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Jung and White and the God of terrible double aspect by Ann C. Lammers, Vermont, USA

 Abstract: This paper discusses theoretical, historical and personal issues in the ill-fated friendship and intellectual collaboration between C.G. Jung and the Dominican scholar Victor White, O.P., based on primary documents in their correspondence, 1945 to 1960. The collaboration of Jung and White began with high expectations but fell into painful disagreements about the nature of God, the problem of evil, and shadow aspects of the Self. They made a rapid commitment to their working alliance based on personal and professional hopes, but paying scant attention to their divergent underlying assumptions. White hoped to build theoretical and practical connections between Jungian psychology and Catholic theology for the sake of modern Catholics. Jung needed learned theological support as he explored the psychological meanings of Christian symbols, including the central symbol of Christ. At the grandest level, they both hoped to transform the Christian West, after the moral disaster of World War II.

Their collaboration was risky for both men, especially for White in his career as a Dominican, and it led to considerable suffering. The Self is prominent in the relationship, symbolically present in the text of the correspondence and consciously forming their major topic of debate. From the start, the Self is an archetypal field, drawing the friends into their visionary task at the risk of unconscious inflation. Later the Self is revealed with its shadow as a burden, a puzzle, and a basis for estrangement. Finally, with the intervention of feminine wisdom, mortal suffering is transformed by an attitude of conscious sacrifice.

In 1991, when I first received copies of the letters of Jung and White, I hurried to Switzerland to talk to Franz Jung about them. He had met Victor White only fleetingly and remembered little about the English priest who had visited his father. He did remember a day, close to the end of his father’s life, when with great solemnity Jung handed him a zippered case containing Father White’s letters, telling him to guard its contents with extraordinary care. He was to keep the letters under lock and key, but also to look for an editor who could deal even-handedly with both sides of this correspondence and bring it eventually to publication.

From what follows, you will understand Jung’s insistence on keeping his fifteen-year correspondence with Victor White locked away until its difficult aspects could be sensitively addressed. Mindful of the painful course of his friendship with White and its tragic ending, he was protective of their vulnerabilities—his own and, even more, his friend’s. At the same time Jung always intended—it is clear from the way he treated the drafts of several letters— that their debates about goodness, evil, and the soul’s experience of God should be shared with readers who cared about these life-and-death matters as much as they had done.

For the past three decades, thanks to the C.G. Jung Letters (Jung 1906-1961), readers have had access to important documents concerning the Jung-White collaboration. Two-thirds of Jung’s letters to White—the major ones—are published in those volumes. By reading with care and with close attention to Adler’s and Jaffe’s footnotes, one could discern the outlines of the relationship and its primary tensions. But for anyone with a burning interest in the issues that called these two thinkers into collaboration, such a partial, one-sided glimpse of their debate was not enough. White’s letters have remained locked away, and many people have been understandably impatient to study both sides of the conversation.

A major breakthrough came in the spring of 1991, when the heirs of Jung and White permitted copies of the Jung-White letters to be released simultaneously to four parties: to the C.G. Jung Archive at the ETH (the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology) in Zurich; to the archive of the English Dominicans (White’s legal heirs); to Adrian Cunningham,1 the British scholar empowered in 1990 to act for the English Dominicans in matters related to White’s papers; and finally to me, to help me turn my dissertation into a book.2 Mr. Cunningham began to edit the Jung-White letters for publication, but before long had to let the project drop. Ten years would pass before I learned of the health crisis that had forced him to stop work. My book on Jung and White appeared in 1994, but without its planned companion volume.

In late 1997 another breakthrough occurred. Several of Jung’s handwritten letters to White surfaced unexpectedly, brought to auction by an anonymous seller. Eighteen of these documents were added to the Jung-White collection at the ETH. Learning of the new material, Murray Stein expressed an interest in readying this important correspondence for publication. He offered to edit the volume, but after some discussion we agreed that I would assume the main part of that burden, while he would remain close to the project as consulting editor. The heirs of Jung and White kindly gave us permission to proceed and, after legal preliminaries were dealt with, we started work in 1999.

