St. John of the Cross and Dr. C.G. Jung


Chapter 1: Individuation


A Russian Olympic sailing champion once declared that his success lay in his ability to see the wind in the form of colors. If that were true and not simply a way to discomfit his rivals, it is not much stranger than the special gift of C.G. Jung. Jung could perceive things existing beyond the spectrum of ordinary awareness in a realm he called the unconscious. Just how visible this unconscious was to him was never fully apparent until the publication of his Memories, Dreams, Reflections. In it he says: "The difference between most people and myself is that for me the 'dividing walls' are transparent. That is my peculiarity. " (1)

What we all experience as invisible psychic winds that strike our awareness in the form of feelings, fleeting premonitions and inexplicable attractions, Jung saw as vibrant images, and this ability plays a major role in his discovery and development of a natural science of the psyche. He struggled to produce a psychology which would encompass this shimmering interior world and try to come to grips with questions of meaning, religion, and God. A psychology like his shakes our sense of being experts about who we are and challenges us to a journey from ego-consciousness into the unconscious in order to find a deeper and truer self. (2)


Carl Gustav Jung was born in Switzerland near Lake Constance in 1875. His father was a clergyman in the Swiss Reformed Church, and his early childhood was deeply influenced not only by his religious upbringing but by powerful inner experiences. He developed a strong interest in the natural sciences, and decided to become a doctor, but just at the completion of his studies he discovered psychiatry and found in it a way to combine his scientific interests and his fascination with the inner world revealed him in his youth.

Early in his professional career he became acquainted with Freud's work and went on to become a highly regarded member of the psychoanalytic movement. By 1913 had grown away from Freud to such a degree that a break became inevitable. He plunged into his own interior world, and through it became aware that beyond consciousness there existed not only suppressed fragments from the world of the ego, but a realm that had universal and collective qualities. This confrontation eventually began to crystallize in his written works and led him to an extensive study of mythology, alchemy and religion. Jung's writings, which fill 18 volumes in his collected works, are technical and scientific elaborations of questions that arose his own life and in the lives of his patients. These researches became deeply preoccupied with religious questions, for Jung discovered that many of his mature patients did not find a solution to the problems that brought them to the consulting room until they found what he, himself, felt constrained to call a religious meaning to life. This growing awareness of the function of religion in the over-all economy of the psyche led Jung to consider various aspects of Catholic dogma like the Trinity, the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, and the Mass.


Jung's greatest achievement was to discover an inner movement towards psychic development which he called individuation. This movement, far from being a vague and random impulse towards growth, is a highly complex and organically articulated inner journey with a definite goal. Jung attempted to formulate a psychology that would do justice to the whole psyche. He saw that the ego which we tend to identify with the whole of ourselves is, in reality, just one aspect of a greater totality which is comprised of the ego and the unconscious. It is the relationship of these two realities which forms the basis of the dynamics of the psyche; if the ego is accentuated too much, the psyche is no less ill than when it is asserted too little. The journey to a proper balance between the ego and the unconscious is the process of individuation.

Jung found it contained a number of discernible stages. For example, the demands and expectations of society, as well as the natural talents and conscious dispositions of the individual, unite to form an image which he called the persona. The persona is the face or mask of the conscious personality that the world comes to see, and which the individual himself often accepts as who he is, and this most visible aspect of the personality becomes the representative of the whole. While this is a convenient, natural shorthand for dealing with people and our obligations in regard to them, if we identify our persona with our whole personality, difficulties are bound to arise. What society dislikes and what we dislike about ourselves becomes hidden and repressed and split off. The persona becomes balanced by a shadow of the unpleasant realities we refuse to admit exist in our personalities.

Another step in the inner journey is the discovery of the anima or a hidden femininity in a man, or animus, a hidden masculinity in a woman. Each of us contains within ourselves an image of the opposite sex which vitally effects how we deal with other people. Only by becoming aware of it and trying to relate to it can we channel and direct the influence it has on our lives.

