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St. Thomas Aquinas
Catechetical Instructions

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  • THE FIFTH COMMANDMENT: "Thou Shalt Not Kill."
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Why We Are Forbidden to Be Angry. - In the Gospel of St. Matthew (chapter V)

Christ taught that our justice should be greater than the justice of the

Old Law. This means that Christians should observe the Commandments of the

law more perfectly than the Jews observed them. The reason is that greater

effort deserves a better reward: "He who soweth sparingly, shall also reap

sparingly."24 The Old Law promised a temporary and earthly reward: "If you

be willing and will hearken to Me, you shall eat the good things of the

land."25 But in the New Law heavenly and eternal things are promised.

Therefore, justice, which is the observance of the Commandments, should be

more generous because a greater reward is expected.


The Lord mentioned this Commandment in particular among the others when He

said: "You have heard that it was said to them of old: Thou shalt not kill.

. . . But I say to you that anyone who is angry with his brother, shall be

in danger of the judgment."26 By this is meant the penalty which the law

prescribes: "If any man kill his neighbor on set purpose, and by lying in

wait for him; thou shalt take him away from My altar, that he may die."27


Ways of Avoiding Anger. - Now, there are five ways to avoid being angry. The

first is that one be not quickly provoked to anger: "Let every man be swift

to hear, but slow to speak and slow to anger."28 The reason is that anger

is a sin, and is punished by God. But is all anger contrary to virtue?

There are two opinions about this. The Stoics said that the wise man is

free from all passions; even more, they maintained that true virtue

consisted in perfect quiet of soul. The Peripatetics, on the other hand,

held that the wise man is subject to anger, but in a moderate degree. This

is the more accurate opinion. It is proved firstly by authority, in that

the Gospel shows us that these passions were attributed to Christ, in whom

was the full fountainhead of wisdom. Then, secondly, it is proved from

reason. If all the passions were opposed to virtue, then there would be

some powers of the soul which would be without good purpose; indeed, they

would be positively harmful to man, since they would have no acts in

keeping with them. Thus, the irascible and concupiscible powers would be

given to man to no purpose. It must, therefore, be concluded that sometimes

anger is virtuous, and sometimes it is not.


Three Considerations of Anger. - We see this if we consider anger in three

different ways. First, as it exists solely in the judgment of reason,

without any perturbation of soul; and this is more properly not anger but

judgment. Thus, the Lord punishing the wicked is said to be angry: "I will

bear the wrath of the Lord because I have sinned against Him."29


Secondly, anger is considered as a passion. This is in the sensitive

appetite, and is twofold. Sometimes it is ordered by reason or it is

restrained within proper limits by reason, as when one is angry because it

is justly fitting to be angry and within proper limits. This is an act of

virtue and is called righteous anger. Thus, the Philosopher says that

meekness is in no way opposed to anger. This kind of anger then is not a



There is a third kind of anger which overthrows the judgment of reason and

is always sinful, sometimes mortally and sometimes venially. And whether it

is one or the other will depend on that object to which the anger incites,

which is sometimes mortal, sometimes venial. This may be mortal in two

ways: either in its genus or by reason of the circumstances. For example,

murder would seem to be a mortal sin in its genus, because it is directly

opposite to a divine Commandment. Thus, consent to murder is a mortal sin

in its genus, because if the act is a mortal sin, then the consent to the

act will be also a mortal sin. Sometimes, however, the act itself is mortal

in its genus, but, nevertheless, the impulse is not mortal, because it is

without consent. This is the same as if one is moved by the impulse of

concupiscence to fornication, and yet does not consent; one does not commit

a sin. The same holds true of anger. For anger is really the impulse to

avenge an injury which one has suffered. Now, if this impulse of the

passion is so great that reason is weakened, then it is a mortal sin; if,

however, reason is not so perverted by the passion as to give its full

consent, then it will be a venial sin. On the other hand, if up to the

moment of consent, the reason is not perverted by the passion, and consent

is given without this perversion of reason, then there is no mortal sin.

"Whosoever is angry with his brother, shall be in danger of the judgment,"

must be understood of that impulse of passion tending to do injury to the

extent that reason is perverted - and this impulse, inasmuch as it is

consented to, is a mortal sin.