1. The decision of the Jung heirs to release the Jung-White correspondence from the locked archive was taken in response to a confluence of events, as described in The Jung-White Letters (2007, pp. 358f). Adrian Cunningham’s initiative, and the executive authority given him by the English Dominican Province, played a significant role in the timing and outcome of the process.

2 ‘A Study of the Relation between Theology and Psychology: Victor White and C.G. Jung’ was accepted by Yale’s Religious Studies Department in 1987. The ensuing book, In God’s Shadow: The Collaboration of Victor White and C.G. Jung, was published by Paulist Press in 1994.

By the summer of 2001 I realized that I needed Adrian Cunningham’s help. Specifically, he had access to copyright holders from whom key permissions were needed. More importantly, he was the real expert on Victor White. I wrote to him shortly before 11th September 2001, and we talked at the end of that shattering month. Adrian explained why he had been unable to edit the letters ten years before, and he agreed to be my co-editor. So we began what became several years of long-distance collaboration and are only now3 reaching the end of that journey. Due to the complexity of the project and the difficulties of any creative collaboration, our progress has often seemed glacially slow.

In contrast, the story of Jung and White began in a hectic rush. Victor White first wrote to Jung in August 1945, enclosing the offprints of four recently published essays, in which he traced the connections he found between Jung’s psychology and the Thomistic theology that was his own stock in trade. His cover letter to Jung was a brief note, handwritten on both sides of a half-sheet of Blackfriars stationery, its deep feeling only partly disguised by its slightly wry tone.

In 1939 White had turned to Jungian analysis during an emotional breakdown in which he questioned every part of his life as a Catholic, a Dominican and a theologian. On a friend’s suggestion he wrote to John Layard in London, whom he knew already through church circles. White’s formal analysis with Layard was brief, but sufficient to let him return to work as a teacher of dogmatic theology at the Dominican school, Blackfriars, Oxford. He also attended a study group led by Layard, which included Gerhard Adler, Vera van der Heydt, and Toni Sussmann.4 Layard encouraged White in his forays into Jung’s work and was pleased when he presented two lectures to the group in London. But it was Gerhard Adler, not Layard, who urged White to write to Jung after the war.

For the previous five years White had immersed himself in Jung’s writings, and he was now ready to stake his career on an ambitious bridge-building project, whose goal was to develop strong theoretical and practical connections between the church’s doctrines and Jungian psychology. Such a synthesis, he hoped, would meet the spiritual needs of modern people, hungry for meaning, for whom the church’s symbols had lost power. It is a fair guess that White’s enthusiasm for Jung’s psychology also addressed spiritual needs of his own.

Victor White was born in 1902 into a clergy family. His father was an Anglican parish priest, of a sort that made White leave the Church of England as soon as he could. Feeling an early call to priesthood, he converted to Catholicism in his teens and entered the Dominicans before he turned twenty-one. Later, as his youthful projections onto his adoptive church faded, he found himself at odds

3 This paper was given in April 2006, a year before the book’s publication.

4 Toni Sussmann, a German Jewish convert to Catholicism, had been Jung’s analysand and student in the 1920s. She had escaped from Berlin in 1938 with Jung’s help and was working in England as an analyst and trainer of analysts. Victor White also trained with her for a time.

with the fundamentalist dogmatism and authoritarianism that he saw practised in the Roman hierarchy, and even by members of his own Order.

An avid thinker with an independent turn of mind, by 1940 White was known as a first-class Thomist. But there are different schools of Thomism. White taught Aquinas to his classes, of course; but he emphatically opposed the conservative version of Thomism, often called neo-scholasticism, which was dominant in the Roman hierarchy of the period. In keeping with this defensive use of St. Thomas, the Dominicans had adopted an anti-modernist oath that White especially detested. He was required to sign it twice, each time at the cost of enormous inner conflict. So, although his discovery of Jung’s thought may have been salvific for him personally, it put his career in jeopardy, since his published works after 1945 focused mainly on Jung—reviews of Jung’s publications, defences of Jungian life and practice, and essays showing how far Catholic theology could (or could not) overlap with Jungian psychology.

