Four Temperaments and Interpersonal Harmony

It was said of St. Cecilia that “she always bore the Gospel of Christ hidden in her heart.”

What is the Gospel of Christ? A great answer rings out in the lyrics of the beloved Christmas song, “O Holy Night”:

“Truly he taught us to love one another, His law is love and his gospel is peace. Chains he shall break, for the slave is our brother. And in his name all oppression shall cease.”

His gospel is peace.

As Catholics, this doesn’t mean we never fight because in order to have peace it may come at the price of a noble fight. It also doesn’t mean that we are meant to “like” everyone, although we are always called to love everyone in charity. Jesus Christ said, “Do not think that I have come to bring peace upon the earth. I have come to bring not peace but the sword. For I have come to set a man ‘against his father, a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; and one’s enemies will be those of his household.’” (Matthew 10:34) Think of all the division that Christianity created at the beginning because it made people uncomfortable, and it still does!

Ideally though, we are called to live in peace with one another as much as we are able. Especially within our own circle of influence and families. One effective way to bring about a peaceful environment is to understand temperaments. Temperament is defined as “a pattern of inclinations, which proceed from the physiological constitution of the individual.”

There are four temperaments that have been identified since the time of ancient Greece: Sanguine, Melancholic, Choleric and Phlegmatic.

Here are the temperaments in a nutshell: Sanguine: Passions flare up. The sanguine is good-natured, cheerful, and empathetic. They accept authority, are energetic and believe spontaneity is the spice of life. Lovers of pleasure, and often drawn to art, they are optimists and make friends easily. They can react in extreme ways to affronts, but then all is forgotten. On the downside, san- guines can be inconsistent, drawn to sensuality in areas of gluttony, materialism and lust. It is good for the sanguine to be properly directed in their passions. Saint Augus- tine (a sanguine) advised, “Choose wisely, and then love with all your heart.”

Melancholic: Passions run deep. They never forget. Thoughtful, reflective, deep, the melancholic appreciates solitude, and is prone to discipline and piety. They are very sensitive to people’s mistreatment and are deeply affected by levels of health and physical energy. If a melancholic is well, they are doing great, but if they feel drained, they can become unproductive. On the downside, as the name implies, they have the tendency to be “melancholy.” This can lead to loss of confidence, scrupulosity and withdrawing from others. They need encouragement to remain confident in God’s love for them, and have firm hope and resolve with their goals. St. Clare offers a good re- minder for the melancholic: “Melancholy is the poison of devotion. When one is in tribulation, it is necessary to be more happy and more joyful because one is nearer to God.”

Choleric: Passions are ardent. The quintessential 0-to-90 personality, the choleric is a strong-willed, high-energy individual who is unafraid of conflict. Often valuing practical- ity over theory, they are willing to put their shoulder to the plow. The downside of the choleric lies in their pride, often growing hard-headed and unkind towards others they perceive as wrong or weak. They need to cultivate humility, sympathy and tenderness, and must learn to temper their competitiveness, in order to be magnanimous to others. A helpful quote for cholerics comes from St. Francis de Sales, “Nothing is so strong as gentleness, nothing so gentle as real strength.”

Phlegmatic: Passions are measured. Slow to anger, the phlegmatic is a tranquil and balanced spirit. Often drawn to the sciences and driven by prudence, goals are accomplished with patience and not attack. The downside to this temperament is that slow- action can result in inaction. They can be aloof to the world around them, unless it concerns them directly. In order to succeed, they must shake off apathy and strive toward consistent self-improvement. St. Paul of the Cross speaks to the heart of the phlegmatic, “Christian perfection consists in three things: praying heroically, working heroically, and suffering heroically.” Of course, this is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to describing these temperaments so further reading is helpful to understand how they interact together. This knowledge has the potential to transform relationships between spouses, in the family, amongst friends, at work, or even with yourself. When we recognize one another’s temperaments, it can encourage us to unlock our best self, which orchestrates harmony in our relationships. I like the sound of that!

REFLECTION Do some research on the Four Temperaments and see which combination you are - and those closest to you! Then talk about it over dessert!

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