Fish Eaters: The Whys and Hows of Traditional Catholicism

``Where the Bishop is, there let the multitude of believers be;
even as where Jesus is, there is the Catholic Church'' Ignatius of Antioch, 1st c. A.D

The Four Temperaments

The 4 Temperaments and the 4 Elements


Around 500 years before the birth of our Savior, the spirit of science began to be applied to the practice of medicine. Where before the ancients looked to "the gods" to explain the workings of the natural world, Hippocrates (b. ca. 460 B.C.) urged that sine qua non of science: observation. In the course of the studies that merited his becoming known as "the Father of Medicine," he noticed that blood removed from the body separates into four parts: the clear red, a yellowish liquid that rises to the top, the dark liquid that settles to the bottom, and whitish fluid. He and his students, especially his son-in-law, Polybus, took these observations and developed a theory of medicine that was to hold sway in the West and in the Islamic world for thousands of years -- a theory further expounded upon by Galen: that physical and mental health are a matter of a good balance of four liquids ("humors"), all believed to be produced in the liver, but which are found in the veins and are associated with various organs of the body.

This theory of bodily humors 1 -- called "humorism " or "humoralism" -- holds that each person produces all of these humors, but that the preponderance of one relative to the others -- a condition called "dyscrasia" -- brings on illness. Each of these humors was believed to be associated with one of the four elements which, when combined in various proportions, make up all things:

  • The humor of Blood, associated with the liver and with Air, which is the hot and moist element. A person in whom blood predominates is said to be "sanguine," from the Latin "sanguis" (blood).

  • The humor of Yellow Bile, associated with the spleen and with Fire, which is the hot and dry element. A person in whom yellow bile predominates is said to be "choleric," from the Greek "khole" (bile).

  • The humor of Black Bile, associated with the gall bladder and with Earth, which is the cold and dry element. A person in whom black bile predominates is said to be "melancholic," from the Greek "melas" (black) and "khole" (bile).  

  • The humor of Phlegm, associated with the lungs and brain and with Water, which is the cold and moist element. A person in whom phlegm predominates is said to be "phlegmatic," from the Greek "phlegmatikos" (abounding in phlegm) .

The following excerpt from the 11th c. Regimen Sanitatis Salernitanum, attributed to John of Milano, gives the basic run-down as to the effects of too much of one humor or another:

If Sanguin humour do too much abound,
These signes will be thereof appearing cheefe,
The face will swell, the cheeks grow red and round,
With staring eies, the pulse beate soft and breefe,
The veynes exceed, the belly will be bound,
The temples, and the forehead full of griefe,
Unquiet sleeps, that so strange dreames will make
To cause one blush to tell when he doth wake:
Besides the moysture of the mouth and spittle,
Will taste too sweet, and seeme the throat to tickle.

If Choller do exceed, as may sometime,
Your eares will ring, and make you to be wakefull,
Your tongue will seeme all rough, and oftentimes
Cause vomits, unaccustomed and hatefull,
Great thirst, your excrements are full of slime,
The stomacke squeamish, sustenance ungratefull,
Your appetite will seeme in nought delighting,
Your heart still greeued with continuall byting,
The pulse beate hard and swift, all hot, extreame,
Your spittle soure, of fire-worke oft you dreame.
If Flegme abundance haue due limits past,
These signes are here set downe will plainly shew,
The mouth will seeme to you quite out of taste,
And apt with moisture still to overflow,
Your sides will seeme all sore downe to the waist,
Your meat wax loathsome, your digestion slow,
Your head and stomacke both in so ill taking,
One seeming euer griping tother aking:
With empty veynes, the pulse beat slow and soft,
In sleepe, of seas and ryuers dreaming oft.

But if that dangerous humour ouer-raigne,
Of Melancholy, sometime making mad,
These tokens then will be appearing plaine,
The pulse beat hard, the colour darke and bad:
The water thin, a weake fantasticke braine,
False-grounded ioy, or else perpetuall sad,
Affrighted oftentimes with dreames like visions,
Presenting to the thought ill apparitions,
Of bitter belches from the stomacke comming,
His eare (the left especiall) euer humming.

