For wrath kills the foolish man, and envy slays the simple one.
All Commentaries on Job 5:2 Go To Job 5
Gregory The Dialogist
78. Which same sentence would have been true, had it not been delivered against the patience of so great a man. But let us weigh well the thing that is said, though it be made to recoil by the virtue of his hearer, that we may shew how right the matter is, which is put forth, if it were not unjustly put forth against blessed Job; since it is written, But Thou, Lord, Judgest with tranquillity. [Wisd. 12, 18] We must above all things know, that as often as we restrain the turbulent motions of the mind under the virtue of mildness, we are essaying to return to the likeness of our Creator. For when the peace of the mind is lashed with Anger, torn and rent, as it were, it is thrown into confusion, so that it is not in harmony with itself, and loses the force of the inward likeness. Let us consider then how great the sin of Anger is, by which, while we part with mildness, the likeness of the image of the Most High is spoilt. By Anger wisdom is parted with, so that we are left wholly in ignorance what to do, and in what order to do it; as it is written, Anger resteth in the bosom of a fool [Ecc. 7, 9]; in this way, that it withdraws the light of understanding, while by agitating it troubles the mind. By Anger life is lost, even though wisdom seem to be retained; as it is written, Anger destroyeth even the wise. [Prov. 15, 1. LXX] For in truth the mind being in a state of confusion never puts it in execution, even if it has power to discern any thing with good judgment. By Anger righteousness is abandoned, as it is written, The wrath of man worketh not the righteousness of God. [Jam. 1, 20] For whereas the agitated mind works up to harshness the decision of its reasoning faculty, all that rage suggests, it accounts to be right. By Anger all the kindliness of social life is lost, as it is written, Be not the companion of an angry man; lest thou learn his ways, and get a snare to thy soul. [Prov. 22, 24. 25. not V.] And the same writer, Who can dwell with [not V.] a man whose spirit is ready to wrath [thus V.]? [Prov. 18, 14] For he that does not regulate his feelings by the reason that is proper to man, must needs live alone like a beast. By Anger, harmony is interrupted; as it is written, A wrathful man stirreth up strife, and an angry man diggeth up sins. [Prov. 15, 18. not as V. or LXX] For ‘an angry man diggeth up sins,’ since even bad men, whom he rashly provokes to strife, he makes worse than they were. By Anger the light of truth is lost; as it is written, Let not the sun go down upon your wrath. [Eph. 4, 26] For when wrath brings into the mind the darkness of perturbation, God hides therefrom the ray of the knowledge of Himself. By Anger the brightness of the Holy Spirit is shut out. Contrary whereunto, it is written according to the old translation, Upon whom shall My Spirit rest, saving upon him that is humble and peaceful, and that trembleth at My words? [Is. 66, 2] For when He mentioned the humble man, He forthwith subjoined the word ‘peaceful;’ if then Anger steals away peace of mind, it shuts its dwelling place against the Holy Spirit, and the soul being left void by Its departure, is immediately carried into open frenzy, and is scattered away to the very surface from the inmost foundation of the thoughts.
