To Pastor Max Frischknecht

Dear Pastor Frischknecht, 8 February 1 946

Since it is apparent from your friendly letter and your essay that you are struggling to understand my views correctly, I am taking the liberty of writing you a very long letter.

Your careful study on the terrifying vision of the Blessed Brother Klaus for which I thank you very much, made interesting and enjoyable reading.

I agree entirely with what you say up to the point (p. 36) where you raise the question of the transcendent reason for the vision.

Your alternative is either “metaphysical God” or Brother Klaus’s “own unconscious.”

This is the caput draconis!

Unwittingly and unawares you impute to me a theory which I have been fighting against for decades, namely Freud’s theory.

As you know, Freud derives the religious “illusion” from the individual’s “own” unconscious, that is, from the personal unconscious.

There are empirical reasons that contradict this assumption.

I have summed them up in the hypothesis of the collective unconscious.

The personal unconscious is characterized by the fact that its contents are formed personally and are at the same time individual acquisitions which vary from man to man, so that everyone has his “own” unconscious.

The collective unconscious, on the contrary, is made up of contents which are formed personally only to a minor degree and in essentials not at all, are not individual acquisitions, are essentially the same everywhere, and do not vary from man to man.

This unconscious is like the air, which is the same everywhere, is breathed by everybody, and yet belongs to no one. Its contents (called archetypes) are the prior conditions or patterns of psychic formation in general.

They have an esse in potentia et in actu but not in re, for as res they are no longer what they were but have become psychic contents.

They are in themselves non-perceptible, irrepresentable (since they precede all representation), everywhere and “eternally” the same.

Hence there is only one collective unconscious, which is everywhere identical with itself, from which everything psychic takes shape before it is personalized, modified, assimilated, etc. by external influences.

In order to clarify this somewhat difficult concept I would like to take a parallel from mineralogy, the so-called crystal lattice.

This lattice represents the axial system of the crystal.

In the mother liquor it is invisible, as though not present, and yet it is present since first the ions aggregate round the (ideal) axial points of intersection, and then the molecules.

There is only the one crystal lattice for millions of crystals of the same chemical composition.

No individual crystal can speak of its lattice, since the lattice is the identical precondition for all of them (none of which concretizes it perfectly!).

It is everywhere the same and “eternal.”

The theological parallel is the idea of likeness to God.

There is only one imago Dei, which belongs to the existential ground of all men.

I cannot speak of “my” imago Dei but only of “the” imago Dei.

It is the principle by which man is shaped, one and the same, immutable, eternal.

Al-Ghazzali sees in the “virtue” by reason of which the stone falls the will of Allah, Schopenhauer the blind Will, the physicist gravitation.

Would the modern theologian contest the right of the physicist to propound a theory of gravitation?

Maybe with the observation that this theory maintains that the stone falls merely for physical reasons, whereas obviously the process can only be explained in a correct and
satisfactory manner if the stone falls by God’s will?

When, more than 30 years ago, I spoke of God as a “complex of ideas,” an image therefore, I only meant that a God-image is present in man, not, be it understood, in his conscious mind but in his unconscious, where it is inaccessible to criticism and arbitrary modification.

People instantly accused me of atheism.

I have never asserted that Brother Klaus’s vision of God sprang from his personal unconscious, but rather from that-we may well say-mysterious sphere of supra-personal factors which somehow underlie man.

Because this sphere is antecedent to man and is a sine qua non of his psychic life, I allow myself to call this ”psyche” (or whatever it may be) “divine” in contradistinction to “human,” since even the theologians do not hesitate to conceive likeness to God as an imago DEI and hence divine.

To the simple” human psyche there is now attached this imago Dei, which complicates its simplicity somewhat. Incidentally, my use of “divine” is not to be understood sensu strictiori: in the ancient pharmacopoeia there is a lapis divinus, and in alchemy a divine water (which also means sulphuric acid ).

Your difficulty in understanding my way of looking at things is due to the incommensurability of standpoint.

As a theologian you adopt the standpoint of the scientia divina and see the world through God’s eye.

