Jungian and Catholic?

Chapter 9: Jesus and the Unconscious


We saw that for Jung Jesus disappeared under the weight of the constellated archetypes. He became a carrier of the self and his own personality was obscured. This is too limited a perspective for any genuine Christian-Jungian conversation, for there is no room for philosophy or faith and theology to make their contributions. What I would like to do is to take another approach that I hope will illustrate the interactive approach that I have been advocating all along. But it will be just a sketch rather than a full blown Christology profiting from the insights drawn from Jung's psychology.

Jacques Maritain, as we saw previously, developed the notion of a spiritual unconscious, and towards the end of his life, when he was in his eighties, he applied this idea to the Christology of Thomas Aquinas and eventually wrote one of his last books, On the Grace and Humanity of Jesus. St. Thomas, basing himself on texts like one in the Gospel according to St. John that declared Jesus was the only begotten of the Father full of grace and truth, had come to the conclusion that the grace that was in Jesus' human nature in virtue of it being the humanity of the Word, the second person of the Trinity, had a fullness that could not increase. (p. 50) But Maritain, devoted Thomist though he was, felt that this position was too unilateral and undeveloped, for what did St. Luke mean when he wrote that Jesus "grew in wisdom, in age, and in grace"? And this problem was no mere scholastic quibble, but involves the very way in which we think about Jesus and relate to him. If Jesus was truly God, was he always conscious of this fact? Dazzled by the sublimity of the union of the human nature with the divine, and limited by a view of human personality that tended to equate it with ego consciousness, theologians imagined that the humanity of Jesus and hence his ego-consciousness were filled with grace and the vision of God. When this tendency was carried to an extreme we arrive back at the apocryphal Gospels in which the child Jesus was aware of his divine prerogatives and stood on his divine dignity against the mishaps of childhood by punishing those who dared to offend him. In short, the fact of the Incarnation inclines us to imagine that Jesus always had a consciousness flooded with divine light. But if we accept this approach too uncritically his humanity is diminished and he is, as Maritain put it, a "god disguised" and not truly a man.

But what happens if we take the opposite course? Then we see Jesus as a man who had no awareness of the fact that he was God, as if the most central fact of his personality - literally, his very personality in strict dogmatic terms -was unknown to him. Then he is truly a man but he is close to being only a man. How could he actually be the Word of God and not know it?

This is the dilemma which Maritain sets out to solve, and the way he proceeds is highly instructive. Maritain was no real fan of depth psychology as he knew it, which was primarily in its Freudian form. It was wielded much too reductively and with the unconscious identified with what he later called the deaf or instinctive unconscious in the first decades of the century for him to be comfortable with it. Nor do I think he had much personal experience of its efficacy or a sense of the , wider philosophical implications of Jung's later formulations. Yet he realized that the psychological discovery of the unconscious was one of the greatest advances of our age, and he reflected upon it as a philosopher. This reflection bore fruit in his description of the preconscious or unconscious of the spirit. Thus a psychological discovery is transformed into a philosophical instrument which is then applied to the revealed truth of the Incarnation.

Once we have this instrument our dilemma begins to look more approachable. The human personality of Jesus is not limited to ego consciousness with the result that we are forced to choose either that Jesus was aware, or he was unaware of his divinity, or he was filled with grace, or was not. Instead, Maritain distinguishes in the humanity of Jesus between a "supraconscious of the spirit divinized by the Beatific Vision" (p. 55) and a human consciousness that embraces the ego, the infraconscious and the normal spiritual unconscious. This divinized supraconscious is unique to Christ and is not to be identified with the spiritual unconscious we all possess. Rather it is as if the deepest center or roots of Jesus' human soul, his spiritual unconscious, is transformed and elevated by becoming the humanity of the Word. This supraconscious escapes Jesus' normal consciousness, not because it is infraconscious but because of its excessive brilliance:

"Imagine that I am in a cellar and I am reading there a book by the light of a candle. To my left, beyond the circle of light of my candle, there is the darkness of the cellar, and if I place my book there I cannot distinguish anything in it, - this is for the infraconscious. And to my right there is a ray of the midday sun which, passing through a window and falling on the surface of some object in the cellar, makes there a zone of dazzling light. If I transfer my book there I can absolutely not read anything there either, I am dazzled by a brightness disproportionate to the strength of my eyes. This is for the divinized supraconscious." (p. 55, note 8)

