“Sing, O goddess, the anger of Achilles.” So began what would become the archetypal epic of Western culture, Homer's Iliad, and so began a generations-long reflection in Western civilization on the psychology and therapy of anger. Anger exercised the attention not only of poets and philosophers but also of rhetoricians, statesmen, and bishops. Among contemporary historians, the “emotional turn” has now come into full force.Footnote 1 Studies on the history of emotions enable historical reflection on lived experience to intersect with positive psychology, neuroscience, and sociology to nuance the ways we understand the socially constructed character of emotions and to challenge the notion that certain feelings are statically hardwired into human nature. Emotions have a history, and the more we appreciate the range of images, texts, assumptions, norms, and scripts that guide the shaping of emotions, the better suited we will be, on the one hand, to appreciate the lived experiences of our historical subjects and, on the other hand, to question the naturalness of contemporary states of affective experience.
In scholarship on the history of emotions, one area that has attracted significant attention is the characterization of emotions as socially constructed norms and prescriptions. Barbara Rosenwein, for example, distinguishes “emotional communities” from emotions understood as individual virtues and vices.Footnote 2 Peter and Carol Stearns, meanwhile, separate emotions themselves from what they call “emotionology,” which they define as the “the attitudes or standards that a society, or a definable group within a society, maintains toward basic emotions and their appropriate expression.”Footnote 3 As a final example, Monique Scheer, drawing on Bourdieu's notion of habitus, develops a theory of “emotion practices” to understand the ways in which emotions emerge “from bodily dispositions conditioned by a social context, which always has cultural and historical specificity.”Footnote 4 Each of these projects attends to the historically conditioned social and embodied character of emotions and not only to descriptions of an interior state.
The viability of such theories, however, depends on a careful consideration of the nature of institutions. A religious community will attempt to regulate emotions differently than, say, a family unit or political group. Particular religious communities will project and reflect emotions differently than others. Even within individual religious communities, certain approaches to emotional conditioning will prevail depending on the specific audience being addressed. As Christoph Markschies has recently demonstrated, a careful study of institutions is vital for understanding the ways in which ideas, behaviors, and attitudes spread and solidified in the ancient Christian world.Footnote 5 In this essay, I argue that Augustine of Hippo's catechumenate, especially his teaching of the Lord's Prayer to catechumens, was critical for institutionalizing a discourse on the emotion of anger. While anger was discussed in other early Christian writings, it was especially in Augustine's catechesis on the Lord's Prayer that we find a pronounced focus on anger and the corresponding correctives of patience and forbearance. He imagined the catechumenate itself as an institution for shaping a social therapy of anger, and he provided in these settings a series of cognitive and spiritual exercises for treating the irascible passions. In teaching catechumens to pray, Augustine focused on the diagnosis and healing of anger, and in so doing offers us a precise institutional setting in which to locate the emergence of certain forms of “emotional communities,” “emotionologies,” and “emotion practices” in late antiquity.
Along with the creed, Augustine taught the Lord's Prayer as the primary form of instruction for those preparing for Easter baptism (Sermons 56–59).Footnote 6 These sermons are usually dated to around 410 to 412, though there is little firm evidence to suggest a clear date besides the absence of anti-Pelagian rhetoric, and even that is suspect.Footnote 7 We do know, however, that the catechumenate was of central importance for Augustine. The African bishop was greatly concerned with the status of catechumens and their socialization into Christian membership as they progressed to baptism.Footnote 8 In light of this concern, it is especially worth noting Augustine's focus on anger and forgiveness in these sermons.Footnote 9 Articulating the Lord's Prayer as the “form of desires” (forma desideriorum), Augustine provided catechumens with an institutional framework and a set of spiritual exercises for transforming anger into patience and forbearance, attitudes that reflected a transvalued desire for God. As we will see, reflection on anger in antiquity was closely linked with desire—in particular, the desire for revenge, a theme introduced by Aristotle and commented on throughout later authors—and its attendant pains and pleasures. In Christian teachers, we find additional reflection on the dynamics of desire and anger through the study of biblical sources, such as Matthew 5:22 and Ephesians 4:26–27, and the examples of Christ and the martyrs. These sources allowed Christian authors to draw together classical discourses on anger and desire with Christian discussions on prayer, patience (in particular, understood as the willingness to bear wrongdoing and suffering), and forgiveness.Footnote 10 Rather than allowing the desire for revenge to engender a deep-seated and debilitating anger, the catechumen was instructed to practice forgiveness and longsuffering in a way that reflected the reordered desire for God facilitated through prayer.
