Pleasures, pain, fear and anger

by St. John Damascus

There are pleasures of the soul and pleasures of the body. The pleasures of the soul are those which are the exclusive possession of the soul, such as the pleasures of learning and contemplation. The pleasures of the body, however, are those which are enjoyed by soul and body in fellowship, and hence are called bodily pleasures: and such are the pleasures of food and intercourse and the like. But one could not find any class of pleasures belonging solely to the body.

Again, some pleasures are true, others false. And the exclusively intellectual pleasures consist in knowledge and contemplation, while the pleasures of the body depend upon sensation. Further, of bodily pleasures, some are both natural and necessary, in the absence of which life is impossible, for example the pleasures of food which replenishes waste, and the pleasures of necessary clothing. Others are natural but not necessary, as the pleasures of natural and lawful intercourse. For though the function that these perform is to secure the permanence of the race as a whole, it is still possible to live a virgin life apart from them. Others, however, are neither natural nor necessary, such as drunkenness, lust, and surfeiting to excess. For these contribute neither to the maintenance of our own lives nor to the succession of the race, but on the contrary, are rather even a hindrance. He therefore that would live a life acceptable to God must follow after those pleasures which are both natural and necessary: and must give a secondary place to those which are natural but not necessary, and enjoy them only in fitting season, and manner, and measure; while the others must be altogether renounced.

Those then are to be considered moral pleasures which are not bound up with pain, and bring no cause for repentance, and result in no other harm and keep within the bounds of moderation, and do not draw us far away from serious occupations, nor make slaves of us.


There are four varieties of pain, viz., anguish, griefs, envy, pity. Anguish is pain without utterance: grief is pain that is heavy to bear like a burden: envy is pain over the good fortune of others: pity is pain over the evil fortune of others.


Fear is divided into six varieties: viz., shrinking, shame, disgrace, consternation, panic, anxiety. Shrinking is fear of some act about to take place. Shame is fear arising from the anticipation of blame: and this is the highest form of the affection. Disgrace is fear springing from some base act already done, and even for this form there is some hope of salvation. Consternation is fear originating in some huge product of the imagination. Panic is fear caused by some unusual product of the imagination. Anxiety is fear of failure, that is, of misfortune: for when we fear that our efforts will not meet with success, we suffer anxiety.


Anger is the ebullition of the heart's blood produced by bilious exhalation or turbidity. Hence it is that the words colh and cols are both used in the sense of anger. Anger is sometimes lust for vengeance. For when we are wronged or think that we are wronged, we are distressed, and there arises this mixture of desire and anger.

There are three forms of anger: rage, which the Greeks also call colh or cols, mhnis and kotos. When anger arises and begins to be roused, it is called rage or colh or cols. Wrath again implies that the bile endures, that is to say, that the memory of the wrong abides: and indeed the Greek word for it, mhnis is derived from menein, and means what abides and is transferred to memory. Rancour, on the other hand, implies watching for a suitable moment for revenge, and the Greek word for it is kotos from keisqai.

Anger further is the satellite of reason, the vindicator of desire. For when we long after anything and are opposed in our desire by some one, we are angered at that person, as though we had been wronged: and reason evidently deems that there are just grounds for displeasure in what has happened, in the case of those who, like us, have in the natural course of things to guard their own position.

Return to homepage (framed) | Return to homepage (no frames) | Return to home page