Sunday, September 18, 2011

Temperaments And Personality Types, Part Three - Christianity

Given the fact that Galen actually comes after Irenaeus, speaking strictly chronologically, I should have included the following Christian thought in the Classical post. However, seeing as the advent of Christianity is in itself the advent of the Medieval Age (i.e., of the Medieval Synthesis of Classical and Christian thought), it seemed most appropriately included in the previous post, but it ended up running long, so here we are.

Writing about the year 180, St. Irenaeus, Bishop of Lyons says the following concerning the canon of Scripture:
"It is not possible that the Gospels can be either more or fewer in number than they are. For, since there are four zones of the world in which we live, and four principal winds, while the Church is scattered throughout all the world, and the 'pillar and ground' (1 Tim. 3:15) of the Church is the Gospel and the spirit of life; it is fitting that she should have four pillars, breathing out immortality on every side, and vivifying men afresh," (Adversus Haereses III.11.8).
The number four has carried symbolic meaning throughout Western history (as all numbers do). Dino Marcantonio did a fantastic article outlining the significance of the number four and the quincunx in art and architecture. In the chapter entitled "The Numbers Game" in Why Do Catholics Do That?, Dr. Kevin Johnson says this of the number four:
"[The number 4] carries the connotation of...stability.... There are four seasons to a year and, in classical thought, four elements that make up the material universe (fire, water, earth, and air). Four evangelists told the whole story of Christ and everything we need for salvation. The Church divides Advent into four weeks, marked with four candles, because with the coming of Christ the cycle of times is brought to completeness. Sometimes the halo shown on Christ's head contains a four-armed cross, but that's not a reference to the Passion. It means that Christ, uniquely, is a complete being, God as well as a man," (262).
There is a symbolic dimension to the fact that the foundational symbol of our faith is the four-armed cross. In Orthodoxy, G.K. Chesterton compares the fundamental image of Christianity to that of Buddhism, the circle:
"Buddhism is centripetal, but Christianity is centrifugal: it breaks out. For the circle is perfect and infinite in its nature; but it is fixed for ever in its size; it can never be larger or smaller. But the cross, though it has at its heart a collision and a contradiction, can extend its four arms for ever without altering its shape. Because it has a paradox in its centre it can grow without changing. The circle returns upon itself and is bound. The cross opens its arms to the four winds; it is a signpost for free travellers," (50).
A horizontal line (or horizontality itself) refers to the horizon, to the boundary between heaven and earth that humanity can never cross. A vertical line (verticality itself) is symbolic of the path the Sun traces across the Sky, and the direction of the heavenly in general. The Cross is, then, the intersection of the earthly and the heavenly, the union of God and Man in Christ, who, by virtue of his action on the Cross, brings that union to us all. This is why traditionally-designed church buildings always feature two elements most prominently: a long, horizontal path that represents Man's journey to union with God, and lofty heights that represent the descent of God to Man. At "the crossing" the vertical dimension opens out onto a horizontal one, and the two intersect visually at the altar, the tabernacle of the "God with us," which (even from the sky) radiates out in the four cardinal directions, encompassing all there is.

Santa Maria Maggiore in Rome, where the blue line represents the architectural horizon, the
farthest point Man can reach in his long journey to God (the green line), except that God, in his
mercy, has deigned himself to descend to Man in Man's own flesh via the Cross (the red line).

Irenaeus goes on to correlate masterfully the four Gospels with the four Living Creatures of Ezekiel 1 and Revelation 4 as well as to four chief characteristics of Christ himself. The Gospel according to Matthew corresponds to the Man, because it emphasizes Christ's humanity, especially by beginning with his genealogy; Mark corresponds to the Lion, because it emphasizes Christ's divine kingship; Luke corresponds to the Bull, because in it Christ is presented as the servant and the sacrificial offering on behalf of sin; and John corresponds to the Eagle, because its clarity of vision pierces the highest things.

Though not explicit in Irenaeus, these groups of four can be correlated to the four temperaments quite easily. If we compare them in terms of Plato's societal roles, his Guardians are like the Bulls of the community, solemnly bearing the burden for the greater good; Plato's Artisans are the courageous and outgoing (Sanguine) Lions; Plato's Idealists are the passionately ethical, harmony-oriented Men; and Plato's Rationals are the intellectual, head-in-the-clouds Eagles.

Interestingly, though Irenaeus himself doesn't draw the connection between Plato's temperaments and the Four Evangelists, he does adopt Plato's system, giving the four temperaments his own labels, which are more behaviorally and less role-oriented: Artisans he calls "spontaneous;" Guardians, "historical;" Idealists, "spiritual;" and Rationals, "scholarly."

So, we have a few new things to add to our chart:

Stay tuned for the next post in this series which will look at how Modernity dealt with the question of temperament.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...