Lecture by Dr. C. G. Jung, Zürich “On the Psychology of the Concept of the Trinity”
From a series of reactions, it has become clear to me that educated readers take exception to the psychological discussion of Christian symbols, even when these discussions carefully avoid questioning the symbols’ religious value. My critics would likely raise fewer objections at the similar treatment of Buddhist symbols, whose sanctity is just as unquestionable.
What, however, is sauce for the goose is also sauce for the gander.
What is more, I seriously question whether it is not much more dangerous for Christian symbols to be withheld from thoughtful understanding and to be removed to a sphere of inaccessible incomprehension.
They are all too easily withdrawn from understanding to such an extent that their irrationality becomes meaninglessness.
Belief is a charisma not granted to everyone. For this reason, human beings have the capacity of thought that should address the loftiest of things.
St. Paul and, subsequently, a long series of venerable church fathers, did not look upon the act of thinking about symbolism with as much anxious defensiveness as certain modern individuals.
This anxiety and this concern about Christian symbols is not a good sign.
If the symbols represent a higher reality, which my critics certainly do not doubt, then a science that addresses the symbolic understanding and proceeds unwisely can only make a fool of itself.
Moreover, I have never had the tendency to depotentiate the validity of symbols but occupy myself with them, because I am convinced of their psychological validity.
The man who merely believes and does not think, always forgets that he is the one constantly exposed to his very own enemy: doubt.
Doubt always lurks where belief rules.
For the thinking individual, on the other hand, doubt is always welcome, for it serves him as the most important step toward improved knowledge.
People who are able to believe should be somewhat tolerant of their fellow human beings who are only capable of thinking.
Belief has anticipated the summit that thinking strives to attain through laborious ascent.
The believing individual should not project doubt, his habitual enemy, onto those who think and thereby burden the latter with destructive intentions.
If those of old had not thought, we would have no doctrine of the Trinity at all.
That the doctrine is believed in, on the one hand, and serves, on the other hand, as an object of reflection proves its vitality.
The believer, therefore, should be glad that others also attempt to climb the mountain upon which he sits.
I. The Trinity
When I set about to discuss the Trinity, that central Christian symbol, from the psychological perspective, I do so with the awareness that I am entering an area seemingly far removed from psychology.
In my opinion though, religions, with all that they are and express, are so closely connected to the human soul that psychology least of all may disregard them.
A notion like the Trinity belongs so much to the realm of theology that today, of the secular disciplines, history at most deals with it.
People have even largely stopped thinking about dogma and specifically about a concept like the Trinity, which is so difficult to picture.
There are actually very few Christians any more—not to mention the educated public in general who seriously think about the meaning of the dogma and consider this concept a possible object of reflection.
Professor Speiser has linked the concept of the Trinity with Plato’s Timaeus.
I expressly say, “Trinity,” and not “triad.” (Divine triads occurred already at the primitive level: there are an immense number of archaic triads in the old and exotic religions.
The grouping in triads is something like an archetype of the history of religion on which the threefold Christian Trinity may well be modeled.
Yet the Trinity is not an example of a triad, but of a tri-unity, a three-oneness, indivisibilis trinitas, that is fundamentally different from the triad corresponding to a “tri-theism.”
Mere threeness is an unordered relationship of three entities in proximity to one another, while the Trinity is the joining together of three as one and, at the same time, an expansion of the one into three. The one is lacking in a triad without which the Trinity would be unthinkable.
Professor Speiser provided the derivation of the three from the one as it occurs in the Timaeus (31b to 32b).
The “one” lays claim to an exceptional position, which Professor Speiser has explained.
We find this same, exceptional position again in the natural philosophy of the Middle Ages.
For the latter, the “one” was not a number at all, only the “two” was. “Two” is the first number, because with it separation and increase occur and provide the basis on which counting first truly begins.
With “two” an “other” enters in addition to the “one,” a phenomenon that makes an impression to such an extent that the word “other” in many languages means “second.” This “second” or “other” refers to a “one” that differs from the “one” that is not a number.
With two, namely, one emerges from oneness, which means nothing less than that the separation has reduced and transformed oneness into a “number.”
The “one” and the “other” form an opposition; not however one and two, for they are simple numbers that differ only in their arithmetic value and nothing else.
The “one” attempts to retain its single and solitary qualities, while the “other” strives to remain an other compared with the one.
The “one” does not want to release the “other,” because it would thus lose its own quality, and the “other” rejects the “one” in order even to survive.
To such an extent, a tension of opposites results between the “one” and the “other.”
Every tension of opposites requires a release valve from which the third comes into being.
The tension resolves itself in the third inasmuch as the lost “one” again emerges: “unitas ex semet ipsa derivans trinitatem,” in the words of Tertullian.
The absolute One is innumerable, indeterminate, and unrecognizable; only when it appears in “one” does it become recognizable, for the “other” required for this recognition is missing in the condition of the One.
Three is, therefore, an unfolding of the one to recognizability, that is to reality in space and time.
A “one-next-to-another” is only possible in space and a “one-after-another” only in time.
Three is the “one” become reality, which without the resolution of the opposition between the “one” and the “other” would remain devoid of any quality in every determination.
