The Symbolic Life: Miscellaneous Writings (The Collected Works of C. G. Jung, Volume 18)

[Carl Jung “On Resurrection.”]

You are quite right: I have never dealt with all aspects of the Christ-figure for the simple reason that it would have been too much.

I am not a theologian and I have had no time to acquire all the knowledge that is wanted in order to attempt the solution of such problems as that of the Resurrection.

Indubitably resurrection is one of the most—if not the most—important item in the myth or the biography of Christ and in the history of the primitive church.

i. Resurrection as a historical fact in the biography of Jesus

Three Gospels have a complete report about the post-mortal events after the Crucifixion.

Mark, however, mentions only the open and empty tomb and the presence of the angel, while the apparition of the visible body of Christ has been reported by a later and in an obvious addendum.

The first report about the resurrected Christ is made by Mary Magdalene, from whom Christ had driven out seven devils.

This annotation has a peculiarly cursory character (cf. in particular Mark 1 1 : 19), as if somebody had realized that Mark’s report was altogether too meagre and that the usual things told about Christ’s death ought to be added for the sake of completeness.

The earliest source about the Resurrection is St. Paul, and he is no eyewitness, but he strongly emphasizes the absolute and vital importance of resurrection as well as the authenticity of the reports. (Cf. I Cor. 15 : 14IT and 15:5^”.)

He mentions Cephas (Peter) as the first witness, then the twelve, then the five hundred, then James, then the apostles, and finally himself.

This is interesting, since his experience was quite clearly an understandable vision, while the later reports insist upon the material concreteness of Christ’s body (particularly Luke 24 : 42 and John 20 : 24fT.).

The evangelical testimonies agree with each other only about the emptiness of the tomb, but not at all about the chronology of the eyewitnesses.

There the tradition becomes utterly unreliable.

If one adds the story about the end of Judas, who must have been a very interesting object to the hatred of the Christians, our doubts of the Resurrection story are intensified: there are two absolutely different versions of the way of his death.

The fact of the Resurrection is historically doubtful. If we extend the beneficium dubii to those contradictory statements we could consider the possibility of an individual as well as collective vision (less likely of a materialization)
The conclusion drawn by the ancient Christians—since Christ has risen from the dead so shall we rise in a new and incorruptible body—is of course just what St. Paul has feared most, viz., invalid and as vain as the expectation of the immediate parousia, which has come to naught.

As the many shocking miracle-stories in the Gospels show, spiritual reality could not be demonstrated to the uneducated and rather primitive population in any other way but by crude and tangible “miracles” or stories of such kind.

Concretism was unavoidable with all its grotesque implications—for example, the believers in Christ were by the grace of God to be equipped with a glorified body at their resurrection, and the unbelievers and unredeemed sinners were too, so that they could be plagued in hell or purgatory for any length of time.

An incorruptible body was necessary for the latter performance, otherwise damnation would have come to an end in no time.

Under those conditions, resurrection as a historical and concrete fact cannot be maintained, whereas the vanishing of the corpse could be a real fact.

  1. Resurrection as a psychological event.

The facts here are perfectly clear and well documented: The life of the God-man on earth comes to an end with his resurrection and transition to heaven.

This is firm belief since the beginning of Christianity.

In mythology it belongs to the hero that he conquers death and brings back to life his parents, tribal ancestors, etc.

He has a more perfect, richer, and stronger personality than the ordinary mortal.

Although he is also mortal himself, death does not annihilate his existence: he continues living in a somewhat modified form.

On a higher level of civilization he approaches the type of the dying and resurrected god, like Osiris, who becomes the y greater personality in every individual (like the Johannine Christ), viz., the complete (or perfect) man, the self.

The self as an archetype represents a numinous wholeness, which can be expressed only by symbols (e.g., mandala, tree, etc.).

As a collective image it reaches beyond the individual in time and space and is therefore not subjected to the corruptibility of one body; the realization of the self is nearly always connected with the feeling of timelessness, “eternity,” or immortality. (Cf. the personal and super-personal atman.)

We do not know what an archetype is (i.e., consists of), since the nature of the psyche is inaccessible to us, but we know that archetypes exist and work.