As a scientist I see with merely human eyes, judge by means of human understanding, and presume to no other knowledge than is afforded me by scientific insight.

I can therefore only establish that Brother Klaus did not see his image as a concrete, material figure in space, that it was not the product of delirium or intoxication, but was on the contrary “psychogenic,” i.e., a psychic fact to be evaluated as a spontaneous product of certain processes in the “unconscious.”

This “unconscious” consists, as I have said, of empirically demonstrable, subliminal contents (or contents that have become subliminal), and to that extent it is designated the “personal unconscious” and may therefore be considered altogether “psychic” (in contradistinction to “somatic”).

But over and above this there seem to be contents which cannot be explained as individual acquisitions (they correspond to the complicated instinctual dispositions in the
animal kingdom).

They correspond to the inherited modes of behaviour which are present a priori at any time. (Crystal lattice )

They influence psychic behaviour and express themselves in psychic forms; hence we speak of them as psychic contents, a facon de parler which does not accord badly with their phenomenology.

At bottom we naturally don’t know what their nature is since we know only their numinous effects.

We know as little about their origin as about the origin of cosmic rays. Beyond that I know nothing.

So-called “spiritual” existences are verifiable for me only as psychic (likewise, of course, all “metaphysical” existences).

This is the standpoint of the scientist and phenomenologist, to whom the thousand years of the Middle Ages have demonstrated ad oculos that there is the phenomenon of a consensus which claims the right and the capacity to explain the world• from God’s standpoint.

The scientist will only affirm that at all times and in all places there have been and still are very many people who think “theologically” and not “scientifically.”

He does not by any means contest the possibility and possible validity of this thinking, only he doesn’t think like that.

The concept of the unconscious posits nothing, it designates only my unknowing.

I affirm only the evident fact that the vision rose up from the ground of the psyche.

Beyond this ground there are only precarious conjectures. But this is just where the scientia divina steps in, declaring it possesses a sure knowledge of all the things
science doesn’t know.

This assertion, I willingly admit, is uncommonly interesting but not verifiable, so is not an object of scientific study in so far as it claims to be more than a phenomenon.

Science is human knowledge, theology divine knowledge. Therefore the two are incommensurable.

It is clear that theology has to “secularize” the psyche, for measured against the Creator all creatures are “bad earthen pots.”

Souls, human beings, things, planets, the worlds of fixed stars shrink before God’s eye into miserable ephemerids.

The ridiculously small eye of the scientist beholds vastnesses in the deeps of nature and their equivalents in the psyche.

The merest trifles appear wonderful to him, as for instance this paltry psychic organism to which such wonderful things happen.

The scientist must be content with the poverty of his merely human knowledge. The theologian sits. on top of a gigantic mountain, while the scientist toilsomely climbs up it
way down below.

I do not dispute the possibility that the vision was sent to the blessed brother by God himself. But how should I know that this was so?

If I don’t know something, neither do I know what I should believe about it, unless, for reasons unknown to me, I am compelled to believe.

But in the latter event my scientific conscience would say: “That too is a phenomenon the reasons for which you know nothing about.”

It seems to me, therefore, that it is I who have to make my standpoint clear to the theologian rather than he his to me, which I am so intimately familiar with for historical and personal reasons.

It seems to me I would have no difficulty in thinking theologically.

But I find that theologians do not understand the scientific viewpoint.

How comes it, for instance, that you tax me with “theology”? Is the physicist with his gravitation or any other theory also going in for “theology”? (Certainly he competes with the theologian al-Ghazzali!)

Yours sincerely,


P.S. I hope you will excuse this critical discussion. I always regret it when theologians take up a defensive position on the erroneous assumption that I want to put something else in the place of theology.

On the contrary, I thought that theologians, in view of their apologetics, would be glad of psychological proofs which corroborate the rightness of their statements also on empirical grounds, even though this is possible only to a modest degree.

I have found that the little I have to put forward has helped a great many people to understand the facts of religion. The charisma of faith is not granted
to all. [Letters Volume 1, Pages 408-412]