In Switzerland, meanwhile, during the war years Jung had been searching for a Catholic conversation partner to help him to master the church’s language about its symbol-system, so that he might write more intelligibly about this tradition and explore its psychological ramifications. In 1940 he had surprised himself by giving an extemporaneous lecture on the Trinity, an impassioned talk on a subject that was both close to his heart and, as he liked to say, risky. His lecture had no prepared text, so afterwards it had to be reconstructed from the notes of listeners. Now Jung wanted to revise it further for formal publication but found himself stumped, lacking confidence that he could say what he meant without trampling the church’s usage.

In approaching Catholic traditions, Jung can be compared to an anthropolo­gist trying to get close enough to a foreign culture to make a ‘thick description’ of it, before going on to interpret it through his own theory. Victor White seemed to be just what he needed, a living dictionary of Catholic tradition. In his first major letter to him, Jung exclaims, ‘What a pity, that you live in England and that I have you not at my elbow, when I am blundering in the wide field of theological knowledge’ (5 Oct. 1945).

Jung had been working with local theologians without much success. About a Jesuit in Innsbruck, he writes, ‘It is most difficult to find out how far his psychological understanding reaches. I think he is too careful’ (5 Oct. 1945). Of a Benedictine in Zurich he comments, in another correspondence: ‘It’s wonderful to be in the presence of the medieval mentality still at its best’ (Jung to Baynes 27 May 1941, Letters I, p. 300). Now he greets White as a ‘white raven’, that is, a rare bird, a theologian who understands him:

… you are the only theologian I know of who has really understood … what the problem of psychology in our present world means. You have seen its enormous implications.  You have rendered justice to my empirical and practical standpoint throughout. (Jung 5 Oct. 1945)

In this letter Jung actually appears to be offering to meet White halfway in his bridge-building project. He warmly applauds the beginning White has already made. White must have been ecstatic when he read these words:

I sympathize fully with you, when you say: ‘The task before us is gigantic indeed’.

… I would be surely among the first to welcome an explicit attempt at integrating the fruits of psychology into the ecclesiastic doctrine … I am grateful for every hint you dropped in your papers. (ibid.)

In his next letter, White includes a catalogue of his interests and describes how he makes use of Jung’s psychology in the classroom and in pastoral counselling. While he does not claim to be an analyst, he admits that his counselling sessions sometimes resemble analysis. He begs Jung to tell him if he finds anything wrong in this, and especially if Jung finds outright errors in what he has written. At this early stage Jung finds little in White’s work to criticize. As to White’s question whether his pastoral work may approach analysis, Jung does not directly comment. From the context of their letters, though, the indirect answer is, ‘if it looks like analysis, let’s call it that’. He and White write as colleagues about the people each of them are trying to help. Jung sometimes accepts referrals from White, individuals whom White has seen and now wants Jung to take over. Among those whom White will refer to Jung is his own analyst, John Layard. Jung even refers to White’s ‘analysands’ (Jung 24 Nov. 1953).5

On 1 April 1946 White writes to Jung that he would like to come to Zurich, if he could locate an inexpensive hotel. On 13 April—perhaps a week after reading White’s offer—Jung answers with an invitation that is almost a command:

The time that would suit me best is between 12th and 22nd August. I should like you to consider yourself my guest. I have a little country place on the lake.

So White made the first of ten visits to Bollingen in August 1946, bringing with him, at Jung’s request, casual clothing and a pair of sailing shoes. The picture of Jung and White (overleaf) is the only one extant showing them together.6 After their meeting at Bollingen, Jung and White continue to address each other formally for several months. Then Jung makes a slip of the pen. He begins his letter of 23 Jan. 1947, ‘Dear Father Wight’. Crossing out his

5 According to a contemporary authority, White’s knowledge of psychology was considerable. Michael Fordham wrote to White, while the latter was estranged from Jung: ‘The trouble with you, if I may say so, is that your psychology is so good that pucka psychologists have trouble competing’ (Fordham to White, 14 March 1957; quoted by Cunningham, ‘Victor White: a memoir’, in The Jung-White Letters, 2007, p. 317n).

