Opposed to the virtue of humility is pride. Pride is the inordinate desire of one’s own excellence. There are four principal manifestations of Pride:
- to think that one’s gifts and talents are from oneself
- to believe that the gifts of God are due strictly and solely to one’s own merits
- to boast of possessing that which one does not have
- to despise others and wish to appear the exclusive possessor of that which one has.
At the mention of the word anger we see usually only the uncontrolled, anti-spiritual and negative aspect. In the power of wrath the energies of human nature are clearly expressed. But wrath is not always an evil.
And Jesus went into the temple of God and cast out all them that sold and bought in the temple and overthrew the tables of the money changers and the chairs of them that sold doves. And he saith to them: It is written, My house shall be called the house of prayer; but You have made it a den of thieves.
And he found in the temple them that sold oxen and sheep and doves, and the changers of money
sitting. And when he had made, as it were, a scourge of little cords, he drove them all out of the temple,
the sheep also and the oxen: and the money of the changers he poured out, and the tables he overthrew. And to them that sold doves he said: Take these things hence, and make not the house of my Father a house of traffic. And his disciples remembered, that it was written: The zeal of thy house hath eaten me up.
Wrath is the strength to attack the repugnant; the power of anger is actual the power of resistance in the soul.
Thus whoever says that this power is in itself unspiritual, and something to be mortified commits the same error as one who condemns “passion” or “desire” as something absolutely evil. God created these forces of our being, so by condemning them outright you condemn He who made them, who as the liturgy says, has “ marvellously established the dignity of human nature.”
Wrath taken in its true sense is the passionate desire for just retribution, “because the nature of man is constructed of soul and body, of spirit and sense, it belongs to the good of man to devote himself utterly to virtue, namely with spirit, senses, and body alike. And therefore man’s virtue requires that the will for just retribution reside not only in the spiritual part of the soul, but also in the senses and in the body itself.” St. Thomas.
Anger is “good” if, in accordance with the order of reason, it is brought into service for the true goals of man; one who does good with “passion”, is more praiseworthy than one who is “not entirely” afire for the good. So it is plainly evident that anger which reaches all bounds and disrupts order of reason is evil and a sin. Blind wrath, a bitter spirit, and revengeful resentment, these are the three basic forms of intemperate anger, are therefore evil and contrary to order.
In the upsurge of his self-will, the intemperate angry man feels as if he were drawing his whole being together like a club ready to strike. But this is the very thing he fails to achieve. Only gentleness and mildness can accomplish it. Gentleness above all makes man master of himself. Holy Scripture speaks of its virtue in much the same terms as of patience. Through patience man is said to posses his soul; and of gentleness it is said: “Possess thy soul through gentleness”.
But this does not mean that the original power of wrath is weakened or mortified, just as chastity does not mean a weakening of the power to beget children. On the contrary: gentleness as a virtue presupposes the power of wrath; gentleness implies mastery of this power, not its weakening. We should not mistake the pale-faced harmlessness which pretends to be gentleness, for the true Christian virtue.
It is particularly in reference to overcoming the intemperateness of sensual desire that the power of wrath acquires a special importance.
An acute temptation to unchastity it is true, is most easily conquered by flight. But the addiction to degenerate pleasure-seeking can by no means be cured by a merely negative approach, by “shutting one’s eyes to it”. The deterioration of one power of the soul should be healed and supplemented by the still undamaged core of some other power. Thus it should be possible to subdue the limp intemperance by attacking the difficult task with the joy generated by the full power of wrath. Only the combination of intemperance with lazy inertia (wimpishness) which is incapable of generating anger, is a sign of virtual hopeless and complete degeneration.
Disciplining the eyes
Here we are concerned with temperance as it regulates knowledge. The essential intemperateness of the urge for knowledge is “concupiscence of the eyes”. What does this mean.
There is a gratification or satisfaction in seeing that reverses the original meaning of vision and works disorder in man himself. The true meaning of seeing is the perception of reality, not “virtual reality” but real reality! But concupiscence of the eyes does not aim to perceive reality, but merely to enjoy “seeing.” So it is what we commonly call curiosity, the roaming unrest of the soul, seeking always something new and different. It lead to the sadness of heart unwilling to accept the greatness to which God call us, to the nobility of being sons of God. It leads to the desire to burst forth from our “real self” and out into the diversity of make believe. It reaches the extremes of its destructive power when it builds itself a world according to its likeness: it surrounds itself with the perpetual moving picture of meaningless shows (video arcades, computer games, nintendo etc.) with the literally deafening noise of impressions and sensations breathlessly rushing past the windows of the senses. But behind the flimsy pomp of its façade dwells absolute nothingness; it is a world of make believe creations, which often within less than a quarter of an hour become stale and discarded. A world which, to the piercing eye of a healthy mind untouched by its contagion and corruption, it appears bare and ghostly.
