You Might Be a MelanCatholic If… – 6 Signs and Recommendations
MelanCatholic – n., a melancholic Catholic, see related: Roman Cholerics, Sanguines Christi, Phlegmathetes.*
A few years ago, a
very dear friend brother of mine at the University of Dallas visited Shreveport. Over gumbo at the local Cajun eatery, we discussed a favorite topic of his, temperaments – Sanguine, Choleric, Melancholic, and Phlegmatic. It has since that moment been a fascinating topic for me as well.
For those who don’t know, the temperaments were developed by the ancient Greeks as an explanation for the four main psychological types based on the balance of fluids in the body. In typical fashion, the Church adopted this science and purified it of its less-than-obvious physiological claims. Nevertheless, the observations of behavior seemed reasonably accurate, and so the Church incorporated the temperaments, a.k.a., the four humors, into spirituality.
Click here to learn more about the temperaments.
Put simply, the temperaments are based on two simultaneous scales, each measuring a different factor in response to stimuli:
- Response Time- This scale, describing how long it takes for the individual to begin responding to stimuli, ranges from fast to slow. It’s often interpreted that this has to do with introversion and extroversion. Sanguines and Cholerics are extroverts and take little time to come out of their shells to respond, while Melancholics and Phlegmatics take a long time to come out of their shells to respond.
- Fast: Sanguines and Cholerics
- Slow: Melancholics and Phlegmatics
- Response Duration- This scale, describing how long the response to stimuli lasts once it has begun, ranges from short to long.
- Short: Sanguines and Phlegmatics
- Long: Cholerics and Phlegmatics
On a simple scale, you could visualize them this way:
For a more detailed explanation, click here.
These key character factors determine a number of other traits and behaviors. Melancholics tend to be introverted idealists with a great attention to detail.
After I took a test to determine my temperament (you can find it in this PDF, generously provided by Sophia Institute Press), I began noticing so many things in my behavior, good and bad, that verified the results. I am, you see, 98% melancholic. In keeping with the proud tradition of melancholics, I am often perceived as a grouch and a pessimist. Naturally, my apologia for these traits is that I am, in fact, a realist and a perfectionist, recognizing at all times that the way things are does not accord with the way things ought to be. Despite the drawbacks, being a melancholic also has some awesome benefits, chief among them that there is a long line of melancholic saints.
Of course, part of being a saint means rising above the less-than-perfect part of our temperament, but I see no reason we can’t be proud of our temperament as well. In that spirit, you might be a MelanCatholic if…
- …you’re an idealist. If you find yourself always drawn the the ideal, appreciating good works of music, well-written literature, and especially the finely-tuned arguments of brilliant theologians, and never settling for mediocrity, you may well be a melancholic. Others, especially artsy-fartsy Sanguines (my wife is a sanguine), will claim that this is their area of expertise, but if your appreciation of beauty is especially tied to its value in relation to truth, then you’re probably melancholic. That judgment is even more likely if people call you a pessimist. Of course, we all know you’re just a realist. Tip for improvement: There’s nothing wrong here, just try to appreciate fine art for the right reasons, and don’t be a snob.
- …people call you a judgmental or critical whiner, but you just don’t think they understand. When I was a kid, my parents got a sign for my room that read, “No Whining!” I whined a lot. For the parents of young children out there, I whined more than Caillou on a bad day. Yep. Here’s the deal: we don’t mean to whine. Melancholics love and celebrate the ideal. When something falls short, they take note, not because they enjoy complaining, but because they enjoy improving. We don’t mean to make you feel bad about yourselves, we simply tend to hold others to our own high standards. Tips for improvement: Drop the whiny tone and try to start with a positive suggestion instead of an in-depth analysis of all the flaws of another person’s work. Assume the best of intentions on the parts of others.
- …you’re the homilist’s worse nightmare. This one is similar to the last, but deserves its own point. Melancholics are very attentive to detail. Sr. M. Johanna Paruch, one of my beloved professors at Steubenville, once insisted I stop being so picky in peer evaluations during our methods classes. I thought I was just being helpful (okay, there may have been just a smidgen of pride). This was not a new practice. I remember correcting a priest’s homily – to his face after Mass – while I was still in high school. Tip for improvement: Don’t sugar-coat the truth, as you might be tempted to do. It’s just overcompensating for your melancholia. Instead, give others the benefit of the doubt and try to understand what they mean instead of what they’re saying. (Empathy? You expect melancholics to practice empathy? I expect melancholics to try.)
- …the truth of God speaks most eloquently to you out of all the transcendentals. There are three great questions that reflect the transcendentals of our experience: Is it good? Is it beautiful? Is it true? Of these three, the last is the most attractive to melancholics. Introverts inside our own intellects, we live in words of idealism and universal truths. Tips for improvement: Frequently, our knowledge of truth doesn’t leave our heads. We can believe something is true, but it doesn’t always strike us that truth is real and, most importantly, that the Truth became Incarnate. God became man. It is profound, but it’s not just academic theory. It actually happened. Believe that and then put it into practice. Also, go to a Mass with lots of smells and bells that call you out into the real world.
- …you’re a scrupulant. As perfectionists, melancholics often struggle with anxiety, but MelanCatholics more than plain melancholics know the difficulty of moral anxiety – scrupulosity – as a nagging nerve about any and every intention and action, sometimes accusing the innocent soul of terrible things, especially those things the soul hates the most. Add to that the extreme difficulty of making a Confession when the sinfulness of each thing you’re confessing is contingent on numerous factors and moral guidelines you may or may not be applying correctly, and you have a very difficult situation. Tip for improvement: A trusted spiritual director and confessor can help you navigate and even overcome this difficulty. The intercession of St. Alphonsus de Liguori – also a scrupulant MelanCatholic – can help, too.
- …you’re a walking Catholic Encyclopedia. The high-detail knowledge of melancholics (and their well-known bibliophilia and blogophilia) makes them great at trivia, so MelanCatholics are probably the friends you don’t want to play at Catholic Trivial Pursuit. My own addiction to Catholic trivia started when my parents bought me the Catholic Source Book for my Confirmation. I gave the same book (a later edition) to a young man whose Confirmation I sponsored. Tip for improvement: Keep learning the faith. You’ll never finish. Along the way, though, be sure to make vital connections. The faith is an organic whole, not a collection of disassociated thoughts. You might try making an idea web of Catholic doctrines or organize your understanding of the faith in a systematic, practical way (such as Frank Sheed’s A Map of Life).
Are you a MelanCatholic? What do you think? Did I miss anything?
In the future, I’ll write more about the spiritual gifts and challenges of being a MelanCatholic.
*I’m really sorry to unleash these Catholic temperament puns on you.