Psychology and Religion

Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews Psychology and Religion: West and East by C G Jung.

This seven-hundred-page tome is volume eleven of Jung’s Collected Works. I already own and have read many of its more substantial pieces in other editions. For example, I have the Bollingen series Answer to Job under its own cover, “Transformation Symbolism and the Mass” is in the Eranos Yearbook anthology The Mysteries, and I have recently read “Psychologists or the Clergy?” as part of Modern Man in Search of a Soul. In this review, I will confine myself to some comments on the objects of my recent reading in a copy borrowed from the library of Colorado Mountain College: the several essays concerned with Trinitarian doctrine and symbolism in Christianity.

Jung found various cross-cultural precedents for the Trinity. Most significantly, he focused on an ancient Egyptian notion grouping the Royal Father Osiris and the Royal Son Horus with the Ka-mutef, or “Bull of his Mother,” the third term being explained as “the procreative power of the deity.” He also pointed to the triune nature of the World Soul in Plato’s Timaeus, and to Plato’s Demiurge, created world, and World Soul as their own trinity. He mentioned the cultural continuity from Egypt to the Hellenistic world in which Christianity was incubated, but he saw the Christian Trinity not so much as derivative from these earlier examples but as a later, parallel expression of the same generic spiritual function. In Jung’s jargon, the Trinity is an archetype of the collective unconscious. His interest in it, he claims, is not metaphysical but psychological. He wants to understand why this idea should have gained such pre-eminence, and what is its ongoing role in the mind of humanity.

He observes the unreasonable and unnatural aspects of the Trinity as evidence of their grounding in the unconscious. He points to the systematic exclusion of the Mother or feminine element from both Egyptian and Christian expressions of the Trinity. Jung knew that in some early Christian theologies the Holy Spirit was feminized in the form of the Christ-counterpart Sophia. But he was also aware of the evanescence of that doctrine and the predominant concept of the Holy Ghost—like the Ka-mutef—as a “hypostasis of procreative power,” writing:

“The masculine father-son relationship is thus lifted out of the natural order … and translated to a sphere from which the feminine element is excluded. … Father-son-life … constitute the patriarchal formula that was ‘in the air’ long before the advent of Christianity.” (par. 197-198)

Despite the Trinity’s archetypal status, Jung takes it to be incomplete, excluding not only the maternal but the material of the world. It is also impaired in its Christian recension by a moral one-sidedness. He discusses approaches to completing a “quaternity” with a fourth term personifying the unconscious operation of the psyche. Where he stresses the moral limits of the Trinity, Jung identifies this fourth term with Satan or the psychological shadow. But if we allow the Trinity itself to be beyond good and evil, then the fourth term is certainly the feminine complement of the Trinity, the anima as presented in Jung’s system. And he claims:

“Medieval iconology, embroidering on the old speculations about the Theotokos, evolved a quaternity symbol in its representations of the coronation of the Virgin and surreptitiously put it in place of the Trinity.” (par. 251)

An example of such representations serves as a frontispiece to Jung’s book: Jean Fouquet’s painting of The Trinity with the Virgin Mary from a medieval Book of Hours. The imputation of agency to “iconology” in this case does not reflect official church doctrines or underground teachings, but rather an exercise of the collective unconscious in the course of conventional expressions. As Barbara Newman has shown in her study God and the Goddesses, these representations were in no way heterodox for their period.

Although the clearest theoretical articulation of these ideas is in the second set of lectures “A Psychological Approach to the Dogma of the Trinity,” the first set, titled simply “Psychology and Religion,” touches on them often, in the context of an account of therapeutic practice involving the dreams of a psychiatric client, showing the relevance of the “archetype” to those who are neither theologians nor mystics. [via]