Jungian and Catholic?
Part III

Chapter 7: Jung and Theology


The treasures that Jung's psychology has for theology are wrapped up in his scientific method, his philosophical presuppositions, and his attitude toward faith and theology. It would be a serious mistake to imagine that we can simply take Jung's formulations, even when they are about religious symbols like the Trinity, and apply them directly to theology. The actual road to the collaboration of Jung's psychology and theology is much more difficult. First, as we have seen, we have to try to understand the nature of Jung's empirical science of the psyche. It is in no way a philosophy or a theology, as Jung insisted upon again and again. Secondly, we have to realize that Jung's personal religious outlook coincided with the scope and limits of his analytical psychology. It is not true that Jung had religious beliefs distinct from those he arrived at through his psychology. In fact, his psychology was the way he made sense of the Christianity that had been a problem to him for his whole life. Further, while Jung clearly distinguished between his psychological method and metaphysics, faith and theology, he did not look at these other disciplines as ways of knowing, but of believing. There is a thread of ambiguity running through Jung's writings. He at once asserts that he is staying within the boundaries of his empirical science of the psyche and in a certain sense he does. But at the same time, he felt there was no other way to know the realities he was confronted with except through this science of the psyche. We might believe something about them, but not really know. So what he gave to theology with his right hand he tended to take back with his left.

There are two ways in which to relate Jung's work to theology. In the first, we take his reflections on something like trinity and quaternity, apply them to the religious doctrine of the Trinity, and conclude that we really ought to transform the Trinity into a Quaternity. However, if we do this, then we are depriving Christianity of its distinctive content and making it over into Jungian categories. We end up, not with a renewed insight into the mysteries of the faith, but with Jung's psychology, and Christianity becomes another example, deficient at that, of the manifestation of archetypes and the self.

The second path accepts the distinctive natures of philosophy, faith and theology and the ability of each to know in its own way. Then Jung's psychology with its images pregnant with ontological implications becomes an object of reflection, for the philosophy of nature, which at once awakens and renews itself by illuminating these treasures with its own distinctive light and by attempting to draw out their properly philosophical implications. It is this newly aware and enriched philosophical psychology that can become the proximate instrument, when it is united with the light of faith, for theological exploration. By taking this seemingly less direct route, we unwrap Jung's psychology from the various methodological and epistemological fabrics it is enfolded in and see what its genuine message is for theology.

Undoubtedly, the first path is tempting, but we have to take Jung at his word. He is not doing theology and had no intention of doing it. If we take this path, we elevate psychology to the position of being the only way we can actually know something about the Trinity and reduce theology to an instinctive and somewhat unconscious form of analytical psychology which now ought to be replaced by Jung's psychology itself. The second path is harder, but in the long run holds out the promise of a fruitful dialogue between Jung's psychology and theology.

An examination of Jung's, "A Psychological Approach to the Trinity", will allow us to begin to see these two paths in practice. Jung, in the course of this essay, makes a number of historical statements which historians and biblical exegetes might wish to contend. For example, to what degree was the New Testament and the early Fathers influenced by foreign gnostic conception, and to what extent did they have their own distinctive Christian gnosis allied to faith? I have assembled many scriptural and patristic texts on the particular nature of Christian gnosis in my The Inner Nature of Faith. But we can leave these issues aside, for the core of Jung's essay is his psychological conception of the Trinity. "Arrangements in triads is an archetype in the history of religion, which in all probability formed the basis of the Christian Trinity." (Psychology and Religion: East and West, Collected Works, Vol. 11, p. 113.) And Jung is struck by Plato's line in his Timaeus, "One, two, three - but where, my dear Timaeus, is the fourth ... ?" This problem of the fourth, he found, also appears in alchemy and modern psychotherapy.