That this formulation is a fitting parallel to God’s Self- revelation as the absolute One in the unfolding of the three is immediately apparent.
The relationship of “threeness” to oneness can be expressed as an equilateral triangle: a=b=c, that is through the identity of the three, whereby the entirety of threeness is contained in each of the different designations.
This intellectual idea of the equilateral triangle is a cognitive pre-requisite for the idea of the Christian Trinity, as Professor Speiser has noted. The Platonic idea makes it possible for us to think at least somewhat logically yes, even mathematically, about the mysterious essence of the Trinity.
The true contours of the dogma, however, have very little to do with the logical formula.
The three designated aspects in the model, a=b=c, are characterized in a manner that cannot possibly be derived from the Platonic pre-requisites, inasmuch as the designations “Father,” “Son,” and “Holy Spirit” in no way follow from the three letters.
The Platonic formula only supplies an intellectual structure for contents that originate from completely different sources.
The Trinity may be largely grasped through the Platonic formula; as to contents, though, we have to depend on psychological factors, on irrational data that cannot be logically predetermined.
In other words, we have to differentiate between the logical idea of the Trinity and its psychological reality.
The psychological factors are the following: Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.
If we start with “Father,” “Son” results logically from it; but neither from “Father” nor from “Son” does “Holy Ghost” result logically.
We must, again, be dealing with special circumstances that are due to psychological requirements. According to the ancient teachings, the “Holy Ghost” is “vera persona, quae a filio et patre missa est.”
The “processio a patre filioque” is a “being breathed” and not a “procreation” (being “begotten”) as is the case with the Son.
This somewhat unusual notion is in keeping with a separation already existing in the Middle Ages of corpus and spiramen (breathing), whereby the latter meant something more than just “breath.”
That was actually the designation for the “anima,” which is a being of breath as its name suggests (ánemos = wind).
While “breathing” is an activity of the body, when conceived of as autonomous it is a substance apart from the body.
The idea being expressed is that although the body lives, “life” is imagined as an additional, autonomous quality, namely as a soul independent of the body.
Applied to the formula of the Trinity, one would therefore have to say, “Father, Son,” and “Life,” where the latter emanates from both or is lived by both.
The Holy Ghost as “Life” is a concept that simply cannot be derived from the identity of Father and Son.
It is much more a psychological notion, that is, a factor based on an irrational, primordial idea.
In addition to the logic of the Platonic idea, an aspect that cannot be derived from the Platonic idea forces its way into the concept of the Trinity.
It does not follow from the idea of the equilateral triangle that one angle is Father, the second the Son, and the third the Holy Ghost.
Filius Spiritus Sanctus
We are not dealing with mere letters designating the angles of a triangle but with personalities: the unbegotten Father (P), the Son (F) begotten by the Father, and the Spiritus Sanctus (S), the life of both that they have in common.
This is a concept that results from a primitive assumption: the life of a body or an of individual is posited as different to some extent from either the body or the individual. From this assumption originates the idea, for example, of the immortal soul that can separate from the body and does not depend on the body for its existence.
In this regard, the primitives have richly developed conceptions of souls.
There are souls, for example, that are immortal; others are only loosely connected to the body and, therefore, wander away, get lost in the night, lose their way in a dream, and can be taken prisoner. Primitives even conceive of souls that are not in the body at all yet still belong to an individual like the Bush Soul that lives in the forest in an animal’s body.
The juxtaposition of “individual” and “life” is a psychological factor resting primarily on the fact that a relatively undifferentiated mind not yet capable of thinking abstractly is not able to make subsumptions.
Such a mind can only place the characteristics it perceives in things next to one another as, for example, an individual and his life, or his disease perhaps as a daimon or his health, or his prestige as mana, and so forth.
If you analyze Indian philosophy you will notice that the Indian mind does the same thing.
We always believe it to be abstract. It is not at all abstract but rather concretely graphic.
The Indian mind places being and other qualities next to things as essences.
These concretizations are usually not related to one another logically but are simply in proximity to one another.
At this level there are certainly triads and the like, but simply no Trinities, a concept that corresponds to a more advanced, intellectual stage.
A trinity is not a matter of a tri-theistic coexistence, but of a unity effected through reflection from internal and reciprocal relationships.
By definition, the Father is the creator, the maker, the auctor rerum, the author of things who, at a cultural level where there is not yet reflection, can simply be the One. The Other results from the One through separation. This separation need not take place as long as no one takes any kind of critical position toward the auctor rerum, that is, as long as a culture does not reflect on this unity and begin to criticize the work through which the creator makes himself known. Far from critical judgment and moral conflict, the human feeling for oneness also leaves the patris auctoritas untouched.
I observed this condition of the original oneness of the father world in a Negroid tribe on Mount Elgon. These people professed the conviction that the creator had made everything good and beautiful. When I asked, “What about the evil animals that kill your cattle?” they said, “The lion is good and beautiful.” And, “Your terrible diseases?” They said, “You lie in the sun and it is beautiful.” I was impressed by this optimism. But in the evening at six o’clock this philosophy suddenly ceased, as I soon discovered. From sundown on another world ruled, the dark world, the world of àyík, which was evil, dangerous, fear-arousing. The optimistic philosophy ended and another philosophy began, one of fear of ghosts and the magical practices that supposedly protect against evil. With sunrise, however, the optimism returned without inherent contradiction.