The shadow, anima and animus are simply names that Jung gave to some of the different aspects of the basic process of realizing that the whole psyche is comprised of both ego and unconscious. This unconscious in its deepest sense or collective unconscious is the reservoir of what it means to be human in all its ramifications. It is the matrix of human possibilities, a shaper of human behavior, and the source of recurring patterns of images and behavior that spiral through history. The realities underlying these patterns Jung called archetypes. Archetypes are not innate ideas or images, but the unconscious psychic structures which manifest themselves through concrete images and actions. Jung posited them in an attempt to explain why similar thoughts, images, and activities are to be found in men who have no possible historical connection with each other. The figure of the anima, for example, appears in ancient myths and religions, as well as the dreams of modern men. While it takes different outer forms depending on time and culture, its inner core of meaning remains the same.

The end goal of this journey into the unconscious is to become more fully human, that is, to be related to the total psyche. As the journey goes on, the ego can no longer pretend that it is at the center of everything. It sees that vital parts of its very personality are not parts of the ego at all. It must yield to a new center which recognizes the needs of both the ego and the unconscious. Jung called this new center the self.

The recognition of this greater reality on the part of the ego is at the foundation of his understanding of the psychological meaning of religion. Not only does the ego see that it is just part of a larger whole, but it becomes aware that the unconscious precedes it and goes beyond it at every turn. The ego can no longer simply consult its limited desires and its one-sided understanding, but must develop an attitude of receptivity towards the unconscious. But this psychological sense of religion comes not only from this recognition of a reality that is bigger than the ego, but also from the feelings that come to the ego from its relationship to the unconscious. Contents of the unconscious, emerging in dreams or as projections on outer events, can evoke a feeling of numinosity: a combination of awe and deep satisfaction, as if one has finally discovered a vital part of oneself in the very act of relating to something greater.


On the practical plane Jung had discovered how crucial it was for the health of his patients to rediscover a religious point of view. This meant that the ego had to experience something beyond itself, and even submit itself to the healing powers that came from the unconscious. Thus, he could talk about a psychological cure of souls, and it was these practical considerations that fueled his interest in studying Christian dogma.

When Jung turned, late in his life, to a formal examination of certain points of Christian doctrine, it was as an extension of his previous studies of the basic process of individuation. It is not surprising, then, that he would select those points that would best illustrate how Christian doctrine embodies this psychological reality.

Towards the end of his own journey of exploration of the unconscious Jung had begun to spontaneously draw circular figures, and he instinctively felt that these drawings were important in his attempts to come to grips with the unconscious. Later he discovered similar motifs in the dreams and fantasies of his patients. At a certain point in their psychological development some sort of center appeared to be emerging in the form of a circle or square, crown, ball, four objects, etc. In 1928 when he was preoccupied with these questions, he received a Taoist alchemical treatise, The Secret of the Golden Flower. This helped him understand how universal the psychic process was, for it contained many of these same motifs.

Therefore, when Jung began to ponder the question of the Trinity, it was inevitable that he would pose the question of whether the Trinity as a psychological symbol, not as an object of faith, represented a deficient stage of psychic evolution which would have within itself an impulse towards fuller development. In essence, should the three become four, and thus be a better symbol of the self? It appeared to Jung that the image of Satan balanced the image of the all good triune God. In a similar fashion, the masculine Godhead needed to be complemented by a feminine principle. Jung greeted the proclamation of the dogma of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary into heaven with pleasure, for he felt it confirmed his own insight about the necessity of an evolution in the image of God.

The problem of evil also became subject matter for Jung's psychological approach. He felt that the doctrine of evil as the privation of good was not adequate from a psychological point of view. Evil in the psyche, he reasoned, was as real as good, and was necessary in order to define good itself. When Jung came to interpret the story of Job, he did so in terms of a deficient image of God that became more conscious in man. The god-image had to have room within itself for both good and evil. In all these cases Jung tried to make it clear that he was not presuming to talk about God Himself, but only the image of God as it exists in man. He was upset when theologians attacked him for reducing Christianity to a psychological process, and he made it clear that he did not presume to speak either as a philosopher or a theologian. Chapter Two explores this question at greater length.


