Anger: When It’s a Virtue and When It’s a Sin

Anger is a natural human emotion, but it can also be a destructive one. If not kept in check, anger can cause great harm to you and those around you. But is anger itself sinful?

A listener recently called in to The Patrick Madrid Show to ask about anger, and why it was not sinful when Jesus, at the Temple, flipped over tables in anger. Patrick responded:

“St. Thomas Aquinas discusses anger in the Summa Theologiae, and question #158, if you’re interested this is the second part of the second part of the Summa, he takes up the question of anger.

And one of the questions that he treats is whether you can be angry, do something out of anger, and not commit a sin. And his answer to that is yes. In fact, it is actually an echo of what we read in Ephesians 4:26, where St. Paul says, ‘Be angry, but do not sin. Do not let the sun go down on your anger.’

So there are different kinds of anger. And often we tend to think of anger as something that is always bad. And it can be bad. It can be very destructive, of course, and get into things like revenge, or murder, or things of that nature. But anger itself is not always bad.

What St. Thomas explains to us in this section of the Summa is that in order to be virtuous we have to have, at times, a kind of anger against sin, against injustice, things that without anger rousing us to do something about it we would never do anything about it. Bad things would happen and we would just sort of sit back and let them happen.

So I think that’s the way I would approach it, to explain that Jesus was displaying a righteous anger, clearly not sinful because what the people were doing by turning the Temple into a marketplace was wrong. So Jesus, in His indignation, in His righteous anger, was correcting a problem and He was right to do so. So I would say that is an example of virtue, not of sin.

Jesus wasn’t even close to sin, He couldn’t sin anyway, but this was a display of virtue. Zeal for the truth, zeal for justice, zeal for defending the honor of the Temple, that kind of thing. And that’s what St. Thomas makes the distinction with in that section of the Summa.”

Listen the full conversation below:

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