Letters of C. G. Jung: Volume 2, 1951-1961
To H. Haberlandt
Dear Colleague, 23 April 1952
Very many thanks for kindly sending me your review of Aion.
It stands out from all the others because it is obvious that its author has really read the book, which is something I am grateful for.
I therefore venture to ask you to let me know in what sense you use the term “Gnosis.”
You can hardly mean knowledge in general, but more specifically the Christian or even that of Gnosticism.
In both the latter cases it has to do with metaphysical assertions or postulates, i.e., it is assumed that actually consists in the knowledge
of a metaphysical object.
Now I state expressly and repeatedly in my writings that psychology can do no more than concern itself with assertions and anthropomorphic images.
The possible metaphysical significance of these assertions is completely outside the bounds of empirical psychology as a science.
When I say “God” I mean an anthropomorphic (archetypal) God-image and no not imagine I have said anything about God.
I have neither denied nor affirmed him, unlike the Christian or Gnostic yvwm> which thinks it has said or has to say something about a metaphysical God.
The difficulty which gives rise to misunderstandings is that archetypes are “real.”
That is to say, effects can be empirically established whose cause is described hypothetically as archetype, just as in physics effects can be established whose cause is assumed to be the atom (which is merely a model).
Nobody has ever seen an archetype, and nobody has ever seen an atom either.
But the former is known to produce numinous effects and the latter explosions.
When I say “atom” I am talking of the model made of it; when I say “archetype” I am talking of ideas corresponding to it, but never of the thing-in itself, which in both cases is a transcendental mystery.
It would never occur to a physicist that he has bagged the bird with his atomic model (for instance Niels Bohr’s planetary system).
He is fully aware that he is handling a variable schema or model which merely points to unknowable facts.
This is scientific gnosis, such as I also pursue.
Only it is news to me that such knowledge is accounted “metaphysical.”
You see, for me the psyche is something real because it works as can be established empirically.
One must therefore assume that the effective archetypal ideas, including our model of the archetype, rest on something actual even though unknowable, just as the model of the atom rests on certain unknowable qualities of matter.
But science cannot possibly establish that, or to what extent, this unknowable substrate is in both cases
This can be decided only by dogmatics or faith, as for instance in Islamic philosophy (Al-Ghazzali), which explained gravitation as the will of Allah.
This is Gnosticism with its characteristic overstepping of epistemological barriers.
The Church’s proofs of God likewise come under this heading, all of which beg the question if looked at logically.
By contrast I pursue a scientific psychology which could be called a comparative anatomy of the psyche.
I postulate the psyche as something real.
But this hypothesis can hardly be called “gnostic” any more than the atomic theory can.
So my question is: Wherein consists my “gnosis” in your view, or what do you understand by “gnosis”?
Excuse me for bothering you with such a long letter.
But I wonder how it comes that so many people think I am a gnostic while equally many others accuse me of being an agnostic.
I would like to know whether I am making a fundamental mistake somewhere that occasions
I would be sincerely grateful to you if you could lighten my darkness.
With collegial regards,
Yours very sincerely,
C.G. Jung ~Carl Jung, Letters Vol. II, Pages 53-55.