Introduction to the temperaments

A sculptor can’t create a work of art unless he has a certain material to work with.  Once he has the material he needs, he goes molding it, shaping it, and sometimes even needs to chisel at it until it takes on the form he has in mind.  This material might be wood, clay, marble, granite, bronze, or some other kind of material. Whatever the material is, it’s clear that each kind has it’s certain qualities and requires a specific process in order for it to be molded into the work of art the sculptor has in mind. 

In the spiritual life, the “material” we are made of is kind of like our temperament.  We are all born with distinct personality traits and certain tendencies that affect our reactions and choices in life.  God, the true Sculptor, wants to mold us into a magnificent work of art – a true masterpiece.  But as St. Augustine says, “God who made you without you, won’t save you without you.”  In other words, God who gave you your temperament and made you the way you are, won’t mold or shape us into saints unless we let him. 

Although our temperament is like the building material that God (and we) have to work with in order to form and forge our character, it’s also important to keep in mind that we are likewise influenced and shaped by our environment, the people we live with, etc.  There are a lot of factors in our life that affect who we are and what we choose.  But getting to know our temperament is key, because it helps us to understand why we think the way we think, feel the way we feel, and act the way we act.  It can also help us better understand others and better practice charity.

Generally speaking, the temperaments can be divided into four basic types: Choleric and Sanguine (the more extroverted or “out-going” temperaments) and Melancholic and Phlegmatic (the more introverted or shy and “reserved” temperaments).

Although all of us have a degree of each of these four kinds of temperaments within us, one of them will definitely be more dominant in us, with a secondary one close behind it.  Each of the four types of temperaments is characterized by general strengths and weaknesses, good qualities and bad qualities, and no particular one is better than the others. 

In this section, we’re going to take a look at each of the four basic temperaments in greater detail, examining its positive and negative aspects, providing helpful tools for overcoming the bad qualities, with saintly examples to follow.  Whatever temperament you have, it’s important to remember that it’s the one God gave you and the one He knows and expects you to get to Heaven with (bringing with you as many souls as possible, of course).