Originally, human beings, the world, and the divinity were a whole, a unity untarnished by any criticism. This was the world of the Father and of human beings in a childhood state. Despite the fact that twelve of twenty-four hours are lived in a dark world with dark beliefs, the question never arises whether God might also be Other. The well-known question as to the origin of evil does not yet exist in the time of the Father. This question first arose as a principal problem with Christianity. Apparently, the world of the father applies to a time characterized by the original oneness with all of Nature, a beautiful or ugly or fearful oneness. When, however, the question is raised, “Where does evil come from, why is this world so bad and imperfect, why are there diseases and other horrors, why must people suffer?”—then reflection begins which assesses the revelation of the Father in his works, and therewith comes the doubt that expresses the splitting of the original unity. One comes to the conclusion that the creation may be imperfect, yes, even to the idea that the Creator has not done his job properly. The goodness and power of the Father cannot be the sole principle of cosmogony. Therefore, the One must be supplemented with Another. The world of the Father is thereby fundamentally changed and superseded by the world of the Son.
The world of the Son was that time in which Greek critique of the world began, the time of Gnosis in the widest sense, from which then Christianity emerged. The archetype of the redeemer god and the original man is age-old. We have no idea how old this idea is. We have parallels that reach as far as India. The Son, the revealed god, who sacrifices himself as a human being in order to bring a world into being or to redeem the world from evil is found as early as the Purusha of Indian philosophy and also in the notion of the protanthropos (Original Man), Gayomart, in Persia. Gayomart, the son of the light god, falls victim to darkness and must be freed again out of the darkness for the redemption of the world. This is the model for the Gnostic redeemer figures and for the doctrine of Christ’s redemption of humanity.
It is not difficult to see that this critical Weltanschauung that raised the question of the origin of evil and of suffering corresponds to another world in which one longed for redemption, and for that time of perfection when human beings were one with the Father. One longed to return to the kingdom of the Father, but it was lost for good, because an irreversible increase and autonomy of human consciousness had taken place. Through this change, one deposed the world of the Father and entered the world of the Son, with its divine drama of redemption and ritual narrative of those things that the God/man accomplished during his earthly sojourn. The life of the God/man now revealed things that could not have been perceived in the Father as the One. For the Father as the original One was not anything defined or definable and, actually, could not yet have been called “Father” or have even been thought to exist. Only through his incarnation in the Son did he become “Father” and—thereby—something defined and definable. By becoming a father and a human being, he revealed the secret of his divinity in the human realm.
One of these revelations is the Holy Ghost which, as a being existing before the world, is certainly eternal but can only appear in this world—to a certain extent empirically—when Christ has left the earthly sphere. In a manner of speaking, he will be to the disciples what Christ has previously been to them. He confers on them absolute power to perform works that are perhaps even greater than those of the Son (John 14:12). The Holy Ghost is, therefore, a figure that replaces Christ as his equivalent and corresponds to that which Christ had received from the Father.
In other words, from the Father comes the Son, and common to both is the life activity of the Holy Ghost, which is “breathed” by both of them. Inasmuch as the Holy Ghost is a third and common element between the Father and the Son, it signifies the abolition of duality, of the “doubt” from the Son. Actually, it is that third thing that completes the three and, therefore, is again Oneness. The unfolding of the One truly culminates in the Holy Ghost, following its juxtaposition to the Son as the Father. The descent into human form signifies a becoming “Other,” a setting-itself-in-opposition to itself. From this moment on, there are two, the “One” and the “Other,” which means a certain tension. This tension expresses itself in the suffering of the Son and finally in his acknowledgment of God’s forsaking him (Matt. 27:46).
Although the Holy Ghost is the procreator of the Son (Matt. 1:18), as Paraclete it is the Son’s legacy. In many ways, the Holy Ghost continues the work of redemption by descending on those who correspond to the divine election, and who perform works that are even “greater” than those of the Son. The implication, at least, is that the Paraclete is the crowning figure of the work of redemption on one hand and God’s self-revelation on the other. We could, therefore, say that the Holy Ghost represents the completion of the Godhead and the divine drama. Undoubtedly the Trinity is a higher form of the notion of God than a simple Unity inasmuch as it corresponds to a condition of greater reflection, of consciousness, in human beings.
At first, human beings remain necessarily outside this Trinitarian life process of the Godhead. We have no way of thinking about this process except as an imaginal one in the human mind, in other words, as a platonic eidolon connected to an eternal eidos. At the same time, this eidolon does not express anything binding, nor does it establish its foundation, for this foundation—namely God—is unrecognizable other than by something of a similar nature. Theological thinking, to be sure—and this is the great difficulty—often behaves as if it were the Holy Ghost, itself thinking or, rather, unfolding in the human brain. In so doing, theologians overlook the fact that the endless and often bitter disputes concerning the Trinity are nothing less than the very betrayal of the Holy Ghost. Hardly any other
discipline demonstrates the high-handedness of the human, all-too-human, mind, better than that of the history of dogma. For this reason, psychology commits no encroachment on another discipline if it joins in the discussion and raises questions about the individuals who think up dogma and about the reasons that might cause them to do so.
