Carl Jung Depth Psychology Facebook Group


Symbolic Life

Mr. President, Mr. Minister, viri magnifici, Ladies and Gentlemen!

it gives me much pleasure to accept this precious gift in the name of our Institute.

For this I thank you, and also for the surprising and undeserved honour you have done me in baptising the Codex with my name.

I would like to express my special thanks both to Mr. Page, who through generous financial assistance made the purchase of the papyrus possible, and to Dr. Meier, who through unflagging efforts has given it a home.

Dr. Meier has asked me to say a few words to you about the psychological significance of Gnostic texts.

Of the four tracts contained in this codex, I should like to single out especially the Evangelium Veritatis, an important Valentinian text that affords us some insight into the mentality of the second century a.d.

“The Gospel of Truth” is less a gospel than a highly interesting commentary on the Christian message.

It belongs therefore to the series of numerous “phenomena of assimilation,” its purpose being to assimilate this strange and hardly understandable message to the Hellenistic-Egyptian world of thought.

It is evident that the author was appealing to the intellectual understanding of his reader, as if in remembrance of the words: “We preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews a stumbling-block, and unto the Greeks foolishness” (I Cor. 1.23).

For him Christ was primarily a metaphysical figure, a lightbringer, who went forth from the Father in order to illuminate the stupidity, darkness, and unconsciousness of mankind and to lead the individual back to his origins through self-knowledge.

This deliverance from agnosia relates the text to the accounts which Hippolytus, in his Elenchos, has left of the Gnostics, and of the Naassenes and Peratics in particular.

There we also find most of what I call the “phenomena of assimilation.”

By this term I mean to delineate those specifically psychic reactions aroused by the impact that the figure and message of Christ had on the pagan world, most prominently those allegories and symbols such as fish, snake, lion, peacock, etc., characteristic of the first Christian centuries, but also those much more extensive amplifications due to Gnosticism, which clearly were meant to illuminate and render more comprehensible the metaphysical role of the Saviour.

For the modern mind this accumulation of symbols, parables, and synonyms has just the opposite effect, since it only deepens the darkness and entangles the light-bringer in a network of barely intelligible analogies.

Gnostic amplification, as we encounter it in Hippolytus, has a character in part hymn-like, in part dream-like, which one invariably finds where an aroused imagination is trying to clarify an as yet still unconscious content.

These are, on the one hand, intellectual, philosophical—or rather, theosophical—speculations, and, on the other, analogies, synonyms, and symbols whose psychological nature is immediately convincing.

The phenomenon of assimilation mainly represents the reaction of the psychic matrix, i.e., the unconscious, which becomes agitated and responds with archetypal images, thereby demonstrating to what degree the message has penetrated into the depths of the psyche and how the unconscious interprets the phenomenon of Christ.

It is not likely that the Gnostic attempts at elucidation met with success in the pagan world, quite aside from the fact that the Church very soon opposed them and whenever possible suppressed them.

Luckily during this process some of the best pieces (to judge by their content) were preserved for posterity, so that today we are in a position to see in what way the Christian message was taken up by the unconscious of that age.

These assimilation phenomena are naturally of especial significance for psychologists and psychiatrists,  who are professionally concerned with the psychic background, and this is the reason why our Institute is so interested in acquiring and translating authentic Gnostic texts.

Although suppressed and forgotten, the process of assimilation that began with Gnosticism continued all through the Middle Ages, and it can still be observed in modern times whenever individual consciousness is confronted with its own shadow, or the inferior part of the personality.

This aspect of human personality, which is most often repressed owing to its incompatibility with one’s self-image, does not consist only of inferior characteristics but represents the entire unconcious; that is, it is almost always the first form in which unconsciousness brings itself to the attention of consciousness.

Freud’s psychology occupied itself exclusively, so to speak, with this aspect.

Behind the shadow, however, the deeper layers of the unconscious come forward, those which, so far as we are able to ascertain, consist of archetypal, sometimes instinctive, structures, so-called ‘patterns of behaviour.”

Under the influence of extraordinary psychic situations, especially life crises, these archetypal forms or images may spontaneously invade consciousness, in the case of sick persons just as in the case of healthy ones.

The general rule, however, is that modern man needs expert help to become conscious of his darkness, because in most cases he has long since forgotten this basic problem of Christianity: the moral and intellectual agnosia of the merely natural man.

Christianity, considered as a psychological phenomenon, contributed a great deal to the development of consciousness, and wherever this dialectical process has not come to a standstill we find new evidence of assimilation.

Even in medieval Judaism a parallel process took place over the centuries, independently of the Christian one, in the Kabbala.

Its nearest analogy in the Christian sphere was philosophical alchemy, whose psychological affinities with Gnosticism can easily be demonstrated.

The urgent therapeutic necessity of confronting the individual with his own dark side is a secular continuation of the Christian development of consciousness and leads to phenomena of assimilation similar to those found in Gnosticism, the Kabbala, and Hermetic philosophy.

The reactions of the matrix that we observe these days are not only comparable, both in form and in content, with Gnostic and medieval symbols, but presumably are also of the same sort, and have the same purpose as well, in that they make the figure of Hyios tou anthropou, Son of Man, the innermost concern of the individual, and also expand it into a magnitude comparable with that of the Indian purusha-atman, the anima mundi.

At this time, however, I would prefer not to go any further into these modern tendencies, which indeed were developing among the Gnostics.

Since comparison with these earlier historical stages is of the greatest importance in interpreting the modern phenomena, the discovery of authentic Gnostic texts is, especially for the direction our research is taking, of the greatest interest, all the more so in that it is not only of a theoretical but also of a practical nature.

If we seek genuine psychological understanding of the human being of our own time, we must know his spiritual history absolutely.

We cannot reduce him to mere biological data, since he is not by nature merely biological but is a product also of spiritual presuppositions.

I must unfortunately content myself with these bare outlines in attempting to explain our interest in a Gnostic text.

Further proof of our interest in Gnosticism and detailed explanations may be found in a number of studies that have already been published. ~Carl Jung, CW 18, Pages 826-829