In what follows, it will first be necessary to understand anger in the key educational institutions of Greek and Roman culture, as well as in early Christianity. Then we will be able to situate Augustine's catechumenate as an institution for normalizing a discourse on patience and forgiveness, observing the way he interpreted the catechumenate more broadly as an exercise in patience and the way in which, in these settings, he guided catechumens in various exercises for the diagnosis and therapy of anger.
I. The Diagnosis and Healing of Anger in Antiquity and Early Christianity
The educational systems of Graeco-Roman culture—often encompassed in the Greek term paideia or the Latin artes liberales—aimed not only to teach grammar and speaking but also to construct the social identities and mores of an elite ruling class.Footnote 11 Ancient paideia provided a shared set of moral codes that served as a form of initiation into the class of elites.Footnote 12 As Martin Bloomer puts it, paideia is a process of “persona building” in which instructors “produced a definite subjectivity in its elite participants”Footnote 13 through the exercises of grammar, reading, composition, and declamation. Through developing the skills of reading and speaking and through the assumption of fictive personas, students literally learned to talk and imagine themselves as another kind of person.Footnote 14
The pedagogical “persona building” for treating anger was particularly important in these settings.Footnote 15 In a political system in which violence was enmeshed at nearly every level, notables turned to the seemingly sorcerous power of words to maintain social order. An injudicious loss of temper could mean the end of one's career, even one's life, while the ability to remain imperturbable amid turmoil and to show temperance appropriately demonstrated one's true magnanimity. The mastery of speech was thus more than a matter of verbal decorum; it demonstrated self-control. As Peter Brown puts it, rhetorical mastery “carried with it a sense of quiet triumph over all that was slovenly, unformed, and rebellious in the human voice and so, by implication, in the human person.”Footnote 16 The oratorical ideals of harmony and control translated into a moral agenda that prized the control of anger and the cultivation of temperance and clemency. Teachers gave careful attention to the modulation of breathing and vocal pitch, of bodily posture and facial gestures, which developed and displayed an interior tranquility. “With measured words,” declared Gregory of Nazianzus in one of his orations, “I learn to bridle rage.”Footnote 17 The rhetorician who could command an audience through mastery of speech was one who also had a firm command over anger.
Additionally, the topic of anger received focused attention among ancient and late-antique philosophical schools. Following the work of Pierre Hadot, historians have become much more attuned to the therapeutic aims of ancient philosophy, not least the treatment of anger and its corollaries.Footnote 18 Hadot's conception of philosophy as a “way of life” prioritized the disciplining of the soul over a more purely abstract theorizing, which he organized into four categories of spiritual exercises: learning to live, learning to dialogue, learning to die, and learning to read.Footnote 19 Different schools presented different descriptions and treatments of anger, each proposing a resolution to the pathos that prohibited one from making progress in the philosophical life. While the pre-Socratics touched on anger only sporadically, beginning with Plato and especially with Aristotle, we find more developed reflection on the psychological and physiological contours of anger and its treatments. In the middle works of Plato, such as the Phaedrus and the Republic, there is new reflection on the importance of thumos, the third of Plato's tripartite psychology along with reason and desire. Thumos is difficult to translate, for it comprises a range of “spirited” emotions, such as anger, courage, a sense of justice, and a longing for honor.Footnote 20 Unlike a strictly negative emotion like orgē, thumos could be harnessed as a critical force in the acquisition of virtue and the pursuit of justice.Footnote 21
With Aristotle, we see a new attention to anger as a subject of psychic and physiological health, particularly connected with the question of desire. Aristotle considers the topic of anger in his treatise on rhetoric, where he makes a crucial link between anger and desire—a connection that will resurface in subsequent authors. Anger, Aristotle writes, is “a desire accompanied by pain for [an apparent] revenge due to an apparent slight, affecting a man himself or one of his friends by persons who ought not to slight him.”Footnote 22 Aristotle contended that anger was accompanied not only by pain but also by pleasure—the desire to avenge the wrongdoing.Footnote 23 In considering how to treat anger, Aristotle focused on the process of evaluating the wrongdoing and whether the desired retribution was fitting. A person who is only slighted by accident, for instance, should take a different approach than someone wronged by deliberate intention. In addition, Aristotle categorized anger as an activity instead of a social relation—distinguishable, for example, from enmity or hatred. Whereas enmity is defined in relational terms, as something like the inverse of friendship, anger entailed the desire to cause harm to another. It is not that the other person should be eliminated but that he or she should feel in return the pain that had been inflicted.Footnote 24 In considering anger in these terms, Aristotle set the agenda for much subsequent reflection.Footnote 25