79. For the heart that is inflamed with the stings of its own Anger beats quick, the body trembles, the tongue stammers, the countenance takes fire, the eyes grow fierce, and they that are well known are not recognised. With the mouth, indeed, he shapes a sound, but the understanding knows nothing what it says. Wherein, then, is he far removed from brain-struck [arreptitiis] persons, who is not conscious of his own doings? Whence it very often comes to pass that anger springs forth even to the hands, and as reason is gone the further, it lifts itself the bolder. And the mind has no strength to keep itself in, for that it is made over into the power of another. And frenzy employs the limbs without in dealing blows, in proportion as it holds captive within the very mind, that is the mistress of the limbs. But sometimes it does not put out the hands, but it turns the tongue into a dart of cursing. For it implores with entreaty for a brother's destruction, and demands of God to do that, which the wicked man himself is either afraid or ashamed to do. And it comes to pass that both by wish and words he commits a murder, even when he forbears the hurting of his neighbour with the hands. Sometimes when the mind is disturbed, anger as if in judgment commands silence, and in proportion as it does not vent itself outwardly by the lips, inwardly it burns the worse, so the angry man withholds from converse with his neighbour, and in saying nothing, says how he abhors him. And sometimes this rigorousness of silence is used in the economy of discipline, yet only if the rule of discretion be diligently retained in the interior. But sometimes whilst the incensed mind foregoes the wonted converse, in the progress of time it is wholly severed from the love of our neighbour, and sharper stings arise to the mind, and occasions too spring up which aggravate her irritation, and the mote in the eye of the angry man is turned into a beam, whilst anger is changed into hatred. It often happens that the anger, which is pent up within the heart from silence, burns the more fiercely, and silently frames clamorous speeches, presents to itself words, by which to have its wrath exasperated, and as if set in judgment on the case, answers in exasperation exceeding cruelly: as Solomon implies in few words, saying, But the expectation of the wicked is wrath. [Prov. 11, 23] And thus it is brought to pass that the troubled Spirit finds louder riot in its silence, and the flame of pent-up anger preys upon it the more grievously. Hence a certain wise man said well before us, The thoughts of the angry man are a generation of vipers, they devour the mind which is their mother. [d]
80. But we are to know that there be some, whom anger is somewhat prompt in inflaming, but quickly leaves them; while there are others whom it is slow in exciting, but the longer in retaining possession of. For some, like kindled reeds, while they clamour with their voices, give out something like a crackle at their kindling: those indeed speedily rise into a flame, but then they forth with cool down into their ashes; while others, like the heavier and harder kinds of wood, are slow in taking fire, but being once kindled, are with difficulty put out; and as they slowly stir themselves into heat of passion, retain the longer the fire of their rage. Others again, and their conduct is the worst, are both quick in catching the flames of anger, and slow in letting them go; and others both catch them slowly, and part with them quickly. In which same four sorts, the reader sees clearly that the last rather than the first approaches to the excellence of peace of mind, and in evil the third is worse than the second. But what good does it do to declare how anger usurps possession of the mind, if we neglect to set forth at the same time, how it should be checked?
81. For there are two ways whereby anger being broken comes to relax its hold upon the mind. The first method is that the heedful mind, before it begins to do any thing, set before itself all the insults which it is liable to undergo, so that by thinking on the opprobrious treatment of its Redeemer, it may brace itself to meet with contradiction. Which same, on coming, it receives with the greater courage, in proportion as by foresight it armed itself the more heedfully. For he, that is caught by adversity unprovided for it, is as if he were found by his enemy sleeping, and his foe dispatches him the sooner, that he stabs one who offers no resistance. For he, that forecasts impending ills in a spirit of earnest heedfulness, as it were watching in ambush awaits the assault of his enemy. And he arrays himself in strength for the victory in the very point wherein he was expected to be caught in entire ignorance. Therefore, before the outset of any action, the mind ought to forecast all contrarieties, and that with anxious heed, that by taking account of these at all times, and being at all times armed against them with the breastplate of patience, it may both in foresight obtain the mastery, whatever may take place, and whatever may not take place, it may account gain. But the second method of preserving mildness is that, when we regard the transgression of others, we have an eye to our own offences, by which we have done wrong in the case of others. For our own frailty, being considered makes excuse for the ills done us by others. Since that man bears with patience an injury that is offered him, who with right feeling remembers that perchance there may still be somewhat, in which he himself has need to be borne with. And it is as if fire were extinguished by water, when upon rage rising up in the mind each person recalls his own misdoings to his recollection; for he is ashamed not to spare offences, who recollects that he has himself often committed offences, whether against God or against his neighbour, which need to be spared.
