The ideas in Circles of Thorns are being explored in Canterbury in the form of two lectures. If you would like to follow the themes and structure of Circles of Thorns in your own Lenten study, then please feel free to:
- listen to the podcasts. The Sunday evening sermons (c 20 mins) and the Tuesday lunchtime Lent lectures (c 40 mins) will appear the day (DV) after delivery.
- use this series of thoughts, readings, meditations and questions. A PDF can also be downloaded for easier printing and later reference.
Circle 3 / Week 3 / Temperaments
Declare the past, diagnose the present, foretell the future; practice these acts. As to diseases make a habit of two things— help, or at least to do no harm. The art has three factors— the disease, the patient, the physician. The physician is the servant of the art. The patient must co-operate with the physician in combatting the disease.
Epidemics, I.11 (c C5th BC?)
How useful is this definition of medicine and medical treatment today? Does it apply to our understanding of mental / psychological health?
Bloodletting was a vital part of ancient and medieval medicine. It was unthinkable to be a doctor or a patient without dealing with bloodletting. As a medieval doctor wrote:
Phlebotomy clears the mind, strengthens the memory, cleanses “the stomach, dries up the brain, warms the marrow, sharpens the hearing, stops tears, encourages discrimination, develops the senses, promotes digestions, produces a musical voice, dispels torpor, drives away anxiety, feeds the blood, rids it of poisonous matter, and brings long life.
Can you think of any idea or practice of our own day, perhaps something which you put great store by, which might one day be discarded as phlebotomy has been?
Humoral medicine gives us four temperaments (character types) determined by the influence action of four different substances in the body:
Choleric people are governed by the yellow bile produced by the liver: “They are naturally quick witted bold, no way shame-faced, furious, hasty, quarrelsome, fraudulent.” (Nicholas Culpeper). Melancholic people are governed by black bile: they are “… dull, sad, sowre, lumpish, ill disposed, solitary, any way moved, or displeased. And from these Melancholy Dispositions, no man living is free, no Stoicke, none so wise, none so happy, none so patient, so generous, so godly, so divine, that can vindicate himselfe; so well composed, but more or lesse some time or other, he feeles the smart of it. Melancholy in this sense is the Character of Mortalitie.” (Robert Burton). Sanguine people are governed by blood. They are: “…merry, cheerful creatures, bountiful, pitiful, merciful, courteous, bold, trusty…A little thing will make them weep, but soon as ‘tis over, no further grief sticks to their hearts. (Culpepper). Phlegmatic people are governed by phlegm produced in the brains and lungs. They are “cowardly, forgetful creatures” (Culpeper), “Content in knowledge to take little share / To put themselves to any pain most loath. / So dead their spirits, so dull their senses are…” (John Harington).
A leading question— which one are you?
Think of Myers-Briggs and Keirsey and other representatives of the personality development industry. Look at the self-help shelves in your local Waterstone’s. Look at the personal development books bought by the Bridget and Barry Joneses of our day: Who Moved My Cheese?, The Cosmic Ordering Service, Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus, Women Who Run with the Wolves: Contacting the Power of the Wild Woman. These books are about us understanding who we are, really, and then celebrating that: “I’m OK, You’re OK”.
In what ways is this self-help message contradicted by orthodox Christianity?
The four human temperaments, the four ages of man, the four seasons. All four crowd around Christ, and are part of his suffering. Bosch is showing us how it is not just one type of person who is responsible for Christ’s Passion, the ‘evil’ person, the ‘wicked’ person, the person ‘not like us’. Rather, he says, it is all people who are culpable: you, them, me.
Is this really so?
Questions for further reflection
- Is the Church too sanguine to let the wicked things happen in the world, even to the extent of allowing Christ to suffer his Passion again, all for the sake of popularity and preoccupation?
- Do you find the insights of psychologists a help or a threat to your faith?
- If a psychological understanding of Christianity point us to transform and be transformed, how can we achieve this?
Lenten Study Guide for Circles of Thorns: Week 3 (48.2 KiB, 70 hits)
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