Note in the above that the humors are said to affect even dreams. Chaucer alludes to this in "The Nun's Priest's Tale" when the rooster, Chanticleer, had a dream in which he was being pursued by a yellowish-red hound-like creature. He wonders if the dream is prophetic, so his wife, Pertelote, reassures him by telling him:

Certes this dream, which ye have mette tonight,
Cometh of the great supefluity
Of youre rede cholera, pardie,
Which causeth folk to dreaden in their dreams
Of arrows, and of fire with redde beams,
Of redde beastes, that they will them bite,
Of conteke [contention], and of whelpes great and lite [little];
Right as the humour of melancholy
Causeth full many a man in sleep to cry,
For fear of bulles, or of beares blake,
Or elles that black devils will them take,
Of other humours could I tell also,
That worke many a man in sleep much woe;
That I will pass as lightly as I can.

Pertelote then goes on to prescribe herbs for her husband to use to avoid such dreams in the future. According to humorist theory, not only herbs, but stages of life, colors, various activities, the zodiac, and even geographic location affect the production of these humors, and finding the right herb, activity, etc., and doing things at the right time, should bring about "eucrasia," or a state of balance. Most obviously and importantly, foods could also affect the balance, with some foods being hot, and others cold; some being moist, and others dry. The common cold, for example, was believed to have been caused by a production of too much phlegm, so fish, which is a cold and moist food, should be avoided by such a patient lest he add to the production of the out-of-balance humor; instead, he should partake of hot and dry foods, such as pepper, to counteract the cold and moist phlegmatic influence. 2

The seasons, too, play a role in balancing or unbalancing the humors, as St. John Damascene (b. ca. 676) tells us in his "Exposition of the Orthodox Faith":

The course which the Creator appointed for them [the planets] to run is unceasing and remaineth fixed as He established them. For the divine David says, The moon and the stars which Thou establishedst, and by the word 'establishedst,' he referred to the fixity and unchangeableness of the order and series granted to them by God. For He appointed them for seasons, and signs, and days and years. It is through the Sun that the four seasons are brought about.

And the first of these is spring: for in it God created all things, and even down to the present time its presence is evidenced by the bursting of the flowers into bud, and this is the equinoctial period, since day and night each consist of twelve hours. It is caused by the sun rising in the middle, and is mild and increases the blood, and is warm and moist, and holds a position midway between winter and summer, being warmer and drier than winter, but colder and moister than summer. This season lasts from March 21st till June 24th.

Next, when the rising of the sun moves towards more northerly parts, the season of summer succeeds, which has a place midway between spring and autumn, combining the warmth of spring with the dryness of autumn: for it is dry and warm, and increases the yellow bile. In it falls the longest day, which has fifteen hours, and the shortest night of all, having only nine hours. This season lasts from June 24th till September 25th.

Then when the sun again returns to the middle, autumn takes the place of summer. It has a medium amount of cold and heat, dryness and moisture, and holds a place midway between summer and winter, combining the dryness of summer with the cold of winter. For it is cold and dry, and increases the black bile. This season, again, is equinoctial, both day and night consisting of twelve hours, and it lasts from September 25th till December 25th.

And when the rising of the sun sinks to its smallest and lowest point, i.e. the south, winter is reached, with its cold and moisture. It occupies a place midway between autumn and spring, combining the cold of autumn and the moisture of spring. In it falls the shortest day, which has only nine hours, and the longest night, which has fifteen: and it lasts from December 25th till March 21st. For the Creator made this wise provision that we should not pass from the extreme of cold, or heat, or dryness, or moisture, to the opposite extreme, and thus incur grievous maladies. For reason itself teaches us the danger of sudden changes.

Fasting during the various seasons, such as we do during Ember Days, helps bring the humors into balance. The Golden Legend, written by Blessed Jacopo de Voragine (A.D. 1230-1298), Archbishop of Genoa, gives the following as one of eight reasons for our Ember Day fasts:

The fifth reason, as saith John Damascenus: in March and in printemps the blood groweth and augmenteth, and in summer coler, in September melancholy, and in winter phlegm. Then we fast in March for to attemper and depress the blood of concupiscence disordinate, for sanguine of his nature is full of fleshly concupiscence. In summer we fast because that coler should be lessened and refrained, of which cometh wrath. And then is he full naturally of ire. In harvest we fast for to refrain melancholy. The melancholious man naturally is cold, covetous and heavy. In winter we fast for to daunt and to make feeble the phlegm of lightness and forgetting, for such is he that is phlegmatic.