Among later Roman and Hellenistic philosophers, several works were devoted to the topic of anger specifically, with questions about anger and the desire for revenge close at hand. Plutarch, Seneca, and Philodemus, among others, devoted specific treatises to the topic of anger.Footnote 26 Whereas the Peripatetic tradition continued to hold a more positive place for anger, as a spur to justice, the Stoics, by contrast, considered anger in strictly negative terms, as a temporary madness that was contrary to nature.Footnote 27 Treatments for preventing as well as restraining anger included especially cognitive exercises like praemediatio malorum or attention to “indifferent things.” An Epicurean like Philodemus presented his view as a middle path between the Peripatetics and Stoics. In the first half of his treatise On Anger, Philodemus offers a diatribe of people undone by fits of anger, like a doctor laying plain before his patient the nature of their illness.Footnote 28 In the second half, he takes an analytic approach, categorizing anger as either natural anger or empty anger. The latter, exemplified in Achilles's rage as depicted in the Iliad, was wholly negative and dependent upon an empty desire for revenge. Natural anger, however, could be positive and indeed a necessary emotion in the philosophical quest.Footnote 29 Natural anger, for Philodemus, was not simply an unreflective response to provocation accompanied by the desire for revenge. Rather, natural anger itself was possible only after careful thought and training in philosophy. Natural anger was thus an emotion most properly suited to the philosophical context of education.Footnote 30
Given the substantial treatment of anger in rhetorical and philosophical settings, it is not surprising to find early Christians commenting on anger as well. Many Christian leaders in late antiquity received a classical education—with varying degrees of appropriationFootnote 31—and sought to utilize this form of cultural capital in service to Christian teaching.Footnote 32 At the same time, Christian teachers reflected on biblical texts and hagiological exempla to reflect on anger and its healing. They looked to Christ's words to his disciples to eschew anger (Matthew 5:22) and to turn the other cheek (Matthew 5:38–40) and to the Apostle Paul's counsel to “be angry but sin not” (Ephesians 4:26). Christian writers also saw in the deaths of Christ and the martyrs exemplifications of the refusal of anger and the promotion of patience and forgiveness. Several homilies or treatises survive from Christian leaders, such as Basil of Caesarea, Gregory of Nazianzus, John Chrysostom, and John Cassian, which treat anger as a moral issue requiring thoughtful consideration.Footnote 33 More germane to the present topic, we also find reflection on anger and its relation to prayer in the North African tradition of commentary on the Lord's Prayer. In his treatise on prayer, Tertullian explains that one must be free from anger and other pathologies of the soul so that one's prayer can ascend to God in a form like the one to whom it is sent.Footnote 34 Cyprian, likewise, emphasized forgiveness and patience in his catechetical treatise on the Lord's Prayer as part of his appeal for ecclesial unity. He encouraged catechumens to undertake prayer with a posture of moderation and discipline, maintaining control of their bodies and voices.Footnote 35 Nowhere, however, does anger receive the kind of focused attention it does in Augustine's catechumenate.
Elsewhere in Augustine's writings, we find scattered commentary on the pathos of anger in sermons and in his discussion of the Stoic doctrine of apatheia in City of God 14.9. In her detailed examination of Augustine's moral psychology, Sarah Byers helpfully parses Augustine's relation to his philosophical sources, describing his approach to the emotions as a Stoic-Platonist synthesis.Footnote 36 She demonstrates his dependence on the Stoic tradition, situated within a Platonic-Christian ontology, which goes against a simplistic reading of Augustine's rejection or confusion of Stoic categories of apatheia. Augustine, Byers shows, appropriated the Stoic distinction between “preliminary passions,” which arise unconsented as a movement of the soul (motus animi), and the passions themselves (perturbationes), which require the mind's consent.Footnote 37 In sermons, we find two key biblical images related to vision that articulate this distinction as it pertained to anger: (1) the irritated eye that becomes blind and (2) the speck that becomes a plank in one's eye (Matthew 7:5). Both of these visual pictures of anger entail, furthermore, the loss of divine illumination—“the sun going down” on one's wrath (Ephesians 4:26).Footnote 38
In Augustine's world, reflection on anger was as important as it was varied. Among rhetoricians and philosophers, both Christian and non-Christian, anger warranted careful reflection and advice for moderation or expulsion. While anger was evaluated and treated differently, all were agreed on the profound importance of this pathos in the quest for beatitude.
