Jungian and Catholic?

Chapter 11: Psychological Types and Spiritual Direction

Chapter 11: Psychological Types and Spiritual Direction
Epilogue: Jungian and Catholic




The art and science of spiritual direction is in need of a thorough reevaluation of its foundations. This ought to include, for example, a close look at the old image of the spiritual 'father' who listens to his spiritual children and makes some sort of judgment which is to be accepted as the will of God. Another area that needs examination is the traditional descriptions of the stages of prayer. Do these schemas actually represent what the saints said? And if they do, is their experience to be taken as typical and normative today? Will discussions of the various states of prayer that supposedly intervene between meditation and infused contemplation or mystical experience survive a rigorous theological and historical scrutiny? In essence, spiritual direction as a whole needs a careful theological evaluation.

But what I would like to do here is pursue the other half of this process of reassessment, which is the need that spiritual direction has for a natural science of the psyche like Jung's, and more specifically the use of his psychological types which, as we have seen, are simply another face of the process of individuation itself. Spiritual direction has long been aware of the role for such a psychological instrument. John of the Cross made use of the four humors of the Greeks, and Teresa of Avila has many acute psychological observations, but naturally no empirical science of the psyche existed to allow them to deal at length with the concrete personality of the person they were directing in the life of prayer.

The twentieth century has seen any number of attempts to make up for this lack. Alexander Roldán, for example, in his Personality Types and Holiness made use of Sheldon's somatotypes and temperament types as the foundation upon which to erect what he called a 'hagio-typology'. Complementing Sheldon's endomorphy, mesomorphy and ectomorphy we find contemplative love, apostolic action and moral obligation which in various combinations would make up different kinds of holiness. Fr. Roldán finds Francis de Sales a model of a holiness in which the first component predominates, Francis Xavier represents the second component and John Berchmans the third. Roldán's work has the merit of choosing Sheldon's typology, but it also illustrates the difficulties of extending a psychological typology to the spiritual life, especially when we rely on historical material. Roldán, for example, joins affective prayer to contemplation so that Francis de Sales becomes the model contemplative rather than John of the Cross.

Henry Simoneaux in Spiritual Guidance and the Varieties of Character selected the typology of Heymans and Wiersma as presented by René Le Senne and utilized it to explore different attitudes towards spiritual direction by means of the analysis of a questionnaire. Le Senne had described three basic components which have some similarity to those described by Sheldon. The first is emotionality, which means going by the heart instead of reason. The second is action, or more precisely the "disposition to action." The third component is the retention of impressions which is divided into a primary who lives completely in the present and a secondary who is inclined to be interior and "replaces spontaneity with reflection and might readily forgive an injury but finds difficulty in forgetting it." (p. 49) These three components and their negations give rise to eight types.

Much more popular today than the work of Roldán or Simoneaux is the Enneagram. Reputed to be of ancient Sufi origin, its modern roots are traced to Gurdjieff, Ichazo and Naranjo. The Enneagram describes nine types which are depicted as nine interconnected places on the circumference of a circle. Descriptions of the strengths and weaknesses and paths of development of these types will vary according to whether someone follows the work of Helen Palmer, Don Riso, Maria Beesing and her companions, or some other proponent of this system. But in general there are strong parallels between the Enneagram and Jung's psychological types, as well as with Sheldon's temperament types. Type 5, for example, is described by Beesing, Nogosek and O'Leary as someone who would agree with the following statements: "keep my feelings to myself," "hold on to what I have," "Intellectually I like to synthesize and put together different ideas," "need much private time and space," "I have trouble reaching out and asking for what I need," "I try to solve my problems by thinking," etc. And all these characteristics can be related both to Jung's description of the introverted thinking type and Sheldon's description of the ectomorphic cerebrotonic. Don Riso in The Theory of the Enneagram provides a list of what psychological types go with the various Enneagram types, (p. 330) and Helen Palmer in The Enneagram describes research which relates the various Enneagram types with results from the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator which attempts to measure Jung's psychological types. My own first impressions of the correspondences between the two systems are as follows: Enneagram I is closest to Jung's extraverted thinking type, 2 to extraverted feeling, 3 to extraverted sensation thinking and extraverted sensation feeling, 4 to introverted intuition, 5 to introverted thinking, 6 to some sort of introvert, 7 to extraverted intuition, 8 to extraverted thinking and 9 to extraverted sensation.

There are other typological theories like the Ayurvedic system of ancient India, which again is based on three principle elements: the vata, the pitta, and the kapha. Each of these three components is assigned various physical characteristics as well as psychological traits. While this system is making its way into the West it seems confined for the moment to Hindu-oriented circles.

Among Catholics typology usually takes the form of either the Enneagram or Jung's types as seen through the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator. But both these approaches have limitations. The Enneagram is basically a descriptive typology and it lacks the depth that would come to it from being an integral part of an entire empirical science of the psyche. Don Riso in The Theory of the Enneagram makes an interesting attempt to broaden the Enneagram's theoretical foundations and make the 9 type descriptions more flexible, but this is an enormous undertaking which will not necessarily be successful. Jung's typology, on the other hand, is the personal dimension of his process of individuation, and as such is already integrated with the rest of his psychology with all its therapeutic techniques, well developed literature, and body of professionally trained analysts.

