Jungian and Catholic?

Chapter 8: Archetypes and the Development of Dogma


The development of a critical historical sense among theologians is one of the major theological achievements of the 20th century. Instead of the Scriptures being viewed as a monolithic body of revealed truths in which the human recipient plays a passive role like a scribe recording a divine message, we now have a much more nuanced view of the roles that culture, language, literary forms and history play in the shaping of this divine message. This kind of perception, in fact, has become so wide-spread that it would not even have to be mentioned except that it illustrates a type of shift of awareness that makes us say afterwards: "But how could we have ever thought otherwise?"

Well, there is another shift of awareness, another revolution of consciousness, of equal magnitude that has not yet taken place. This new awareness is a perception of how the archetypal nature of the psyche conditions the reception of revelation and its unfolding in history. It is not opposed to historical awareness, but is complementary to it. It was this archetypal conditioning that Jung was drawing attention to in his book on psychological types when he discussed the problem of universals. If we read his explanation as philosophy or the history of philosophy, we are going to become annoyed like Hostie was. But if we read this explanation as an exploration of the basic psychic structures that influence philosophical thought, then we will be close to grasping how these same structures can influence the development of dogma.

Immediately, the problem of Jung's understanding of philosophy and theology raises its head once again. If whatever we know is conditioned by psyche and its archetypes in a quasi-Kantian sense, then it is fruitless to talk about the reception of revelation in this archetypal psyche, for any object of knowledge, while it may actually exist, remains unknowable in itself. Such a perspective is irreconcilable with Christian faith.

Christians believe in the objectivity of revelation, but this objectivity was seized upon in the past in an absolutist fashion that minimized the human role. In compensation, the development of a historical sense in theology in the 19th century was tempted to use history in a reductive fashion and explain away the Christian mysteries. A similar danger arises when we apply this psychological critical awareness to the study of revealed truths. It can be wielded in a destructive way, which makes dogma and its development simply the projection and transformation of the archetypes.

If we examine this kind of interaction between revelation and the psyche attentively, we might even be able to formulate a principle governing it: the further we are removed from the actual reception of revelation, the more the archetypally conditioned psyche will shape its development. This inverse law is illustrated when we compare the sobriety and circumspection of the Gospels with the indulgence in imagination found in the apocryphal Gospels which succumb to the very human desire to fill in the gaps in the life of Jesus. So we see him make inanimate objects come alive, punishing disrespectful playmates, and so forth. There is also a strong contrast between the writing of the Fathers and those of the Gnostics, for the Fathers have little of the psychological luxuriance of images found in the gnostic writings. Even within the canon of the New Testament we find a gradient between the synoptic Gospels and the Apocalypse. Let us say that there are varying degrees to which the archetypes condition and dominate the material they are receiving. While, undoubtedly, there is an archetypal foundation to the infancy narrative of the Gospel of Luke, it is nowhere near as evident as in the apocryphal literature that grew up around it. If we see Luke closer to the source experience, then the apocryphal literature functions like a meditation on it that will embroider it and sometimes let the Christian revelation become covered over with the "revelation" coming from the archetypes.

These varying mixtures of revelation and archetypes help explain the predilections of analytical psychologists. They will be drawn to those writings in which the archetypes show themselves more strongly, to the Gnostics more than the Fathers, and to the visions of Ignatius Loyola more that the dark night of John of the Cross. And they cannot be expected to differentiate between one class of religious material and another, for all are viewed, according to their methodological principles, from the point of view of psychic images. The theologian, in contrast, clearly distinguishes between the content of faith and the halo of images and personal expressions that gather around it. Therefore, personal revelations are judged in the light of the normative revelation of Christ, and never become part of that revelation.

Keeping in mind this interaction between revelation and the archetypes, theologians could review the history of dogma and attempt to weigh the effect of archetypes on the development of dogma. Any one-sided perception of dogma, for example, viewing the Trinity as masculine, will call forth a compensating movement. One-sided perception makes energy flow from the conscious into the unconscious and intensifies the attractive power of the archetypes. An overly masculine view of God calls forth an increase of emphasis on Marian devotion. But since the forces at play are archetypal forces which are still unconscious, the arena of the development of dogma becomes the place where they will try to express themselves. From a theological point of view, it is possible to conceive of a situation where a genuine development of doctrine like the proclamation of the Immaculate Conception or the Assumption is influenced by this archetypal background. This would lead to another way to examine the claims of some theologians of the 19th century who said that while the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception was true, it was not opportune to declare it a dogma.