If the symbol of the trinity has an archetypal foundation, then it can appear anywhere, so the fathers of the Church "neither paused in their labours nor rested until they had finally reconstructed the ancient Egyptian archetype." (p. 129) The psychological reality of the trinity leads us eventually through a variety of archetypal images "to the archetype, which provides the authentic and eternal justification for the existence of any trinitarian idea at all." (p. 131)

In the New Testament we see this "active archetype operating beneath the surface and throwing up triadic formations." (p. 139) It is not any Babylonian, Egyptian or Greek model that underlies the Christian idea of the Trinity but the "archetype an sich... an 'irrepresentable' factor, a 'disposition' which starts functioning at a given moment in the development of the human mind and arranges the material of the unconscious into definite patterns." (p. 148-149) "The more clearly the archetype is constellated, the more powerful will be its fascination, and the resultant religious statements will formulate it accordingly, as something 'daemonic' or 'divine."' (p. 151)

There can be no doubt that it was this dynamism of the archetypes that captured Jung's deepest attention when he studied the Trinity, as it almost invariably did no matter what the topic. It is not history in terms of actual events and places that interested him, but history inasmuch as it revealed the play of the archetypes. So he will speak of "the unhistorical character of the Gospels, whose only concern was to represent the miraculous figure of Christ as graphically and impressively as possible... At a very early stage, therefore, the real hat Christ vanished behind the emotions and projections t swarmed about him from far and near; immediately and almost without a trace he was absorbed into the surrounding religious systems and moulded into their archetypal exponent." (p. 153-154)

Is this really good history, or is it an outdated 19th century liberal Protestant version of history, or more to the point, a version of history that reflects Jung's own psychological viewpoint? If we take up Jung's archetypal perspective, the question of Christ becomes "what it was in man that was stirred by the Christian message, and what was the answer he gave." (p. 154) In short, we cannot ask about Christ himself or his message, but rather man and his reception of it. And to answer this kind of question we have to examine the various layers of Christ-symbolism "and compare this material with the archetypal content of the unconscious psyche in order to find out what archetypes have been constellated." (p. 154) Then we see in Christ's life various mythological motifs which lead us to the archetype of the self, the "psychic totality of the individual", which cannot be distinguished from the God-image. Then Jung concludes, "it was this archetype of the self in the soul of every man that responded to the Christian message, with the result that the concrete Rabbi Jesus was rapidly assimilated by the constellated archetypes. In this way Christ realized the idea of the self." (p. 156)

Once we view Christ in this way the rest of Jung's psychological-religious reflections fall into place. Self-realization becomes God's incarnation, which on the human level is individuation. Revelation becomes an unconscious reflection on the "autonomous functioning of the unconscious". (p. 163) And Jung, sensitive to the charge he is reducing religion "to 'nothing but' psychology" insists his topic "...is not a question of God at all, but of man's ideas of God." (p. 163, note 16)

But once Jung views Christ and the Trinity from the point of view of the symbolism of the self he has to ask himself how well they express the underlying archetypes. This leads him to conclude that the all good Trinity is incomplete and in need of a fourth which would be evil or the devil, and the all masculine Godhead is in need of a feminine fourth which would be the Blessed Virgin Mary assumed into heaven and endowed with the dignity of the fourth person. But while Jung legitimately reflects on "man's ideas of God", he also betrays again his ambivalence about theology, wanting it to justify itself at the court of psychology. He thinks it a logical step to go from trinity to quaternity, but finds the resistance of the Church Fathers to such a move "very odd." (p. 170) But it is not really odd at all from the perspective of the Fathers, for the Trinity to them is not "man's ideas of God" but God's revelation of his inner life which they received through Christ and his apostles and are determined to pass on unaltered. In the same way, Jung has little patience with Christian explanation of evil in terms of the privation of good or privatio boni. He feels that evil is as real as good, as experience shows, and he looks at the privatio boni as theological slight of hand to make evil vanish. "Biblical tradition" he asserts in regard to the origin of evil, "leaves us very much in the dark on this point, and it is only too obvious why the old theologians were in no particular hurry to enlighten us. In a monotheistic religion everything that goes against God can only be traced back to God himself." (p. 169)

The stage is now set for Jung's Answer to Job. Here Jung will consciously and deliberately let his feelings about Christianity out and we can get a clearer idea of his views. Jung does not beat around the bush in stating his central theme. Christianity is "dualistic", and if it claims to be a monotheism, then the opposites must be contained in God. (C.W. Vol. 11, p. 358) In God, insight goes together with obtuseness, and "loving-kindness along with cruelty." The coexistence of these opposites means God is unconscious or just feebly conscious. Both good and evil exist in God so He is a "totality of inner opposites", and God "does not care a rap for any moral opinion and does not recognize any form of ethics as binding." (p. 369) If a man had acted like God, we would have told him to pull himself together and not act like a "senseless savage." (p. 371) The upshot is that God needs man. He is "too unconscious to be moral." (p. 372) And it is man who will lead God to become conscious of himself.

