Dear Mr. Sinclair, 7 January I955
Having read your novel Our Lady1 and having enjoyed every page of it, I cannot refrain from bothering you again with a letter. This is the trouble you risk when giving your books to a psychologist who has made it his profession to receive impressions and to have reactions.
On the day after I had read the story, I happened to come across the beautiful text of the “Exultet” in the Easter night liturgy:
Although I am peculiarly sensitive to the beauty of the liturgical language and of the feeling expressed therein, something was amiss, as if a corner had been knocked off or a precious stone fallen from its setting. When trying to understand, I instantly remembered the bewildered Marya confronted with the incongruities of the exorcism, her beautiful and simple humanity caught in the coils of a vast historical process which had supplanted her concrete and immediate life by the almost inhuman superstructure of a dogmatic and ritual nature, so strange that, in spite of the identity of names and biographical items, she was not even able to recognize the story of herself and of her beloved son. By the way, a masterful touch! I also remembered your previous novel3 about the idealistic youth who had almost become a saviour through one of those angelic tricks well known since the time of Enoch (the earthly adventure of Samiasaz4 and his angelic host). And moreover, I recalled your Jesus biography.5 Then I knew what it was that caused my peculiarly divided feeling: it was your common sense and realism, reducing the Holy Legend to human proportions and to probable possibilities, that never fails in knocking off a piece of the spiritual architecture or in causing a slight tremor of the Church’s mighty structure. The anxiety of the priests to suppress the supposedly satanic attempt at verisimilitude is therefore most convincing, as the devil is particularly dangerous when he tells the truth, just as he often does (vide the biography of St. Anthony of Egypt by St. Athanasius).
It is obviously your laudabilis intentio to extract a quintessence of truth from the incomprehensible chaos of historical distortions and dogmatic constructions, a truth of human size and acceptable to common sense. Such an attempt is hopeful and promises success, as the “truth” represented by the Church is so remote from ordinary understanding as to be well-nigh unacceptable. At all events, it conveys nothing any more to the modern mind that wants to understand since it is incapable of blind belief. In this respect, you continue the Strauss-Renan tradition in liberal theology.
I admit it is exceedingly probable that there is a human story at the bottom of it all. But under these conditions I must ask: Why the devil had this simple and therefore satisfactory story to be embellished and distorted beyond recognition? Or why had Jesus taken on unmistakably mythological traits already with the Gospel writers? And why is this process continued even in our enlightened days when the original picture has been obscured beyond all reasonable expectation? Why the Assumptio of 1950 and the Encyclical Ad caeli Reginam7 of Oct. 11, 1954?
The impossibility of a concrete saviour, as styled by the Gospel writers, is and has always been to me obvious and indubitable. Yet I know my contemporaries too well to forget that to them it is news hearing the simple fundamental story. Liberal theology and incidentally your laudabilis intentio have definitely their place where they make sense. To me the human story is the inevitable point de depart, the self-evident basis of historical Christianity. It is the “small beginnings” of an amazing development. But the human story—I beg your pardon—is just ordinary, well within the confines of everyday life, not exciting and unique and thus not particularly interesting. We have heard it a thousand times and we ourselves have lived it at least in parts. It is the we—known psychological ensemble of Mother and beloved Son, and how the legend begins with mother’s anxieties and hopes and son’s heroic fantasies and helpful friends and foes joining in, magnifying and augmenting little deviations from the truth and thus slowly creating the web called the reputation of a personality.
Here you have me—the psychologist—with what the French call his deformationpro professionnelle. He is blase, overfed with the “simple” human story, which does not touch his interest and particularly not his religious feeling. The human story is even the thing to get away from, as the small story is neither exciting nor edifying. On the contrary, one wants to hear the great story of gods and heroes and how the world was created and so on. The small stories can be heard where the women wash in the river, or in the kitchen or at the village well, and above all everybody lives them at home. That has been so since the dawn of consciousness. But there was a time in antiquity, about the fourth century B.C. (I am not quite certain about the date.
Being actually away on vacation, I miss my library!), when a man Euhemeros8 made himself a name through a then new theory: The divine and heroic myth is founded upon the small story of an ordinary human chief or petty Icing of local fame, magnified by a minstrel’s fantasy. All-Father Zeus, the mighty “gatherer of clouds,” was originally a little tyrant, ruling some villages from his maison forteupon a hill, and “nocturnis ululatibus horrenda Prosperpina”9 was presumably his awe-inspiring mother-in-law. That was certainly a time sick of the old gods and their ridiculous fairy stories, curiously similar to the “enlightenment” of our epoch equally fed up with its “myth” and welcoming any kind of iconoclasm, from the Encyclopedie10 of the XVIIIth century to the Freudian theory reducing the religious “illusion” to the basic “family romance” with its incestuous innuendos in the early XXth century. Unlike your predecessor, you do not insist upon thechronique scandaleuse of the Olympians and other ideals, but with a loving hand and with decency like a benevolent pedagogue, you take your reader by the hand: “I am going to tell you a better story, something nice and reasonable, that anybody can accept. I don’t repeat these ancient absurdities, these god-awful theologoumena11 like the Virgin Birth, blood and flesh mysteries, and other wholly superfluous miracle gossip. I show you the touching and simple humanity behind these gruesome inventions of benighted ecclesiastical brains.”
This is a kind-hearted iconoclasm far more deadly than the frankly murderous arrows from M. de Voltaire’s quiver: all these mythological assertions are so obviously impossible that their refutation is not even needed. These relics of the dark ages vanish like morning mist before the rising sun, when the idealistic and charming gardener’s boy experiments with miracles of the good old kind, or when your authentic Galilean grandmother “Marya” does not even recognize herself or her beloved son in the picture produced by the magic mirror of Christian tradition.
