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. 

Enjoy!

—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.

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

Starting Soon: The 2020-21 Renovaré Book Club

An inten­tion­al way to read for trans­for­ma­tion not just infor­ma­tion. Runs Sep­tem­ber 2020 through May 2021.

Learn More >