Carl Jung on the Holy Ghost
THE HOLY GHOST
The psychological relationship between man and the trinitarian life process is illustrated first by the human nature of Christ, and second by the descent of the Holy Ghost and his indwelling in man, as predicted and promised by the Christian message.
The life of Christ is on the one hand only a short, historical interlude for proclaiming the message, but on the other hand it is an exemplary demonstration of the psychic experiences connected with God’s manifestation of himself (or the realization of the self). The important thing for man is not the dewvbjjLevov and the bp^vov (what is “shown” and “done”), but what happens afterwards: the seizure of the individual by the Holy Ghost.
Here, however, we run into a great difficulty. For if we follow up the theory of the Holy Ghost and carry it a step further (which the Church has not done, for obvious reasons), we come inevitably to the conclusion that if the Father appears in the Son and breathes together with the Son, and the Son leaves the Holy Ghost behind for man, then the Holy Ghost breathes in man, too, and thus is the breath common to man, the Son, and the Father.
Man is therefore included in God’s sonship, and the words of Christ “Ye are gods” (John 10:34) appear in a significant light. The doctrine that the Paraclete was expressly left behind for man raises an enormous problem.
The triadic formula of Plato would surely be the last word in the matter of logic, but psychologically it is not so at all, because the psychological factor keeps on intruding in the most disturbing way.
Why, in the name of all that’s wonderful, wasn’t it “Father, Mother, and Son?” That would be much more “reasonable” and “natural” than “Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.” To this we must answer: it is not just a question of a natural situation, but of a product of human reflection 9 added on to the natural sequence of father and son.
Through reflection, “life” and its “soul” are abstracted from Nature and endowed with a separate existence. Father and son are united in the same soul, or, according to the ancient Egyptian view, in the same procreative force,”Reflection” should be understood not simply as an act of thought, but rather as an attitude. [Cf, Psychological Types, Def. 8. EDITORS.]
It is a privilege born of human freedom in contradistinction to the compulsion of natural law. As the word itself testifies (“reflection” means literally “bending back”), reflection is a spiritual act that runs counter to the natural process; an act whereby we stop, call something to mind, form a picture, and take up a relation to and come to terms with what we have seen. It should, therefore, be understood as an act of becoming conscious.
Ka-mutef. Ka-mutef is exactly the same hypostatization of an attribute as the breath or “spiration” of the Godhead.10
This psychological fact spoils the abstract perfection of the triadic formula and makes it a logically incomprehensible construction, since, in some mysterious and unexpected way, an important mental process peculiar to man has been imported into it.
If the Holy Ghost is, at one and the same time, the breath of life and a loving spirit and the Third Person in whom the whole trinitarian process culminates, then he is essentially a product of reflection, an hypostatized noumenon tacked on to the natural family-picture of father and son. It is significant that early Christian Gnosticism tried to get round this difficulty by interpreting the Holy Ghost as the Mother.
But that would merely have kept him within the archaic family-picture, within the tritheism and polytheism of the patriarchal world. It is, after all, perfectly natural that the father should have a family and that the son should embody the father. This train of thought is quite consistent with the father-world. On the other hand, the mother-interpretation would reduce the specific meaning of the Holy Ghost to a primitive image and destroy the most essential of the qualities attributed to him: not only is he the life common to Father and Son, he is also the Paraclete whom the Son left behind him, to procreate in man and bring forth works of divine parentage.
It is of paramount importance that the idea of the Holy Ghost is not a natural image, but a recognition of the living quality of Father and Son, abstractly conceived
as the “third” term between the One and the Other. Out of the tension of duality life always produces a “third” that
seems somehow incommensurable or paradoxical. Hence, as the “third,” the Holy Ghost is bound to be incommensurable and
paradoxical too. Unlike Father and Son, he has no name and no character. He is a function, but that function is the Third Person of the Godhead.
The Holy Spirit depicted as a dove descending on the Holy Family, with God the Father and angels shown atop, by Murillo, c. 1677.
He is psychologically heterogeneous in that he cannot be logically derived from the father-son relationship and can only be understood as an idea introduced by a process of human reflection. The Holy Ghost is an exceedingly “abstract” conception, since a “breath” shared by two figures characterized as distinct and not mutually interchangeable can hardly be conceived at all. Hence one feels it to be an artificial construction of the mind, even though, as the Egyptian Ka-mutef concept shows, it seems somehow to belong to the very essence of the Trinity.
Despite the fact that we cannot help seeing in the positing of such a concept a product of human reflection, this reflection need not necessarily have been a conscious act. It could equally well owe its existence to a “revelation,” i.e., to an unconscious reflection, and hence to an autonomous functioning of the unconscious, or rather of the self, whose symbols, as we have already said, cannot be distinguished from God-images. A religious interpretation will therefore insist that this hypostasis was a divine revelation. While it cannot raise any objections to such a
notion, psychology must hold fast to the conceptual nature of the hypostasis, for in the last analysis the Trinity, too, is an anthropomorphic configuration, gradually taking shape through strenuous mental and spiritual effort, even though already preformed by the timeless archetype.
This separating, recognizing, and assigning of qualities is a mental activity which, although unconscious at first, gradually filters through to consciousness as the work proceeds. What started off by merely happening to consciousness later becomes integrated in it as its own activity. So long as a mental or indeed any psychic process at all is unconscious, it is subject to the law governing archetypal dispositions, which are organized and arranged round the self.