Jesus' consciousness exists in two different states. In his divinized supraconsciousness he was aware of his divine identity and he had a fullness of grace. But in what Maritain called his "terrestrial" or "crepuscular" consciousness into which the higher supraconceptual knowledge could not enter as such, he grew in age and in wisdom and in grace. This does not mean for Maritain that the "unconscious" of the divinized humanity of Jesus had no communication whatsoever with his human consciousness; although there was a "certain incommunicability" the separation between the two was a "translucid partition" which Jesus in his human consciousness could cross, but his supraconsciousness could only partially enter into a human consciousness founded on the working of the discursive mind. It is not a question of two ego consciousnesses, but one ego-awareness surrounded by various "unconscious" dimensions, and the divinized unconscious has more right to the title of the center of the soul than the ego itself. Maritain goes on to work out in considerable d tail and with appropriate theological nuances the relationship between these two states of consciousness, but his basic statement of the principle is enough for our purposes. Such an approach will allow us to begin to see how Jesus could feel the agony of abandonment if the supraconsciousness in which he was united to the Father became inaccessible to him at the time of the Passion. And there is no need to make the child Jesus in his child consciousness have all sorts of human knowledge so that his life with Mary and Joseph would be more a charade than a true time of learning. While the different states of consciousness in Jesus represent a unique case, we can find certain analogies in the form of "examples from below" among which Maritain cites Fr. Surin, the troubled French contemplative of the 17th century, "whose intellect found itself at once under a state of mystical union that was most lofty and under a state of psychosis..." (p. 80) With this example we have rejoined the reflections of the previous chapter on how the archetypal psyche can influence the spiritual life of the individual and even have an impact on the development of dogma.

In the case of Jesus, however, the fruits of psychology are brought into theology itself in order to help us explore the inner awareness of Jesus. Maritain has opened up a way for us by which to tackle one of the central questions of Christology, and if instead of Maritain's view of the unconscious of the psychologists we substitute Jung's psychoid unconscious, then our task will become both easier and richer. Instead of trying to replace dogma with the world of the archetypes, it is within the humanity of Jesus that the Trinity and the archetypal psyche meet. The more we understand Jung's psychoid unconscious the more we can pose questions of the greatest interest for understanding the Incarnation. Let's explore two possibilities.

The first centers around the human soul or form and its intrinsic inclination to unity. The very nature of the human soul moves us toward wholeness which happens within and without and on different ontological levels. On the psychological plane, this quest for wholeness expresses itself within in the process of individuation and the variety of different types without. On a metaphysical level, the very "weakness" of the human form is at the heart of its multiplicity, and its self -realization demands matter and space and time all within the context of the human community. But what will happen if the human form becomes the human soul of a divine person? It will be, by that very fact, elevated and transformed in its depths which Maritain called the superconscious of the spirit, the light and gravitational pull of which will effect the rest of Jesus' psyche. The natural urge towards unity that the soul possesses will be intensified. Jesus in some mysterious way will become the new center of humanity with his very humanity becoming the connatural instrument by which we are attracted to God. His divinized supraconscious will become the model for our own inner transformation and contemplation. If in our first parents the unity of the human race existed in embryo, a unity that was not only of a natural order but one of grace as well, then in Jesus this unity is reestablished. Then we look to Jesus to see what we ought to become, and any examination of his inner personality and its dimensions of infraconscious, preconscious and divinized supraconscious will find its counterparts by participation in us.

This brings us to our second consideration. If Jesus was truly human what was his personality like? Was he a certain body and psychological type? And if he was a certain type did he have a fourth function? And if he had a fourth function did it have the inferior character that we are so used to or must we make a distinction between inferiority and lack of development? Did original sin impose on us a certain lack of integration that goes beyond the scope of normal development so that Jesus could develop without the negative qualities and the outbursts we associate with the fourth function?

How did Jesus experience the process of individuation? What would his dream life be like? What symbols swirled through his unconscious under the attraction of the divinized center of his soul? If his human soul reached a new intensity because of its elevation as the humanity of the Word, then would it have been the center of more powerful synchronistic events? Could Jung's notion of synchronicity undergo philosophical reflection and become an instrument for exploring the kinds of knowledge that Jesus had? All these suggestions - and they are only suggestions - are but the beginning of a process that would happen if Jung's psychology were applied to the study of the humanity of Jesus. Every major element could be a stimulus to the development of a renewed philosophy of nature which in turn could find a properly theological application. And one of the more promising fields for such an interactive approach is the Christian interior life which mirrors the life of Jesus.



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