Why does God maltreat Job? It is because Job has a "somewhat keener consciousness based on self-reflection... an infinitely small yet more concentrated light." (p. 375-376) Job had a "superior knowledge of God which God himself did not possess." So God is brutalizing Job so he won't have to face his own unconsciousness. In some fashion, God is "less than human" (p. 383), and is upset if men think about him. Job is faced with "an unconscious nature god", (p. 385) "an amoral force of Nature, a purely phenomenal personality that cannot see its own back." (p. 385) Jung's conclusion: "the paragon of all creation is not a man but a monster!" (p. 395)

Jung has certainly lived up to his promise to vent his feelings. But what can we make of the portrait of God that he draws? If we take Jung at his word that, despite his way of expressing himself, he is not speaking theologically, then the first interpretation we arrive at is that Jung is describing man's primitive conception of God that is reflected in large parts of the Old Testament. In a state of moral undevelopment and unconsciousness men and women would receive any knowledge of God, no matter how sublime, according to their own capacities. Therefore, they would conceive of a God who was unconscious and morally primitive, for whom might was right and ethics not binding, because this was the state they existed in and projected on God. The evolution that we see in the Old Testament is not the evolution of God's moral consciousness, but man's, and God's self-revelation is a slow gradual process, not because God has to get his act together and stop being a savage, but because men and women are on a slow pilgrimage towards a genuine personal morality, and they tend to interpret everything according to the level they are currently at.

Why doesn't Jung frame his explanation along these lines, for it would certainly fit his contention that we know the god-image in man and not God himself? The answer lies in Jung's need to express his feelings about God, to answer "injustice with injustice", and the injustice he feels is as much his own as Job's. Jung suffered the revelation of the opposites in God in his own childhood and now he is letting these feelings out.

We have only to recall Jung's account of his early years in Memories, Dreams, Reflections to find the source of these feelings about God. It was the Lord Jesus who became associated with the men in frock coats and shiny black shoes who assisted at burials where the Lord Jesus took people to himself. Thus the conventional Jesus had a dark side which found a counterpart in the terrible "Jesuit" and the man eater on his underground throne, and Jung had to ponder whether "the dark Lord Jesus, the Jesuit and the phallus were identical." (p. 12) So Christianity always contained for Jung this dark side which reappeared by way of compensation whenever someone presented Christian beliefs: "Lord Jesus never became quite real for me, never quite acceptable, never quite lovable, for again and again I would think of his underground counterpart, a frightful revelation which had been accorded me without my seeking it." (p. 13)

Thus Jung experienced from his earliest years how ambivalent the god-image could be in the human psyche. This god-image was received and conditioned by the polarity of opposites that exists in the unconscious and, in fact, it was the unconscious itself, known through the archetypal images, that becomes for Jung the functional equivalent of God. And when he vents his feelings in Answer to Job we can sense that he has made contact with his childhood emotions of fear and terror and isolation that his experience of "God" plunged him into. He is Job beset by the whirlwind and the same phenomenon that he described objectively under the heading of the unconscious, and its workings now finds expression in an outpouring of subjective feelings.

Therefore, it would be rather useless for Christian believers to imagine that they ought to take Jung's religious formulations and the feelings that accompany them as reflections about what God is like in himself. Such a God would indeed be a monster, not to mention being metaphysically and theological untenable. This kind of God, if it actually existed, would be worse than no God at all, but this is not the God presented by either metaphysics or faith. The only way to read Jung's ideas on the godhead are in a psychological register as a description of the unconscious, and these descriptions can be extremely valuable to the theologian if he or she can see in them how even theological formulations based on revelation are received and conditioned, limited and sometimes distorted by the unconscious and its structures and dynamism.

