» Frequently Asked Questions
- What are the four temperaments?
- Why should we care what the pagans thought about personality?
- Why should Catholics want to understand their temperament?
- How can understanding temperament help couples in their relationships?
- How does personality differ from temperament?
- I hear a lot of ads on the radio about eHarmony’s personality profile. How does your site compare to eHarmony?
The four temperaments were originally proposed by Hippocrates (the “father of medical science”) 350 years before the birth of Christ, to explain differences in personalities, based on the predominant bodily fluid—hence the rather unappealing names: choleric, sanguine, phlegmatic, and melancholic. Even today these same terms are used to describe temperament, by which we mean an individual’s tendency to react in a certain way throughout their life, forming an identifiable pattern.
For example, the choleric tends to react quickly and intensely, and to take action immediately and decisively. The sanguine is your classic “people person,” known for their warmth, enthusiasm, and cheerful optimism. The melancholic is deeply thoughtful and analytic, slow to respond, skeptical, sensitive, and idealistic. The phlegmatic is usually a “peace-maker”—slow to react, calm, cooperative, and reserved.
That was more than 2000 years ago! And besides, we are Christians. Isn’t this rather new-agey? Believe it or not, contemporary neuroscientists and personality theorists still footnote the original four temperaments. Most importantly for us Catholics, however, is the fact that the study of temperaments has a long and venerable tradition within Catholic spirituality. Many of the great saints, such as St. Thomas Aquinas and St. Francis de Sales, have written about temperament. Great spiritual theologians, such as the Very Reverend Adolphe Tanquerey (author of the classic The Spiritual Life), and contemporary theologian Fr. Jordan Aumann, O.P., discuss how temperament affects our human formation and our spiritual growth.
One’s temperament is a gift from God, an important aspect of our human nature that brings with it certain strengths as well as weaknesses. It is important to know oneself so that one does not go through life reacting instinctively, but rather acting with wisdom and fortitude. When we begin to understand our temperament, we can identify our natural tendencies and use this as a springboard for growth. As Christ pointed out in Luke 14:28-33, who would build a tower without first calculating the cost? What king would go into battle without first taking an inventory of his troops? Understanding our temperament is like taking a personal inventory of our natural strengths and weaknesses, so that we can “calculate the cost”: what virtues do I need to grow in and what skills do I need to develop to become a more happy and holy person?
Understanding temperament is extremely helpful in bettering our relationships. Understanding our temperament fosters empathy and mutual appreciation and admiration for others’ unique gifts. It also gives us a healthy dose of humility when we discover that not everyone reacts the same way we do, and not all of our special “talents” are due to our own powers, but are natural gifts from God.
It is very common for men and women of opposite temperaments to be attracted to one another! At first, each is inspired by the other’s unique gifts. For example, a calm and non-confrontational phlegmatic may be very attracted to a take-charge choleric. And a reflective, introverted melancholic may be attracted to the warm and outgoing sanguine. But, we don’t always realize that each temperament also has unique emotional needs—that may be quite distinct from our own! So, an outgoing, fun-loving sanguine may not at first appreciate the fact that her melancholic boyfriend has a strong need for reflection, introspection, time spent alone. Or a decisive, fast-moving choleric might become impatient with his rather low-keyed phlegmatic spouse. On CatholicMatch, we identify key emotional needs of each temperament and also discuss how different temperaments will tend to interact in relationships—whether friends, spouses, or co-workers, or in a potential dating relationship.
Even today there is a debate among psychologists about exactly how much of one’s personality is due to heredity and how much is due to environment (the classic “nature versus nurture” debate). We are here considering that particular aspect of one’s personality that is primarily due to heredity, or nature. Spiritual authors call this aspect “temperament.” Our temperament is God-given, and one is born with a particular temperament or temperament blend. It is hereditary much in the same way one can be born with the gift of red hair (even if a throw-back to a great-grandmother). It does not, therefore, change, nor can it be totally destroyed–though it can be shaped or molded through one’s upbringing, education, and formation. Fr. Jordan Aumann writes “[W]e may define temperament as the pattern of inclinations and reactions that proceed from the physiological constitution of the individual” (Spiritual Theology 140). Our temperament does not make up our total personality, nor is it the “real me”: our personality includes our intelligence and our free will, and can be affected by environmental factors (one’s education, upbringing, and so on) as well.
CatholicMatch differs significantly from eHarmony in several ways. First, CatholicMatch does not pre-select the potential matches. CatholicMatch recognizes the fundamental truth about the human person: namely, we are free. CatholicMatch allows members to view the temperament profile of other members, but does not limit their choice in any way. You are free to develop a relationship with whomever piques your interest.
Secondly, the personality profile used on eHarmony claims to be a COMPLETE personality profile. There are 500 questions. CatholicMatch does not claim to identify a person’s total personality. Our temperament is only part of who we are—albeit a significant part. Where eHarmony claims to have a personality profile that will identify the best match for you, CatholicMatch believes ultimately in the power of love and of grace. Man is free to grow in virtue and in holiness and, with the help of God’s grace, to overcome his own nature–to become like Christ. “I no longer live, but Christ in me” said Saint Paul. In fact, this is our goal. The grace of the sacrament of matrimony will enable a couple—no matter what their temperaments—to grow in holiness and in love.