II. The Catechumenate as an Institution for Cultivating Patience
Anger and other emotions, however, were not only topics for contemplation in learned treatises. Institutions and social arrangements were also necessary for promoting certain emotional discourses. In what remains, I want to consider Augustine's catechumenate as an instance of the institutional structuring of emotions related to anger. In the present section, we will see how Augustine interpreted the catechumenate itself as an institution for cultivating patience—a time for learning patience in the “womb” of mother church. In subsequent sections, I consider in more depth the way in which Augustine's sermons to catechumens deployed cognitive and spiritual exercises for treating the pathos of anger.
Augustine's view of the catechumenate as an institutional context for generating patience stemmed in part from an ongoing tradition within North African Christianity about the proper amount of time and the overall purpose of the catechumenate.Footnote 39 Tertullian had warned about the rash reception of baptism and advised waiting until candidates had matured intellectually and were thus able to appreciate the gravity of sin and the significance of baptism.Footnote 40 He critiqued heretical movements for allowing catechumens to have unrestricted access to sacred Christian rituals and prayers, though he could easily turn and attack Valentinians for promulgating a pretentious five-year initiation that traded on intrigue instead of intellection.Footnote 41 In Cyprian's era, African bishops debated whether those who sought baptism from competing Christian groups, such as the Novatians, needed to repeat the process of catechesis and baptism or whether the simple laying on of hands from a legitimate bishop would suffice. Centuries later, these debates lingered on as Augustine debated in On Faith and Works with certain anti-Donatist reactionaries about the moral strictures required for baptismal candidates.Footnote 42 Against those who would say, “Baptize him first . . . and later teach him about leading a good life,” Augustine appealed to a tradition of taking an appropriate amount of time for instruction in morals as well as doctrine: “What is all that time for, when they hold the status of catechumen, if it is not for them to hear what a Christian should believe and what kind of life a Christian should lead, so that when they have proved themselves, they may eat from the table of the Lord and drink from his cup?”Footnote 43 Such, after all, had been customary ever since the church had established the status of catechumens as an official role in the church.Footnote 44
Teaching the Lord's Prayer to baptismal candidates had long been a part of the North African catechetical tradition. Both Tertullian's and Cyprian's expositions of the Lord's Prayer likely originated in prebaptismal catechesis.Footnote 45 The liturgical placement of the Lord's Prayer immediately prior to the Eucharist, combined with the insistence that only those made children of God in baptism could call upon God as “Father,” provided the theoretical structure for reserving the Lord's Prayer for the baptized alone.Footnote 46 However, this presented an issue about whether to teach the prayer before or after baptism. Ambrose of Milan and Cyril of Jerusalem both taught it afterward, while Theodore of Mopsuestia, Augustine, and Peter Chrysologus taught it beforehand.Footnote 47 The potential objection to teaching it beforehand was: How could someone not yet born in the waters of baptism be allowed to pray the reserved family prayer? Making a theological point out of this liturgical custom, Augustine explained that catechumens were taught the prayer beforehand because they had been conceived by God as seeds within the maternal womb of the church.Footnote 48 They were children of God “in utero.”Footnote 49 When they joined the rank of catechumens, they received the sign of the cross on the forehead, a laying on of hands, and salt on the tongue.Footnote 50 In one sermon, Augustine signaled this rite as the catechumen's “conception” into the womb of the church in anticipation of their baptismal birth.Footnote 51 Christians became, as it were, living fetuses during the catechumenate when they underwent this rite and received the name of Christ (nomen Christi).
The image of church as mother was prominent in early African Christianity,Footnote 52 as was the image of the baptismal font as womb.Footnote 53 Augustine, however, pressed the metaphor in ways that allowed the catechumenate to be viewed as a pedagogical institution for instilling patience and delimiting the pathos of anger. The image of the maternal church occurs explicitly in one of Augustine's sermons to competentes on the rite of scrutiny, where Augustine encourages them not to “agitate the maternal womb impatiently” by receiving baptism prematurely.Footnote 54 This interpretation is borne out more fully in an anti-Donatist sermon on Psalm 57, in which Augustine explains how Christians are to hold together both charity and truth. Interpreting Psalm 57:4, “Sinners have been alienated from the womb; they have gone astray from the stomach; they have spoken falsehoods,” alongside Galatians 4:19's picture of Paul “laboring” for the Galatians “until Christ may be formed in them,”Footnote 55 Augustine draws together a series of arguments that link ecclesial unity with the virtue of patience as the precondition for perceiving truth—the womb in Psalm 57 signifies the ecclesial womb in which “charity was agonizing (patiebetur) in labor pains.”Footnote 56 Though a person may still be “carnal,” he or she has nonetheless been “conceived . . . by the very fact of receiving the name of Christ,” and so has been “sacramentally born within the bowels of your mother.”Footnote 57 Christians, therefore, who have been conceived in the womb through the ritual of receiving the name of Christ are to remain in the womb until they have become fully matured. They should not succumb to the pretense of knowledge before attaining a certain level of competence but should remain patiently within the maternal womb—“until you are fully formed, until the truth you are taught is firmly set in you.”Footnote 58 The Donatists, meanwhile, according to Augustine, are said to be impatient because they reject a full-term labor and have exited the womb before the allotted time. Without such time, however, they cannot apprehend truth, for it is only from the “the womb of truth that I recognize Christ, who is truth itself, and from the mouth of truth I recognize the Church, which participates in truth.”Footnote 59 The reason seems somewhat circular if we do not grasp the importance of catechetical patience. Being fully formed in the womb of charity through catechesis gives Christians the requisite time for the purifying vision necessary to discern Christ.
