Posted by: jamesthethickheaded | October 29, 2010

Shaming Flames of Anger

Gabriel Bunge has written a fabulous book: “Dragon’s Wine and Angel’s Bread” recently translated into English and published by SVS Press. Subtitled “The Teaching of Evagrius Ponticus on Anger and Meekness”, the book gives more than simply a recollection and focus on the writings of this famous all-but saint, and adds the author’s own reflections on how these insights benefit the spiritual life.

Some may wonder about the “OSB” after the author’s name as in this day it seems everyone likes to believe everyone ELSE has gone wobbly – especially if they aren’t Orthodox! LOL! No doubt the life and rules of Benedict of Nursia as Orthodox as they are – and they are – provide no assurance to these folks. But for these folks, we can say calm down. For good old Brother Gabriel has been received into the Orthodox Church.  So of course he was Orthodox while he was Catholic… or whatever. Not that it matters… but anyone venturing into the Orthodox publications of our Western Rite and it’s Monastic Diurnal is going to find…big surprise… that much of the West which was formed by Benedictine worship…and  was simply Orthodox for an awful long time… because these texts just are… uh… Orthodox.

So somehow they pulled off this amazing stunt of not going wobbly for a thousand years… without the Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom we love… while for much of that time… much of the East was in heresy in spite of having this same beautiful treasure. And while I know it goes against the grain to suggest it as so many are indeed convinced the divergence between East and West lies in the documents of one and not the other despite the actual history…  rather than in the merits and demerits of the men and women in whose hands they were put… that the truth is that a book of this sort is absolutely necessary.

Given a house that has recently divided itself, and given a beloved Church whose jurisdictions and national boundaries seem often to re-inforce rather than overcome our individuality and stand to separate the Body of Christ, this book is a humbling account of where we fail. For my part, I turned to read this book after a brief but meaningless spat over absolutely nothing… as most of these things seem to be… and spent seventy pages chastened in a wondrous shame. I cannot promise this book will change your life, but it will certainly cause you to look more thoroughly at the hidden demons of anger within one’s life. It is a good renewal of one’s repentance.

Highly recommended, I leave you with this from the author’s introduction:

“To be sure, Satan has nothing against one speaking of a “natural aggressiveness of man, “for much can be concealed behind this. Since according to modern understanding, this “aggressiveness” is “natural” and thereby in principle morally neutral, one must simply live with this. This is what most people then do, to the detriment of all – even in the Church. What is surprising is tat to a certain extent, it has always been like this – even when the modern concept of “aggressiveness” did not exist and one spoke of “irascibility” as a power of the soul, while “anger”and “wrath” counted as vices. The history of the Church, which was of course founded by him who said of himself that he is “meek and lowly in heart” and who taught us that one should learn precisely these qualities from him, is filled with violence.

On this point, we are not even thinking of medieval events such as the Crusades or the burning of witches, which are often cited in this context. More surprising is the aggressiveness also of many clerics in their dealings with their peers, especially when the other is convicted or merely suspected of heresy. Even famous “church Fathers” had no problem allowing their unbridled aggressiveness to be expressed at least verbally. A prominent victim of this aggressiveness with the Church was a man who himself thought much on “anger”: Evagrius Ponticus (ca. 345-99), a student of Basil the Great and Gregory of Nazianzus, and then later as a monk in the Egyptian desert, of Macarius the Great and his namesake from Alexandria. In Evagrius, one finds a finely honed teaching on anger worthy of reflection. Evagrius is also the great teacher of “prayer”, of the mystical life, whom all later authors have copied, either directly or indirectly. But misguided aggressiveness, which only a few ever take into consideration, is the greatest enemy of the spiritual life in general and the deadly enemy of prayer in particular.”


Responses

  1. This book was quite helpful to me in getting a hold of my own anger, understanding its source and dealing with it. I cannot recommend it highly enough.

    • Athanasia: Although it is far too early for me to make a similar claim (having just finished it), I’d tend to agree that it would appear to hold tremendous prospects for fruitful application. My experience on reading it was very humbling in terms of the author’s detailed identification of different manifestations of anger and its adverse effects on the spiritual life. But because the author unpacks so much in such a small space, I tend to think that this is the sort of book that takes more than one reading to get it’s benefits through my particularly obtuse coconut.


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