6 White may have worn clericals on this occasion, rather than camp clothing, because he was about to visit the Benedictine abbey at Einsiedeln (Cf. Wolff’s letter to White, 18 July 1946.) Jung and White at the Tower, circa 1946 ⃝C Foundation of the Works of C. G. Jung

spelling error, he scribbles, ‘excuse me, my feebleness plays tricks to me! I drop into old Saxon’. White responds, ‘I admire your proficiency in Anglo-Saxon! Still, if ever you should care to write again, I should like it very much if you were to drop both WHITE & WIGHT & just call me Victor’ (4 Feb. 1947). From then on it’s ‘My dear Victor’, and ‘My dear C.G’.

In studying the Jung-White relationship I’m often reminded of the alchemical processes of heating, melting, separating, combining. As there is seldom an alchemical laboratory without the presence of both male and female, the two men regularly talk with and about the women in their lives—both as individuals and as a class. Relationships with specific women also seem to have had a catalytic effect on the friendship.

Two women in White’s circle exert a critical influence, one at the beginning and one at the end of their story. The first is Barbara Robb, a married Londoner and former ballet-dancer, well-read in mysticism and the paranormal, who is fascinated by the writings and person of C.G. Jung. When her verbal outpourings are added to the flow of the letters, they create an atmosphere of mystical participation, tinged by Eros and hilarity, raising the temperature of the conversation and melting its formality. White first brings Mrs. Robb to Jung’s attention in a letter in January 1947, quoting her recent musings about Jung, for whom she prays night and day ‘that he may be all he can be’. Jung answers with interest and amusement, calling her White’s ‘soror mystica’. White replies, ‘She seems to be very much more YOUR “soror mystica”!’

We soon meet her in her own words. White encloses selections from her dreams, visions and active imaginations. One of the writings of Barbara Robb is her active imagination on a dream symbol, leading to what she calls her ‘working model of God’. In another vision, she and Jung are engaged in a solemn, yet joyous, barefooted tug of war, watched by a crowd, on a green field at whose centre lies a flat, six-sided stone.

Perhaps it is not accidental that as soon as Mrs. Robb enters the picture, Jung mixes up ‘Wight’ and ‘White’. This happy confusion seems related, somehow, to the arrival of the mystical sister. Fantastic synchronicities ensue. At one point both Jung and the ‘soror’ are suffering the same obscure medical condition. In 1951 Jung finally meets Robb, when she visits Zurich. Afterward he writes:

I have seen Mrs. Barbara Robb, and I assure you, she is quite an eyeful and beyond!

… If ever there was an anima, it is she … I think you ought to be very grateful to St. Dominicus that he has founded an order of which you are a member. In such cases one appreciates the existence of monasteries.

To which White replies, (Jung 21 Sept. 1951)

I loved your letter – how right you are! Except about … monasteries being a protection. (I know nowhere more exposed.) (White 3 Oct. 1951)

To which White replies, (Jung 21 Sept. 1951)

I loved your letter – how right you are! Except about … monasteries being a protection. (I know nowhere more exposed.) (White 3 Oct. 1951)

This rueful amusement about the power of the anima, with commiseration about their helplessness as males, apparently seals the friendship. Mrs. Robb also seems aware of this dynamic, when she voices her opinion that Jung’s essay ‘Woman in Europe’ says more about his anima than about actual women. Her comment leads to a humorous cry of pain from the object of her criticism. In 1947 White writes to Jung at Eranos: ‘I hope you’re getting along all right with “women in Europe”’. The besieged Jung fires back:

