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Carl Jung on Albert Schweitzer

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Letters of C. G. Jung: Volume 2, 1951-1961

To Pastor Willi Bremi

Dear Pastor Bremi, 11 December 1953

My very best thanks for the great and joyful surprise you have given me with your splendid book.

I am already reading it eagerly and have learnt much from it that I did not know very well before or even at all.

You know how to present a synoptic view without glossing over essentials.

I am now about a third of the way through.

It is interesting and positively thrilling to see how it comes to grips with the problems of our time.

So far I can follow and agree with you everywhere, only Albert Schweitzer raises a few questions.

I rate this man and his scientific achievements very highly and admire his gifts and versatility.

But I can see no particular merit in his recognition that Christ and the apostles erred in their expectation of the parousia and that this disappointment had repercussions on the development of ecclesiastical dogma.

We have known this for a long time.

That he said it out loud was no more than scientific decency.

This fact appears in such a glaring light only because it contrasts so strongly with the pusillanimity and dishonesty of others who knew it all along but did not want to admit it.

So far as I know, Schweitzer has given no answer to the conclusion that Christ is thereby irremediably relativized.

What has he to say to that?

What does he do with this shattering admission that Christ was wrong and therefore, perhaps, didn’t see clearly in other matters too?

For him Christ is the “supreme authority,” primus inter pares, and one of the best founders of religion along with Pythagoras, Zarathustra, Buddha, Confucius, etc.

But that was not how it was originally meant; at any rate no Christian creed and least of all Karl Barth would subscribe to such a judgment.

Every well-meaning rationalist and even the Freemasons and anthroposophists with their mental sloppiness could endorse the formula “supreme authority” without hesitation.

Faced with the truly appalling afflictio animae of the European man, Schweitzer abdicated from the task incumbent on the theologian, the cura anirnarum, and studied medicine in order to treat the sick bodies of natives.

For the native this is very gratifying, and I am the first to laud those doctors in the tropics who risked their lives, and frequently lost them, on lonely outposts and under more dangerous circumstances.

Yet none of these dead who rest in African earth is surrounded by the halo of a Protestant saint.

Nobody speaks of them.

Schweitzer is doing no more than his professional duty, like any other medical missionary.

Every doctor in the tropics would like nothing better than to build his own hospital on his lonely outpost, but unhappily he hasn’t Schweitzer’s talent for using money-making lectures and soul-stirring organ recitals for this purpose.

To put it the other way round: What would one think of a highly gifted surgeon and almost irreplaceable specialist who, coming upon a medical enigma, suddenly got himself trained as a Franciscan Father in order to read the Mass to peasants in the remotest corner of Lotschental and hear their confessions?

The Catholic Church would perhaps beatify him and after a few hundred years canonize him ad maiorem ecclesiae gloriam.

But what would Protestant reason, not to mention the Medical Association, have to say about it?

I’m afraid I can only feel it as painful that Schweitzer found the answer to catastrophic conclusion of his Quest of the Historical Jesus in abandoning the cura animarum in Europe and becoming a white saviour to the natives.

A fatal analogy with Nietzsche springs to mind: “God is dead” and the Superman is born, fully iii accordance with the old rule that people who repudiate the gods become gods themselves (example on a grand scale: Russia!).

A relativized Christ is no longer the same as the Christ of the gospels.

Anyone who relativizes him is in danger of becoming a saviour himself.

And where can that best be done? Well, in Africa.

I know Africa and I also know how the white doctor is worshipped there, how touchingly and how seductively!

Schweitzer has left it to the Christians in Europe to find out what can be done with a relativized Christ.

Allow me a few words on the ideal of caritas christiana.

It is a gift or a charisma like faith.

There are people who by nature are loving and kind, just as there are people who by nature believe and trust.

For them love and faith are a natural expression of life which also benefits their fellow men.

For the others, less gifted or not gifted at all, they are barely attainable ideals, a convulsive effort which is felt by their fellows too.

Here we come up against the question that is always overlooked: Who does the loving and who does the believing?

In other words, everything may very well depend on who performs a certain activity or how the agent of a function is constituted, for “the right means in the hands of the wrong man” works mischief, as Chinese wisdom rightly says.