82. But herein we must bear in mind with nice discernment that the anger, which hastiness of temper stirs is one thing, and that which zeal gives its character to is another. The first is engendered of evil, the second of good. For if there was no anger originating in virtue, Phinees would never have allayed the fierceness of God's visitation by his sword. Because Eli lacked such anger, he quickened against himself the stirrings of the vengeance of the Most High to an implacable force. For in proportion as he was lukewarm towards the evil practices of those under his charge, the severity of the Eternal Ruler waxed hot against himself. Of this it is said by the Psalmist, Be ye angry, and sin not. [Ps. 4, 5 Vulg.] Which doubtless they fail to interpret aright, who would only have us angry with ourselves, and not with others likewise, when they sin. For if we are bidden to love our neighbours as ourselves, it follows that we should be as angry with their erring ways as with our own evil practices. Of this it is said by Solomon, Anger [so Vulg.] is better than laughter; for by the sadness of the countenance the heart is made better. [Ecc. 7, 3] Of this the Psalmist saith again, Mine eye is [V. thus] disturbed because of anger [prae ira. Vulg. a furore]. [Ps. 6, 8] For anger that comes of evil blinds the eye of the mind, but anger that comes of zeal disturbs it. Since necessarily in whatever degree he is moved by a jealousy for virtue, the world of contemplation, which cannot be known saving by a heart in tranquillity, is broken up. For zeal for the cause of virtue in itself, in that it fills the mind with disquietude and agitation, presently bedims the eye thereof, so that in its troubled state it can no longer see those objects far up above, which it aforetime clearly beheld in a state of tranquillity. But it is brought back on high with a more penetrating ken by the same means, whereby it is thrown back for a while so as to be incapable of seeing. For the same jealousy in behalf of what is right after a short space opens wider the scenes of eternity in a state of tranquillity, which in the mean season it closes from the effects of perturbation. And from the same quarter whence the mind is confounded so as to prevent its seeing, it gains ground, so as to be made clear for seeing in a more genuine way; just as when ointment is applied to the diseased eye, light is wholly withheld, but after a little space it recovers this in truth and reality by the same means, by which it lost the same for its healing. But to perturbation contemplation is never joined, nor is the mind when disturbed enabled to behold that, which even when in a tranquil state it scarcely has power to gaze on; for neither is the sun's ray discerned, when driving clouds cover the face of the heavens; nor does a troubled fountain give back the image of the beholder, which when calm it shews with a proper likeness; for in proportion as the water thereof quivers, it bedims the appearance of a likeness within it.
83. But when the spirit is stirred by zeal, it is needful to take good heed, that that same anger, which we adopt as an instrument of virtue, never gain dominion over the mind, nor take the lead as mistress, but like a handmaid, prompt to render service, never depart from following in the rear of reason. For it is then lifted up more vigorously against evil, when it does service in subjection to reason; since how much soever our anger may originate in zeal for the right, if from being in excess it has mastered our minds, it thereupon scorns to pay obedience to reason, and spreads itself the more shamelessly, in proportion as it takes the evil of a hot temper for a good quality; whence it is necessary that he who is influenced by zeal for right should above all things look to this, that his anger should never overleap the mind's control, but, in avenging sin, looking to the time and the manner, should check the rising agitation of his mind by regulating it with nicety of skill, should restrain heat of temper, and control his passionate emotions in subjection to the rule of equity, that the punisher of another man may be made more just, in proportion as he has first proved the conqueror of himself; so that he should correct the faults of transgressors in such away, that he that corrects should himself first make advancement by self-restraint, and pass judgment on his own vehemency, in getting above it, lest by being immoderately stirred by his very zeal for right, he go far astray from the right. But as we have said, forasmuch as even a commendable jealousy for virtue troubles the eye of the mind, it is rightly said in this place, For wrath killeth the foolish man; as if it were in plain terms, ‘Anger from zeal disturbs the wise, but anger from sin destroys the fool;’ for the first is kept in under the control of reason, but the other lords it over the prostrate mind in opposition to reason. And it is well added,
And envy slayeth the little I one.