You are quite right about women – they are just devouring, if one lets them. Insatiata insatiabilis! – as a mediaeval cleric said……… Here again a quotation from the famous humanist Aldrovandus, but he´las, my memory! But I assure you, it’s a good one.7

Two of the women closest to Jung, Emma Jung and Toni Wolff, wrote to White in 1946. Wolff’s letter refers him to scholars and clinicians in Switzerland, whom he might like to meet while he is visiting. Emma Jung’s letter, coming at the

7 Jung is probably referring to a passage that he calls ‘an apt description of the anima’, from Dendrologiae libri duo (1668) by Aldrovandus. In Hull’s translation: ‘She appeared both very soft and very hard at the same time, and while for some two thousand years she had made a show of inconstant looks like a Proteus, she bedevilled the love of Lucius Agatho Priscus, then a citizen of Bologna, with anxious cares and sorrows, which assuredly were conjured up from chaos, or from what Plato calls Agathonian confusion’ (CW 9i, The Archetypes and the Collective Unconscious, para. 223, p.124n).

end of the year, thanks White for his letters to her husband after his heart attack.

White’s letters in 1947 include greetings to both Frau Jung and Fra¨ ulein Wolff. Hearing of Toni’s unexpected death in the Holy Week of 1953, White sends Jung his sympathy. Then, in the spring of 1955, when White’s complaints about Answer to Job are at their most strident, Emma Jung’s cancer is discovered to be terminal. This terrible confluence, for Jung, of White’s emotional attacks combined with the approach of existential loss, may have caused him to break relations with his suffering friend more absolutely than he would otherwise have done.

Much has been said about the impact of White’s scathing review of Answer to Job, in March 1955, as the reason for their rupture. From their letters and related writings, however, I see the friendship taking a serious downward turn six years earlier. The high point in the relationship is probably in May of 1948. At this moment one may picture Jung and White standing together on a sunlit peak, before the first warning clap of thunder. Jung was working on his lecture for Eranos, ‘U¨ ber das Selbst’ (‘On the Self’), about the symbolic meaning of Christ. This major writing would become the fourth and fifth chapters of Aion, a book Jung evidently had in mind while he wrote the lecture.

In tackling the central Christian symbol, Jung must have been grateful for White’s theological support. He was pleased, too, that White seemed to share his interest in the Gnostics. His letter of 21 May 1948 opens with a glowing review of White’s recent lecture on Gnosticism.8 It proceeds to a remarkably self-disclosing passage, in which he replies to a question White has inspired him to ask himself: ‘Have I faith or a faith or not?’ Then Jung returns to the topic that is gripping him. He sees Gnosticism as branching into several interrelated areas, all shedding light on the symbolism of the Self. This letter overflows with excitement. It includes two hand-drawn diagrams illustrating the complex themes which Jung is both discovering and creating.

Commenting on the larger diagram, which he has sketched on the back of a manila envelope, Jung writes,

Gnosticism has renewed its vitality with me recently in as much as I was deeply concerned with the question of how the figure of Christ was received into Hellenistic nature-philosophy and hence into Alchemy. It is just a little book that has grown out of such studies within the last months. It will be, I’m afraid, a shocking and difficult book. It has seduced me into a most curious attempt to formulate the progress of symbolism within the last two thousand years through the figure of 4 Quaternities It is of greatest importance, that, according to Hippolytos, this quaternio symbolizes the ’αβασιλεrυτ oς γ ενεrα’ [race free from kingly rule] which is synonymous with

8 White delivered his lecture, ‘Notes on Gnosticism’, to the APC in New York on 20 Feb. 1948 and to the Guild of Pastoral Theology, London, on 10 Dec. 1948. He later revised it for his first book, God and the Unconscious, where it appears as Chapter XI, ‘Gnosis, Gnosticism and Faith’.

Jung’ diagram of the Self, 21 May 1948.9 ⃝C Foundation of the Works of C. G. Jung.

