The Eternal Perspective of Emotion

God endowed Man with passions, or feelings/emotions (CCC 1771), to assist Man towards moral perfection (CCC 1770) and beatitude (CCC 1762).  Emotions (meaning “to move out”) are natural components of human psychology that connect the senses and the mind (CCC 1764) and are not inherently good or evil (CCC 1767).  Emotions do incline Man to embrace good/virtue or evil/vice (CCC 1763, 1774); they become good when they incline the will/reason towards good or become evil when they incline the will/reason towards evil (CCC 1768).  Emotions inclined to beatitude include love, joy, peace and happiness (CCC 1718, 1024, 1029).  Other emotions include fear and sadness (CCC 1772).  Some emotions are inclined toward/or are always evil including pride, lust, envy, jealousy, anger, greed, gluttony (CCC 1852, 1866), despair (CCC 2091) and hatred (CCC 2303).  One cannot love and engage in evil emotions at the same time (CCC 1825-26).

When Emotions become Evil

At Eden, emotions became perverted and evil in Man.  Before falling to temptation, Adam and Eve were envious of God and full of pride; after eating the fruit they felt lust, shame and fear (Gen 3:1-22).  After Eden, Genesis records Man’s continued perversion into sin and evil emotions: Cain is filled with envy and murderous anger (Gen 4:1-16); Noah falls to drunken gluttony and Ham lusts after his mother (Gen 9:18-28), the builders of the Tower of Babel are filled with pride; Sodom is consumed with lust; Laban deceives Jacob in greed (Gen 29:25); Simeon and Levi burn with rage and murder (Gen 49:5-7) and Joseph’s brothers are filled with jealousy and hatred (Gen 37:4).

The Emotions of Jesus Christ

Jesus demonstrates the perfect engagement of human emotions:

  • Demonstrates perfection in emotion – Through His human nature, Jesus experienced all aspects of being human except for Sin (CCC 470).  Jesus is Man’s model of holiness (CCC 459).  In His Perfection, Jesus’ emotions are perfectly ordered towards the embrace of the Will of the Father to love.   Jesus has no evil emotions (i.e. pride, lust, envy, jealousy, greed, gluttony and hatred).  Jesus’ cry of “My God why have thou forsaken me” (Matt 27:46) is not a cry of abandonment, fear or cowardice, but a reference to God’s coming victory (Psalm 22).
  • Experiences love as His primary emotion – “Jesus Christ is love” (1 John 4:8) and He demonstrates the perfection of love as the Son of God (John 3:16).   Love, as an emotion, is “aroused by the attraction of the good. Love causes a desire for the absent good and the hope of obtaining it; this movement finds completion in the pleasure and joy of the good possessed” (CCC 1765); “all other affections have their source in this first movement of the human heart towards the good” (CCC 1766).   Jesus expresses compassion numerous times (Matt 9:36, 14:14, 20:24, Mark 1:41, 8:2; Luke 7:13).  Jesus offers the greatest love, by His own choice (CCC 609), to lay down His life for His friends (John 15:13).
  • Is full of peace and joy – As the Prince of Peace, Jesus possesses peace in perfection (CCC 2305).  Jesus also possesses abundant joy (Luke 10:21, John 15:11; 17:13).  The joy of Jesus is sometimes expressed in humor (Matt 7:4, 23:24).
  • Experiences “agony” at Gethsemane – As He anticipates His own suffering and death at the Passion (Matt 26:36-46), Jesus sweats blood (Luke 22:44).  Jesus experiences grief (Matt 26:38; Isa 53:3) at Man’s coming evil acts at the Passion (CCC 1765).  Man also experiences negative emotions (grief, fear, disgust, etc.), moved by the Holy Spirit to reject evil (CCC 1769).
  • Shows Perfection in “anger” – Jesus’ zeal/anger in the clearing of the Temple (John 2:13-20) should not be confused with a fit of anger or “anger [which] is a desire for revenge” (CCC 2302-03);  Jesus specifically denounces this type of murderous anger and hatred as immoral (Matt 5:22).  Rather, Jesus’ reaction of righteous indignation is praiseworthy (CCC 584; Psalm 69:9, 119:53; Mark 3:5) because it “imposes restitution to correct vices and maintain justice” (CCC 2302).  Jesus does not seethe in rage, for to do so would be sinful (Eph 4:26-27).  On other occasions, Jesus uses anger to communicate displeasure and to correct Man (Mark 3:5, 10:14) and expresses anger in reaction to betrayal (John 11:33, 13:21).
  • Experiences sorrow – Jesus experiences sorrow at the hardness of Man’s heart (Mark 3:5), in sympathy to the sorrow over Lazarus’ death (John 11:33-38), over the coming destruction of Jerusalem (Luke 19:41-44) and at His death on the Cross (Matt 27:45-46).

Jesus instructs Man how to properly engage the emotions:

  • Instructs the disciples to embrace love – Jesus distills the entire Mosaic Law to the “love of God and neighbor” (Matt 22:34-40) and commands the disciples to “love one another” (John 13:34), moved by the Holy Spirit (CCC 1822-29).  The acts and emotions of love can not be truly engaged out of fear of punishment (Hell) or out to the greed of reward (Heaven), but out simple love of Christ and the good (CCC 1828).  The fruits of love are the beatific emotions of joy and peace in which Man finds true rest (CCC 1829; Gal 5:22-26).
  • Promises to give peace and joy – As the Prince of Peace (CCC 2305) Jesus blesses the “peacemakers” (Matt 5:9) and offers to give peace (Matt 11:28-30, Mark 5:34, Luke 7:50, John 14:27) and joy to those who seek His Will (CCC 2304-05) through the Holy Spirit (CCC 736).  The Apostles underscore the importance of embracing peace (Heb 12:4, Rom 5:1, Phil 4:7, 1 Cor 14:33, 2 Thes 3:16).
  • Instructs Man to turn from evil emotions – Jesus specifically instructs Man against evil emotions:  lust (Matt 5:28), fear and worry (Matt 6:34, Mark 4:40, John 14:27), envy (Luke 12:15), greed (Luke 12:16-21), pride (Luke 20:45-47) and anger (Matt 5:22).  The Church also warns against despair as a sin against hope (CCC 2091).
  • Demonstrates how to turn to the Father in times of emotional turmoil – Jesus demonstrates that in times of emotional turmoil and stress, one must quickly turn to the Father: at the sorrow of John the Baptist’s death (Matt 14:13), at Lazarus’ death (John 11:41), in Gethsemane (Luke 22:41-44) and at the Passion (Matt 27:46).