Here we have reached the starting point of an interactive approach in which theology and Jung's psychology can meet. But Jung's feelings about Christianity which can easily constellate negative feelings in Christians have to be squarely faced, and once we have dealt with them we can pursue the possibility of dialogue. The god that Jung is talking about in Answer to Job undergoes transformations, the chief of which is the Incarnation. This is proceeded by apocalyptic communications that point to "metaphysical acts of cognition, that is, to 'constellated' unconscious contents which are ready to irrupt into consciousness." (p. 403) God must raise his moral consciousness by acknowledging the moral superiority of Job. God has to advance by becoming human and by differentiating his consciousness.

In this process the archetypes are constellated, and one of them takes possession of Christ and determines his fate. He must die in "reparation for the wrong done to Job." (p. 410) This incarnational transformation turns God into the highest good, the loving father in heaven, and is accompanied by the privatio boni. But where does God's evil side go? It is still being expressed by the killing of his own son. God must be "appeased by human sacrifice." (p. 430)

This portrait of the Incarnation is, at first glance, a serious obstacle to Jungian-Christian dialogue. Once again Jung will fall back on his qualifier: "I am not talking of God himself, but the god-image in man." But while this might be his objective position, via his outraged feelings we pick up another message which seems to say, "This God you Christians talk about is really not like you imagine him to be. All your pious talk cannot cloak the fact that you know very little about him. I might not have faith, but I know him, for I have experienced him from my earliest years and have seen his dark side, so don't expect me to have any patience with the privatio boni."

But is the God that Jung experienced really the God that Christians believe in and worship? I don't think he is. The Christian perspective of faith was closed to Jung and his "knowledge", instead of "faith", was no workable substitute. Deeply isolated as a child by his inner experiences, he is affronted by the apparent superficiality of Christians and wants to shatter their complacency by letting them come face to face with the savage God of light and darkness. But in final analysis, what Jung knows through his inner experiences and what Christians know by faith are two different things. It would never occur to Jung to pray to his God, still less to worship him. This God is no different than the unconscious itself which is its scientific name, and the means to relate to him and bring about his transformation are the ways in which we must strive to achieve wholeness.

Christians, naturally, would not have any inclination to pray to such a God either, and the acceptance of such a deity would mean the destruction of Christianity and the use of the remaining fragments as a collection of symbols with which to illustrate Jung's psychology. Jung has no sense of classical metaphysics or of theology. His Answer to Job is much more a response to the emotional traumas of his own childhood and the deficiencies of his Christian upbringing than anything else. He draws from Scripture what he has already experienced. He systematically takes the deficient human formulations of God in the course of history and fashions them into an image of God to match his own. This picture tells us much more about the dynamics of the human psyche than it does about God.

How does Jung's God look from a Christian point of view? Here is God which must learn morality from man - a savage, unconscious God persecuting poor Job, killing his own son to make up for it, blundering about, without the wits to stop listening to Satan. Who would adore such a God? And if this view of God were an intrinsic part of Jungian psychology, then the dialogue between analytical psychology and Christianity would be in deep trouble. It is here that we have to take Jung at his word, despite how difficult he makes it for us to do so. All this is not theology and it is not meant to be theology. Jung's religious remarks are limited by his empirical method to the images that arise in the psyche and the hypotheses that are created to explain them. Answer to Job tells us much more about Jung's psyche and our own than about God's.

But does this mean that Jung's writings on Christianity have no interest for Christians and can say nothing to theologians? While it is difficult for the Christian not to be affected by the tone that pervades Jung's religious works, there is something very important to be learned from them. The psyche of the believer conditions and effects what he receives, even when what he is receiving is a divine revelation. This process is well illustrated when Jung analyzes the Book of Revelation in his study of Job. Leaving aside exegetical problems and the question of inspiration, let us look at the process Jung describes.