Interestingly, the eight musical modes, or scales, of classical Western music are seen by humorists to also affect the balance of humors, with the modes being evenly divided into four groups, each group affecting one the bodily humors:


Dorian Church Mode I
The Dorian Mode dries watery Phlegm, weakening its influence such that instead of causing lethargy, it causes a sense of equanimity and calm. The ancient Greeks attributed this to the Dorian mode's imparting the power of the Sun.

Hypodorian Church Mode II
The Hypodorian mode magnifies Phlegm's effect on the body and induces lethargy and sleep. The ancient Greeks attributed this to the Hypodorian mode's imparting the power of the Moon.




Phrygian Church Mode III
The Phrygian mode reinforces the effects of Yellow Bile, inciting angry passions. The ancient Greeks attributed this to the Phrygian mode's imparting the power of the Mars.  

Hypophrygian Church Mode IV
The Hypophrygian mode mitigates Yellow Bile's effects and acts as a musical scale to sooth the savage breast. It is a tender-sounding scale that incites delight. The ancient Greeks attributed this to the Hypophrygian mode's imparting the power of the Mercury.  


Church Mode V
The Lydian mode reinforces the Blood, producing happiness. The ancient Greeks attributed this to the Lydian mode's imparting the power of the Jupiter.  

Hypolydian Church Mode VI
The Hypolydian mode -- the "Weeping Mode" -- suppresses the effects of Blood, resulting in sadness and piety. The ancient Greeks attributed this to the Hypolydian mode's imparting the power of the Venus.  




Mixolydian Church Mode VII
The Mixolydian mode magnifies the effect of Black Bile, leading to melancholia. The ancient Greeks attributed this to the Mixolydian mode's imparting the power of the Saturn.   

Hypomixolydian Church Mode VIII
The Hypomixolydian mode supresses the effects of Black Bile and is the mode of happiness, perfection, and bliss. The ancient Greeks attributed this to the Hypolydian mode's imparting the power of the stars.  


But what is most interesting and most fun of all to explore is the notion of how the humors affect the temperaments.

The Four Temperaments

We all have an intuitive awareness that there are different "types" of people. This one's "an outgoing fellow"; that one's "the quiet type." This one's better off working with his hands while another excels at bookish pursuits. One sort of person is a leader; another sort is a follower. These basic dispositions, or manners of thinking, behaving, and reacting, are called "temperaments" -- a word whose etymology reflects humorist theory: it derives from the Latin temperamentum, which refers to "proper mixture." Going further back, and keeping the aforementioned words of St. John Damascene in mind, it could ultimately stem from the Latin tempus or tempor-, which refer to time and seasons.

Humorism asserts that each person is born with a basic temperament as determined by which of the four humors tends to predominate in the individual. As we all produce each humor, there will be varying degrees of influence by each, but the effects of one is usually more evident. In some people, the next most influential humor might be quite strong so that such a person can be generally described as having a combined temperament; in others, the most abundant humor dominates the others such that there is no question at all as to which category he falls into.

What follows is a very basic outline of the characteristics of each temperament as classically described. For more explicit information, you'll have to take the test linked to at the bottom of the page.


Self-composed Not given to worry Liberal
Tends to follow rather than lead Cordial Peaceable
Talkative Not averse to change Adjusts easily
Tends to prefer informality Aware of surroundings Impetuous
Impulsive Lacking in perseverance Lacking in initiative
Prone to carelessness, hedonism, flightiness, and lust
Humor: Blood  Element: Air  Season: Spring 
Qualities: Hot and Wet Planet: Jupiter



Self-composed Not given to worry Persuasive Independent
Rarely shows embarrassment Tends to lead rather than follow
Persistent Insistent Decisive Dynamic Impetuous Impulsive Touchy
Prone to hypocrisy, deceit, pride, and anger
Humor: Yellow Bile Element: Fire Season: Summer
Qualities: Hot and Dry Planet: Mars



Sensitive Intuitive Self-conscious Easily embarrassed
Easily hurt Introspective Sentimental Moody
Likes to be alone Empathetic Often artistic
Often fussy and perfectionist Deep
Prone to depression, avarice, and gluttony
Humor: Black Bile Element: Eartth Season: Autumn
Qualities: Cold and Dry Planet: Saturn