The story of Jung's inner life is not simply an interesting appendix to his written works. It makes a vital contribution to understanding how his psychology was created. The whole process of the discovery of individuation started with his personal experiences of the unconscious, and these experiences are crucial for understanding the Christian context in which Jung elaborated his psychology. Jung states, "My life is the story of the self-realization of the unconscious", but it is also the story of Jung's relations to the Christian world he grew up in.

Jung was raised in a world of formal institutional religion. Not only his father, but eight of his uncles as well, were clergymen, and so be was bound to experience the almost inevitable tension between the demands of formal religious practice and the limitations of human nature. But this kind of problem is common to many people who are exposed to the human workings of religious organizations. In Jung's case they appear to have been greatly accentuated by the religious problems of his father who was caught in a desperate struggle between his role as pastor and his personal doubts about Christianity. His father's solution was to try to believe blindly and to reject any thinking about these doubts, which he felt could lead him to succumb to them. This effort at blind belief tormented him, and the whole family suffered as a result. The gloom caused by his father's struggles was compounded by the serious problems that existed in his parents' marriage. Jung associated reliability and powerlessness with his father, and unreliability with his mother who had left the home for a period during his early years. Yet there was something about his mother that hinted to him of hidden mysteries.

It was in this atmosphere of tension with its heavy overtones of his father's inefficacious will to believe that Jung had a dream that played a large role in shaping his life. It occurred when he was three or four years old, and in the dream he had descended into an underground chamber where he saw an enormous phallus on a golden throne. In his dream his mother told him, "That is the man-eater." The effect of this dream was so powerful that: "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."(3)

A world of nature, instinct, sexuality and emotion appears in compensation for the formal, dead Christianity that was destroying his father. About this same time Jung saw a Catholic priest in his cassock, and the sight terrified him. Several years later he peered into a Catholic Church and stumbled and cut himself. He had the feeling he had done something forbidden: "Jesuits - green curtain - secret of the man-eater ... So that is the Catholic Church which has to do with Jesuits. It is their fault that I stumbled and screamed."(4) Catholicism, too, with its emphasis on mystery, symbol and ritual also represented this other side.

When Jung was eleven he suffered another powerful experience which built on these earlier ones and confirmed and extended them. He was in the Cathedral square and was struck by its beauty: "The world is beautiful and the Church is beautiful, and God made all this and sits above it far away in the blue sky on a golden throne and..."(5) And then he felt that some terrible thought was on the verge of breaking through, and that he could not give into it under the pain of committing an unforgivable sin. Finally, after days of torment, he knew he had to think this terrible thought, and he came to the conclusion that God, Himself, had placed him in this predicament and wished to test him in a personal way. Finally, Jung let the thought come: "God sits on His golden throne, high above the world - and from under the throne an enormous turd falls upon the sparkling new roof, shatters it, and breaks the walls of the Cathedral asunder."(6) This thought filled him with an unutterable bliss, and through it he felt he had learned the meaning of God's grace, but if this was an experience of God, then he somehow had to understand the strange nature of God, and this burdened his youth.

What is striking about Jung's early years is how firmly he clung to the central importance of these inner events. They were accompanied by very tangible visual imagery for which he was gifted. He had a profound dislike for any kind of reasoning that detached itself from his imagination. Mathematics was a torment to him for what appeared to be its arbitrary and abstract qualities. Even drawing was an impossibility when it did not engage his imagination.

These inner visions were, in his mind, immediate experiences of God, and he sought among his schoolmates and the adults he came in contact with to find an echo of them in order to relieve the isolation and loneliness that they plunged him into. Unfortunately, there was no one he could talk to. Again and again, while listening to his father preach, or to the theological discussions of his uncles, Jung would repeat to himself: "But what about the secret? The secret is also the secret of grace. None of you know anything about that."(7) He felt he knew by experience what people were exhorted to believe in, and they certainly didn't know anything about these mysteries directly. Otherwise they never would have dared to talk about God in public.