In these moments, we can see Augustine reflecting on the institution of catechesis as a time for transforming the vice of impatience into the virtues of patience and forbearance. To cultivate patience, the baptismal candidate needed to remain a catechumen for the full duration of the period, not rejecting the maternal womb of the church too abruptly. The time of the catechumenate was a time of learning patience. In the reformation of desire that was the aim of the Christian life, the institution of catechesis, by its very nature, served in Augustine's mind to instill these foundational emotions.
III. The Lord's Prayer and the Transformation of Desire
Having glimpsed the broader picture of Augustine's catechumenate as a time of cultivating patience, we are now positioned to observe several exercises that Augustine proposed for his hearers to guide the transformation of anger into patience. The category of spiritual exercises is a fruitful, though perhaps unexpected, category for considering prayer. Sarah Byers, for example, does not consider prayer as an appropriate category for Augustine's affective therapies because she understands prayer more narrowly as the petitioner's request for God to remove some impediment to well-being rather than an active exertion on the part of the one who prays.Footnote 60 Jonathan Teubner, by contrast, makes the category of exercitatio central to his study of prayer in Augustine.Footnote 61 For Teubner, the Lord's Prayer functions “as something like an ‘exercise manual’ for prayer.”Footnote 62 I would add that another way to locate prayer in terms of spiritual exercise is to consider prayer in catechesis—an institutional context for teaching prayer. It is not prayer as such but a second-order discourse on the language and, concomitantly, the emotions of prayer. The context of oral, dialogical instruction, coupled with exhortations to repetition and memorization and to actualize in one's life what is learned in teaching, suggests a teaching context grounded in the spiritual exercises tradition.Footnote 63 Regarding anger and forgiveness in particular, we find Augustine exhorting his hearers “to stretch themselves out to the perfection of forgiveness.”Footnote 64 Forgiveness was a state of being to which one could progress in stages of growth through exercise. Prayer, especially in the context of catechesis, functioned very much like the spiritual exercises of antique philosophy.
For Augustine, ever the theologian of desire, a catechesis on prayer functioned chiefly as a set of spiritual exercises in which to shape a proper desire for God and love of neighbor instead of the desire for vengeance. In Sermon 56, Augustine invites his hearers to imagine the Lord's Prayer as the “form of desires” (forma desideriorum). After raising the question of why Christians pray if an omniscient God already knows what they need, Augustine explains: “The reason he wanted you to pray is so that he might give to a desiring person, so that what has been given does not become cheapened. This desire is something he himself has instilled. So, then, the words our Lord Jesus Christ taught us in his prayer give us the form of desires. You are not allowed to ask for anything else except what is written here.”Footnote 65 The Lord's Prayer is, for Augustine, a divine gift of speech, which instills into Christians the form of desires. Form, in this passage, might mean, on the one hand, the practical framework or limits of what ought to be prayed. Christians are not to ask for anything besides what is written here, even if they use different words.Footnote 66 On the other hand, form could also be said to retain the more Platonic sense of an ideal reality. In this case, the Lord's Prayer could be seen to offer a vision of true Christian desire. It provides Christians with the proper shape of their desires. If, as Augustine says elsewhere, desire itself is the Christian's prayer, and desire is necessary for capacitating the Christian to receive God's gifts, then it would be imperative to teach the Lord's Prayer as a way of reforming desire.Footnote 67 The Lord's Prayer as the “form of desires” is something graciously given, yet through daily practice exercises and realigns Christian desires.
