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Image: The oldest known icon of Christ Pantocrator – Saint Catherine’s Monastery. The two different facial expressions on either side emphasize Christ’s dual nature as both divine and human.

Psychology and Religion


The Trinity and its inner life process appear as a closed circle, a self-contained divine drama in which man plays, most, a passive part. It seizes on him and, for a period of several centuries, forced him to occupy his mind passionately with all sorts of queer problems which today seem incredibly abstruse, if not downright absurd.

It is, in the first place, difficult to see what the Trinity could possibly mean for us, either practically, morally, or symbolically.

Even theologians often feel that speculation on this subject is a more or less oppose juggling with ideas, and there are not a few who could get along quite comfortably without the divinity of Christ, and for whom the role of the Holy Ghost, both inside and outside the Trinity, is an embarrassment of the first order.

Writing of the Athanasian Creed, D. F. Strauss remarks: “The truth is that anyone who has sworn to the Symbolum Quicuinque has abjured the laws of human thought.”

Naturally, the only person who can talk like that is one who is no longer impressed by the revelation of holiness and has fallen back on his own mental activity.

This, so far as the revealed archetype is concerned, is an inevitably retrograde step: the liberalistic humanization of Christ goes back to the rival doctrine of homoiousia and to Arianism, while modern anti-trinitarianism has a conception of God that is more Old Testament or Islamic in character than Christian.

Obviously, anyone who approaches this problem with rationalistic and intellectualistic assumptions, like D. F. Strauss, is bound to find the patristic discussions and arguments completely nonsensical.

But that anyone, and especially a theologian, should fall back on such manifestly incommensurable criteria as reason, logic, and the like, shows that, despite all the mental exertions of the Councils and of scholas􀢢c theology, they failed to bequeath to posterity an intellectual understanding of the dogma that would lend the slightest support to belief in it.

There remained only submission to faith and renunciation of one’s own desire to understand. Faith, as we know from experience, o􀁛en comes off second best and has to give in to criticism which may not be at all qualified to deal with the object of faith.

Criticism of this kind always puts on an air of great enlightenment that is to say, it spreads round itself that thick darkness which the Word once tried to penetrate with its light: ”And the light shineth in the darkness, and the darkness comprehended it not.”

Naturally, it never occurs to these critics that their way of approach is incommensurable with their object.

They think they have to do with rational facts, whereas it entirely escapes them that it is and always has been primarily a ques􀢢on of irrational psychic phenomena.

That this is so can be seen plainly enough from the unhistorical character of the gospels, whose only concern was to represent the miraculous figure of Christ as graphically and impressively as possible.

Further evidence of this is supplied by the earliest literary witness, Paul, who was closer to the events in question than the apostles.

It is frankly disappointing to see how Paul hardly ever allows the real Jesus of Nazareth to get a word in.

Even at this early date (and not only in John) he is completely overlaid, or rather smothered, by metaphysical conceptions: he is the ruler over all daemonic forces, the cosmic saviour, the mediating God-man. The whole pre-Christian and Gnostic theology of the Near East (some of whose roots go still further back) wraps itself about him and turns him before our eyes into a dogmatic figure who has no more need of historicity.

At a very early stage, therefore, the real Christ vanished behind the emotions and projections that swarmed about him from far and near; immediately and almost without trace he was absorbed into the surrounding religious systems and moulded into their archetypal exponent.

He became the collective figure whom the unconscious of his contemporaries expected to appear, and for this reason it is pointless to ask who he ”really” was. Were he human and nothing else, and in this sense historically true, he would probably be no more enlightening a figure than, say, Pythagoras, or Socrates, or Apollonius of Tyana.

He opened men’s eyes to revelation precisely because he was, from everlasting, God, and therefore unhistorical; and he functioned as such only by virtue of the consensus of unconscious expectation.

If nobody had remarked that there was something special about the wonder-working Rabbi from Galilee, the darkness would never have noticed that a light was shining.

Whether he lit the light with his own strength, or whether he was the victim of the universal longing for light and broke down under it, are questions which, for lack of reliable information, only faith can decide.

At any rate the documentary reports relating to the general projection and assimilation of the Christ-figure are unequivocal. There is plenty of evidence for the co-operation of the collective unconscious in view of the abundance of parallels from the history of religion.

In these circumstances we must ask ourselves what it was in man that was stirred by the Christian message, and what was the answer he gave. If we are to answer this psychological question, we must first of all examine the Christ-symbolism contained in the New Testament, together with the patristic allegories and medieval iconography, and compare this material with the archetypal content of the unconscious psyche in order to find out what archetypes have been constellated.

The most important of the symbolical statements about Christ are those which reveal the attributes of the hero’s life: improbable origin, divine father, hazardous birth, rescue in the nick of time, precocious development, conquest of the mother and of death, miraculous deeds, a tragic, early end, symbolically significant manner of death, postmortem effects (reappearances, signs and marvels, etc.).

As the Logos, Son of the Father, Rex gloriae, Judex mundi, Redeemer, and Saviour, Christ is himself God, an all-embracing totality, which, like the definition of Godhead, is expressed iconographically by the circle or mandala.

Here I would men􀢢on only the traditional representation of the Rex gloriae in a mandala, accompanied by a quaternity composed of the four symbols of the evangelists (including the four seasons, four winds, four rivers, and so on).

Another symbolism of the same kind is the choir of saints, angels, and elders grouped round Christ (or God) in the centre.

Here Christ symbolizes the integration of the kings and prophets of the Old Testament.

As a shepherd he is the leader and centre of the flock.

He is the vine, and those that hang on him are the branches. His body is bread to be eaten, and his blood wine to be drunk; he is also the mystical body formed by the congregation. In his human manifestation he is the hero and God-man, born without sin, more complete and more perfect than the natural man, who is to him what a child is to an adult, or an animal (sheep) to a human being.

These mythological statements, coming from within the Christian sphere as well as from outside it, adumbrate an archetype that expresses itself in essentially the same symbolism and also occurs in individual dreams or in fantasy-like projections upon living people (transference phenomena, hero-worship, etc.).

The content of all such symbolic products is the idea of an overpowering, all-embracing, complete or perfect being, represented either by a man of heroic proportions, or by an animal with magical attributes, or by a magical vessel or some other geometrically, by a mandala.

This archetypal idea is a reflection of the individual’s wholeness, i.e., of the self, which is present in him as an unconscious image.

The conscious mind can form absolutely no conception of this totality, because it includes not only the conscious but also the unconscious psyche, which is, as such, inconceivable and irrepresentable. ~Carl Jung, CW 11, Para 226 -230