The Trinitarian drama deals in the first instance and overwhelmingly with the Godhead and with mankind only inasmuch as we are in a pitiable condition and—with the exception of Paradise—always were. It seems out of the question that mankind, based on suggestions in the writings of certain apostles, was responsible for fitting the Godhead with the form of the Trinity. We would have no dogma of the Trinity had the church fathers not expended an unbelievable intellectual effort toward its creation. In actuality, they developed Trinitarian thinking.
Seen psychologically then, what does Trinitarian thinking express? God, the summum bonum, unfolds in and through the Son to become the Holy Ghost as the third representing the perichoresis, the round dance, of the One. The Trinity is an harmonic self-realization of God insofar as it opens the way to God’s Kingdom for individuals in need of redemption. This process is round and complete and to that extent corresponds with the Platonic idea. But what happens to evil? One comes to the conclusion at which the Middle Ages had already arrived: “Omne bonum a deo, omne malum a homine. ” If we do not recognize the devil, we become the devil. We become that which disturbs God’s harmony.
But what happens to the actual human being when all evil comes from him and all good from God? On the one hand, we make a hash of Man, and, on the other, we elevate him above the gods—for ultimately something that so mars the beautiful works of the Godhead must be no small force! Man thereby becomes a second God, a dark, counter-God, who spoils the fun of the “good” God. We credit Man with a significance that exceeds even the wildest fantasy.
Here we get into considerable difficulty. If we pursue the doctrine of the Holy Ghost further (something that has not happened in the Christian Church for understandable reasons), we come to certain unavoidable conclusions. If the Father appeared in the Son and shares his breath in common with the Son and if the Son left this Holy Ghost behind for human beings, then the Holy Ghost also breathes out of Man and, thereby, also breathes in common with Man, the Son, and the Father. Thereby Man moves into the position of the Son of God, and the words of Christ, “Ye are Gods,” appear in a meaningful light.
How can this imperfect Man, however, be not only something like the host of the Godhead, but also God, himself? Would that not shake the Christian Church to the very depths of its foundations? Such Godlikeness the Church is not inclined to concede to Man.
That the doctrine of the Paraclete was expressly bequeathed to Man represents immense difficulties. The Platonic formulation of threeness would certainly be the final word from a logical perspective. Psychologically, though, it would not be the final word at all, since the psychological factors demand attention to themselves in a terribly disruptive manner. Why in the world was the Trinity
not referred to as “Father, Mother, and Son?” That would have been much more “logical” or “natural” than Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. In response we would have to say that the Trinity does not result from a merely natural condition but from human reflection joined to the natural succession of Father/Son. From Nature, this reflection abstracts life and its particular soul and recognizes the latter as an extraordinary existence: Father and Son are united in the same soul.
This psychological factor interrupts the perfection of the formulation of threeness. It makes the formulation into a thematic combination that can no longer be logically understood and is bound up in a mysterious and unexpected way with an important intellectual operation of human beings. The Holy Ghost can be understood as life-breath and as an attitude of love and, at the same time, as the third figure in the Trinity with all the significance of the “third” and the culmination of the Trinitarian process.
As such, it is essentially something added from reflection to the natural image of the Father/Son as the hypostatizing of a noumenon. In this regard, it is noteworthy that early Christian Gnosticism attempted to circumvent this difficulty by interpreting the Holy Ghost as Mother. In doing so, Gnosticism, to begin with, remained with the archaic natural image, tri-theism, and also with the polytheism of the father world. For it is simply natural that a father should have a family and that the son again embodies the father. This way of thinking completely corresponds to the father world. In addition, with the mother interpretation, Gnosticism reduced the specific meaning of the Holy Ghost to a primitive primordial image. It thereby destroyed the very thing that is the most essential content of the notion of the Holy Ghost.
The Holy Ghost is not only the life common to the Father and the Son. Rather, as the Paraclete, it was also left behind for human beings by the Son to bring forth in them the testimony and works of the Children of God. It is precisely of the greatest significance that the idea of the Holy Ghost is not a natural image, but rather a recognition, a conception, of the living nature of the Father and of the Son, the third between the One and the Other. Logic says “Tertium non datur.” Life, however, and particularly psychological life, always creates a third from the tension of duality, which naturally appears as incommensurable or paradoxical. As “tertium,” the Holy Ghost must, therefore, be incommensurable, even a paradox. Correspondingly, the natural philosophers of the Middle Ages [i.e., the alchemists] personified the “donum Spiritus Sancti” as a paradoxical, hermaphroditic being, as a “unio oppositorum.”
Thus the Holy Ghost is heterogeneous, since it cannot be derived logically from the natural relationship of father and son. We can only understand it as a concept resulting from the engagement of the human reflective process. It thereby seems that Man’s coming to consciousness is a part of the divine life process or, in other words, that God becomes manifest in the act of human reflection. The nature of this concept (the hypostatizing of a quality) corresponds to the necessity for primitive thinking to produce a reconciling abstract notion by attributing concrete extraordinary existence to the quality in question.
