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Questions and Answers

In the 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 sin”?

Outline of the Answer
• Anger as a Feeling
• Anger as a Desire for Revenge
• The Devil’s Work
• Is Anger Ever Justifiable?
• Resist Him, Solid in Your Faith

The passage to which you refer is found in Night Prayer for Wednesdays, and it comes from Ephesians 4:26–27. 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 judgment.”

Learn more about the meaning of 
anger in Biblical usage

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 a sin.

“Anger” 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 frustration.[1]

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.

Anger as a Desire for Revenge

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 someone),[2] anger, too, is not a feeling but an act of the will (i.e., to wish harm to someone).

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.

Anger becomes 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.

Learn more about 
unconscious anger

The Devil’s Work

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?

When “anger” 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 Him.

Resist Him, Solid in Your Faith

In Night Prayer for Tuesdays we are reminded, from 1 Peter 5:8–9a, that “the devil is prowling like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour.” Then we are told, “Resist him, solid in your faith.” 

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 them.

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 than doom.

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 end.


Who wrote this web page?


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.


Who wrote this web page?



Related pages:


Sending yourself to hell to prove that someone has hurt you

Unconscious anger

Unconscious desire

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.

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