The contrast between the world of faith and church observance and his inner religious experiences grew even sharper when his Holy Communion ceremony passed without any transformation taking place. Jung was growing up living in two different worlds. The first world of his conscious ego, which he called his number one personality, wanted to get on in the world and make something of itself. But there was also another world, a number two personality, that was connected with past centuries, nature, and "God's world", to which "belonged everything superhuman - dazzling light, the darkness of the abyss, the cold and impassivity of space and time, and the uncanny grotesqueness of the irrational world of chance."(8) In this world both nature and the devil were seen as creatures of God, and so the ultimate responsibility for forcing Jung to commit his "sin" and to learn the terrible secret about the nature of God rested with God Himself. Possessed by the secret, Jung understood that, "God was, for me at least, one of the most certain and immediate of experiences."(9)

As Jung grew older, his number one personality was attracted to science, while number two was inclined to comparative religion and archeology. But neither was satisfactory by itself, for science lacked an answer to questions of meaning, while religion lacked empiricism. The process of adjustment between the number one and number two personalities was a foreshadowing of what Jung was to call individuation which would attempt to combine science and religion, and questions of meaning with empiricism.

But there was a very real distinction, even chasm, in Jung's mind, between his inner world of religion and theology. Theology was the focus of Jung's anger and contempt as he watched his father suffer and yet could not find a way to communicate what he felt were the saving graces he had received. "Theology had alienated my father and me from one another ... I was shaken and outraged at once because I saw how hopelessly he was entrapped by the church and its theological thinking. God, Himself, had disavowed theology and the Church founded upon it."(10)

When Jung entered upon his university studies, he was attracted neither by theology nor by the prevailing scientific materialism. He found them both lacking from the point of view of his inner experience and what was already his favorite intellectual yardstick, Kant's Critique. His last-minute discovery of psychiatry allowed him to pursue a professional career without renouncing the interests of his number two personality. "Here was the empirical field common to biological and spiritual facts, which I had everywhere sought and nowhere found."(11)

With enormous single-mindedness Jung strove to master his psychiatric milieu, and his attraction to Freud and the psychoanalytic movement gave him a place in the world that suited the needs of his number one personality. Underlying, however, his university and psychiatric career were his inner religious experiences that were slowly gestating and waiting for the time when they could openly appear. When Jung broke with Freud and most of his psychoanalytic colleagues, he found himself at the midpoint of his life with family and profession, and even an international reputation, but with something vital missing. He could not articulate his own sense of the meaning of life, his own myth. He needed a way in which to break out of the confines of his conscious personality and find a new source of life. In order to overcome this impasse he turned to building miniature cities which had been a favored occupation of his childhood. He created a whole town out of little stones, and in it he built a church, but it was incomplete. One day he found a stone shaped like a four-sided pyramid, and he placed this as the altar of the church, and as he did so, he remembered his dream of the underground phallus with a sense of satisfaction.

Soon after, overcoming considerable resistances, he let himself go and began to see before his eyes strange scenes and people that lived in a world of the unconscious. He unleashed a vivid stream of images and fantasies, and exerted himself to the utmost to try to understand them and live out their implications for his life. He knew very well from his psychiatric work the dangers this involved, yet at the same time, he felt that if he did not personally undergo these experiences, he would be shirking his role as a healer of the psyche and he would never find his way to his own myth of meaning. His unique contribution to psychological science started with a personal submission to these experiences, an attempt at understanding them, and finally, a living out of their ethical implications day by day. Only then could he begin his scientific work in the more obvious sense of the word by attempting to establish the validity of these experiences for other people, and indeed, as universal psychological phenomena. Science was the way in which he could attempt to break out of the isolation and loneliness that these experiences had always caused him, for through it he could show that they were real, "and real not only as my personal experiences but as collective experiences which others also have."(12)