And since the self cannot be distinguished from an archetypal God-image, it would be equally true to say of any such arrangement that it conforms to natural law and that it is an act of God’s will. (Every metaphysical statement is, ipso facto, unprovable). Inasmuch, then, as acts of cognition and judgment are essential qualities of consciousness, any accumulation of unconscious acts of this sort 13 will have the 12 For this seeming contradictio in adjecto see “On the Nature of the Psyche” 0954/55 edn., p. 383).
The effect of strengthening and widening consciousness, as one can see for oneself in any thorough analysis of the unconscious. Consequently, man’s achievement of consciousness appears as the result of prefigurative archetypal processes or to put it metaphysically as part of the divine life-process. In other words, God becomes manifest in the human act of reflection.
The nature of this conception (i.e., the hypostatizing of a quality) meets the need evinced by primitive thought to form a more or less abstract idea by endowing each individual quality with a concrete existence of its own. Just as the Holy Ghost is a legacy left to man, so, conversely, the concept of the Holy Ghost is something begotten by man and bears the stamp of its human progenitor.
And just as Christ took on man’s bodily nature, so through the Holy Ghost man as a spiritual force is surreptitiously included in the mystery of the Trinity, thereby raising it far above the naturalistic level of the triad and thus beyond the Platonic triunity. The Trinity, therefore, discloses itself as a symbol that comprehends the essence of the divine and the human. It is, as Koepgen 14
says, “a revelation not only of God but at the same time of man.”
The Gnostic interpretation of the Holy Ghost as the Mother contains a core of truth in that Mary was the instrument of God’s birth and so became involved in the trinitarian drama as a human being. The Mother of God can, therefore, be regarded as a symbol of mankind’s essential participation in the Trinity. The psychological justification for this assumption lies in the fact that thinking, which originally had its source in the self-revelations of the unconscious, was felt to be the manifestation of a power external to consciousness.
The primitive does not think; the thoughts come to him. We ourselves still feel certain particularly enlightening ideas as “in-fluences,” “in-spirations,” etc. Where judgments and flashes of insight are transmitted by unconscious activity, they are often attributed to an archetypal feminine figure, the anima or mother-beloved.
It then seems as if the inspiration came from the mother or from the beloved, the “femme inspiratrice.” In view of this, the Holy Ghost would have a tendency to exchange his neuter designation for a feminine one. (It may be noted that the Hebrew word for spirit ruach is predominantly feminine.) Holy Ghost and Logos merge in the Gnostic idea of Sophia, and again in the Sapientia of the medieval natural philosophers, who said of her:
“In gremio matris sedet sapientia patris” (the wisdom of the father lies in the lap of the mother). These psychological relationships do something to explain why the Holy Ghost was interpreted as the mother, but they add nothing to our understanding of the Holy Ghost as such, because it is impossible to see how the mother could come third when her natural place would be second.
Since the Holy Ghost is an hypostasis of “life,” posited by an act of reflection, he appears, on account of his peculiar nature, as a separate and incommensurable “third whose very peculiarities testify that it is neither a compromise nor a mere triadic appendage, but rather the logically unexpected resolution of tension between Father and Son. The fact that it is precisely a process of human reflection that irrationally creates the uniting “third” is itself connected with the nature of the drama of redemption, whereby God descends into the human realm and man mounts up to the realm of divinity.
Thinking in the magic circle of the Trinity, or trinitarian thinking, is in truth motivated by the “Holy Spirit” in so far as it is never a question of mere cogitation but of giving expression to imponderable psychic events. The driving forces that work themselves out in this thinking are not conscious motives; they come from an historical occurrence rooted, in its turn, in those obscure psychic assumptions for which one could hardly find a better or more succinct formula than the “change from father to son,” from unity to duality, from non-reflection to criticism.
To the extent that personal motives are lacking in trinitarian thinking, and the forces motivating it derive from impersonal and collective psychic conditions, it expresses a need of the unconscious psyche far surpassing all personal needs. This need, aided by human thought, produced the symbol of the Trinity, which was destined to serve as a saving formula of wholeness in an epoch of change and psychic transformation. Manifestations of a psychic activity not caused or consciously willed by man himself have always been felt to be daemonic, divine, or “holy,” in the sense that they heal and make whole.
His ideas of God behave as do all images arising out of the unconscious: they compensate or complete the general mood or attitude of the moment, and it is only through the integration of these unconscious images that a man becomes a psychic whole. The “merely conscious” man who is all ego is a mere fragment, in so far as he seems to exist apart from the unconscious.
But the more the unconscious is split off, the more formidable the shape in which it appears to the conscious mind if not in divine form, then in the more unfavourable form of obsessions and outbursts of affect. Gods are personifications of unconscious contents, for they reveal themselves to us through the unconscious activity of the psyche.
Trinitarian thinking had something of the same quality, and its passionate profundity rouses in us latecomers a naive astonishment. We no longer know, or have not yet discovered,what depths in the soul were stirred by that great turning point in human history. The Holy Ghost seems to have faded away without having found the answer to the question he set humanity. ~Carl Jung,Psychology and Religion, Pages 157-163.