IV. Spiritual Exercises for Anger Management
In what remains, we can consider the catechetical sermons on prayer as spiritual exercises for treating the pathos of anger, organized around five topics. The first two entail a theological analysis of prayer and a therapeutic analysis of anger, respectively. The final three are more proactive remedial therapies: contemplation of human nature, meditation on scriptural and hagiological exempla, and engagement in inner dialogue. One could easily offer other categories, or other examples that fall within these categories, but the following presents one way to understand the institutional shaping of emotions in Augustine's catechesis.
First, Augustine provides a theological vision of prayer as a remedy to anger, considering what prayer is and to whom one prays. In Sermon 56, Augustine introduces the Lord's Prayer through a discussion on anger and the desire for revenge, drawing attention to the potentially counterevidential examples of the imprecatory psalms. In prayer, Augustine says, there are two items of which to be aware: “asking for what you should not ask and asking for it from someone you should not ask it from.”Footnote 68 One should neither seek good things from the wrong source—for example, asking for life and health from the Devil—nor seek wicked things from the one true God. In the latter category Augustine places the petitioning of God for an enemy's downfall. What, however, of the imprecatory psalms? When the Psalmist, an exemplar of justice, asks for evil to come upon his enemy, is he not modeling just the opposite of what Augustine here counsels?Footnote 69 To this, Augustine replies that the Psalmist is making a prophetic utterance, not a model for Christian prayer. The Psalmist has divine insight into the mysteries of divine providence and so can proclaim such judgments. Augustine's catechumens, by contrast, are no prophets or seers: “How do you know that the person for whom you are asking evil will not become better than you in the future?”Footnote 70 Augustine's theological analysis of anger begins by locating the Christian framework of prayer. He also reflects on the relationship between divine grace and human effort to convince his hearers that loving one's enemies is genuinely possible:
Exert yourselves, my dearest friends, to attain this perfection, I implore you. But is it I who have given you the capacity to do so? He has given it to you, the one to whom you say, “Thy will be done, as in heaven, so also on earth.” However, you must not assume it is impossible. I know, I have learned, I have satisfied myself that there are Christian people who love their enemies. If it seemed impossible to you, you would never do it. First of all, believe that it can be done and then pray that God's will may be done.Footnote 71
Christians are to seek good things from the one, true God, and they are to do so in recognition of the fact that they do not know the future state of things. They are to entrust to God that which God alone knows, and they are to hold firm to the conviction that forgiveness of one's enemies is really possible.
Second, Augustine offers a therapeutic analysis of anger. In dialogue with the philosophical traditions, Augustine correlates anger with the inability to attain the vision of God. Commenting on Psalm 6:7, “My eye is troubled for anger,” Augustine warns his hearers not to consider anger lightly, for “When the eye is troubled, he cannot see the sun; if he tries to, it gives him pain, not pleasure.”Footnote 72 Augustine goes on to parse the difference between anger, which is “lust for revenge” (libido uindictae), and hatred, which is “inveterate anger” (ira inueterata).Footnote 73 Augustine provides several analogies for the relation between the two:
What was anger when it was new has become hatred, because it has turned old and musty. Anger is a speck, hatred a beam. Sometimes we rebuke someone for getting angry, and we are nursing hatred in our hearts; and Christ says to us, “You see the speck in your brother's eye, and you do not see the beam in your own eye (Luke 6:41; Matt. 7:3). How has the speck managed to grow, to make a beam? Because it wasn't immediately plucked out. Because you allowed the sun to go out and come in so many times upon your anger, you made it old; you raked up evil suspicions, and you watered the speck, and by watering it you reared it, and by rearing it you made it into a beam.Footnote 74
Augustine's paradigm is closely related, as mentioned previously, to the correlation of the dominical image of the speck versus the beam in one's eye (Matthew 7:3–5) with the Stoic conception of preliminary passions and real passions.Footnote 75 When the preliminary passion of anger appears as a speck in the eye, if acted upon, it may grow into a massive beam—hatred. The consequence is that, with troubled vision, the Christian cannot enter the light of God. With a beam in one's eye, to look upon God's light becomes pain, not pleasure.