Just as the Holy Ghost is a bequest to human beings, by the same token its conception is a birth of mankind and carries the qualities of its human creators. Unnoticed, the figure of the Holy Ghost includes mankind as a spiritual potentiality in the Trinitarian mystery, thereby elevating the Trinity itself far above the parallels to mere nature of the triad and also above Platonic threeness and its unity. The Trinity thereby reveals itself as a symbol which encompasses divine and human substantiality. As Köpgen says, it is “not only a manifestation of God’s, but also of mankind.”
A grain of truth lies in the Gnostic interpretation of the Holy Ghost as Mother insofar as the Virgin Mary was the instrument of God’s birth and thereby involved, as a human being, in the Trinitarian drama. The figure of the Mother of God can, therefore, count as a symbol of mankind’s essential participation in the Trinity. The psychological justification for this assumption is founded on the circumstance that thinking—a predominantly masculine activity—originally depended on the self-revelation of the unconscious, which possesses a feminine quality in men.
This is the origin of the so-called “anima”—the knowledge of revelation, which was personified as sapientia Dei or as Sophia—”in gremio matris sedet sapientia patris.” These psychological connections make clearer the interpretation of the Holy Ghost as Mother, but they contribute nothing to the understanding of the Holy Ghost figure insofar as we do not appreciate why the Mother could be the third when she would more likely be the second.
While the Holy Ghost is an hypostasis of the life principle produced by the reflective process, thanks to its peculiar substantiality, it appears as an extraordinary, even an incommensurable third. Through its peculiarity it demonstrates precisely that it is neither a compromise nor simply a triadic addition, but rather a more than logically expected release of the tension between Father and Son. Because of the nature of the redemption drama, the human reflective process is just what irrationally creates the uniting Third: as the Godhead descends into the human realm, Man, for his part, attains the realm of the Godhead.
The thinking about the Trinity or Trinitarian thinking is the “Holy Ghost” to the extent that it is never basically mere rumination but gives expression to an incalculable psychological occurrence. The driving forces which make themselves felt in this thinking are not conscious motives but spring from an historical occurrence which, for its part, is rooted in obscure, psychological preconditions. We cannot formulate those preconditions better or more succinctly than as a “transformation from Father to Son,” a transformation from unity to duality, from an unreflecting condition to one of critical judgment.
To the extent that Trinitarian thinking lacks personal motivation and its driving force originates in impersonal, collective, psychological conditions, it expresses a necessity of the unconscious psyche which towers over our personal, intellectual needs. With the aid of human thought, the Trinitarian symbol, arising from psychological necessity, is a symbol predestined to serve psychological transformation—relative to changing times—as a redeeming formula for totality. From time immemorial, Man has experienced any expression of psychological activity that he has not intended or caused as demonic or divine, “holy,” healing, and completing. In actuality, notions of God behave, as do all images which originate in the
unconscious, in a compensatory or complementary manner to an individual’s over-all mood or behavior. Only by their appearance on the scene does psychological totality emerge in the individual. The individual who is “only conscious,” only “I,” is a fragment insofar as he is conceived of apart from the unconscious. The more the unconscious is split off, the more powerful are the forms in which it confronts consciousness: if not in the form of divine figures, then in the less favorable form of possessions (“obsessions”) and morbid affects. Gods are legitimate personifications of the unconscious, for they manifest themselves out of unconscious psychic activity.
From this kind of activity came Trinitarian thinking and its passionate depths, which throw us—the later descendants—into naive astonishment. At present we no longer remember, or do not yet know, to what extent the depths of the psyche and Trinitarian thinking were churned up by a major change in the times. In the absence of this knowledge, the Holy Ghost seems to have faded away without having received the answer it demands to the question it directs at mankind.
II. The Problem of the Fourth
The Timaeus, from which the intellectual formula of the three is taken, begins with the ominous question: “Three there are, but where’s the fourth?” As we know, Faust takes up this question in the Cabiri scene:
Three along we’ve brought
But come the fourth would not,
He said, he was the right one
Who thought for all of them.
When Goethe says the fourth is the one “who thought for all of them,” we might suspect the fourth to be Goethe’s thinking, and we have to conclude that Goethe’s thinking was not his strong suit. It is well known that Schiller had to make the concept of an idea clear to him. How defective Goethe’s thinking was we can gather from his Theory of Color (Farbenlehre). Thinking was his “inferior function,” and we could not find a more apt characterization for this function than the verse, “but come the fourth would not.” It wanted to remain somewhere behind or below.
Ancient Greek philosophy used quaternarian thinking. For Pythagoras, not three but four played the major role as, for example, in the so-called Pythagorean Oath. There it is said of the number four, the tetraktys, that “it has the roots of eternal Nature.” Also in the Pythagorean school the opinion reigned that the soul was not a triangle, but a quadrangle. The origin of these views lies somewhere in the dark prehistory of the Hellenistic spirit. The quaternity is an archetype that occurs universally.
