Thursday, December 14, 2006

Spiritual Lives of the Temperaments: The Choleric

Spiritual Lives of the Temperaments: The Choleric

"As a matter of fact, I do own the road…"

In previous posts, I talked about the necessity of discovering and working with one's temperament in order to grow spiritually. In this post I'll cover the Choleric temperament and the spiritual life.

My temperament (melancholic/phlegmatic) is innately introverted and hard to motivate. The ambition, perseverance and self-assurance of the choleric fascinate me. I've always admired – but have yet to cultivate - the quick-thinking, decisiveness and forthrightness of the choleric. However, these traits, as honorable as they are, can be the downfall of the choleric; they will make cholerics either "great saints…or great sinners." [1]

St. Paul for example has been said to have possessed this temperament. One only has to read in Acts how this great apostle before his conversion "laid waste" to the early church. For the choleric there is a fine line between becoming either "Paul" or "Saul." The blind zeal of the choleric can lead to either great acts of witness to Christ, or to complete destruction.

So, how does all this apply to the choleric's spiritual life? Well, there is one thing that the choleric needs to watch out for: The choleric is one who is very attached to self-will. He is never a follower, he prefers always to organize and lead. Most definitely, these traits can be of great benefit (or great harm) for any apostolate, relationship or, most important, family. Therefore, there are two things that need to be embraced by the choleric if he is to advance in the spiritual life.

First, the choleric needs spiritual direction. The self-will of the choleric will cry out in pain at such an idea, but it is essential. Cholerics by nature are very attached to their own ideas. Any idea of "direction" is repulsive to them, but it is the only thing that will curb the ill-effects that often come about from their unchecked zeal and ambition. The zeal of the choleric often makes them blind to prudence and, most importantly, to charity. The ambition of the choleric makes them hasty in their decisions. Only a wise spiritual director will be able to help bring the will of the choleric in line with the will of God. Cholerics have a strong need to feel that they have come to their decisions on their own, which is fine, but they need to learn to submit to the advice of others in the process.

Second, the choleric needs to cultivate a desire for unity. The choleric's first instinct is always to question, to argue and control. The choleric instead needs to learn to sacrifice his drive to "always be right" in order to foster unity. He needs to look at what is good for the "team" rather than what will satisfy his urge to dominate. This does not mean that the choleric should not seek to be a leader; he in fact, along with the melancholic, is the one who is best suited to leadership. Nor does this mean that he should sacrifice truth or principles for the sake of unity. He simply needs to learn to seek the best of everybody involved, and be willing to take the direction and input of others in his position of leadership.

In addition to all this is that one crucial element that is necessary for all temperaments: The Sacramental life. The choleric especially needs to find time to put aside his projects and spend time in reflection and prayer.

The best way to sum all this up can be put like so: the choleric needs to learn to "move from the head to the heart." The choleric's work, whether it be in the apostolate, the family or the business world needs to be made a matter of the heart rather than an exercise in intellectual warfare and "chest-thumping" that replaces true spirituality and discipleship. All of us in the apologetics field, especially in light of recent events, are all too aware of the destruction that can be caused when individuals of this temperament refuse to make their religion a matter of the heart rather than the intellect, and refuse to submit themselves to the direction of others. True spiritual progress and union with God can only occur when this temperament learns to let go of self-will and pursue true charity.

In short, cholerics need to admit the sad truth to themselves that, "No, you really don't own the road…"

God Bless,
-Patrick Morris

[1] (Bennett, 230)
[2] (Bennett, 230)]