If it is possible to trace in the sphere of dogma the influence of hidden archetypal centers of gravity, their influence at lower levels should be even more evident. Jung, for example, describes the archetype of the Great Mother, and one of his most creative followers, Erich Neumann, devotes a whole volume to exploring its manifold symbolism. Could not this archetype influence Mother Church when it comes to issues like celibacy, the dressing of priests in cassocks, the cropping of the hair of men and women religious and a widespread authoritarianism that often gives rise to psychological immaturity? Again, the problem unfolds on different levels. The issue of celibacy hinges on an understanding of Jesus' words in the New Testament, as well as a variety of historical and cultural factors. But we also have to include among these factors the archetypal psyche. If one aspect of the Great Mother archetype is its possessive and devouring qualities, its unconscious inertia by which it tends to hold back the individual from achieving his or her own developed consciousness and maturity, then the Church has to distinguish the spiritual call to celibacy from the impulses that emanate from the archetypes.

What I am suggesting is that it might someday become as common to look at the archetypal conditions that effect theology as it is to examine cultural and historical factors. Jung has described in detail the archetypes he called the anima and the animus, the anima being the feminine dimension in men and the animus being the masculine dimension in women. These archetypes and their activity are, from a Jungian point of view, very well attested and documented realities. They play an extraordinarily important role not only in the psychological development of the individual, but in relationships between men and women, especially romantic ones.

But the role of the anima or the animus is not restricted to people called to the state of marriage. Even in the cases of men and women with genuine vocations to religious life and the celibate priesthood, the anima and animus will be operative. And in the case of mandatory celibacy anima problems will tend to be more acute. In the best of situations men have difficulty in coming into fruitful contact with their own inner femininity which is often expressed by the function of feeling, and this anima is the gateway to the deeper levels of the unconscious.

Let's imagine the case of a man who by both innate temperament and environmental influences has developed the conscious masculine side of his personality connected to the function of thinking. This development often exhibits a one-sided character so that there is a split in the psyche between masculine and feminine, thinking and feeling. Yet the anima is a living, dynamic factor or center of activity which calls out to consciousness and attracts it by a certain invisible magnetism and with whispered promises of wholeness that grow all the stronger for being ignored. Now let us further suppose that this man decides to become a Latin-rite priest which includes a mandatory requirement for celibacy. The critical point will be whether he has a dual calling and vocation to the priesthood and to celibacy, for they are two different things, and the Catholic Church has always had married priests in the Eastern rites. Even if our aspiring priest has both these callings, there is still an archetypal level of the problem to consider. He still has an anima and will be affected by it whether he is conscious of it or not. If he identifies his need of circumspection in relationship to women with an attempt to stay aloof from the woman within, he is setting the stage for increasing personal difficulties. If the anima is the gateway to the unconscious and a vital stage in the process of individuation, then a legitimate prudence in his dealing with women can be mistakenly converted into a resistance and defensiveness to the feminine dimension of his own personality. This can reek havoc in his own psychological development and via projection affect his ability to minister to women and his understanding of the role they should play in the Church.

There are many permutations possible on this basic theme. There are men and women with genuine vocations to celibacy who hear these inner archetypal callings and unduly trouble themselves by translating them into questions about their vocation instead of a call to inner development. Or there are men who would make good priests but have no gift for celibacy and live lives made much more difficult by the rules against outer relationships and a lack of knowledge about the possibility of inner relationships, and so forth.

The anima can play a role in the Church at an institutional level, as well. When the Church is exclusively led by men, and celibate men at that, there can be an accumulation of various anima problems that create an atmosphere in which the feminine, both within and without, is misunderstood. A split from the feminine or fear of the feminine will affect theological discussions about genuine power sharing with women in the Church, the all male priesthood, etc. Naturally, women are not immune to these kind of problems. We have only to think of the conditions that existed in many convents in the years before the Vatican Council to see that these women were not given the chance to really think for themselves, and the result was a harmful psychological immaturity and a pent-up thirst for a deeper and fuller life.