Four is the logical prerequisite for every determination of totality. If one wants to make such a determination, it must have a fourfold aspect. If, for example, one wants to designate the totality of the horizon, one names the four cardinal points. Three is not a natural pattern of order, but an artificial one. Therefore, we always have four elements, four primary qualities, four colors, four castes in India, four paths in the sense of spiritual development in Buddhism. Therefore, there are also four aspects of psychological orientation beyond which nothing more can be stated. For orientation, we have to have a function that establishes that something is, a second that identifies what it is, a third function that says whether we like it or not, whether we want to accept it or not, and a fourth function that identifies where it comes from and where it is going.
Beyond this nothing more can be said. There was an article published recently by Dr. Kindt-Kinder on the structure of the concept of the nation. In it the author sets forth the fundamental significance of the fourfold aspect and methodically applies it. You also find the idea in Schopenhauer that a philosophical theorem has a four-part root. All of this stems from the fact that the fourfold aspect represents the minimum for a determination of completeness.
Ideal completion, naturally, is round, is the circle. But its minimal, natural division is the four.
If Plato had used the Christian concept of the Trinity—which was not the case—and elevated, therefore, the three above everything else, we would have to object that it could not be a determination of totality. A necessary fourth would have been left out. Or had Plato believed that a three-sided form represented the good and beautiful and attributed to it all positive qualities, he would have deprived it of evil and imperfection. What could have become of the latter aspects? In addition to other answers to this question Christianity has replied that real evil is a privatio boni. This classic Christian formula, however, robs evil of absolute existence and makes it a shadow with only a relative existence dependent on the light.
Another Christian statement about evil implies that it has personality as the Devil. The Devil is not included in the Trinity but stands outside and, because of the concept of the privatio boni, leads a mere shadow existence. In light of the powerful impact of evil, though, this sounds suspiciously like a euphemism. As an autonomous and eternal figure, the Devil corresponds more nearly to his role as Christ’s adversary and to the psychological reality of evil.
The Church fathers most vehemently opposed the notion of a quaternity of divine principles while making the attempt to assign three persons to the nature of God. This resistance against the quaternity is extraordinary given that the central Christian symbol, the cross, is unmistakably a quaternity. It represents, however, God’s suffering in the direct collision with the world.
The definition of God as the summum bonum excludes evil from the start. Thus the Devil, as simia Dei, remains outside the Trinitarian order and in opposition to it. The representation of the three-in-one God corresponds to a tricephalic image of Satan as it appears in Dante. It thereby suggests a true umbra trinitatis, an infernal Antitrinity analogous to the Antichrist. Without a doubt, the Devil is an awkward figure: somehow or other he stands awry in the Christian world order. For this reason, one readily plays down his importance with euphemistic detraction or even by shutting one’s eyes to his existence. One is more likely to enter him in mankind’s debit column.
Those who do so are the same people who would protest mightily were the sinful individual also to credit himself with the origin of all good. A glance in the Holy Scriptures, though, suffices to show us the Devil’s importance in the drama of divine redemption. Had the power of evil been as minimal as certain theological opinions would have it appear, the world would not have needed the Godhead itself to come to earth. Or it would have lain within human powers to make the world good, which is also a childish, modern belief.
Whatever the Devil’s metaphysical position might be, in psychological reality evil presents an effective, yes, even a threatening, limitation to the good. It is not going too far for one to assume that not only day and night hold the world in equilibrium, but also good and evil. This is the reason why the victory of the good is always a special act of grace.
If we overlook the unique, Persian dualism, there is no real Devil in the early period of mankind’s spiritual development and, thus, none in the Old Testament. Instead, there was only a lemur-like riffraff haunting ruins and deserted locations. The actual Devil first appears as Christ’s adversary. Thereby, God’s world of light became manifest, on the one hand, and the abyss of hell, on the other. The Devil is autonomous. He cannot be subject to God’s dominion, for he would not be in a position to be Christ’s adversary but only God’s machine. Insofar as the One, indefinable, unfolds into Two, it becomes definable, namely the man, Jesus, the Son and the Logos. God’s act of love in the Son is opposed by the diabolical negation.
Inasmuch as the Devil was created by God as an angel, who then fell “like a bolt from heaven,” he likewise emerged from the Godhead and became “Lord of this world.” It is also indicative that the Gnostics expressed him sometimes as the imperfect demiurge, sometimes as the depraved, saturnian archon, Ialdabaoth. Pictorial representations of this archon thoroughly correspond in their details to a devilish demon. He represented the power of darkness from which mankind was redeemed by Christ’s coming. The archons, too, emerged from the womb of unrecognizable beginning, that is, from the same source that Christ, too, proceeded.
A thinker of the Middle Ages noticed that when God divided the upper waters from the lower waters on the second day of creation, he did not say it was good in the evening as he did on all the other days. God did not do so because on the second day he had created the binarius, the number two, the origin of evil. We find a similar theme again in a Persian account where Ahriman’s origin is traced back to a doubting thought of Ahuramazda’s. Non-Trinitarian thinking can scarcely escape the logic of the following schema:
It is, therefore, not unusual to find the idea of the Antichrist so early. On one hand it may be related to the astrological synchronicity of the dawning Piscean age: on the other, it has to do with the increasing realization of the duality posited through the Son which—for its part—is again prefigured in the symbol of the fish: )-( .
