Contemplating Christian temperaments
in Bodies complexioned
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To make their bodies temples for their immortal souls, the faithful had to be intimately familiar with their flesh. Ministers led the way in explaining the origin, cause, and significance of human cum humoral variation. Parishioners learned to recognise distinct humoral types. They were exhorted to know their own, so as to avoid diabolic temptation and maintain the physiological state that was both a means to health and native to them. Mention of temptation involved confronting original sin. Adam and Eve’s humoral complexions were considered cause and effect of their Fall. On the one hand, the Fall explained human variation in the here and now. On the other, some complexions were still thought to be better than others. Humanity’s parents were widely believed to be sanguine tempered, and so too the English. Either the sanguine were so by birth, or their bodies were invigorated temporarily by proper devotion. Salvific diagnosis also looked to an ideal type. Although it has been taken for granted that religious imagery was anathema, English Protestants watched one another not only for something resembling the demeanour but also the sanguine flesh of Jesus Christ.

Bodies complexioned

Human variation and racism in early modern English culture, c. 1600–1750


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