Front Page Titles (by Subject) QUESTION CLVIII.: OF IRASCIBILITY. - Aquinas Ethicus: or, the Moral Teaching of St. Thomas, vol. 2 (Summa Theologica - Secunda Secundae Pt.2)
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QUESTION CLVIII.: OF IRASCIBILITY. - St. Thomas Aquinas, Aquinas Ethicus: or, the Moral Teaching of St. Thomas, vol. 2 (Summa Theologica - Secunda Secundae Pt.2) 
Aquinas Ethicus: or, the Moral Teaching of St. Thomas. A Translation of the Principal Portions of the Second part of the Summa Theologica, with Notes by Joseph Rickaby, S.J. (London: Burns and Oates, 1892).
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Article I.—Is it lawful to get angry?
R. Evil may be found in the passions sometimes by the mere species of the passion, as determined by its object. Thus envy from its species involves evil: for it is sadness at another’s good, of itself an irrational thing; and therefore the mere mention of envy points at once to something evil. But this is not the case with anger, or the craving for vengeance: for vengeance may be sought either well or ill. In another way, evil is found in a passion in respect of the quantity, that is, the excess or defect of the passion. In this way evil may be found in anger, when one is angry overmuch or too little, beside the mark of right reason. But if one is angry according to right reason, then to get angry is praiseworthy.
§ 2. Anger may stand to reason either antecedently, and so draw reason from its right course, and hence have a character of evil, or consequently, moving the sensitive appetite according to the order of reason against vices; and this anger is good, and is called the anger of zeal. Hence Gregory says: “The greatest care must be taken that anger, which is taken up for an instrument of virtue, come not to have dominion over the mind, nor rule as mistress there; but like a handmaid ready to serve, let her know her place at the back of reason’s chair.” Anger such as this, although in the execution of the deed it does to some extent impede the judgment of reason, still does not destroy the rectitude of reason. Hence Gregory says that “the anger of zeal troubles the eye of reason, but the anger of vice quite blinds it.” But it is not against the idea of virtue that the deliberation of reason should be interrupted, while the execution of what has been determined by reason is going on; since art also would be impeded in its action, if it had to deliberate about the thing to be done when it ought to be doing it.
§ 3. To seek vengeance in order to work evil on him who has to be punished, is unlawful; but to seek vengeance in order to work the correction of vice and the maintenance of the good of justice, is praiseworthy; and to this end the sensitive appetite can tend, inasmuch as it is moved by reason. And while vengeance is accomplished according to the order of judicial procedure, it is accomplished by God, whose minister the authority is that punishes.1
§ 4. To the text, “Thou being master of power judgest with tranquillity,”1 it is to be said that we can and ought to liken ourselves to God in seeking after what is good; but in the mode of seeking after it we cannot liken ourselves to Him at all: because in God there is no sensitive appetite as there is in us, the movement of which ought to second the action of reason.2
§ 1. In passion considered absolutely, there is no character of merit or demerit, praise or blame. But according as passion is regulated by reason, it can bear the character of something meritorious and praiseworthy; and contrariwise as it is not regulated by reason.
§ 3. The movements that forestall the judgment of reason are not in a person’s power universally, so that none such shall ever arise; though reason can hinder any such movement taken singly, if it arises. And in this way it is said that the movement of anger is not in a person’s power, not so far, that is to say, as that none shall arise. Since however the movement is in some sort in the person’s power, it does not entirely lose the character of sin, if it be inordinate.
§ 4. The irascible faculty in man is naturally subject to reason; and therefore its act is natural to man so far as it is according to reason; and so far as it is beside the order of reason it is against the nature of man.
Article IV.—Is anger a very grievous sin?
R. If we look at the object of desire that the angry man has before him, anger seems to be the least of sins: for anger desires some penal evil in the light of something good, namely, as vengeance; and therefore, in respect of the evil that it desires, the sin of anger goes with those sins which desire the evil of a neighbour, to wit, with envy and hatred. But hatred seeks simply the evil of another as such: the envious man seeks the evil of another through desire of his own glory; while the angry man seeks the evil of another in the light of a just vengeance. Hence it appears that hatred is more grievous than envy, and envy than anger. But in respect of inordinateness of manner, anger goes beyond other sins for the violence and rapidity of its movement. Hence Gregory says: “Kindling with anger the heart flutters, the body trembles, the speech suffers impediment, the face glows, the eyes flash, the visage is unrecognizable, the tongue sets up a clamour, but mind can put no construction on what it says.”
Article VI.—Should anger have a place among the capital vices?
R. That is called a capital vice, from which many vices take their origin. Now anger has the property of originating many vices in two ways: first, on the part of its object, which is something highly desirable, as vengeance is sought in the light of something just and proper, and attractive by its intrinsic fitness; and then again from the impetuosity of the onset of anger, whereby it casts the mind headlong to the doing of all disorder. Hence clearly anger is a capital vice.
§ 3. To the words of the gloss, “Irascibility is the gate of all vices: when that is shut, rest will be given to the virtues within: when that is open, the spirit will sally forth to the commission of all crime,” it is to be said that anger is called the gate of vices incidentally, as removing the obstacle to their free course, that is, impeding the judgment of reason. It is at the same time directly and ordinarily the cause of certain special sins, which are called its daughters.
Article VII.—Are the daughters of anger duly assigned to be six: brawling, swelling of spirit, contumely, clamour, indignation, and blasphemy?
R. Anger may be considered in three ways: first, as it is in the heart; and in that way there are born of anger two vices: one on the part of him against whom the man is angry, and whom he reckons an unworthy person to offer him such a slight, and in view of this there is set down indignation; the other on the part of the angry man himself, inasmuch as he goes thinking out divers methods of revenge, and his mind is filled with such thoughts, and in view of this there is set down swelling of spirit. In another way, anger is considered as it is in the mouth; and in that way a twofold inordinateness proceeds: one inasmuch as the man shows his anger in his way of speaking, and in view of that is set down clamour, which means disorderly and confused speech; the other inordinateness consists in breaking out into injurious words, either against God, and that will be blasphemy, or against one’s neighbour, and that will be contumely. In a third way, anger is considered as proceeding to deeds, and so from anger there arise brawls, by which are understood all hurts by deed done in anger to a neighbour.
Article VIII.—Is there any vice, the opposite of irascibility, arising from lack of anger?
R. If anger is taken for a simple motion of the will, whereby one inflicts punishment, not out of passion, but on principle, lack of anger in that sense is undoubtedly a sin. Otherwise, taking anger for a motion of the sensitive appetite, attended with passion and bodily symptoms, we must say that in man such a motion necessarily follows upon the simple motion of the will; because naturally the inferior appetite follows the move of the superior appetite, unless something comes in the way. And therefore the motion of anger cannot altogether be wanting in the sensitive appetite, except by the cessation or weakening of the motion of the will. Consequently the absence of the passion of anger is as much a vice as is the failure of the movement of the will to punish according to the judgment of reason.
§ 1. He who is totally devoid of anger when he ought to be angry, imitates God indeed in respect of the absence of passion, but not in respect of this, that God punishes on principle.
§ 2. The passion of anger is useful, as are all other motions of the sensitive appetite, to the end that man may more promptly fulfil what reason dictates: otherwise to no purpose would the sensitive appetite be in man, whereas nature does nothing in vain.
[1 ]Cf. above, q. 108. art. 1. (Trl.)
[1 ]Wisdom xii. 18.
[2 ]Cf. I-II. q. 24. art. 2. (Trl.)