Gentleness: What is it? What isn't it?

Salvete, omnes!

The topic line of this post sums up my question: What is “gentleness”? What isn’t it?

From what I have read, theologians both Catholic and Protestant appear to agree that “gentleness” involves a rational use of power of the stronger over the weaker.

This is a very well-constructed abstract definition of the concept which, granted, has much merit, but, as I say, it is abstract and must, for me, anyway, be demonstrated in its use in particular situations. However, I do not wish to take up your time here bye listing out this or that example, so I will at least hint at some by posing the following questions/points:

  1. A key aspect of the definition of “gentleness” above is the presence of a stronger and a weaker party. So, then, we must ask what, precisely, does this strength of weakness entail? Is it as broad as it can be or are there some limitations to the definition? IF we apply it to moral strength vs. weakness…

  2. What are we to make of satire, which seems to have been lauded by the Church(?) for some centuries now. (I touched on this subject, being a classicist and citing Horace and Juvenal as pre-Christian examples, in a previous recent post.) Satire, by its definition, is often quite harsh when dealing with moral “weakness”. I would hesitate to say, however, that, even in this spirit of “harshness” it is acting unlovingly toward its subjects. It almost chastises, albeit in a strong and pointed way, the moral weakness (but not necessarily the person behind it). Citing Christian examples even from Sacred Scripture, we can find Jesus (arguably?) often responding very harshly to the Pharisees’ attacks. Paul himself was (apparently?) even accused of excessive harshness in the chastisement of those under him as well as others (being called “unspiritual” for it, possibly alluding to the Spirit’s role in a gentle approach).

  3. To apply this very particularly to my own situation: I have a significant visual impairment. As a result, many people with normal vision, either consciously or no, treat me as one far from their equal in ability/intellect/general dignity. This moral failing has always stirred in me (what I understand to be) a “righteous indignation”, not because I am under attack per se, but because ofthe principle behind the assumptions made about me and other visually imapired individuals. My responses (and that of other blind individuals) to such are often criticized as being “too harsh” and normally-sighted people often tell us to be more “gentle” to them. yes, I agree that some of us can be downright hateful and can attack normally-sighted people in unreasonable and ad hominem ways. However, I would argue that my response and that of many others does not attack the person but their “ableist” assumptions. When I respond, yes, I respond quite vehemently, attacking the misplaced assumptions with some force, while, at the same time, not being so harsh as to hate or malign the individuals behind them.

  4. It would seem that even the Church Fathers could be quite harsh in their attacks both of moral and doctrinal failings. This not long ago used rather to bother me, but a closer reading, I think, often shows indignation toward the behavior rather than toward the individual committing it.

Finally, I would submit (for your approval ;)) the argument that one (the?) key to gentleness is evaluating (or at least attempting to evaluate) the way in which the moral offender relates to his/her sin. If we look at the points above, I think we see a common thread. If the person, for instance, bears some degree of ignorance in his/her commission, then a gentle approach must be taken based on the degree of his/her ignorance. If he/she is entirely ignorant on a point, than an entirely gentle approach must be taken with him/her on that point. If, however, he/she knows of the nature/gravity/etc. of his/her fault, a harsher/more direct approach is, at least, permissible and, at most, necessary(?). For instance, one could logically assume that most if not all of us even intuitively (“unconsciously”) understand that all men/women have equal dignity. Therefore, if we observe someone not being treated as such, we have the right(?) to respond with indignation. (Indeed, I would argue that such a response, which is “natural”, also “brings home” the point of our understanding of the seriousness with which we take an insult to human dignity.)

So, what do you guys think of the above analysis? Firstly and foremost, is it in line with any Church teaching on the subject? Secondly, would you agree or disagree with any or all of what I put forward? If you do, either way, please feel free to post a reply! Also, if you have anything to add/elaborate on, please feel free to do the same! Even if you ahve a completely different take on the nature of “gentleness”, go ahead and throw it my/our way!

Thanks to all.

P.S. I hope this post makes some sense. My posts are usually much more cogent than this, but I blame the late hour. :wink: (Literary/academic background making me feel guilty now. LOL)

“You cannot be too gentle, too kind. Shun even to appear harsh in your treatment of each other. Joy, radiant joy, streams from the face of him who gives and kindles joy in the heart of him who receives. All condemnation is from the devil. Never condemn each other…Instead of condemning others, strive to reach inner peace. Keep silent, refrain from judgment. This will raise you above the deadly arrows of slander, insult, and outrage and will shield your glowing hearts against all evil.”

Saint Seraphim of Sarov


I’ve also heard “meekness” used as a synonym for gentleness, although meekness has more of a connotation of humility, at least in my mind.

I think it is a balancing act. A challenge, especially here where we are dealing with issues of right and wrong. Sometimes we read about things such as abortion that naturally make us outraged and angry. It can be difficult to be gentle with somebody who supports such things, which unfortunately have become so common in our society.

Romans 12 comes to mind, where on the one hand Paul exhorts us to “Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good”, yet later he also tells us to “Repay no one evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends upon you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God; for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” No, if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him drink…” And then my favorite part: "Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good."