The weakness of the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator approach to typology is the degree in which the test is used in isolation from the rest of Jung's psychology. A spiritual director, for example, cannot simply administer the test and expect that the results will be particularly enlightening for himself or the client. Even if the test provides the correct type diagnosis, which is not always the case as the test's creators warn, this description will only have practical efficacy in the measure that both director and the person being directed have developed their own insight into Jung's typology and the psychology that underlies it.

While a type test can be useful, I prefer to take a slower and wider approach to both type diagnosis and the cultivation of insight into what it means to be a particular type. What this kind of approach is like and how it has been integrated with Sheldon's work has been discussed previously and can be found in detail in the two volumes of Tracking the Elusive Human. The result, I think, is a comprehensive typological instrument that can be employed in spiritual direction. But what kind of questions arise when spiritual direction and Jung's typology meet?

First, we have to clearly distinguish the work of the director from that of the analyst. The analyst can use psychological types to help someone journey towards wholeness. By discovering someone's type the analyst can focus on the distinctive pathway by which that person, by means of the third of fourth function, can go down into the psyche and encounter the unconscious. In this setting there is nothing theoretical about psychological types, for they are manifested in dreams and everyday events, and Jung could call them his compass on the voyage to individuation.

In contrast, the role of the spiritual director is to guide someone on the road that leads to union with God. The director is directly concerned, not with the god image or self in the center of the psyche, but how a person can travel to a real and living union with God. This task implies certain things. The director ought to have a clear and concrete grasp of the interior life, a mental map of the various roads that lead to divine union. He or she also ought to possess a keen sense of human differences in order to determine which of these roads this person is best suited for. And finally, the director has to realize that theory alone is not adequate, for what is at stake is an actual inner journey so that the work of the spiritual director is analogous to the work of the analyst, for both are trying to help this or that individual reach an interior goal.

But the role of the spiritual director is made more difficult today because the foundations of this art and science of the soul are in need of clarification. The director cannot turn to one unified map of the terrain that we travel through to reach divine union. What exists instead is an enormous, unintegrated body of literature which ranges from tales of misplaced piety to vivid autobiographical accounts of visions and revelations, and any number of descriptions of different paths that lead up the mountain of divine union. John of the Cross and Teresa of Avila, for example, concentrate principally on the contemplative life and have distinctive perspectives even on that, while Ignatius of Loyola and Francis de Sales have other views of the interior journey. The director has access to many manuals of the spiritual life, but they are for the most part too abstract and theoretical in character to be of much service. In essence, what this means is that the spiritual director has no well developed practical science of the soul to guide his work. The first major hurdle a renewal of spiritual direction faces, then, is the need for a comprehensive account or map of the life of prayer based on the experience of its practitioners. Such an account would have to address questions like this: What are the ways in which people are converted to a serious interest in the life of prayer? What are the actual forms that the ‘sensible' spirituality of beginners take? How many people actually experience this time of fervor and consolation, and how long does it last before it fades away? For those for whom it disappears what is the next step? Do many people actually go by the way of infused contemplation that John of the Cross describes? If not, what happens to them? Is there any sense in talking about an acquired contemplation halfway between meditation and infused contemplation? How often do people experience visions and revelations, and what are the criteria for examining them?

These and many other issues would have to be examined if we are to create a renewed science of spiritual direction, and they have to be asked in the light of a psychology like Jung's because we want to describe the actual life of prayer and that takes place in the psyche of this or that individual. Here we have arrived at a situation analogous to the one in which Jungian psychology confronted St. Thomas' philosophy of nature. Under the stimulus and light of Jung's psychology, the practical science of the life of prayer would make this psychology an instrument of its own renewal. Such an enterprise would not only aim at a comprehensive overview of the spiritual life based on experience, but it would adapt Jung's psychological types to the task of determining just what path this person is meant to take to reach union with God. This is a much greater challenge than adding an appendix of spiritual characteristics and inclinations to psychological type descriptions, for we have to be led by actual experience to discover the relationships between distinctive spiritual paths and the various type. At this stage in time we cannot be sure of which types, for example, are called to contemplation. Perhaps they all are, but contemplation takes different forms in each case. Nor do we really know how individuation interacts with the Journey to divine union. What role, for example, does the inferior function play in the transition between a prayer life based on the use of the natural faculties and one which is centered on infused contemplation? I have looked at, from a Jungian point of view, some of John of the Cross' descriptions of the temptations and upheavals that accompany the life of prayer, (St. John of the Cross and Dr. C.G. Jung, Chapter 7), but that is just the beginning of the long road that would have to be followed in order to clarify the foundations of spiritual direction.

