Psychology and Religion: West and East (The Collected Works of C. G. Jung, Volume 11)

Prefatory Note to Answer to Job by Carl Jung.

The suggestion that I should tell you how Answer to Job came to be written sets me a difficult task, because the history of this book can hardly be told in a few words.

I have been occupied with its central problem for years. Many different sources nourished the stream of its thoughts, until one day and after long reflection the time was ripe to put them into words.

The most immediate cause of my writing the book is perhaps to be found in certain problems discussed in my book Aion especially the problems of Christ as a symbolic figure and of the antagonism Christ-Antichrist, represented in the traditional zodiacal symbolism of the two fishes.

In connection with the discussion of these problems and of the doctrine of Redemption, I criticized the idea of the privation bono as not agreeing with the psychological findings.

Psychological experience shows that whatever we call “good” is balanced by an equally substantial “bad” or “evil.” If “evil” is non-existent, then whatever there is must needs be “good.

Dogmatically, neither “good” nor “evil” can be derived from Man, since the “Evil One” existed before Man as one of the “Sons of God.”

The idea of the privatio bono began to play a role in the Church only after Mani.

Before this heresy, Clement of Rome taught that God rules the world with a right and a left hand, the right being Christ, the left Satan.

Clement’s view is clearly monotheistic, as it unites the opposites in one God.

Later Christianity, however, is dualistic, inasmuch as it splits off one half of the opposites, personified in Satan, and he is eternal in his state of damnation.

This crucial question forms the point of departure for the Christian theory of Redemption. It is therefore of prime importance.

If Christianity claims to be a monotheism, it becomes unavoidable to assume the opposites as being contained in God.

But the we are confronted with a major religious problem: the problem of Job. It is the aim of my book to point out its historical evolution since the time of Job down through the centuries to the most recent symbolic phenomena, such as the Assumptio Mariae, etc.

Moreover, the study of medieval natural philosophy of the greatest importance to psychology made me try to find an answer to the question: what image of God did these old philosophers have?

Or rather: how should the symbols which supplement their image of God be understood?

All this pointed to a complexio oppositorurn and thus recalled again the story of Job to my mind: Job who expected help from God against God.

This most peculiar fact presupposes a similar conception of the opposites in God.

On the other hand, numerous questions, not only from my patients, but from all over the world, brought up the problem of giving a more complete and explicit answer than I had given in Aion.

For many years I hesitated to do this because I was quite conscious of the probable consequences, and knew what a storm would be raised.

But I was gripped by the urgency and difficulty of the problem and was unable to throw it off.

Therefore I found myself obliged to deal with the whole problem, and I did so in the form of describing a personal experience, carried by subjective emotions.

I deliberately chose this form because I wanted to avoid the impression that I had any idea of announcing an “eternal truth.”

The book does not pretend to be anything but the voice or question of a single individual who hopes or expects to meet with thoughtfulness in the public.

Prefatory Note to Answer to Job by Carl Jung; Psychology and Religion.


I am distressed for thee, my brother . . .~II Samuel i : 26 (AV)

On account of its somewhat unusual content, my little book requires a short preface.

I beg of you, dear reader, not to overlook it.

For, in what follows, I shall speak of the venerable objects of religious belief.

Whoever talks of such matters inevitably runs the risk of being torn to pieces by the two parties who are in mortal conflict about those very things.

This conflict is due to the strange supposition that a thing is true only if it presents itself as a physical fact.

Thus some people believe it to be physically true that Christ was born as the son of a virgin, while others deny this as a physical impossibility.

Everyone can see that there is no logical solution to this conflict and that one would do better not to get involved in such sterile disputes. Both are right and both are wrong.

Yet they could easily reach agreement if only they dropped the word “physical.”

“Physical” is not the only criterion of truth: there are also psychic truths which can neither be explained nor proved nor contested in any physical way.

If, for instance, a general belief existed that the river Rhine had at one time flowed backwards from its mouth to its source, then this belief would in itself be a fact even though such an assertion, physically understood, would be deemed utterly incredible.

Beliefs of this kind are psychic facts which cannot be contested and need no proof.

Religious statements are of this type.

They refer without exception to things that cannot be established as physical facts.

If they did not do this, they would inevitably fall into the category of the natural sciences.

Taken as referring to anything physical, they make no sense whatever, and science would dismiss them as non-experienceable.

They would be mere miracles, which are sufficiently exposed to doubt as it is, and yet they could not demonstrate the reality of the spirit or meaning that underlies them, because meaning is something that always demonstrates itself and is experienced on its own merits.

The spirit and meaning of Christ are present and perceptible to us even without the aid of miracles.

Miracles appeal only to the understanding of those who cannot perceive the meaning.

They are mere substitutes for the not understood reality of the spirit. This is not to say that the living presence of the spirit is not occasionally accompanied by marvelous physical happenings.

I only wish to emphasize that these happenings can neither replace nor bring about an understanding of the spirit, which is the one essential thing.

The fact that religious statements frequently conflict with the observed physical phenomena proves that in contrast to physical perception the spirit is autonomous, and that psychic experience is to a certain extent independent of physical data.

The psyche is an autonomous factor, and religious statements are psychic confessions which in the last resort are based on unconscious, i.e., on transcendental, processes.

These processes are not accessible to physical perception but demonstrate their existence through the confessions of the psyche.

The resultant statements are filtered through the medium of human consciousness: that is to say, they are given visible forms which in their turn are subject to manifold influences from within and without.

That is why whenever we speak of religious contents we move in a world of images that point to something ineffable, We do not know how clear or unclear these images, metaphors, and concepts are in respect of their transcendental object.