Yet, why should a more or less ordinary story of a good mother and her well-meaning idealistic boy give rise to one of the most amazing mental or spiritual developments of all times? Who or what is its agens? Why could the facts not remain as they were originally? The answer is obvious: The story is so ordinary that there would not have been any reason for its tradition, quite certainly not for its world-wide expansion. The fact that the original situation has developed into one of the most extraordinary myths about a divine heros, a God-man and his cosmic fate, is not due to its underlying human story, but to the powerful action of pine-existing mythological motifs attributed to the biographically almost unknown Jesus, a wandering miracle Rabbi in the style of the ancient Hebrew prophets, or of the contemporary teacher John the Baptizer, or of the much later Zaddiks of the Chassidim12 The immediate source and origin of the myth projected upon the teacher Jesus is to be found in the then popular Book of Enoch and its central figure of the “Son of Man” and his messianic mission. From the Gospel texts it is even manifest that Jesus identified himself with this “Son of Man.” Thus it is the spirit of his time, the collective hope and expectation which caused this astounding transformation not at all the more or less insignificant story of the man Jesus.
The true agens is the archetypal image of the Cod-man, appearing in Ezekiel’s vision13 for the first time in Jewish history, but in itself a considerably older figure in Egyptian theology, viz., Osiris and Horus.
The transformation of Jesus, i.e., the integration of his human self into a super- or inhuman figure of a deity, accounts for the amazing “distortion” of his ordinary personal biography. In other words: the essence of Christian tradition is by no means the simple man Jesus whom we seek in vain in the Gospels, but the lore of the God-man and his cosmic drama. Even the Gospels themselves make it their special job to prove that their Jesus is the incarnated God equipped with all the magic powers of a kurioV tvn pneumatwn.14 That is why they are so liberal with miracle gossip which they naively assume proves their point. It is only natural that the subsequent post-apostolic developments even went several points better in this respect, and in our days the process of mythological integration is still expanding and spreading itself even to Jesus’ mother, formerly carefully kept down to the human rank and file for at least 500 years of early church history. Boldly breaking through the sacrosanct rule about the definability of a new dogmatic truth, viz., that the said truth is only definibilis inasmuch as it was believed and taught in apostolic times, explicite or implicite, the pope has declared the Assumptio Mariae a dogma of the Christian creed. The justification he relies on is the pious belief of the masses for more than 1000 years, which he considers sufficient proof of the work of the Holy Ghost. Obviously the “pious belief” of the masses continues the process of projection, i.e., of transformation of human situations into myth.
But why should there be myth at all? My letter is already too long so that I can’t answer this last question any more, but I have written several books about it. I only wanted to explain to you my idea that in trying to extract the quintessence of Christian tradition, you have removed it like Prof. Bultmann in his attempt at “demythologizing” the Gospels. One cannot help admitting that the human story is so very much more probable, but it has little or nothing to do with the problem of the myth containing the essence of Christian religion. You catch your priests most cleverly in the disadvantageous position which they have created for themselves by their preaching a concrete historicity of clearly mythological facts. Nobody reading your admirable novel can deny being deeply impressed by the very dramatic confrontation of the original with the mythological picture, and very probably he will prefer the human story to its mythological “distortion.”
But what about the euanggelion, the “message” of the God-man and Redeemer and his divine fate, the very foundation of everything that is holy to the Church? There is the spiritual heritage and harvest of 1900 years still to account for, and I am very doubtful whether the reduction to common sense is the correct answer or not. As a matter of fact, I attribute an incomparably greater importance to the dogmatic truth than to the probable human story. The religious need gets nothing out of the latter, and at all events less than from a mere belief in Jesus Christ or any other dogma. Inasmuch as the belief is real and living, it works. But inasmuch as it is mere imagination and an effort of the will without understanding, I see little merit in it. Unfortunately, this unsatisfactory condition prevails in modem times, and in so far as there is nothing beyond belief without understanding but doubt and scepticism, the whole Christian tradition goes by the board as a mere fantasy. I consider this event a tremendous loss for which we are to pay a terrific price. The effect becomes visible in the dissolution of ethical values and a complete disorientation of our Weltanschauung. The “truths” of natural science or “existential philosophy” are poor surrogates. Natural “laws” are in the main mere abstractions (being statistical averages) instead of reality, and they abolish individual existence as being merely exceptional. But the individual as the only carrier of life and existence is of paramount importance. He cannot be substituted by a group or by a mass. Yet we are rapidly approaching a state in which nobody will accept individual responsibility any more. We prefer to leave it as an odious business to groups and organizations, blissfully unconscious of the fact that the group or mass psyche is that of an animal and wholly inhuman.
What we need is the development of the inner spiritual man, the unique individual whose treasure is hidden on the one hand in the symbols of our mythological tradition, and on the other hand in man’s unconscious psyche. It is tragic that science and its philosophy discourage the individual and that theology resists every reasonable attempt to understand its symbols. Theologians call their creed a symbolum,15 but they refuse to call their truth “symbolic.” Yet, if it is anything, it is anthropomorphic symbolism and therefore capable able of re-interpretation.
Hoping you don’t mind my frank discussion of your very inspiring writings,
I remain, with my best wishes for the New Year,
Yours sincerely, C. G. JUNG
P.S. Thank you very much for your kind letter that has reached me just now. I am amazed at the fact that you should have difficulties in finding a publisher.16 What is America coming to, when her most capable authors cannot reach their public any more? What a time!