In our diagram, Christ and the Devil appear as equivalent opposites, which is hinted at by the “adversary” idea. This opposition represents a conflict in the extreme and, thereby, also a secular task for mankind until the time or until that shift in time when good and evil begin to relativize each other, to question themselves, and when a cry goes up for a “beyond good and evil.” In a Christian age caught up in the realm of Trinitarian thinking such deliberation is downright impossible. The conflict is too intense for the Devil to be granted any logical relationship to the Trinity other than that of an absolute and incommensurable opposite. In an emotionally-charged opposition—in a conflict, in other words—thesis and antithesis cannot be considered together.
Such consideration is only possible for a cooler deliberation on the relative value of good and evil. Then, to be sure, nothing could be more dubious than a life “breathed” in common not only by the Father and his light Son but by the Father and his dark Creature. The unspeakable conflict posited by the duality, resolves itself in a fourth principle that restores the unity of the One in its complete development. The rhythm is a three-step; the symbol a quaternity.
The dual nature of the Father is by no means unknown to the Church. We see this in the allegory of the monoceros or rhinoceros, an image showing Jehovah’s raging moods which threw the world into confusion and which could be transformed into love only in the lap of a pure virgin. Luther, too, knew a deus absconditus. Murder and slaughter, war, disease and crime, and every abomination falls within the unity of the Godhead. When God manifests his being and becomes something defined, namely a definite human being, his opposites have to fall apart: here is good and there is evil. Thus the opposites latent in the Godhead separate in the begetting of the Son and manifest themselves in the opposition of Christ/Devil.
The Persian opposition of Ormuzd/Ahriman may have been the implied basis for this Christian duality. The world of the Son is the world of moral duality, without which human consciousness would hardly have accomplished the advance in intellectual differentiation that it actually has. That people today are not totally enthusiastic over this advance is due to attacks of doubt in modern consciousness.
The Christian individual is an individual suffering morally who, in his suffering, needs the comforter, the Paraclete. The individual cannot overcome the conflict with his own resources, just as he did not create it. He depends on divine comfort and reconciliation, on the spontaneous revelation of that Spirit that does not obey human intention but comes and go
es as it wills. That Spirit is an autonomous psychic occurrence, a stillness after the storm, a reconciling light in the darknesses of human understanding, and the mysterious order of our psychic chaos. The Holy Ghost is a comforter like the Father, a still, eternal, and unfathomable One, in which God’s love and horror are fused together in wordless unity. In this unity, the original meaning of the yet meaningless Father world is restored within the confines of human experience and reflection. From a quaternarian perspective, the Holy Ghost is a reconciliation of opposites and thereby answers that suffering in the Godhead that Christ personifies.
The Pythagorean quaternity was still a fact of nature, an archetypal form of perception, but it was not a moral problem, let alone a divine drama. Therefore, it “went below.” It was merely a natural and, for that reason, an unreflected perception of the nature-bound mind. The separation which Christianity wrenched open between nature and spirit enabled the human mind to think not only beyond nature, but also against nature and thereby prove—I might say—its divine freedom. This impetus from the darkness of nature’s depths culminates in Trinitarian thinking, which moves in that Platonic, hyperuranian realm. Rightly or wrongly, though, Timaeus’ question remains: “What has become of the fourth?” It has remained “below” as an heretical quaternity image or as the Hermetic tradition’s speculation about natural philosophy.
I think with considerable satisfaction of a medieval author (Gerard Dorn, mentioned above)—he was an alchemist—who pursued this idea and criticized the quaternity, a concept handed down from earliest times in the tradition of his art. It occurred to him that the quaternity was a heresy, since the principle ruling the world consisted of a Trinity. The quaternity had to come from the Devil, in other words. Four would be the double of two and the two was created on the second day of creation, a result with which God was apparently not completely satisfied.
The binarius is the devil of duality and—simultaneously—also the feminine. (In the East as in the West, even numbers are feminine.) What was displeasing about creations’ second day consisted apparently in the fact that on this ominous day a duality was revealed in the nature of the Father, similar to that in Ahuramazda. From this duality in the Father’s nature emerged the serpent, the quadricornutus serpens, which thereupon seduced an Eve who was changed because of her binarian nature. “Vir a Deo creatur, mulier a simia Dei.”
The Devil is the ape and God’s aping shadow, Gnosticism’s antimimon pneuma. But he is the “Lord of this world” in whose shadow Man, too, is born and with whose original sin Man is perishably encumbered. According to the Gnostic view, Christ threw off the shadow with which he was born and remained without sin. Through his sinless condition he demonstrated his lack of contamination with the dark world of nature-bound Man, which the latter attempted to shake off to no avail. (“Earth’s residue to bear / hath sorely pressed us,” etc.)
