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In the Night Prayer of the Liturgy of the Hours, I wonder about the passage that says to let your anger “be without sin.” Then it talks about wrath and not letting the devil work on you. What does that all mean? I thought wrath was sin, so what is “anger without sin”?

Outline of the Answer
• Anger as a Feeling
• Anger as a Desire for Revenge
• The Devil’s Work
• Resist Him, Solid in Your Faith

The passage to which you refer is found in Night Prayer for Wednesdays and it comes from Ephesians 4:26–27. An adequate explanation of the passage depends not so much on theology but on an understanding of the psychology of anger. Thus, to explain the passage, we need to distinguish “anger” as a feeling of irritation (i.e., pseudoanger) from genuine anger as a desire for revenge.

“Anger” as a Feeling

Whenever someone or something obstructs you or hurts you in some way, you will experience an immediate response. This response begins when your brain, perceiving a threat to your safety or well-being—and completely outside your conscious awareness—sends stress hormones surging through your body. Then, as your conscious mind starts to process the situation, you will experience some noticeable emotions, such as irritation and frustration.[1] 

Now, so far, this collection of feelings is a self-defensive response to a perceived threat. It’s a warning sign, as it were, that you are being threatened and that you need to protect yourself. Traditionally, when someone feels this way, we will say that he or she is feeling “angry.” But this feeling isn’t a sin because, in psychological language, this is a feeling of irritation, not real anger.[2]

Anger as a Desire for Revenge

When you allow your feelings of irritation to go a step beyond mere feelings and progress into the realm of desire for revenge, you enter into sin. This revenge is an expression of hatred because it seeks the other’s harm rather than the other’s good.


Just as love is not a feeling but an act of the will (i.e., to wish another’s good),[3] anger, too, is not a feeling but an act of the will (i.e., to wish harm to come upon someone).


As long as the desire for revenge stays in your imagination it is a venial sin that can be absolved with perfect contrition; that is, once you recognize the desire, you can renounce it as disordered and wrong while calling upon God to have mercy on you; then you can give the injury over to God’s justice knowing that the offender will have to answer to God for the offense committed against you. You can also pray that the offender will ultimately acknowledge and repent his sin.

Anger becomes mortal sin when you actually inflict hurt on someone in return for the hurt inflicted on you.


For example, if you were driving a car and another driver did something rude to you, you would feel irritated and maybe even threatened. If you silently muttered an insult to the other driver, that would be a venial sin, and it could be corrected with heartfelt contrition. If, however, you screamed a curse at the other driver or made an insulting gesture, you would have progressed from an imagined insult to an actual insult, and that would be a mortal sin. In the Catholic faith, a mortal sin requires confession to a priest to be absolved.


Note that revenge can be carried out either as a calm, calculated act or as a impetuous, emotionally charged act. Traditionally, this latter case has been called “wrath.”

But either way—whether unconscious, calculated, or impetuous—carrying out this anger is a grave sin.

Learn more about 
unconscious anger

The Devil’s Work

Because revenge is an act of hatred, it stands in opposition to love, and, in standing in opposition to love, it stands opposed to God’s will. Notice here that the devil fell from grace because he refused to do God’s will; consequently, all desire for revenge opens the door to demonic influence because all desire for revenge refuses to do God’s will. Thus, to progress from “anger” as a feeling into anger as a desire for revenge is to allow the devil to work in you.

Resist Him, Solid in Your Faith

In Night Prayer for Tuesdays we are reminded, from 1 Peter 5:8–9a, that “the devil is prowling like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour.” Then we are told, “Resist him, solid in your faith.” 

So what does this tell you about how to prevent your anger from becoming a grave sin? Well, the answer is simple: to resist the desire for revenge is to remain solid in your faith by doing what Christ told us to do: bless your enemies rather than curse them.[4]

Therefore, when others obstruct you or hurt you, acknowledge the feelings of irritation that tell you that you have been hurt, admit that the desire to harm someone is wrong, and then, rather than seek revenge, pray for the good of the offenders (i.e., for their enlightenment and repentance).

If the injury was accidental, endeavor to put yourself in the place of the other so as see things from his view and pray that he might acquire better judgment in the future.

If the injury was intentional, pray for the other that he will repent his sins, and then trust that God will administer perfect justice in the end.


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1. Here are some examples of similar emotions: aggravated, annoyed, bothered, cross, displeased, distressed, exasperated, frustrated, goaded, grumpy, impatient, offended, overwrought, peeved, provoked, shaky, strained, tense, troubled, uncomfortable, upset, or vexed.

2. Is anger ever justifiable? Well, when “anger” is really a feeling of irritation, then it is justifiable, because all irritation is a feeling, and all feelings are justifiable. But anger in its true sense—that is, a desire for revenge—cannot be justifiable as a Christian act. “But I say to you, whoever is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment” (Matthew 5:22). Christ told us to give a blessing to our enemies, not to get even with them. Moreover, Christ never sought revenge on anyone, not even on those who ridiculed and killed Him.

3. St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica. I-II, 26, 4.

4. In practical terms, this takes four steps: (a) notice that you feel irritated; (b) recognize the fantasies of revenge going through your mind; (c) admit that those fantasies are evil desires; and (d) reject those fantasies by praying for the courage to be patient and forgiving—that is, to love, rather than to hate—and to leave justice to God.


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Related pages:


Sending yourself to hell to prove that someone has hurt you

Unconscious anger

Unconscious desire

Blind to your own anger


Recommended Reading
A treasure of a resource for psychological and spiritual healing. Information gathered from my websites is now available at your fingertips in book form.


Falling Families, Fallen Children by Raymond Lloyd Richmond, Ph.D. Do our children see a mother and a father both living in contemplative love for God with a constant awareness of His presence and engaged in an all-out battle with the evil of the world? More often than not our children don’t see living faith. They don’t see protection from evil. They don’t see genuine, fruitful devotion. They don’t see genuine love for God. Instead, they see our external acts of devotion as meaningless because they see all the other things we do that contradict the true faith. Thus we lose credibility—and when parents lose credibility, children become cynical and angry and turn to the social world around them for identity and acceptance. They are children who have more concern for social approval than for loving God. They are fallen children. Let’s bring them back.

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