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On Understanding Women

2) The First Aspect

1) Choleric and Phlegmatic

Author: Nathaniel Slattery
Posted: 2nd of the Month of the Immaculate Conception, St. Bibiana’s Day, Year of Our Lord 2023
Best image I could find of it. Oftentimes it is conveyed falsely, making passions or virtues inherent in the disposition, which is more like part of a foundation in which to begin.

This is a portion of a larger essay which I hope to print once I have squared away some theological points. It is for the purpose of instructing men, especially those pursuing the consecration of their purity. Scroll to the bottom for previous segments.

The First Aspect

The first aspect is one which women share with men, while they do rather lean more to one side, and men lean to the other. It is the aspect of disposition. I have found only two systems of disposition which have ever been useful to understand for the sake of working with people. All the rest end up being mostly a means for people to satisfy their vanity and self-love by “understanding themselves”. These systems accomplish this hellish objective by remaining so complex as to offer nothing meaningful to remember about other people and so detailed as to encourage the sense that there is no changing or maturing, which causes complacency with imperfection.

The second system that I have found to be helpful, dealing with hierarchy and authority, does not apply to women. Those who have tried to make it apply to women have acted foolishly. It is as much separated from women as St. Joseph’s body was separate from his blessed Spouse’s body.

The system which we are going to explore today originally was taught to me in self-help type books, but it seems to be very old. The ancients used it to evaluate Julius Caesar’s disposition, and I have seen references in Butler’s Lives, the famous commentary of Cornelius a Lapidé, and elsewhere, suggesting that it is not opposed to Catholic doctrine, like evolution for instance is (see my article The True and Literal Interpretation of Genesis for Advent). It consists in four different temperaments (said to relate to the makeup of the blood). They can be understood as four points of a compass, since it is common for individuals to be a combination of two, as in northeast, but impossible by nature to be a combination of opposites, as in north-south. These four temperaments are choleric and phlegmatic (opposites) and sanguine and melancholic (opposites).

The choleric temperament is an active one, naturally suited to works of all kinds in large quantities. It tends towards ambition and eagerness.

The phlegmatic temperament is a passive one, naturally suited to meekness. It tends toward sloth and pusillanimity.

The melancholic temperament is a deep and focused one, naturally suited to contemplation and meditation. It tends towards despair and pride.

The sanguine temperament is an amiable and light one, naturally suited to detachment and rapid changes in works. It tends towards vanity and worldliness.

Women in general lean towards phlegmatic and sanguine, while men lean towards melancholic and choleric, but this is a very light rule. What is more significant is the particular flavor which femininity gives towards each disposition. If you could imagine a choleric type of man, which may be very easy or very difficult, that man most likely would talk much less than a choleric type of woman. Moreover, the nature of the works in which the man involves himself may be much different from the woman. What is similar is that they tend to involve themselves in many works, the sheer thought of which exhausts and intimidates someone who does not share their disposition, while it excites and energizes them. This is an example, but let us go through each temperament in turn and then combinations of the temperaments, so that you might be able to spot a woman of each kind. You will see why this is valuable for very practical purposes later on.

It is important here to note that we are dealing with the natural woman and not one corrupted far beyond her nature nor perfected very much upon the same nature. That aspect shall be dealt with as the second aspect.

The Choleric Woman

A choleric woman has already been described somewhat. She is involved in many works. In a home, you may find her planning out all of the meals for the upcoming week and targeting them one by one, with the efficiency of a computer and as if virtue was measured entirely in quantity of work. In the public sphere, you may find her assuming roles of authority which she might legitimately possess, and adding to these as many works as she can find. A main difference between a man of this temperament and a woman of this temperament is that the temperament itself, being a neutral thing, the raw resources of virtue if you will, does not impart any authority. It may be a common mistake to think that authority comes from merit, but if someone has fallen into this mistake, it is not because of their temperament, but the misuse thereof. What that means is that the woman knows intuitively that she does not hold authority that is not legitimately hers. Knowing, however, is not the same as knowing to be good. She is aware of the fact but possibly as if it were an enemy in her mind to what ought to be, which is part of the curse of Eve. Good women still have the sense of this, so that their conscience cannot be trusted to instruct them on which authority they ought to hold, but rather, they must consult a virtuous man at all times: “He will rule over you”.

Sometimes, because she is so active, this woman may seem as if she uses this as a tool in order to conquer those around her. Often people submit to her will. As well they should, since she is involved in a great many things which others do not have any need to figure out. That is her good value. However, because she is a woman, she knows by nature that she must submit (as truly men do as well, but in a slightly lesser quantity) if she strays outside of her authority, which is very limited. That is why “her desire will be for her husband”, because she specifically needs direction in almost all areas from a man, but it is the small details where she is suited to dominate. This is a trait of all women. It is only that this particular temperament in a woman causes others often to think she does not have this trait. That is where most men get into trouble.