Today there is a new and practical interest in the life of prayer on the part of Catholics, and it is being accompanied by a good deal of critical scholarship which is providing us with new editions of many spiritual writers. But just as we noted in regard to theology, this critical historical sense ought to be complemented by a psychological critical awareness that would give us a new way to evaluate just what these spiritual authors are saying and how it fits into the larger map of the interior life.

In the actual practice of spiritual direction and of analysis, for that matter, a partnership of director and analyst could be very fruitful despite the difficulties it would have to overcome. First it would have to face in a distinctive way the general question we have been meeting all along, which is the requirements necessary for a truly interactive approach. Both the director and the analyst need a clear sense of the nature and limits of their respective roles. If the spiritual director embraces some radical form of Jungian spirituality, then he or she is really an analyst in disguise. If, in contrast, the director is hostile to or ignorant of psychology we are going to be left with a situation in which this director is blind to the very psyche that the life of prayer takes place in, and thus to the many problems that arise in the spiritual life that have a strong psychological dimension. In short, the spiritual director, without being an analyst and without aiming at individuation, ought to have a keen appreciation of the psyche which he is constantly encountering.

And will not the analyst hear on occasion more of those "metaphenomenal" questions that arise in the midst of Jung's psychology but cannot be answered there? For is it not conceivable that someone who has experienced the god-image in the center of the soul could experience an attraction for the one whose image it is and who dwells, as the mystics tell us, beyond all images? In such a situation the inner dynamism of the life of prayer would certainly have an effect on the rest of the psyche and the analyst would need considerable delicacy to avoid injuring either interior journey.

I don't want to wax too eloquent about the dazzling possibilities of such a partnership, for old prejudices on both sides die hard, especially the more unconscious they are. How comfortable can the spiritual director be with the analyst if he secretly fears his own psyche and would rather pretend that the spiritual life has nothing to do with it. And the analyst cannot be comfortable in this partnership, either, if he views Christianity as a distorted attempt at individuation and the life of prayer as a literalizing of the encounter with the archetypes. But despite these difficulties many fascinating conversations are possible not only on the issues I have already mentioned, but on very specific problems. For example, an analyst who has dealt with cases of obsessive compulsive disorder will have noticed the religious overtones that can appear in them, and even the close relationship this disorder has with the traditional malady of scrupulosity. (Cf. Judith Rapoport, The Boy Who Couldn't Stop Washing) The analyst could read with interest the graphic descriptions that John of the Cross has on this and other related disorders, as well as the explanations he began to frame, while the spiritual director would be remiss if he did not become acquainted with the latest psychiatric findings that center on the possible biochemical foundations and treatment of this disease. Further, he could profitably inquire of the analyst about the role of the fourth function and the unconscious in producing these symptoms and how the work of integration could help at least the less severe cases.

I have not even mentioned the extension of this interaction of analyst and director to the social and communal aspects of the Church both in marriages, religious life and the Church as a whole. Catholics would do well, for example, to apply a basic understanding of typology to an understanding of the Popes and their exercise of authority in the Church. Pope John had a considerable degree of endomorphy in his body type and he exhibited some of the traits often associated with it like a free-flowing extraversion of affect that put people at their ease and made them feel accepted. Pope Paul was much more introverted and lacked John's easy social skills and therefore suffered in comparison, for many of his gifts were more hidden, like his strong powers of intellectual concentration. Unfortunately, the exercise of authority did not come natural to him and he agonized over making decisions. Pope John Paul II possesses neither the endomorphic qualities of John nor the introversion of Paul, but rather is mesomorphic and extraverted. How many of the characteristics that Sheldon enumerates in his checklist for the mesomorphic temperament would fit Pope John Paul? Sheldon's list includes: high physical energy, the need and enjoyment of exercise, a love of physical adventure, a clear cut sense of authority and obedience, and a lack of hesitancy in exercising power. It would profit the whole Church to realize that his behavior is not an unsolvable personal riddle but has a strong typological foundation that would greatly aid us in understanding where he is coming from.

In summary, a dialogue between the analyst and the spiritual director ought to join those of the analyst and the philosopher of nature and the analyst and the theologian in any genuine dialogue between Christianity and Jung's psychology.




I am both a Catholic and a Jungian. I am a Catholic by birth but also by an inner process of conversion by which I decided to embrace the faith I had been born in. (Cf. The Inner Nature of Faith, Part I) And I am a Jungian in virtue of the wonderful gifts that I have received from Jung's psychology. Without the experience of its inner transforming power my life would have been much poorer. (Cf. Tracking the Elusive Human, Vol. 1, Part I) And it is precisely the personal pursuit of these two interior paths that has convinced me that they are intimately connected with each other while they aim at different goals.

But being a Catholic does not blind me to the painful fact that the Church suffers immensely from a lack of psychological knowledge that Jung's psychology could supply. Nor does being a Jungian prevent me from seeing the shell of philosophical presuppositions that surrounds Jung's psychology and poses a serious obstacle to its use in the Church. Yet despite these difficulties I look forward to the day when the Jungian-Christian dialogue will finally yield its long awaited fruits.



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