Let anger be guarded against. If it cannot, however, be averted, let it be kept within bounds. For indignation is a terrible incentive to sin. It disorders the mind to such an extent as to leave no room for reason.
The first thing, therefore, to aim at, if possible, is to make tranquillity of character our natural disposition by constant practice, by desire for better things, by fixed determination. But since passion is to a large extent implanted in our nature and character, so that it cannot be uprooted and avoided, it must be checked by reason, if, that is, it can be foreseen.
And if the mind has already been filled with indignation before it could be foreseen or provided against in any way, we must consider how to conquer the passion of the mind, how to restrain our anger, that it may no more be so filled. Resist wrath, if possible; if not, give way, for it is written: “Give place to wrath.” (Romans 12:19)
Jacob dutifully gave way to his brother when angry, and to Rebecca; that is to say, taught by counsels of patience, he preferred to go away and live in foreign lands, rather than to arouse his brother’s anger; and then to return only when he thought his brother was appeased. (Genesis 27:42) Thus it was that he found such great grace with God. With what offers of willing service, with what gifts, did he reconcile his brother to himself again, so that he should not remember the blessing which had been taken away from him, but should only remember the reparation now offered? (Genesis 27:3ff).
If, then, anger has got the start, and has already taken possession of thy mind, and mounted into thy heart, forsake not thy ground. Thy ground is patience, it is wisdom, it is reason, it is the allaying of indignation. And if the stubbornness of thy opponent rouses thee, and his perverseness drives thee to indignation: if thou canst not calm thy mind, check at least thy tongue. For so it is written: “Keep thy tongue from evil, and thy lips that they speak no guile. Seek peace and pursue it.” (Psalm 34:13-14)
See the peace of holy Jacob, how great it was! First, then, calm thy mind. If thou canst not do this, put a restraint upon thy tongue. Lastly, omit not to seek for reconciliation. These ideas the speakers of the world have borrowed from us, and have set down in their writings. But he who said it first has the credit of understanding its meaning.
Let us then avoid or at any rate check anger, so that we may not lose our share of praise, nor yet add to our list of sins. It is no light thing to calm one’s anger. It is no less difficult a thing than it is not to be roused at all. The one is an act of our own will, the other is an effect of nature. So quarrels among boys are harmless, and have more of a pleasant than a bitter character about them. And if boys quickly come to quarrel one with the other, they are easily calmed down again, and quickly come together with even greater friendliness. They do not know how to act deceitfully and artfully. Do not condemn these children, of whom the Lord says: “Except ye be converted and become as this child, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 18:3)
So also the Lord Himself, Who is the Power of God, as a Boy, when He was reviled, reviled not again, when He was struck, struck not back. (1 Peter 2:23)
Set then thy mind on this—like a child never to keep an injury in mind, never to show malice, but that all things may be done blamelessly by thee. Regard not the return made thee by others. Hold thy ground. Guard the simplicity and purity of thy heart. Answer not an angry man according to his anger, nor a foolish man according to his folly. One fault quickly calls forth another. If stones are rubbed together, does not fire break forth?
The heathen—(they are wont to exaggerate everything in speaking)—make much of the saying of the philosopher Archites of Tarentum, which he spoke to his bailiff: “O you wretched man, how I would punish you, if I were not angry.” But David already before this had in his indignation held back his armed hand. How much greater a thing it is not to revile again, than not to avenge oneself! The warriors, too, prepared to take vengeance against Nabal, Abigail restrained by her prayers. (1 Samuel 25) From whence we perceive that we ought not only to yield to timely entreaties, but also to be pleased with them. So much was David pleased that he blessed her who intervened, because he was restrained from his desire for revenge.
Already before this he had said of his enemies: “For they cast iniquity upon me, and in their wrath they were grievous to me.” (Psalm 55:3) Let us hear what he said when overwhelmed in wrath: “Who will give me wings like a dove, and I will flee away and be at rest.” (Psalm 55:6) They kept provoking him to anger, but he sought quietness.
He had also said: “Be ye angry and sin not.” (Psalm 4:4) The moral teacher [Cicero] who knew that the natural disposition should rather be guided by a reasonable course of teaching, than be eradicated, teaches morals, and says: “Be angry where there is a fault against which ye ought to be angry.” For it is impossible not to be roused up by the baseness of many things; otherwise we might be accounted, not virtuous, but apathetic and neglectful.
Be angry therefore, so that ye keep free from fault, or, in other words: If ye are angry, do not sin, but overcome wrath with reason. Or one might put it thus: If ye are angry, be angry with yourselves, because ye are roused, and ye will not sin. For he who is angry with himself, because he has been so easily roused, ceases to be angry with another. But he who wishes to prove his anger is righteous only gets the more inflamed, and quickly falls into sin. “Better is he,” as Solomon says, “that restraineth his anger, than he that taketh a city,” (proverbs 16:32) for anger leads astray even brave men.
We ought therefore to take care that we do not get into a flurry, before reason prepares our minds. For oftentimes anger or distress or fear of death almost deprives the soul of life, and beats it down by a sudden blow. It is therefore a good thing to anticipate this by reflection, and to exercise the mind by considering the matter. So the mind will not be roused by any sudden disturbance, but will grow calm, being held in by the yoke and reins of reason.
Author: Aurelius Ambrose, Bishop of Milan (337-397)
Source: Nicene and Post Nicene Fathers, Second Series, Volume 10, Chapter XXI