Jung identifies the author of the Apocalypse with the author of the epistle of John. The doctrine of light and love is so pronounced that the author "runs the risk of disassociation." (p. 435) "Under these circumstances," Jung continues, "a counterposition is bound to grow up in the unconscious, which can then irrupt in the form of revelation." (p. 435) Therefore, the Apocalypse becomes a compensation to the conscious emphasis on light and love: "This apocalyptic 'Christ' behaves rather like a bad-tempered, power conscious 'boss' who very much resembles the 'shadow' of a love-preaching bishop... In all this I see less a metaphysical mystery than the outburst of long pent-up negative feelings such as can frequently be observed in people who strive for perfection." (p. 436-438)

This is a clear presentation of Jung's principle of compensation which can be of great importance for theology. It is a basic law of the psyche that Jung learned through his own personal experience when he struggled against the "unforgivable sin," a struggle brought on as a child when he was overwhelmed by the beauty of the cathedral roof sparkling in the sunlight and thought: "The world is beautiful and church is beautiful, and God made all this and sits above it far away in the blue sky on a golden throne and..." (Memories, Dreams, Reflections p. 36) This beauty provoked a compensatory reaction that Jung fought against and finally succumbed to, compelled by God, he felt, to think the unthinkable, which in this case was a giant turd falling from God's throne and smashing the cathedral roof.

Lest we imagine that such experiences have nothing to do with Christians, it is well to recall a similar passage in John of the Cross in which he describes one of the temptations that bars the road that leads to divine union: "At other times, the blasphemous spirit is added; it commingles intolerable blasphemies with all their thoughts and ideas. Sometimes these blasphemies are so strongly suggested to the imagination that the soul is almost made to pronounce them, which is a grave torment to it." (The Dark Night, Book 1, Ch. 14, p. 328)

St. John's words point to experiences like Jung's which are rather common once we are sensitized to them. I remember a meeting of priests who were having a discussion about the growing need of more lay involvement in the church and the lay people's desire to share in the power to make decisions. One of the pastors, grown old in the service of his people, and no doubt taking these developments as a personal threat or criticism, jumped to his feet and raised his arm in a gesture which was a cross between a black power salute and the sign for the ultimate American obscenity, and shouted, "What the people need is the strong arm of God!" His fellow priests calmed him, and I think they instinctively understood his outburst. Their long perseverance in difficult jobs had made the existence of compensatory emotions known to them, even if their mechanism remained obscure.

Let's go forward and apply this principle to the Jungian-Christian dialogue. While theology cannot accept the constellation of the contents of the unconscious as identical to revelation, it could learn to appreciate the concrete psyche that receives this revelation and shapes it. This is not a matter of transforming Trinity into Quaternity, but realizing that revelation is received in an archetypally conditioned psyche, and so the expression of dogma will be effected by this reception. Whatever is received is received according to the mode of the recipient, the ancients used to say. What happens when the doctrine of the Trinity is received by a human psyche that is always striving for wholeness? The more we consciously - and erroneously - conceive of the Trinity as masculine, the more we will provoke an unconscious counterforce that will try to balance this one-sidedness with the feminine figure of the Blessed Virgin. Once we become aware of this possibility, it gives us another vantage point from which to examine the question of the development of dogma. We can be psycho-theologians, if you will, and be sensitized to the nuances of the development of Marian dogma and the popular devotions that have accompanied it. Theologically, the Trinity is no more masculine than feminine for the simple reason that God has no body. The person of the Word is therefore neither masculine nor feminine, either. Nor has Mary ever been or could ever be raised to the God-head to turn the Trinity into a Quaternity. This is an impossibility theologically because it would mean confusing the human with the divine. But is it not possible, and indeed reasonable to suppose that Christians can be inclined by the very nature of the archetypes to develop or amplify the doctrine of the Trinity in certain ways that have more to do with striving for psychological wholeness than with the unfolding of revelation? And when the archetypally driven psyche begins to overshadow the revelation it is receiving, then we tend to find cases in which the Blessed Virgin is indeed raised to something approaching divine status. In essence, Jung's reflections on Christianity can open up new paths for the theologian to explore under the heading of the archetypal conditioning of dogma.



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