The trick is not to participate in another’s evil in the process of being kind to him. We want to be friendly with Bill, but we can’t join him in laughing at his racist jokes. We want to make the gay parishioner feel welcome, but we can’t acknowledge his friend Jim as his “husband”.

I heard Katy Faust describe it as straddling a fence that’s just a little bit too high. It’s very uncomfortable. But the Christian faith can be very demanding, and we probably won’t do it perfectly every time. Most probably actually - meaning we will fail a lot. But, thank God, God is merciful, and we learn as we go.

Thanks much for all of your replies.

Now a little different angle to consider…which I also touched on in the other post which led to this one.

Gentlenss and Personality (Type)

In that previous post, I alluded to the fact that I do not necessarily consider myself an overall “warm fuzzy” kind of person. I don’t mean in this that I’m excessively wrathful/fierce/etc. I only mean that I tend to be less a “soft”, “sweet” or “emotional” person and more the “cool”, “straightforward” and “logical” type. I do, however (being INFJ :slight_smile: ), feel the pain of others quite a bit. I am also very considerate/gentle (as we might understand it today) when needed, and I may even be moreso than most would be. I am very “careful” with a person’s “soul”, if you will, especially in sensitive situations. Indeed, people often come to me for solace and many have said I should’ve gone into counseling! On the whole, however, aside from these situations, my “default position” tends to be more the cool/logical aspect.

Let us now look at Jesus and how He is portrayed throughout the Gospel accounts:

By in large, aside from when He shows some severity with the Pharisees and moneychangers (who apparently needed it/would respond to nothing else?), He seems quite mild of manner, unless I ma mistaken. This seems to be an almost constant characteristic of His “personality”.

If Jesus, who says that He sees and does everything that the Father does, was like this, does this mean that we should all be the same? That there is no room for any individual variation of personality that might diverge from that of His own?

I think much of the answer to this question hinges on whether we think there was any room for an individual human “personality” in Jesus. Was everything He said and did (at least insofar as it reflected character) a direct reflection of the Divine “personality”, or was there any room at all for any aspect of His “personal personality” to emerge?

Yet, certainly in the early Fathers, we seem to see very infrequently the kind of “softness of spirit” that (at least I perceive) in Christ’s demeanor. In fact, many would seem on the whole to demonstrate a kind of gravity (gravitas) or even severity (severitas) of character/personality/bearing, again, certainly not one characterized by violence or ferocity of temper, simply a kind of “coolness”/lack of strength of emotional response/even “aloofness”(?). These men, it would seem(?), found no incompatibility with such a demeanor and the “gentleness” called for by Christian moral doctrine. Indeed, such a character even shows some consistency with the “old-fashioned” pre-Christian Roman notion of what the ideal male citizen should be (gravis, severus, not prone to wild swings of emotion, “stoic”).

As always, I ask, does the Church have any official stances on any of these issues? And, if not, what do you guys think on them?

Greetings and Salutations Miss Mindy :slight_smile:

I think that a lot of the “harsher” actions were undertaken by superiors who had authority over the chastised, or else by saints. So I myself try to be more gentle with people than my natural tendencies suggest. The fact that my patron saint, St Francis de Sales, also worked on this fault, is very nice :slight_smile:

I was thinking about your post, and I thought about an experience I had many years ago. I saw a man carrying some books at his side, and one slipped and landed on the ground. He was deaf and didn’t hear the sound, but I was surprised that he didn’t feel it slip or notice a difference in his load. It hadn’t occurred to me that the main way I know I’ve dropped something is by hearing it land.

So there are a lot of things that sighted (?) persons simply do not know or think about wrt blind people. We might make mistakes out of ignorance, and sometimes there are what one might call cultural differences. As an example, I thought about a blind lady sitting at a bus stop. To me, she would look to be deep in thought because she did not respond to my arrival with the same sort of body language a sighted person might use.

OTOH, since she is unable to see me, she would not know at all what I was or what I was doing. She might not know if I were male or female, and not want to strike up a conversation with a man. She might assume from my silence that I am deeply into something: a book, a smartphone app, etc.

So, I may waaaaayyyyyy off the mark here, bit I thought maybe you and Angell1couod start an “Ask Me Anything” thread. I think it could be helpful to people would otherwise just stand shyly away or else goof up by trying to feed your Seeing Eye dog (if you have one).

Going a bit OT here, but since my last respondent brought it up, briefly…

You bring up a good idea about making a kind of “getting to know you” thread. Perhaps in the “general chat” area?

I’ve always been huge into educating the general public about blindness/visual impairment both as it relates to me and my personal experience and generally.

(I do hope any mods out there don’t consider what I am about to post SPAM, but, if you do, please let me know and I shall refrain from such in the future.)

I do produce a little (informal) podcast called “Through My Eyes” which explains and gives some examples of how I, as a blind person, navigate my world. Here’s the link if anyone’s interested:

Also, if you want to learn more about how I go about my daily life, you might want to follow my Tiwtter @AuroraNebulosa or follow my Twitter List of other blind/VI folks I follow on there .

(Again, my apologies if this posts seems a bit “spammy”, but, since the subject arose, I thought the above at least somewhat germane to it. Do let me know if this isn’t OK!)

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