9 Hand-drawn diagram, originally labelled in Latin and Greek; trans. ACL. Cf. The Jung-White Letters, 2007, p. 122.

all their symbolisms of the central figure viz. the redeemer, the yod, the grain of mustard, the ‘celestial horn of the moon’, Jordan, Attis, Korybas, etc. They all refer psychologically to the Self. This second quaternio (with the same significance) is Paradise with its 4 rivers. Well, it is a mad thing, which I cannot explain here; but it seems hellishly important, insofar as it winds up with the physical Time-space quaternion. The whole seems to be logically watertight. (Jung 21 May 1948)

As Jung’s elaboration of the psychological God-image, this drawing comes close to depicting a Jungian theology. It draws on several philosophical and religious traditions to depict the tensions and dynamics of the Self, God within. The diagram of four quaternities is previously unpublished in its entirety, but most of its elements—sub-diagrams—were reproduced in Aion.10 Curiously, though, in that process a significant piece of Jung’s drawing was omitted: the male-female polarity, with Hermaphrodite as the reconciling symbol.

White was doubtless overwhelmed by the number and kind of traditions Jung had mixed together. Viewed as a rising series of four-sided figures, with positive and negative polarities and central points, Jung’s diagram echoes Hermetic philosophy, a precursor to alchemy, which he calls ‘the Hellenistic nature-philosophy’. Viewed in either ascending or descending order, the ladder of pyramidal figures has similarities to kabbalistic designs depicting the human soul in its stages of enlightenment, or types of relationship between the created world and uncreated holiness. A writer on Kabbala notes: ‘Complex to the highest degree, the Sefirotic Tree is nevertheless an image of Divine Unity’ (Halevi 1979, p. 40). In the same way, Jung’s elaborate diagram reflects the unity of the Self, the tiny point, the grain of sand.

Jung thus mixes Gnostic and alchemical traditions, Greek mythology, and esoteric readings of the Hebrew and Greek biblical texts.11 White cannot be blamed if he failed to take in all of this, especially since in mid-1948 he was also very busy in an extraverted mode, travelling around the United States. He had been giving a series of lectures in the West, and was now relaxing at the home of a Catholic ‘millionairess’ in Stony Ridge, NY. For whatever reason, White’s answer to Jung’s enthusiastic outpouring was very limited. His letter overlooks the large diagram on the manila envelope, focusing only the small ‘double pyramid’ in the body of Jung’s letter:

What you tell me of your ‘history of symbolism’ is quite tantalizing: I guess I must await its publication before I ‘understand’ that intriguing ‘Moses Quaternio’. I am

10 Cf. Aion, CW 9ii, especially chap. XIV, ‘The Structure and Dynamics of the Self’.

11 Recent scholarship differentiates better these strands in the history of ideas. According to Dan Merkur, some of what Jung attributes to the Gnostics was not theirs, but came from the Stoics (Merkur 1993, pp. 100f).

sure it is hellish important, but I am as yet very perplexed at this disposition of Moses with his relations. (White 1 June 1948)

When he visited Jung again that year, the Eranos gathering (which Jung had missed because of illness) was in the past. But their conversation probably revolved around Jung’s lecture, ‘On the Self’, as well as Aion, the ‘shocking and dangerous’ book based on it.

In 1949 ‘U¨ ber das Selbst’ came out in German, so White was now able to study it in depth, and he published his reaction in the scholarly journal Dominican Studies. His review of ‘U¨ ber das Selbst’, taking Jung seriously to task, is a thunderclap, warning of the storm to come. In language less conciliatory than he would have used to a first-year seminarian, White chastises Jung:

An elementary study of (for instance) St.Thomas’s sections in the Prima Pars On the Good, On the Goodness of God, On Evil, and On the Cause of Evil, should suffice to dispel Dr Jung’s misunderstandings and misgivings, and to supply a metaphysic which would account for the phenomena which concern him at least as satisfactorily as the quasi-manichaean dualism which he propounds.