Defining anger as “lust for revenge,” Augustine can also highlight the especially pernicious nature of vengeance, singled out as a more dangerous spiritual threat than other sins. While all sins can be dangerous, the desire for revenge poses a particularly acute challenge because of the way it deprives the Christian from the healing obtained through daily repentance and forgiveness—chiefly in praying the Lord's Prayer itself. In Sermon 57, he thrice describes anger as a horrenda temptatio—“a frightful temptation, which deprives us of the possibility of being healed of the wounds inflicted by other temptations.”Footnote 76 While avarice or lust, for example, may arrive as an unwanted preliminary passion, one can still pray, “forgive us our debts, as we forgive others,” and so find recourse for alleviating the dangers of the temptation. One can seek forgiveness, so long as one continues to forgive others. With vengeance, however, the situation is more dire:
So what is that horrible temptation to which I referred, so grievous that it is to be dreaded, to be shunned with all your strength and all your might? . . . It is when we are prompted to avenge ourselves. Anger is kindled, and a person burns to be avenged. What a frightful temptation! Through this, you forfeit the means by which you were going to win pardon for your other offenses. If you had sinned through other senses, other cravings, this is how it was to be remedied, because you were going to say, “Forgive us our debts, as we also forgive our debtors.” The fellow who provokes you to avenge yourself will rob you of what you were going to say—“as we also forgive our debtors.” When you have forfeited that, all your sins will be held against you; absolutely nothing is forgiven.Footnote 77
The desire for vengeance is especially malignant because it cuts one off from the means of receiving forgiveness. Vengeance itself negates the means of remedying forgiveness, which is found in correlation with forgiving others. Augustine goes on to explain that Christ was aware of this danger, which is why, after commenting on the petitions of the prayer, Christ impressed upon his disciples the importance of this petition more than the others: “The other [petitions] did not need to be commended as much; if you are a sinner, you can recognize whence it is cured. What had to be commended was the sin that deprives you, if you commit it, of means by which the rest are cleansed.”Footnote 78 The daily praying of the Lord's Prayer, in Augustine's estimation, was instrumental to the process of healing, serving as a constant reminder to forgive one's enemies and to remove the speck from one's own eye so that it does not develop into deep-seated hatred.
A third approach Augustine takes in teaching the Lord's Prayer as a form of spiritual exercise is contemplating human nature. In the spiritual exercises tradition, contemplating nature—whether the nature of the world or the nature of the human person—was a critical exercise in treating the passions.Footnote 79 Augustine utilizes a form of this spiritual exercise when he implores competentes to consider what it is about their human enemy that is malicious. Augustine counsels his hearers to distinguish between an enemy's human nature, which is the same as one's own nature, and his fault or “ill-nature.” One's enemy is of the same psychosomatic constitution, animated by the same God; they are even, Augustine says at one point, of the “same substance” (consubstantialis) as one another.Footnote 80 Contemplating human nature is meant to alter the way one interacts with an enemy. “It is not the human nature in [your enemy] that is hostile to you,” he explains, “but the fault in it.”Footnote 81 For Augustine, a clear distinction between the divinely created human nature, which is good, and postlapsarian fallen nature, which is prone to sin, is crucial. What one opposes in one's enemy is the fault (culpa), the sin, not his or her human nature. In that sense, then, one can pray for an enemy's downfall, but in doing so, “one prays against his malice (malitiam), not against his nature (natura). You pray for that to die and that he may live.”Footnote 82 This is more obviously true among fellow Christians who hold the same God as father and the same church as mother. But it even holds true if one's enemy is a “pagan, Jew, or heretic.”Footnote 83 Not knowing whether the person will become a Christian tomorrow, the Christian is to pray for his or her conversion rather than for ill. For Augustine, forgiving one's enemies is a desideratum for all Christians, and is aided by careful reflection on human nature.
A fourth kind of spiritual exercise that Augustine develops in these sermons is offering biblical models and Scriptural images to assuage anger. Christ himself is the chief model of patient forgiveness, forgiving his accusers from the cross, followed chiefly by the saints. While it is human nature to avenge, the divine path entails the patience of forbearance. “Christ has not yet been avenged; the holy martyrs have not yet been avenged! God's patience is still waiting for Christ's enemies to be converted, for the enemies of the martyrs to be converted. Who are we to insist on vengeance?”Footnote 84 The primary mode of patience to which the Christian is to aspire is God's form of patience, which waits upon an enemy's conversion rather than promulgating instant judgment. If one objects to the difficulty of imitating God, however, Augustine can also point to examples like Stephen, who also prayed for his enemies rather than taking vengeance.Footnote 85 Augustine does not here offer a more detailed account of Christ's fully human nature, which would seem to have aided his argument. In this setting, he is content to allow his hearers to find biblical models for patient forgiveness wherever they can.
