Night Prayer of the Liturgy of the Hours, I wonder
about the passage that says to let your anger “be without sin.”
Then it talks about wrath and not letting the devil work on you. What does
that all mean? I thought wrath was sin, so what is “anger without
he passage to which you refer is
found in Night Prayer for Wednesdays, and it comes from Ephesians 4:2627.
Usually translated as “Be angry but do not sin,” it can mistakenly and
superficially be interpreted as permission to give free rein to anger. Such an
interpretation, however, overlooks the passage from Matthew 5:22 where Christ
warns us, “But I say to you, whoever is angry with his brother will be liable to
Consequently, to avoid being led astray by
misinterpretation, it will be important to understand what Saint Paul really meant in this
passage embedded in the overall context of rules of daily conduct for Christians
practicing a new and holy way of life.
Most likely, in what he wrote, Saint
Paul was thinking of Psalm 4:5 that says, “Tremble, and do not sin.” In
this verse, the Psalmist reminds us that trembling in fear before God will shield
us from committing sin. But to Greek speakers, such as Saint Paul and the persons
to whom he wrote, trembling also had the connotation of “trembling
in indignation at an offense committed against you.”
Thus, to emphasize the matter of “holy
conduct that avoids sin in a social context”, rather than speak of “avoiding sin as
a general mystical principle of awe for God”, Saint Paul chose to speak of anger
rather than trembling—and to understand his meaning we need to think
psychologically and distinguish “anger” as a feeling of irritation
(i.e., pseudo-anger) from genuine anger as a desire for revenge and therefore
as a Feeling of Irritation
Whenever someone or something
obstructs you or hurts you in some way, you will experience an immediate
response. This response begins when your brain, perceiving a threat to your
safety or well-being—and completely outside your conscious
awareness—sends stress hormones surging through your body. Then, as
your conscious mind starts to process the situation, you will experience
some noticeable emotions, such as irritation and
Now, so far, this collection
of feelings is a self-defensive response to a perceived threat. It’s
a warning sign, as it were, that you are being threatened and that you need to protect
yourself. Traditionally, when someone feels this way, we will say that he
or she is feeling “angry.” But this feeling isn’t a sin because,
in psychological language, this is a feeling of irritation, not real
Anger as a Desire
When you allow your feelings
of irritation to go a step beyond mere feelings and progress into the realm of
desire for revenge, you enter into anger
and therefore sin. This revenge is an expression of
hatred because it seeks the other’s harm
rather than the other’s good. That’s why anger is a sin: it’s a desire
to cause harm.
Usually, the underlying motive for anger
is the hope that in harming the person who has hurt you, then you might make that person
stop or change the offending behavior. Nevertheless, even though the motive may seem to be
good, the act of causing harm is still a desire that is opposed to love. Therefore, just
as love is not a feeling but an act of the will (i.e., to wish the good of
anger, too, is not a feeling but an act of the will (i.e., to wish harm to
As long as the desire for revenge
stays in your imagination it is a venial sin
that can be absolved with perfect contrition; that is, once you recognize
the desire, you can renounce it as disordered and wrong while calling upon God
to have mercy on you; then you can
give the injury over to God’s justice knowing that
the offender will have to answer to God for the offense committed against you.
You can also pray that the offender will ultimately acknowledge and repent his
or her sin.
mortal sin when you actually inflict hurt on
someone in return for the hurt inflicted on you.
For example, if you
were driving a car and another driver did something rude to you, you would feel
irritated and maybe even threatened. If you silently muttered an insult to the
other driver, that would be a venial sin, and it could be corrected with heartfelt
contrition. If, however, you screamed a curse at the other driver or made an insulting
gesture, you would have progressed from an imagined insult to an actual insult, and
that would be a mortal sin. Mortal sin requires sacramental
confession to be absolved.
Note that revenge can be carried
out either as a calm, calculated act or as an impetuous, emotionally charged
act. Traditionally, this latter case has been called “wrath.”
But either way—whether
unconscious, calculated, or impetuous—carrying out this anger is
a grave sin.
Because revenge is an act of
hatred, it stands in opposition to love, and, in standing
in opposition to love, it stands opposed to God’s will. Notice here
that the devil fell from grace because he refused to do God’s will;
consequently, all desire for revenge opens the door to
demonic influence because all desire for revenge refuses
to do God’s will. Thus, to progress from “anger” as a feeling
into anger as a desire for revenge is to allow the devil to work in
you. That is, with resentment simmering in you, the devil only has to turn up
the heat until the resentment boils up into the flagrant sin of anger. Thus you will
have fallen into the diabolic trap of seeking justice with your own hands rather than
trusting in God’s perfect justice.
Ira enim viri justitiam
Dei non operátur.
(For the anger of man worketh not the justice of God.)
— James 1:20
Is Anger Ever Justifiable?
is really a feeling of irritation, then it is justifiable, because all feelings
are justifiable. But anger in its true sense—that is, a
desire for revenge—cannot be justifiable as a Christian act. “But I say to
you, whoever is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment” (Matthew 5:22). Christ
told us to give a blessing to our enemies, not to get even with them. Moreover, Christ
never sought revenge on anyone, not even on those who ridiculed and killed
Resist Him, Solid
in Your Faith
In Night Prayer for Tuesdays
we are reminded, from 1 Peter 5:89a, that “the devil is prowling
like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour.” Then we are told,
“Resist him, solid in your
So what does this tell you about
how to prevent your falling into grave sin because of anger? Well, the answer
is simple: to resist the desire for revenge is to remain solid in your faith
by doing what Christ told us to do: bless your enemies rather than curse
Therefore, when others obstruct
you or hurt you, (1) acknowledge the feelings of irritation that tell you that
you have been hurt; (2) admit that you have the desire to harm those who hurt
you; (3) recognize the fantasies of revenge going
through your mind; (4) admit that the desire to harm someone is wrong and renounce
it as wrong; (5) and then, rather than seek revenge, turn
the justice over to God and pray for the good of the offenders (i.e., for their
enlightenment and repentance) that they might experience Christ’s mercy rather
If the injury was
accidental, endeavor to put yourself in the place of the others so
as see things from their view and pray that they might acquire better judgment
in the future.
If the injury was
intentional, pray for the others that they
will repent their sins, and then trust that
God will administer perfect justice in the
1. Here are some examples of similar emotions:
aggravated, annoyed, bothered, cross, displeased, distressed, exasperated,
frustrated, goaded, grumpy, impatient, offended, overwrought, peeved, provoked,
shaky, strained, tense, troubled, uncomfortable, upset, or vexed.
2. St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica.
I-II, 26, 4.
Sending yourself to hell to prove that someone
has hurt you
Blind to your own anger
The text of
this webpage, integrated with other material from my websites,
has been conveniently organized into a paperback book of 350 pages, including
a comprehensive index.
Though Demons Gloat: They Shall Not Prevail
by Raymond Lloyd Richmond, Ph.D.
Though we are attacked by liberal activists from without and by apostasy
from within, the true Church—that is, the body of those who remain
faithful to Church tradition—weeps, and she prays, because she knows
the fate of those who oppose God.
Our enemies might fear love, and they can push love
away, but they can’t kill it. And so the battle against them cannot be
fought with politics; it requires a profound personal struggle against
the immorality of popular culture. The battle must be fought in the
service of God with pure and chaste lifestyles lived from the depths of
our hearts in every moment.