Do you sometimes want to eat a pint of Butter Pecan ice cream or an extra basket of chips even though you know that you shouldn’t? Do you sometimes become overly sad or angry in a way that is irrational?
Guess what? You’re experiencing what philosophers and theologians call your “passions.”
Nobody has likely ever explained to you why you have this problem in a philosophical way. Would you like to know why? Let’s take a look under the hood…
Everyday, we humans experience our passions getting the better of us. The passions are what we might call your emotions. They come and go, sometimes quite quickly. One of the goals of becoming a saint in Christ is learning to have mastery over your passions.
Before looking at your passions, let’s take a global look at your soul…
Every human being has a hierarchy in his or her soul. At the top is your rational intellect. Below that is your will. Below that are your eleven passions:
- 11 passions
Now, passions are not evil. They are good! All the saints were passionate people. Saint Thomas Aquinas spends a lot of time treating the passions and he explicitly states that they are good.
Evil results, however, when our passions overtake our intellect. When the passions get the better of the intellect, this usually results in sin. When the passions are fully mastered by the intellect, you have a beautiful and passionate saint. The goal is not to get rid of the passions (Stoicism) but to tame the passions (Christianity).
For example, your child spills coffee on your freshly printed report for work. You flip out and become angry. Maybe you raise your voice or say something you should not have said. In reality, your over-passioned reaction was not reasonable. You could have just printed out another report and been a little late for work. I hope you get the idea.
Thomas teaches that you have eleven passions in your soul: “Consequently there are altogether eleven passions differing specifically; six in the concupiscible faculty, and five in the irascible; and under these all the passions of the soul are contained.”
Six are concupiscible passions (a five dollar word for ‘related to desire’) and five are irascible passions (a five dollar word for ‘related to anger’).
For example, when you want to eat a whole pint of Butter Pecan ice cream – that’s a concupiscible passion. When you want scream and flip off the guy who just cut you off – that’s an irascible passion getting the better of you.
Here are the eleven passions:
6 Concupiscible Passions
love and hatred
desire and aversion
joy and sadness
5 Irascible Passions
hope and despair
fear and daring
anger which has not contrary passion
Now Jesus Christ has all these passions (He is fully man), but He is in perfect control of each one. He perfectly loves sinners. He perfectly hates sins. He was perfectly angry at the money changers with the precise amount of anger needed and only for the precise amount of time that the situation required.
Sometimes Christians can assume that being holy is to lack passion. They think that Spock from Star Trek is the ideal. Not so. This belief is repackaged Stoicism. Thomas Aquinas rejected this Stoic idea of the passions as incompatible with Scripture.
God wants you to be a fully passionate person. Yet he wants those passions submitted to right reason. If you are becoming a saint, people should see that you’re rightly passionate about God and your neighbors. Your passions will be like a symphony under a masterful conductor.
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