Are you easily moved by every new stimuli that comes along, or are you hyper-focused? Are you easily ruffled, or rarely angered? Are you serious or fun-loving? And do these differences matter in your spiritual life?
The Ancient Greeks identified four classic temperaments. They believed everyone had one dominant temperament, with some people having a secondary temperament. Catholic philosophers in the Middle Ages adopted the idea. Spiritual directors to this day use these distinctions to help their directees grow closer to Christ.
Fr. Conrad Hock wrote:
To know the temperaments of our fellow men helps us to understand them better, treat them more correctly, bear with them more patiently. These are evidently advantages for social life which can hardly be appreciated enough…
It is of the greatest benefit furthermore to recognize fully one’s own temperament. Only if one knows it, can he judge correctly himself, his moods, his peculiarities, his past life.” (The Four Temperaments, available online)
I receive emails daily from people looking for help in the spiritual life. Since I know few of them personally, knowing their temperament is a great help. I can then give them at least some general suggestions about their next step.
Many of you know that my current writing project is developing a plan to help you be your children’s spiritual director. I am writing a booklet with templates, reading lists, and lesson plans for each of the four temperaments. I do not have any deadlines for publication yet, but I’ll keep you posted.
After I had spent months working on trusting God, I realized that I was working to overcome the weaknesses of my temperament. I am primarily phlegmatic, but very strongly melancholic as well. It’s almost a 50/50 split. Melancholics, as the graphic above notes, tend towards despair. The antidote is learning to surrender everything to God.
Once I realized that, I began to look at the most prevalent sin of phlegmatics: sloth. This is a really hard one for me. I don’t mind difficult intellectual work, but I dislike physical exercise and housework. I need to be healthy for the sake of my husband and children (let alone to honor God with my body). I also need to pay close attention to the duties of my state in life (married with kids) in order to mature spiritually. So I will be tackling this over the next several months (years?).
Take a good look at the state of your soul. Is the prevalent sin of your temperament holding you back? Are you ready to join me in fighting your baser inclinations? I will share with you what works for me and my children. I invite you to do the same.