Aug. 13, 2009, at 4:24pm
I just read an open letter, wonderfully written by Robert Lewis Stevenson (the author of books like Kidnapped and Treasure Island), in defense of Blessed Damien of Molokai against the pharisaical slander of a certain Reverend Hyde. The letter strikes me as a great example of just the sort of holy wrath so sorely missing in today’s (Church) culture (see Katie’s previous post).
Stevenson apparently knew Reverend Hyde personally, and even had some cause to be grateful to him. But he considered that no reason to remain silent:
…there are duties which come before gratitude, and offences which justly divide friends… Your letter [in which Hyde calls Fr. Damien “a coarse, dirty man, head-strong and bigoted” and accuses him of not being “a pure man in his relations with women”] is a document which, in my sight, if you had filled me with bread while I was starving, if you had sat up to nurse my father when he lay a-dying, would yet absolve me from the bonds of gratitude.
Stevenson’s defense of Fr. Damien is noble and convincing, but also vehement. It is clearly a fruit of his outrage, wrath and indignation. It simply could not have come about without these. Mere sadness would probably have kept silent. For, as Aquinas explains, “sorrow by its very nature gives way to the thing that hurts” while anger “strikes at the cause of sorrow” and “cooperates with fortitude in attacking.” (I-II 123,10 ad. 3)
Stevenson’s letter is itself a concrete illustration of the place for “holy wrath” in society. It also contains a good example of it. Towards the end, Stevenson writes that he had heard rumors of Fr. Damien’s alleged impurity before, and he relates how this rumor was received by one of the bystanders:
A man sprang to his feet…‘You miserable little -’ (here is a word I dare not print, it would so shock your ears). ‘You miserable little -,’ he cried, ‘if the story were a thousand times true, can’t you see you are a million times a lower - for daring to repeat it?’
Would that the Reverend Hyde had reacted similarly:
I wish it could be told of you that when the report reached you in your house, perhaps after family worship, you had found in your soul enough holy anger to receive it with the same expressions; ay, even with that one which I dare not print; it would not need to have been blotted away, like uncle Toby’s oath, by the tears of the recording angel; it would have been counted to you for your brightest righteousness.