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Chapter 8: The Modes of Responsibility Which Specify the First Principle

Question G: What is the seventh mode of responsibility?

1. The seventh mode is this: One should not be moved by hostility to freely accept or choose the destruction, damaging, or impeding of any intelligible human good. Violations occur when people deliberately will out of anger or hatred (or milder feelings of the same sort, such as distaste or resentment) the destruction, damaging, or impeding of any instance of any intelligible human good. In acting on such negative feelings, they reduce human fulfillment without reason, and so proceed in a manner which is inconsistent with a will toward integral human fulfillment.

2. One sometimes knows that acting in a certain way will not be conducive to any intelligible human good—nothing positive will be achieved. Still, negative feelings move one to act in a destructive, and possibly self-destructive, manner. This is different from the situation in which hatred of evil moves one to act reasonably to protect a good or limit an evil (see S.t., 2–2, q. 123, a. 10). It is also different from cases in which people vent hostile feelings by actions which are otherwise useless but not destructive of any human good.

3. Here are some examples. A nation which is losing a war launches all its nuclear weapons against its enemies to make their victory as costly as possible. Children who have been outvoted in planning a party stay away in order to detract from the joy of the event. A wife who resents her husband’s infidelity has an affair to get even.

4. The virtuous disposition corresponding to this mode is signified by at least some uses of “forbearing,” “patient,” “longsuffering,” “forgiving,” “easygoing,” “gentle,” and so on. The vice is variously called “vengeful,” “vindictive,” “spiteful,” “impatient,” “resentful,” “grudging,” and “unforgiving” (see S.t., 2–2, q. 157, aa. 1–2; q. 158, aa. 1–2).

5. The foundation of this mode, too, is deepened by divine revelation before Jesus. God reveals himself as forgiving. Revelation also makes it clear that no one is secure of himself—everyone needs to be forgiven. Finally, revelation teaches that God will rectify evil; human revenge is uncalled for (see Dt 32.30–43).

The first violence against another described in the Bible, Cain’s murder of Abel, is an act of resentment (see Gn 4.5). As part of the law of love, hatred in one’s heart toward a brother is excluded: “You shall not take vengeance or bear any grudge against the sons of your own people” (Lv 19.18). The control of anger is taught in the wisdom literature (see Prv 15.18, 16.32, 17.27). The destructive act is to be replaced with an act of kindness, which will open the way to divine justice (see Prv 25.21–22).

Paul teaches that it is characteristic of love not to be angry and not to brood over injuries; to be forbearing, patient, kind, and not jealous; to rejoice with the truth, not with what is wrong (see 1 Cor 13.4–7). The quarrel among the Corinthians which he was attempting to settle apparently involved a good deal of petty spitefulness and resentment. Anger and quick temper, malice, insults, and foul language are among the pagan ways which Christians must put aside (see Col 3.8).

It is important to recognize that if the Bible makes it clear that God can be angry, there is a distinction between mere vindictiveness and divine vindication. God’s vengeance is not destruction for its own sake, but is a rectification of sin, required by justice (see Ex 32; Ps 51.6; Is 9.7–16; Ez 5.11–16; Hos 5.1–14; and so on). The nations are punished in proportion to their guilt (see Is 10.5–15; Ez 25.15–17).

The threat of God’s anger leads sinners to repent (see Mi 7.9). With a view to repentance, God is longsuffering, slow to anger and quick to forgive (see Ex 34.6). He uses a strategy of gradual punishment, to induce sinners to repent and to provide them with a real opportunity to do so (see Wis 11.26–12.2; 15.1–2). Thus, God’s wrath and his patience balance each other (see Na 1.2–3). And his longsuffering extends, to the dismay of some, even to alien peoples who are the enemies of Israel (see Jon 4.1–2, 11). God understands the misery of the human condition, and so he is patient and merciful, “He sees and recognizes that their end will be evil; therefore he grants them forgiveness in abundance” (Sir 18.12).