, put a restraint upon your tongue.
3. Lastly, omit not to seek for reconciliation. 


—Renovaré Team

Let anger be guarded against. If it cannot, however, be averted, let it be kept within bounds. For indignation is a terrible incentive to sin. It disorders the mind to such an extent as to leave no room for reason. The first thing, therefore, to aim at, if possible, is to make tranquillity of character our natural disposition by constant practice, by desire for better things, by fixed determination. But since passion is to a large extent implanted in our nature and character, so that it cannot be uprooted and avoided, it must be checked by reason, if, that is, it can be foreseen. And if the mind has already been filled with indignation before it could be foreseen or provided against in any way, we must consider how to conquer the passion of the mind, how to restrain our anger, that it may no more be so filled. Resist wrath, if possible; if not, give way, for it is written: Give place to wrath. (Romans 12:19)

If anger has got the start, and has already taken possession of your mind, and mounted into your heart, forsake not your ground. Your ground is patience, it is wisdom, it is reason, it is the allaying of indignation. And if the stubbornness of your opponent rouses you, and his perverseness drives you to indignation: if you can not calm your mind, check at least your tongue. For so it is written: Keep your tongue from evil, and your lips that they speak no guile. Seek peace and pursue it. First, calm your mind. If you can not do this, put a restraint upon your tongue. Lastly, omit not to seek for reconciliation. 

Be angry and sin not. The moral teacher who knew that the natural disposition should rather be guided by a reasonable course of teaching, than be eradicated, teaches morals, and says: Be angry where there is a fault against which you ought to be angry. For it is impossible not to be roused up by the baseness of many things; otherwise we might be accounted, not virtuous, but apathetic and neglectful. Be angry therefore, so that you keep free from fault, or, in other words: If you are angry, do not sin, but overcome wrath with reason. Or one might put it thus: If you are angry, be angry with yourselves, because you are roused, and you will not sin. For he who is angry with himself, because he has been so easily roused, ceases to be angry with another. But he who wishes to prove his anger is righteous only gets the more inflamed, and quickly falls into sin. Better is he, as Solomon says, that restrains his anger, than he that takes a city (Proverbs 16:32) for anger leads astray even brave men.

We ought therefore to take care that we do not get into a flurry, before reason prepares our minds. For oftentimes anger or distress or fear of death almost deprives the soul of life, and beats it down by a sudden blow. It is therefore a good thing to anticipate this by reflection, and to exercise the mind by considering the matter. So the mind will not be roused by any sudden disturbance, but will grow calm, being held in by the yoke and reins of reason.

Now Underway: The 2018-19 Renovaré Book Club

How do we read for transformation, not just information? First, choose books that stir the soul and have an enduring quality. Then read with God and others at an unhurried pace, attentive to what the Holy Spirit wants to teach. The Renovaré Book Club is designed for transformative reading. It runs October 2018—May 2019.

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Excerpted rom Ambrose’s On the Duties of Clergy, Book One (Chapter 21). Public Domain via New Advent