After he had been immersed for several years in the sea of the unconscious, he gradually began to find his bearings, and he drew a series of circular figures which he was later to call mandalas. The very act of drawing them seemed to help him gain some sort of balance. They helped him formulate the question of where these psychic experiences were leading. The very force and autonomy of these unconscious manifestations made him reluctant to try to artificially impose some sort of goal on them which would be a creation of the ego. He wanted to see the goal emerge out of the unconscious itself as a guarantee of its objectivity: "When I began drawing the mandalas, however, I saw that everything, all the paths I had been following, all the steps I had been taking, were leading back to a single point - namely, to the midpoint. It became increasingly plain to me that the mandala is the center. It is the exponent of all paths. It is the path to the center, to individuation." (13)

When Jung emerged from his confrontation with the unconscious he faced a lifetime of work in order to translate this interior experience into an objective scientific work which would be the creation of an empirical psychology that would describe this inner process of individuation. He was in a particularly difficult position of possessing his science in embryo in virtue of these experiences and his faculty of intuition, while at the same time facing the long and exacting process of articulating these insights in such a way that they could be understood by others. How difficult this task was to be can be illustrated by Jung's Psychological Types, which was his first major work after this period of inner psychic preoccupation. Though it was the fruit of many years of his own experience and those of his patients, it was criticized as if it were some theoretical conception that he had invented, a kind of intellectual parlor game.

Jung had stumbled upon what he felt to be the central process of human psychological development. But since the evidence was rooted in personal experience, he needed some way in order to circumvent the accusation that his work was simply a reflection of his own subjective limitations. In order to find this unimpeachable evidence of objectivity Jung turned to history, particularly the writings of the alchemists. In this rich but confusing welter of symbols he demonstrated that the alchemists had experienced the process of inner development that he had found in himself and in his patients: "I had very soon seen that analytical psychology coincided in a most curious way with alchemy. The experiences of the alchemists, were, in a sense, my experiences, and their world was my world."(14)

But the process of individuation was not the only parallel that existed between Jung and the alchemists. The alchemists, even though they often lived within Christendom and as faithful members of the Church, explored psychological realities through the medium of their chemical experiments, and these realities could be understood as compensations to the prevailing theological consciousness. Thus, Jung's explorations not only validated his premise of the universality of the individuation process, but they allowed him to carry on the interior debate he had taken up with theology in his youth.

Finally, when Jung in his mature years took up the question of the Trinity, or commented on the Book of Job, he was doing so out of a lifelong preoccupation with the relationship that Christianity had with his psychology. There are two aspects in the history of Jung's thought that are so closely interwoven that it is only with the greatest difficulty that we can attempt to distinguish them. The first is Jung's crucial discovery of the process of individuation, and the second is how this discovery took shape in relationship to the Christianity that he grew up in. This Christianity became an immediate context and foil for his psychological work. While these two dimensions are profoundly united in Jung's life, it is still possible to see that they are distinct realities. An empirical exploration of the unconscious does not have an essential relationship with Christianity. A Jung, growing up with no religious background, or in another Christian tradition, or in another religious tradition altogether, could have conceivably made many of the same discoveries. In actual fact this, of course, did not happen, and so Jung's insights are in the setting of his Christian preoccupations, and thus Jung's understanding of and attitudes towards Christianity, as important as they may be in indicating some of the weaknesses of Christianity as it is actually lived today, do not have the same weight as his empirical discoveries, even though these discoveries from a concrete point of view might not have been realized by Jung except as compensations to the Christianity of his childhood. For example, Jung's discussions of trinity and quaternity, despite the value they might have for a theologian exploring the psychological dimensions of Trinitarian doctrine, are not essential to Jung's formulation of the process of individuation, but rather illustrative of it. Jung explored what could be called the natural religiosity of the psyche, and he asserted that in doing so he was not trying to act as a philosopher or theologian. Yet his writings often were seriously criticized by these people. It is time to examine this question more closely, for unless it is resolved, it will impede the use of Jung's psychology as an instrument in elaborating the Christian life of prayer.




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Chapter 2