84. For it is impossible for us to envy any but those, whom we think to be better than ourselves in some respect. And so he is ‘a little one,’ who is slain by jealousy. For he bears witness against his very own self, that he is less than him, by envy of whom he is tormented. It is hence that our crafty foe, in envying of the first man, despoiled him, in that having lost his estate of bliss, he knew himself to be inferior to his immortality. It is hence that Cain was brought down to commit the murder of his brother; in that when his sacrifice was disregarded, he was maddened that he, whose offering God accepted, was preferred to himself; and him, whose being better than himself was his aversion, he cut off, that he might not be at all. Hence, Esau was fired to the persecution of his brother; for, the blessing of the firstborn being lost, which, for that matter, he had himself parted with for a mess of pottage, he bewailed his inferiority to him, whom he surpassed by his birth. Hence his own brethren sold Joseph to Ishmaelites, that were passing by, in that upon the mystery of the revelation being disclosed, they set themselves to resist his advancement, that he might never become superior to themselves. Hence Saul persecutes his servant David by throwing a lance at him, for he dreaded that man growing beyond his own measure, whom he perceived to be daily waxing bigger by his great achievements in the virtues. Thus he is a ‘little one,’ who is slain by envy; in that except he himself proved less, he would not grieve for the goodness of another.
85. But herein we must bear in mind, that though in every evil thing that is done, the venom of our old enemy is infused into the heart of man, yet in this wickedness, the serpent stirs his whole bowels, and discharges the bane of spite fitted to enter deep into the mind. Of whom also it is written, Nevertheless, through envy of the devil came death into the world. For when the foul sore of envy corrupts the vanquished heart, the very exterior itself shews, how forcibly the mind is urged by madness. For paleness seizes the complexion, the eyes are weighed down, the spirit is inflamed, while the limbs are chilled, there is frenzy in the heart, there is gnashing with the teeth, and while the growing hate is buried in the depths of the heart, the pent wound works into the conscience with a blind grief. Nought of its own that is prosperous gives satisfaction, in that a self-inflicted pain wounds the pining spirit, which is racked by the prosperity of another: and in proportion as the structure of another's works is reared on high, the foundations of the jealous mind are deeper undermined, that in proportion as others hasten onward to better things, his own ruin should be the worse; by which same downfall even that is brought to the ground, which was believed to have been raised in other doings with perfect workmanship. For when envy has made the mind corrupt, it consumes all that it may have found done aright. Whence it is well said by Solomon, A sound heart is the life of the flesh: but envy the rottenness of the bones. [Prov. 14, 30] For what is denoted by ‘the flesh,’ saving weak and tender things? and what by the ‘bones,’ saving strong deeds? And it is most common that some with real innocency of heart should appear to be weak in some points of their practice, whilst some now perform deeds of strength before the eyes of men, but yet towards the excellences of others they are inwardly consumed with the plague of envy; and so it is well said, A sound heart is the life of the flesh. In that where inward innocency is preserved, even if there be some points weak without, yet they are sometime made strong and fast. And it is rightly added, But envy the rottenness of the bones. For by the bad quality of envy even strong deeds of virtue go for nought before the eyes of God. Since the rotting of the bones from envy is the spoiling of the strong things even.
86. But why do we say such things concerning envy, unless we likewise point out in what manner it may be rooted out? For it is a hard thing for one man not to envy another that, which he earnestly desires to obtain; since whatever we receive that is of time becomes less to each in proportion as there are many to divide it amongst. And for this reason envy wrings the longing mind, because that, which it desires, another man getting either takes away altogether, or curtails in quantity. Let him, then, who longs to be wholly and entirely void of the bane of envy, set his affections on that inheritance, which no number of fellowheirs serves to stint or shorten, which is both one to all and whole to each, which is shewn so much the larger, as the number of those that are vouchsafed it is enlarged for its reception. And so the lessening of envy is the feeling of inward sweetness arising, and the utter death of it is the perfect love of Eternity. For when the mind is withdrawn from the desire of that object, which is divided among a multitude of participators, the love of our neighbour is increased, in proportion as the fear of injury to self from his advancement is lessened. And if the soul be wholly ravished in love of the heavenly land, it is also thoroughly rooted in the love of our neighbour, and that without any mixture of envy. For whereas it desires no earthly objects, there is nothing to withstand the love it has for its fellow. And what else is this same charity but the eye of the mind, which if it be reached by the dust of earthly love, is forthwith beaten back with injury from its gaze at the inward light? But whereas he is ‘a little one,’ who loves earthly things, and a great one that longs after the things of eternity, it may be suitably enough rendered in this sense likewise, And envy slayeth the foolish one; in that no man perishes by the sickness of this plague, except him that is still unhealthy in his desires.