Character vs Personality – Part Two

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The definition of “character” may be broken into two parts. The first would be a dictionary definition of all the qualities and traits of an individual—yours and mine, different, unique, singular.

Or, character may be defined as the moral and ethical qualities of a person, a view of the soul, mind and heart of a person, in other words, but seen in actions and words.

All the saints have developed and unique qualities which make up their individual characters. This is one reason why we have patron saints, because their characters have led to certain patronages, such as healing, or counselling.

For example, Padre Pio is Paton of stress relief, among other things and people, because he wrote, “Pray, hope, and don’t worry.” His message was frequently about trusting in God, and not being anxious. He earned this wisdom through his own long life of suffering, not only from the stigmata, but from and by his own order.

Padre Pio’s life of virtue reveals a man who knew how to deal with stress—trusting in God, totally.

Likewise, we can see in many of the lives of the saints the connection between their character and patronage. St. John of the Cross is patron of contemplative, mystics and Spanish poets, because of his gifts. St. Rita is patron of those experiencing difficult marriages, because of the virtue she showed in her own life. And, so on.

Our characters are created by ourselves. We cannot blame anyone for the making of our characters. Now, some people experience trauma as children which form their characters, but God can heal and change anything, even complicated post-traumatic stress. Let me give an example. I know a man who was not loved by his parents. This fact became part of his making both good and bad decisions growing up. The bad decisions led to sin and a life of suffering, while the good decisions gave him strength to follow the Catholic Faith and try and deal with his early trauma. He is succeeding, through grace to undo the effects of the sins against him, but more, to undo his own bad decisions which partly formed his character. He is mature enough not to blame anyone for those decisions but himself.

Now, a hard truth is that we are not all given the same graces in our lives. We know as Catholics that God does not love each one of us in the same way, or even equally. I do not have the graces that saints like Teresa of Avila or Therese of the Child Jesus had. No, I am striving for holiness with the graces God gives me, but those graces are simply not equal to theirs, or to St. Bernadette, or St. Zelie Martin, and so on. My character is a combination of God’s graces and my own human free will decisions. I may have striven after things God did not care about…or ignored grace. It is my duty to beg for grace in the still on-going formation of my character, a process that begins at birth and ends at death. Yes, ENDS.

There is no character building in purgatory. There is no gaining of merit after death. One’s character is fixed at death, and that is the character we have when we face Christ in our particular judgement.

Personality is something different and is more clearly defined as traits, not virtues. By traits is meant behaviour. Also, personality is not totally unique, as in character. A person living in the United States will develop a different personality than if he grew up in Germany—because some personality traits are shared by the culture. For example, people from the United States tend to be extroverts. This is not the case for Europeans. And so on. Our cultures help define our personalities, while our characters are totally unique.

I am an introvert who learned to live in an extrovert culture. If I had lived in an introverted culture, my personality would most likely have developed with different traits. Of course, I am simplifying these definitions to make a point.

The modern emphasis on personality ignores the interior life, and emphasises the exterior life. When people finally realise as a culture, as a society that the interior life is more important than the exterior, will we see happier personalities and mature characters.

Without a relationship with God, a good character is impossible. Without a relationship with God, a personality will be empty of reality.

There are 64 virtues. We have one lifetime to develop these virtues through grace. Here is a list of these virtues on this site. http://www.sensustraditionis.org/Virtues.pdf . Ask yourself: are these part of my character? We have to develop these in order to be a saint. Personality will naturally flow from a person of good, nay, excellent, character.