Why We Should Not Get Angry Easily. - The second reason why we should not be

easily provoked to anger is because every man loves liberty and hates

restraint. But he who is filled with anger is not master of himself: "Who

can bear the violence of one provoked?"30 And again: "A stone is heavy, and

sand weighty, but the anger of a fool is heavier than both."31


One should also take care that one does not remain angry over long: "Be ye

angry, and sin not."32 And: "Let not the sun go down upon your anger."33

The reason for this is given in the Gospel by Our Lord: "Be at agreement

with thy adversary betimes whilst thou art in the way with him; lest

perhaps the adversary deliver thee to the judge, and the judge deliver thee

to the officer, and thou be cast into prison. Amen, I say to thee, thou

shalt not go out from hence till thou repay the last farthing."34


We should beware lest our anger grow in intensity, having its beginning in

the heart, and finally leading on to hatred. For there is this difference

between anger and hatred, that anger is sudden, but hatred is long-lived

and, thus, is a mortal sin: "Whosoever hateth his brother is a murderer."35

And the reason is because he kills both himself (by destroying charity) and

another. Thus, St. Augustine in his "Rule" says: "Let there be no quarrels

among you; or if they do arise, then let them end quickly, lest anger

should grow into hatred, the mote becomes a beam, and the soul becomes a

murderer."36 Again: "A passionate man stirreth up strifes."37 "Cursed be

their fury, because it was stubborn, and their wrath, because it was



We must take care lest our wrath explode in angry words: "A fool

immediately showeth his anger."39 Now, angry words are twofold in effect;

either they injure another, or they express one's own pride in oneself. Our

Lord has reference to the first when He said: "And whosoever shall say to

his brother: 'Thou fool,' shall be in danger of hell fire."40 And He has

reference to the latter in the words: "And he that shall say: 'Raca,' shall

be in danger of the council."41 Moreover: "A mild answer breaketh wrath,

but a harsh word stirreth up fury."42


Finally, we must beware lest anger provoke us to deeds. In all our dealings

we should observe two things, namely, justice and mercy; but anger hinders

us in both: "For the anger of a man worketh not the justice of God."43 For

such a one may indeed be willing but his anger prevents him. A certain

philosopher once said to a man who had offended him: "I would punish you,

were I not angry." "Anger hath no mercy, nor fury when it breaketh

forth."44 And: "In their fury they slew a man."45


It is for all this that Christ taught us not only to beware of murder but

also of anger. The good physician removes the external symptoms of a

malady; and, furthermore, he even removes the very root of the illness, so

that there will be no relapse. So also the Lord wishes us to avoid the

beginnings of sins; and anger is thus to be avoided because it is the

beginning of murder.






24. II Cor., ix. 6.


25. Isa., i. 19.


26. Matt., v. 21-22.


27. Exod., xxi. 14. "The Gospel has taught us that it is unlawful even to

be angry with anyone. . . . From these words [of Christ, cited above] it

clearly follows that he who is angry with his brother is not free from sin,

even though he does not display his wrath. So also he who gives indication

of his anger sins grievously; and he who treats another with great

harshness and hurls insults at him, sins even more grievously. This,

however, is to be understood of cases in which no just cause of anger

exists. God and His laws permit us to be angry when we correct the faults

of those who are subject to us. But even in these cases the anger of a

Christian should spring from stern duty and not from the impulse of

passion, for we are temples of the Holy Ghost in which Jesus Christ may

dwell" ("Roman Catechism," "loc cit.," 12).


28. James, i. 19.


29. Mic., vii. 9.


30. Prov., xxvii. 4.


31. "Ibid.," 3.


32. Ps. iv. 5.


33. Eph., iv. 26.


34. Matt., v. 25, 26.


35. I John, iii. 15.


36. "Epist.," cxi.


37. Prov., xv. 18.


38. Gen., xlix. 7.


39. Prov., xii. 16.


40. Matt., v. 22.


41. "Ibid."


42. Prov., xv. 1.


43. James, i. 20.


44. Prov., xxvii. 4.


45. Gen., xlix. 6.

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