How induce the necessary metanoia if a relativized Christ grips us as much as or as little as a Lao-tse or Mohammed?

Does the religious relationship really mean nothing but submission to an authority declared to be infallible?

Should we all, following Schweitzer’s banner, emigrate to Africa and cure native diseases when our own sickness of soul cries to heaven?

When you write “from Luther to Schweitzer” this raises the question: Do you put Luther and Schweitzer for comparison on the same plane?

If yes, then the further question arises: What innovation or guidance has Schweitzer brought to the world?

He is an eminent scholar and researcher, a brilliant organist, and a medical benefactor to the natives in Lambarene.

He has voiced the well-known fact that Christ was deceived about the parousia and has thus presented the world with a relativized and locally conditioned Christ.

The same honour could also be accorded to Prof. Volz, who has given an impressive account of Yahweh’s daemonism.

Is this Yahweh also the God of the New Testament?

It seems to me that the fate of Protestantism depends in large measure on the answer to these two questions.

In point of charity, Schweitzer’s philanthropic activity hardly bears comparison with the achievements of Pastor von Bodelschwingh,
General Booth, and countless other Sancti minores of Protestantism.

It seems to me, also, that the metaphysical foundations of belief as well as of ethical demands are not a matter of indifference.

What one usually hears, “You should want to believe and love,” stands in direct contrast to the charismatic character of these gifts.

The doctor may occasionally tell a demoralized patient, “You can also want to get well,” without seriously supposing that the illness is thereby cured and his knowledge and skill are superfluous.

The sermon is utterly inept as a cura animarum since the sickness is an individual affair and cannot be cured in a lecture hall.

The doctor has to take account of individual dispositions even when treating only the body.

In even higher degree the cura animarum is an individual affair that cannot be dealt with from the pulpit.

The answer to the above questions seems to me urgent because no one interested in religion can help seeing in the long run that the Protestant conception of God is unclarified and the Reedemer a dubiousauthority.

How can one pray to relativized gods when one is no longer a pre-Christian?

I beg you, my dear Pastor, not to take my layman’s questions amiss.

I am not out to criticize Schweitzer personally.

I am personally not acquainted with him.

But I am concerned about religious problems since they affect not only me myself but also my professional activity.

The book I have sent you as a return gift may elucidate for you the points of contact between psychology and theological questions.

As a parallel to your mandala I enclose a clipping from the BBC Journal.

Again with best thanks,

Very sincerely yours,

C.G. Jung

P.S. Perhaps you will allow me to draw your attention to p. 525.

There you derive myth from rational reflections.

This viewpoint is superseded.

All mythological ascents and descents derive from primitive psychic phenomena, i.e., from the trance states of sorcerers as found in the universal dissemination of shamanism.

The trance is regularly bound up with the recitation of journeys to heaven or hell.

Other regular features are the climbing of the tree (world-tree, world mountain, world-axis), reaching the heavenly abode (village, city), winning the heavenly bride (nuptiae coelestes, hierosgamos), or the descent to the underworld or world of the
dead, or to the “Mother of Animals” at the bottom of the sea.

All these are genuine psychic phenomena which can still be observed today in modified form.

In the Christian tradition you find the same mythologem in St. Augustine (Serm. Suppos. 1 20,8):

“Procedit Christus quasi sponsus de thalamo suo, praesagio nuptiarum exiit ad campum saeculi . . . pervenit usque ad crucis torum et ibi firmavit ascendendo coniugium; ubi cum sentiret anhelantem in suspiriis creaturam commercia pietatis se pro coniuge dedit ad poenam . . . et copulavit sibi perpetuo iure matronam.”

The arbor crucis11 is here interpreted as “marriage bed” (torus).

The most recent and perhaps most complete collection of shamanistic phenomenology is M. Eliade’s Le Chamanisme, 1951.

Here we have an archetypal psychic experience which can crop up spontaneously everywhere.

The archetype is part of the psychic substructure and has nothing to do with astronomical or meteorological phenomena. ~Carl Jung, Letters Vol. II, Pages 139-144.