The connection to physis, the material world and its demands, is the cause of Man’s hybrid condition. On the one hand, he possesses the capacity for enlightenment, but, on the other, he is subject to the “Lord of this world” (“Miserable being I; who will deliver me from the body of this death?”). Thanks to his sinless condition, Christ, by contrast, lives in the Platonic realm of the pure idea, which only Man’s thinking can attain, but not he, himself, in his totality. Strictly speaking, Man is the bridge that spans the chasm between “this world,” the realm of the dark tricephalus, and the heavenly Trinity. Therefore, even in the era of unconditional belief in the Trinity, there always existed a search for the lost fourth—from the Greek Neopythagoreans to Goethe’s Faust.
Although these searchers considered themselves Christians, they were only partial Christians in that they devoted their lives to an opus, which had as its goal the redemption of that serpens quadricornutus, that anima mundi ensnared in matter, and that fallen Lucifer. What lay hidden in matter for them was the lumen luminum, the sapientia Dei, and their task was a “gift of the Holy Ghost.” Our quaternity formula supports their claim, for the Holy Ghost, as the synthesis of the original One and the split One, flows from a light and a dark source. “For in the harmony of wisdom, right and left powers are engaged,” says the Acts of John.
The reader will have noticed that in our quaternity schema, two equivalent elements cross each other. On one side is the oppositional identity of Christ and his adversary, while on the other is the unfolding of the Father’s unity into the multiplicity of the Holy Ghost. The cross produced in this manner is the symbol of the Godhead’s suffering that redeems humanity. This suffering could not have occurred and would not have had to demonstrate its effect on anything, had it not been for the presence of a power opposing God—namely, this world and its lord.
The quaternity schema recognizes this presence as an undeniable factor by laying the bonds of this world’s reality on Trinitarian thinking. Platonic, intellectual freedom makes possible no determination of totality, but tears the light part of the divine portrait loose from the dark half. This freedom was, in large part, a cultural phenomenon and the nobler occupation of those fortunate Athenians to whose lot it fell not to be Helots. Only he can elevate himself above nature who has another to carry earth’s heaviness for him. How would Plato have philosophized had he been his own house slave? What would Rabbi Jesus have taught, if he had had a wife and children to support? If he had had to till the fields in which the bread he broke grew, had had to weed the vineyard in which the wine he dispensed ripened? The dark heaviness of earth belongs to the image of totality. In this world, nothing good lacks an evil, no day a night, no summer a winter.
But civilized Man may lack a winter, for he can protect himself against the cold. He may lack the dirt, for he can bathe himself—the sin, for he can prudently separate himself from other people and thereby avoid many an occasion for evil. He can believe himself to be good and pure because necessity does not instruct him any differently. By contrast, natural Man has a completeness that one can admire but there is actually nothing there worth admiring: it is unending unconsciousness, mire and muck.
If, however, God wants to be born as a human being and to unite humanity in the community of the Holy Ghost, he will suffer the terrible torment of having to bear the world in its reality. It is a cross; yes, he himself is the cross. The world is God’s suffering and each individual human being who also wishes to even approximate his own totality knows very well that that means carrying a cross. But the eternal promise of bearing a cross is the Paraclete.
These ideas are present with moving beauty and simplicity in the American Negro film Green Pastures. In the movie, God had governed the world for many years with curses, thunder, lightning, and floods, but it never prospered. Finally, he realized that he, himself, would have to become human to get to the root of the evil.
After he had come to know the suffering of the world, this God become man left behind a comforter, the third person of the Trinity. He did so in order that he might reside in many individuals, particularly in those who in no way enjoyed the prerogative or possibility of a sinless condition. As the Paraclete, God drew closer to real human beings and their darkness even more than he had as the Son. The light God stepped onto the bridge of Man from the day side; God’s shadow, however, from the night side.
Who will decide this terrible dilemma that threatens to burst the miserable vessel with shudders and intoxications never before heard of? It will likely be the manifestation of a Holy Ghost from Man himself. Just as once Man became manifest from God, so, too, when the wheel comes full circle, may God become manifest from Man. Since, however, evil accompanies every good in this world, the antimimon pneuma in Man will create a human self-deification from the inhabitancy of the Paraclete. It will produce an inflation of self-presumptuousness, the prologue to which Nietzsche’s case has already outlined clearly. The more unconsciously the religious problem of the future presents itself, the greater is the danger for Man to misuse the divine core in himself as laughable or demonic self-inflation.
He should, instead, remain conscious of being nothing more than the stall in which the Lord was born. Even on the highest peak, we will never be beyond good and evil, and the more we learn about the inextricable entanglement of good and evil the more uncertain and confused our moral judgment will become. In the process, it will be of no use whatsoever to throw our moral criteria on the scrap heap and “erect new tablets” (following familiar patterns). Just as in the past, so into all the future will wrongs committed—intended or considered—avenge themselves on our psyche, unmoved by whether the world revolves around us or not. Our knowledge of good and evil has decreased with our increasing knowledge and experience, and it will decrease still more in the future without our being exempted from ethical demands. In this most extreme uncertainty, we need the illumination of a Ghost to make us holy and complete, a Ghost that can be anything else, just not our understanding. Thereby we hint at the mystery of inner experience, for which a capacity to touch more directly or consciously is denied us.
(translated from the German by Gary V. Hartman) Originally published in Quadrant, XXVIII:1, Winter 1998.