From this point of view it is no longer difficult to see to what degree the story of the Resurrection represents the projection of an indirect realization of the self that had appeared in the figure of a certain man, Jesus of Nazareth, of whom many rumors were circulating.

In those days the old gods had ceased to be significant.

Their power had already been replaced by the concrete one of the visible god, the Caesar, whose sacrifices were the only obligatory ones.

But this substitution was as unsatisfactory as that of God by the communistic state.

It was a frantic and desperate attempt to create—out of no matter how doubtful material—a spiritual monarch, a pantokrator, in opposition to the concretized divinity in Rome.

(What a joke of the esprit d’escalier of history—the substitution for the Caesar of the pontifical office of St. Peter)

Their need of a spiritual authority then became so particularly urgent, because there was only one divine individual, the Caesar, while all the others were anonymous and hadn’t even private gods listening to their prayers.

They took therefore to magic of all kinds.

Our actual situation is pretty much the same: we are rapidly becoming the slaves of an anonymous state as the highest authority ruling our lives.

Communism has realized this ideal in the most perfect way.

Unfortunately our democracy has nothing to offer in the way of different ideals; it also believes in the concrete power of the state. There is no spiritual authority comparable to that of the state anywhere.

We are badly in need of a spiritual counterbalance to the ultimately Bolshevistic concretism.

It is again the case of the “witnesses” against the Caesar.

The gospel writers were as eager as St. Paul to heap miraculous qualities and spiritual significances upon that almost unknown young rabbi, who after a career lasting perhaps only one year had met with an untimely end.

What they made of him we know, but we don’t know to what extent this picture has anything to do with the truly historical man, smothered under an avalanche of projections.

Whether he was the eternally living Christ and Logos, we don’t know.

It makes no difference anyhow, since the image of the God-man lives in everybody and has been incarnated (i.e., projected) in the man Jesus, to make itself visible, so that people could realize him as their own interior homo, their self.

Thus they had regained their dignity: everybody had divine nature. Christ had told them: Dn estisl “ye are gods”; and as such they were his brethren, of his nature, and had overcome annihilation either through the power of the Caesar or through physical death.

They were “resurrected with Christ.”

Since we are psychic beings and not entirely dependent upon space and time, we can easily understand the central importance of the resurrection idea: we are not completely subjected to the powers of annihilation because our psychic totality reaches beyond the barrier of space and time.

Through the progressive integration of the unconscious we have a reasonable chance to make experiences of an archetypal nature providing us with the feeling of continuity
before and after our existence.

The better we understand the archetype, the more we participate in its life and the more we realize its eternity or timelessness.

As roundness signifies completeness or perfection, it also expresses rotation (the rolling movement) or progress on an endless circular way, an identity with the sun and the stars (hence the beautiful confession in the “Mithraic Liturgy”; (“I am a Star following his way like you”).

The realization of the self also means a reestablishment of Man as the microcosm, i.e., man’s cosmic relatedness.

Such realizations are frequently accompanied by synchronistic events. (The prophetic experience of vocation belongs to this category.)

To the primitive Christians as to all primitives, the Resurrection had to be a concrete, materialistic event to be seen by the eyes and touched by the hands, as if the spirit had no existence of its own.

Even in modern times people cannot easily grasp the reality of a psychic event, unless it is concrete at the same time.

Resurrection as a psychic event is certainly not concrete, it is just a psychic experience.

It is funny that the Christians are still so pagan that they understand spiritual existence only as a body and as a physical event.

I am afraid our Christian churches cannot maintain this shocking anachronism any longer, if they don’t want to get into intolerable contradictions.

As a concession to this criticism, certain theologians have explained St. Paul’s glorified (subtle) body given back to the dead on the day of judgment as the authentic individual “form,” viz., a spiritual idea sufficiently characteristic of the individual that the material body could be skipped.

It was the evidence for man’s survival after death and the hope to escape eternal damnation that made resurrection in the body the mainstay of Christian faith.

We know only positively of the fact that space and time are relative to the psyche. ~Carl Jung, The Symbolic Life, Pages 692-696.