We have gotten away from more dogmatic considerations, which we will return to in a moment, but the basic principles underlying both the personal and the dogmatic are the same, and the personal is sometimes easier to grasp. But let's return to dogma. It is possible to frame various Jungian style interpretations of original sin. Original sin, for example, can be understood as the emergence of ego-consciousness from the depths of the maternal waters of the unconscious. And this separation from the primeval undifferentiated paradise is filled with feelings of guilt and loss and so is called original sin. While such an explanation has a good deal of psychological validity because it is based on the emergence of the individual ego from the unconscious, it cannot be transposed and advanced as a properly theological explanation. According to Christian faith, original sin involves some kind of actual sin on the part of our first parents from which we suffer the tragic consequences. In fact, there can be no minimizing of the reality of original sin and its aftermath, because then it becomes extremely difficult to make sense of Jesus' redemptive death. What is Jesus redeeming us from if not the tragedy of sin and evil? Far from shirking the question of evil, theology has been accused of being obsessed with it and, in this instance, a purely Jungian explanation of original sin does not really deal with evil itself.

But our interactive approach warns us against thinking that Jung's psychology has nothing to offer. The theological dilemma of original sin is in understanding how it could be our sin if we did not commit it. Without attempting a fully developed answer, let me just indicate one possible approach that depends in part on psychological insight. The unity of the human race is much greater than we imagine. The philosophical foundation of this unity in terms of the nature of the human form or soul was hinted at in some of the considerations of Part II. If we understand how much we are one human family, then we are a step closer to understanding how the actions of parents vitally effect their children. From a theological point of view original sin caused a loss of grace and this loss, because it had been the loss of a gratuitous supernatural gift to our first parents, could not be repaired by their own efforts. They suffered a fundamental lack of integration, for they were called to God's friendship and turned from it. Jung's psychology can complement this theological perspective by allowing us to see how, on the psychological plane, the lack of integration of one generation is passed on to the next.

An attentive examination of our own psyches will allow us to see how the successes and failures of our parents have become deeply imprinted on them. From a negative point of view their failures to achieve integration become our own, and while this could never be a completely adequate explanation of original sin, it can serve as a model for properly philosophical and theological models which together would allow us to try to frame a more complete explanation for the broken world we observe all around us.

The more or less general explanations of these last two chapters put us in a position to consider some common objections that Jungian psychology has about Christianity, and then go on in the next chapter to try to fulfill the promise of using a philosophical reflection on Jung's psychology, together with the light of faith, to explore the mysteries of faith. It has been a generally accepted axiom in Jungian psychology that dogma is somehow an obstacle to personal religious experience. This can certainly be the case if someone consciously or unconsciously tries to shield themselves from their own interior life by clinging to outer observances, but it cannot be elevated to a universal principle.

John of the Cross, one of the Church's greatest mystical doctors and someone who spoke from experience is a good test case. A careful examination of his writings reveals no antipathy to dogma but quite the opposite. For St. John, like the whole Catholic tradition before him, faith did not end in words but in the revealed mysteries themselves, and the words of Scripture and the carefully elaborated pronouncements of the Church Councils were privileged windows that, far from reflecting just the psyche itself, opened up onto infinite vistas. No matter how much a contemplative like John of the Cross was aware that the mystery of God transcended any word and how necessary it was to go by darkness, this awareness was never translated into a rejection of dogma. There was simply no need to, for concepts ministered to our human nature and the limitations of our intellects and at their best they were mediators of the mystery they tried to communicate. In St. John lyrical poetry and philosophical and theological elaboration went together in his attempts express his experiences, all under the guidance of faith.

We should look at another and final objection that can be raised by Jungian psychology about Christianity. How can Christians cling to their revelation as something unique when it is clear that similar manifestations of the archetypes have appeared all through history? Isn't the death and resurrection of Jesus, for example, just another case of a dying and resurrecting god? It is legitimate to find an archetypal foundation to Christianity. If it did not have it it could be rightly accused of being inhuman and inaccessible to the very men and women it is directed to. So Christianity ought to have strong archetypal resonances; it ought to be strongly rooted in the soul and therefore cannot ignore its fundamental structures and dynamism. But once we have said this we do not have to continue on and say that Christianity is nothing more than another expression of the same reality that was expressed in the myth of Tammuz or Osiris. The issue becomes not the archetypal similarities involved, but whether Jesus lived and died and rose again, not just in myth but in actual fact. A genuine advance in Christology would be a marriage between a keen appreciation of the archetypal psyche, philosophical reflection on it, and its application to the best of traditional Christology.



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