If, for instance, we say “God,” we give expression to an image or verbal concept which has undergone many changes in the course of time.

We are, however, unable to say with any degree of certainty unless it be by faith whether these changes affect only the images and concepts, or the Unspeakable itself.

After all, we can imagine God as an eternally flowing current of vital energy
that endlessly changes shape just as easily as we can imagine him as an eternally unmoved, unchangeable essence.

Our reason is sure only of one thing: that it manipulates images and ideas which are dependent on human imagination and its temporal and local conditions, and which have therefore changed innumerable times in the course of their long history.

There is no doubt that there is something behind these images that transcends consciousness and operates in such a way that the statements do not vary limitlessly and chaotically, but clearly all relate to a few basic principles or archetypes. These, like the psyche itself, or like matter, are unknowable as such.

All we can do is to construct models of them which we know to be inadequate, a fact which is confirmed again and again by religious statements.

If, therefore, in what follows I concern myself with these “metaphysical” objects, I am quite conscious that I am moving in a world of images and that none of my reflections touches the essence of the Unknowable.

I am also too well aware of how limited are our powers of conception to say nothing of the feebleness and poverty of language to imagine that my remarks mean anything more in principle than what a primitive man means when he conceives of his god as a hare or a snake.

But, although our whole world of religious ideas consists of anthropomorphic images that could never stand up to rational criticism, we should never forget that they are based on numinous archetypes, i.e., on an emotional foundation which is unassailable by reason.

We are dealing with psychic facts which logic can overlook but not eliminate. In this connection Tertullian has already appealed, quite rightly, to the testimony of the soul.

In his De testimonio animae, he says: These testimonies of the soul are as simple as they are true, as obvious as they are simple, as common as they are obvious, as natural as they are common, as divine as they are natural.

I think that they cannot appear to anyone to be trifling and ridiculous if he considers the majesty of Nature, whence the authority of the soul is derived.

What you allow to the mistress you will assign to the disciple.

Nature is the mistress, the soul is the disciple; what the one has taught, or the other has learned, has been delivered to them by God, who is, in truth, the Master even of the mistress herself.

What notion the soul is able to conceive of her first teacher is in your power to judge, from that soul which is in you.

Feel that which causes you to feel; think upon that which is in forebodings your prophet; in omens, your augur; in the events which befall you, your foreseer.

Strange if, being given by God, she knows how to act the diviner for men! Equally strange if she knows Him by whom she has been given!

I would go a step further and say that the statements made in the Holy Scriptures are also utterances of the soul even at the risk of being suspected of psychologism.

The statements of the conscious mind may easily be snares and delusions, lies, or arbitrary opinions, but this is certainly not true of the statements of the soul: to begin with they always go over our heads because they point to realities that transcend consciousness.

These entia are the archetypes of the collective unconscious, and they precipitate complexes of ideas in the form of mythological motifs.

Ideas of this kind are never invented, but enter the field of inner perception as finished products, for instance in dreams.

They are spontaneous phenomena which are not subject to our will, and we are therefore justified in ascribing to them a certain autonomy.

They are to be regarded not only as objects but as subjects with laws of their own. From the point of view of consciousness, we can, of course, describe them as objects, and even explain them up to a point, in the same measure as we can describe and explain a living human being.

But then we have to disregard their autonomy.

If that is considered, we are compelled to treat them as subjects; in other words, we have to admit that they possess spontaneity and purposiveness, or a kind of consciousness and free will.

We observe their behaviour and consider their statements. This dual standpoint, which we are forced to adopt towards every relatively independent organism,
naturally has a dual result.

On the one hand it tells me what I do to the object, and on the other hand what it does (possibly to me).

It is obvious that this unavoidable dualism will create a certain amount of confusion in the minds of my readers, particularly as in what follows we shall have to do with the archetype of Deity.

Should any of my readers feel tempted to add an apologetic “only” to the God-images as we perceive them, he would immediately fall foul of experience, which demonstrates beyond any shadow of doubt the extraordinary numinosity of these images.

The tremendous effectiveness (mana) of these images is such that they not only give one the feeling of pointing to the Ens realissimum, but make one convinced that they actually express it and establish it as a fact.

This makes discussion uncommonly difficult, if not impossible.

It is, in fact, impossible to demonstrate God’s reality to oneself except by using images which have arisen spontaneously or are sanctified by tradition, and whose psychic nature and effects the naive-minded person has never separated from their unknowable metaphysical background.

He instantly equates the effective image with the transcendental x to which it points.

The seeming justification for this procedure appears self-evident and is not considered a problem so long as the statements of religion are not seriously questioned.

But if there is occasion for criticism, then it must be remembered that the image and the statement are psychic processes which are different from their transcendental object; they do not posit it, they merely point to it.

In the realm of psychic processes criticism and discussion are not only permissible but are unavoidable.

In what follows I shall attempt just such a discussion, such a “coming to terms” with certain religious traditions and ideas.

Since I shall be dealing with numinous factors, my feeling is challenged quite as much as my intellect.

I cannot, therefore, write in a coolly objective manner, but must allow my emotional subjectivity to speak if I want to describe what I feel when I read certain books of the Bible, or when I remember the impressions I have received from the doctrines of our faith.

I do not write as a biblical scholar (which I am not), but as a layman and physician who has been privileged to see deeply into the psychic life of many people.

What I am expressing is first of all my own personal view, but I know that I also speak in the name of many who have had similar experiences. ~Carl Jung; Answer to Job; Prefatory Note to Answer to Job; Psychology and Religion.