Another form of scriptural reflection on anger comes in Augustine's commentary on the language of the Lord's Prayer. In his explication of the petition for God's will to be done “on earth as it is in heaven,” Augustine builds on his North African predecessors to provide a constellation of interpretations by which to understand themselves and their enemies.Footnote 86 Heaven and earth can be understood, variously, as the celestial church and the earthly church, the soul and the body, or Christians and non-Christians. In each instance, Augustine emphasizes that the “earthly” constituent is to be transformed into that which is heavenly. Augustine particularly highlights the third paradigm—that of heaven and earth as a figure of Christians and non-Christians—in his encouragement to pray for one's enemy's conversion rather than judgment:
We have been urged, you see, to pray for our enemies. Heaven is the Church, earth the Church's enemies. So what is “Thy will be done in heaven and on earth”? May our enemies believe as we too believe in you; may they become friends and put a stop to hostilities. They are earth, which is why they are opposed to us; may they become heaven, and they will be with us.Footnote 87
In enabling his hearers to envision the process of forgiveness, Augustine utilizes positive examples and scriptural images. These are not merely decorative metaphors but intricate ways of structuring his hearers’ affective capacities for the Christian life.
Fifth and finally, Augustine appropriates for his catechumens a version of the spiritual exercise of inner dialogue.Footnote 88 He draws his hearers’ attention away from external disputants and toward a conversation with themselves. “Attend to yourself,” he counsels, following a venerable line of philosophical and patristic therapy.Footnote 89 No exterior enemy can inflict harm if one is attentive to one's inner life, for the devil holds no power over those who love their enemies. The Devil can destroy home or livelihood if given authority to do so. But the Devil cannot inflict harm upon one's soul.Footnote 90 In Sermon 57, Augustine challenges his hearers to focus not upon their external threats but upon their thoughts and desires:
The conflict continues, you see, in your own selves. You need not dread any foe outside; conquer yourself, and you have conquered the world. What is an external tempter going to do, whether it is the devil or the devil's agent? . . . You are not aware of this foe of yours, but you are aware of your desires (non sentis hostem tuum, sed sentis concupiscentiam tuam). You cannot see the devil, but you can see what gives you pleasure. Conquer what you are aware of inside you (uince intus quod tu sentis).Footnote 91
In this instance, Augustine focuses on the battle imagery, but redirects that battle from external physical opponents to the Christian's internal desires. They are to attend to that which they can control instead of that over which they have no control.
In another instance, Augustine uses the exercise of internal dialogue to direct his hearers’ focus to they themselves rather than their enemies. If someone desires an enemy's downfall, claiming to know his or her sinister disposition, Augustine turns the question around.Footnote 92 Rather than focusing on the enemy's disposition, which one cannot actually know, the Christian should look to the state of his or her own soul, which can be known better. Disrupting this form of pride, Augustine redirects attention from one's enemy to one's interior person; and this turn to inner dialogue is meant to encourage hopefulness for the enemy's conversion. Like the early disciples who prayed for the persecutor Saul, Christians do not know if an enemy today may become a friend tomorrow.Footnote 93 Augustine invites his catechumens to a soliloquy with a different appreciation of time, a time that is patient of today's ambiguities in hopefulness of the possibility of friendship tomorrow.
Augustine's catechetical homilies on prayer provide a rich site for reflection on prayer as a spiritual exercise for treating the pathos of anger. More generally, they suggest how Augustine's catechumenate figured as a key institution for transposing key classical discourses about anger into Christian society. In these sermons, Augustine aimed to cultivate the virtues of forgiveness and patience through transforming anger, the desire for revenge, into the desire for God, holding up the Lord's Prayer as the “form of desires.” He imagined the catechumenate itself as a time for cultivating patience and forbearance, and he provided a series of cognitive and spiritual exercises for understanding and healing anger. While other Christian authors discussed anger in different settings, few of them discussed anger within the institutional context of catechesis as fervently as did Augustine. In observing his catechetical homilies to catechumens on prayer, we perceive more clearly the ways in which particular institutions helped spread and solidify certain emotional ideals.
Augustine's sermons on prayer to catechumens, therefore, contribute to a more general understanding of the way in which Christian educational institutions adopted and transformed pedagogical traditions in the Graeco-Roman world. While a concern for studying anger had previously occupied only the elite students of the rhetorical or philosophical schools, the introduction and intense focus on anger in Augustine's catechumenate ensured that an institutional “emotionology” would be transmitted at a broader and more popular level, establishing a framework for generations of Christians to imagine and experience the emotions of anger in particular ways. Augustine's catechumenate, in short, was a key pedagogical institution in late antiquity that contributed to the shaping of Western discourses on the nature of anger and forgiveness. These were not merely sermons on prayer but a complex set of practices and the embodiment of a social ideal in which certain affective postures were scripted and made normative in early Christianity.