Peaceful  Easy-going Deliberative  Faithful  Reliable
Relatively unaffected by environment Reserved Distant
Slow in movement Constant in mood Not prone to worry
Prone to stagnation and sloth
Humor: Phlegm Element: Water Season: Winter
Qualities: Cold and Wet Planet: Moon

An exaggerated way of understanding the four temperaments is to consider four people who see a star fall to earth. The Sanguine talks about it animatedly to all present; the Choleric wants to form and lead an expedition to find it; the Melancholic ponders what it means and how he feels about it; and the Phlegmatic waits for the others to decide what to do as whatever decision they make is fine by him. It's kind of fun to analyze friends -- and characters we see in movies, too -- in terms of these four temperaments. Consider "The Wizard of Oz" with its Sanguine Cowardly Lion, Choleric Scarecrow, Melancholic Tin Man, and Phlegmatic Dorothy. Or "A Streetcar Named Desire" with its Sanguine Mitch, Choleric Stanley, Melancholic Blanche DuBois, and Phlegmatic Stella.

See the temperament test to discover your dominant classic temperament and to learn more about your fundamental dispositions, your bright side, your dark side, and some things you need to know in order to make the best of who you are.

To read more about the four temperaments, see Fr. Christiaan Kappes's "The Four Temperaments" (PDF).


1 Also spelled "humours"
2 Humorism greatly affected medieval cuisine as cooks endeavored to prepare foods in proper balance, for example, cold, moist fish would be served with hot, dry spices or prepared with wine, which was also considered hot and dry; game was considered to be dry, so was prepared in moist fats; vinegar was considered cold and dry, so was tempered with honey, which was considered hot and moist, etc. The goal in cooking for the ill, however, wasn't "a balanced diet," but a diet that would counteract the effects of the humor causing the illness.

Note that it isn't the actual temperature or actual liquidity of a food that determines its classification as hot or cold, dry or moist; it is its inherent quality and its effects on the body. The degrees of hotness/coldness and dryness/moistness were often rated on a scale of 1 to 4, with 4 being the highest.

Humorist theory also affected cooking techniques: dry foods were boiled instead of roasted, moist foods were baked instead of boiled, and so on. 

3 Just for the sake of information: The modern Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) classifies personalities into sixteen groups by analyzing responses to a long questionnaire and determining where a respondent fits with regard to four basic questions:

Introversion vs. Extraversion: Outer directed (E) or inner directed (I)?
Sensing vs. Intuition: Is information processed literally (S) or abstractly (N)?
Thinking vs. Feeling: Are decisions made by thought (T) or feelings (F)?
Judging vs. Perceiving: Is there a preference for order (J) or spontaneity (P)?

David Keirsey believed that those who are "Sensing" and "Judging" (SJ) fit the classic description of the Phlegmatic. Those who are "Sensing" and "Perceiving" (SP) are Sanguines. Those who are "Intuitive" and "Feeling" (NF) are Melancholics, and those who are "Intuitive" and "Thinking" (NT) are Cholerics. He gave descriptions of and new names to the classic types -- the new names being: Artisans (Sanguine), Rationals (Cholerics), Idealists (Melancholics), and Guardians (Phlegmatic) -- and further broke down those groups into four sub-groups:


  • The Sanguine Artisans: The Performers (ESFP); The Promoters (ESTP); The Composers (ISFP); The Crafters (ISTP).

  • The Choleric Rationals: The Field Marshalls (ENTJ); The Inventors (ENTP); The Masterminds (INTJ); The Architects (INTP).

  • The Melancholic Idealists: The Teachers (ENFJ); The Champions (ENFP); The Counselors (INFJ); The Healers (INFP).

  • The Phlegmatic Guardians: The Supervisors (ESTJ); The Providers (ESFJ); The Inspectors (ISTJ); The Protectors (ISFJ).

While the classic temperaments model labels all Extraverts as either the Sanguine or Choleric, and labels all Introverts as Melancholics or Phlegmatics, Keirsey has Extraverts and Introverts in each group. If you take the above test and find it doesn't quite fit you, you might enjoy taking a test based on Kiersey's model. 

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