Specifically, when you are dealing with this type of woman, you let her do everything she wants to do, unless it matters. My mother-in-law is this type. When she comes over, she rearranges the whole house, cooks every meal for weeks, fills up the freezer, and does everything else which she needs to do. None of this matters. She is highly active in organizing the dust of the Earth. What matter? So am I, for I share the same temperament, which is why I am often tempted to interfere with her, and why I tend to rearrange the whole house myself both before she comes and after she leaves. But I do not need to interfere with any of what she is doing, until she strays into my authority. For instance, if she is feeding the children all of their meals, she might decide to stray from the meal structure which me and my wife have decided on, or she may forget to bless the food. At those times, I may be tempted not to interfere, because in most everything I do not, but this is simply a blind habit. It is morally imperative to interfere.

When you deal with a woman like this, it is very important (with consideration to the second and third aspect dealt with later on) to keep an eye on her, and not to hesitate when it comes time to interfere, while simultaneously being very detached from the desire to interfere. It is important to be as satisfied to interfere as to not, so that you might evaluate with simple tranquility whether you must. Do not be bamboozled by the level of activity into complacency and cowardice, and do not be rankled at it into needless disputes, bitterness, and wrath.

Thus far for the choleric woman.

The Phlegmatic Woman

The phlegmatic woman is generally not much of a problem if she tends toward her natural traits. For she gives off the impression of needing nothing but emotional support, and she is easily overlooked. It is best indeed to overlook women. The most suitable advice which I can give for a man attempting to preserve his soul and who is forced to be around women, is to simply resist the urge to get involved or attempt to lift up this woman, unless (considering the third aspect) you be obligated.

However, because of the degradation of our society, you may sometimes find yourself placed under this type of woman. In this case, we have the first example of why it is extremely helpful to be aware of these different temperaments and be able to pick them out. Because to treat a phlegmatic woman in the same way as a choleric (who generally needs a very strong hand) will often cause more entanglements than are necessary, and much of these in very unpleasant and sticky situations. That having been said, we must be good at spotting the differences between these two types.

The biggest mistake that someone makes in determining a choleric disposition, particularly with women, is to think that it corresponds exactly with advancement and positions of authority. My wife, for instance, is phlegmatic, and for the dark days of her corporate life (before I met her) she was in management positions and a fairly good producer at her work. That is because a phlegmatic often has tranquility and a lack of ambition, and these things cause promotion as often as the eagerness and ambition of some cholerics might defer advancement.

The difference between a phlegmatic and a choleric is a difference between quantity and quality. A choleric will generally put a good amount of her heart into everything she does, and it is rare for her to be without energy, whereas a phlegmatic will reserve her heart and put it all into a small quantity of things. Often these things are quite surprising. So if you are in the habit of pushing your manager to do this or that thing fairly often, and every once in a while they absolutely resist you tooth and nail and will not listen to reason, when she is easy-going about most things, that is likely to be a phlegmatic. She may have the same crusty exterior that everyone does in the corporate world, but you will see it in these sorts of details. She may learn to uphold rules or orders in general, but she will do it mechanically, and there will be a lack of heart in the follow-through, such that you can get away with a violation of her will even if she sends up a rebuke. But on occasion, she will be very stubborn.

That is in an authoritative role. Of course, if the world were ordered, women would never have a role like that. In the general circumstances of dealing with a phlegmatic woman, she requires mostly an attentive ear for her thoughts at the times when those come out. All women require this, but this type of woman much more so, and you can expect to take several hours on it a day (if you are obligated by the third aspect). This helps to know even in the previous situation, because if you are an underling to one, and she is upset about something, likely all that needs to happen is for you to listen to her talk about it for a little (or long) while, and there will be no required actions after that. This makes her a little different from a choleric woman. The choleric is best dealt with as I have said, which is to allow her free reign as much as it does not matter, and to intervene where it does. With a phlegmatic, however, she has a much smaller capacity within her soul often for contradiction, and so if you follow that same approach, you will exasperate her. Whereas, if you listen to what she has to say, even in the areas where she is overstepping her authority, because it does not usually translate into required action, you need not say anything. If you do not say anything for a choleric, she will check in and make sure you do as she has indicated. You might know the difference, too, because during the actual conversation, the phlegmatic woman might indicate her desire and nothing else, whereas the choleric woman might require a statement from you whether you agree or not, or worse still, whether you will conform your will to hers or not. Sometimes, a phlegmatic only wishes you to consent to her underlying principles, and not even the required action or conforming of will, which is helpful if it is wrong. Therefore, for a choleric, you have to be more forthright in your resistance. For a phlegmatic, silence is the better approach. She usually does not even need your opinion.

Thus for phlegmatics, the opposing temperament to choleric.

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