The destructiveness of this disorder which originates from, and grows upon, obsessive addiction, lies in the fact that it clouds man’s power of seeing reality and truth. If such a world threatens to overgrow and smother the world of real things, as it does today, then to restrain the natural wish “to see” takes on the character of a measure of self-protection and self-defence. So that by closing the door to the world of empty shows and sounds, we can have a true knowledge and perception of God and his creation, and shape himself and the world to this truth, which reveals itself only in silence.
The Fruits of temperance
Temperance, as we have said, is the preserving and defending of man's inner order, but attached to this is the gift of beauty. Not only is temperance beautiful in itself, but it also makes men beautiful. But when we talk of beauty here we mean it in its proper sense, as the glow of the true and the good coming from the ordered state of a man, and not merely from that which we see with our senses. The beauty of temperance has a more spiritual and also “manly” aspect. The essence of this beauty does not conflict with true manliness, but it rather has a true closeness to it. Temperance as the starting point and source, so to speak of Fortitude, is the virtue of mature manliness.
The childish disorder of intemperance, in so far as we act as though we had no use of reason like a child, not only destroys beauty, it makes men cowardly; intemperance more than any other thing makes a man unable and unwilling to 'take heart' against the destroying power of evil in the world. Thus men become effeminate and wimpish.
It is not easy to see in a man's face whether he be just or unjust. Temperance or intemperance, however, loudly proclaim themselves in everything that shows forth a man's personality: in the order or disorder of the features, in the attitude, the laugh, the handwriting. Temperance, as the inner order of man, can as little remain 'purely interior' as the soul itself, for the soul is the form of the body, if the soul be in disorder by intemperance, then it must somehow be expressed externally in the body.
But also it needs to be remembered, that temperance and intemperance of outward behaviour can have its influence on the inner order of man, either to strengthen it or weaken it. From this, the importance and necessity of all the outer disciplines find there true purpose, with regards to the pleasures attached to the preservation of the human race, to the preservation of each man, with eating and drinking, with anger, and the satisfaction of curiosity and gratifying the eyes.
It is important to note that almost all pathological obsessions (sickness of the mind), which show forth a disturbed inner order, belong to the realm of temperance. All these selfish turnings to oneself are accompanied by the despair of missing the goal striven for, which is the true fulfilling of self. For it is a natural fact that man loves God more than himself, and consequently it follows that he must miss his very goal, God himself, if he follows the ungodly, the 'anti-godly,' path of selfishness.
Intemperance and despair are connected by a hidden channel. Whoever is stubborn and reckless enough to follow and pursue satisfaction in prestige and pleasure has set his foot on the road to despair. Another thing, also, is true: that one who rejects fulfilment in its true and final meaning, and, despairing of God and himself, is heading for non fulfilment. He may then well regard the artificial plastic paradise of unrestrained pleasure-seeking as the sole place not only of happiness, then of forgetfulness, and self-oblivion: ÒIn their despair, they gave themselves up to incontinence' (Ephesians 4, 19). The bondage of sin is nowhere more apparent and obvious, than in intemperance, in that obsession of selfish self-preservation, which seeks itself in vain.
Temperance on the other hand, is liberating and purifying. Above all temperance effects purification, purification of the heart is the essential purpose of temperance get quote about coming from the heart.
Purity stands for that crystal clear, morning fresh freedom from self-consciousness, which accepts selflessly the shock of profound sorrow carrying him to the brink of his very self, or when he himself is touched by the shadow of death. It is said in Scripture: Grave illness sobers the soul (Eccles. 31, 2); this sober attitude belongs to the essence of purity. By the gift of the Holy Ghost called Fear the soul is purified and feels, by grace, the inner peril of man. Its fruit is that purity which abandons all selfish searching for fulfilment. Purity is the perfect unfolding of the whole of our nature, from which alone could have come the words: 'Behold the handmaid of the Lord!' (Luke 1, 38).
Here we now see a hidden depth: purity is not only the fruit of purification; it implies also at the same time a readiness to accept God purifying intervention, terrible and fatal though it may be; to accept it with a bold straightforwardness of a trustful heart, with a Brave Heart, and thus to feel its fruitful and transforming power.
This then is the ultimate meaning of the virtue of Temperance.