Scolding Jung for venturing into theological territory so ill-equipped, White also rebukes him for introducing these easily avoidable errors into what had been, until now, their promising collaborative effort. Jung’s essay, he regrets to say, constitutes an embarrassing stumble into ancient heresies, which may give Jung’s psychology a bad odour among the Catholics who so badly need it. Between the lines one hears White’s fear that, unless Jung retracts his errors, their whole shared project will become impossible.

These somewhat confused and confusing pages might be dismissed as just another infelicitous excursion of a great scientist outside his own orbit, were it not that the matter is one which is heavy in its consequences for psychology itself, and more especially for the understanding of the character of the Christian warfare. It is regrettable indeed that, supported only by such na¨ıve philosophizing, the most pregnant movement in contemporary psychology should be burdened with an irrelevant association with Gnostic dualism. (‘Eranos: 1947, 1948’, Dominican Studies, 2 vols, no.4, Oct. 1949, p. 399)

After reading this review, Jung held his peace for several weeks. On the last day of 1949, he sent White a long, handwritten reply, thanking him for his ‘correctio fatuorum’ (punishment of fools) and quoting extensively from a sermon of St. Basil of Caesarea on the goodness of Creation and the essential non-reality of evil. Jung knew that these quotations surpassed White’s ability in Greek, but he had taken off the gloves. White had accused him of positing two gods. He would now demonstrate that, on the contrary, Christian theology has contradicted reality from its earliest days, by refusing to admit that evil and good can and do co-exist as equal parts of creation.

From this point on, except when White begs Jung’s help with his vocational impasse and Jung does his best to give it, their conversation is devoted to their conflict about good and evil, behind which lies a radical disagreement about the nature of God and the Self. In Answer to Job, published in 1951, Jung makes his most powerful argument against White’s position, invoking the authority of the Bible against the church’s doctrine. In the letters, meanwhile, their debate devolves into a quarrel about terms. At times neither writer is at his best; an overheated quality enters their statements. Jung sometimes seems to be striking out blindly, not caring where the blows will land, or even whether he is making complete sense.12 Eventually White cries out in protest: ‘My dear C.G., I love you and owe you more than I can say. When you write like that it hurts—I feel it is terribly unworthy of you—and I wonder what makes you do it’ (7 July 1952). Jung never acknowledges the question, nor the pain behind it. They continue to correspond. It will be three more years before their relationship reaches the breaking point.

In the midst of all this, in 1953 White writes to Jung that he is having severe doubts about his vocation. Among other things, he cannot subscribe to the conventional view of Jesus. He is convinced that, as a human being, Jesus had a shadow, including ignorance. He dares not say as much to the good folk who pay his salary, but keeping it to himself feels hypocritical. He writes, ‘my very clerical clothing [is] a lie’. He thinks about leaving the Dominicans but fears that after 30 years in his order, he cannot survive the change. He sends two anguished letters, late in 1953 and early in 1954, asking ‘do I stay or go?’

Supported by Jung’s heartfelt letters in response, which offer every possible interpretation of the dilemma, White decides to stay with his order, even though it means he must once again sign the detested anti-modernist oath.

In May of 1954 White received his STM degree, opening the way to the next step in his career. He had been all but appointed to replace the retiring Regent of Studies at Blackfriars, a position in which he would have been in charge of the curriculum and training for new generations of Dominicans. But he lost the job before he had it. A conservative neo-Thomist was appointed in his place, whom White considered ‘a complete incompetent’ (White 25 Sept. 1954). The mechanics of the event, like the proverbial hand of God, were perfectly hidden.13 The English Provincial, White’s superior, wrote to him saying, in effect, ‘This

12 For example, Jung resorts to a crude literalization of the concept of ‘privation’, reducing White’s arguments to absurdity: ‘But what about the privatio boni? Good by definition must be good throughout, even in its smallest particles. You cannot say that a small good is bad.  In practice you say nothing when you hold that an evil deed is a small Good: there is a big evil and a little bit of Good. In practice you just can’t deny the oυ’σ ι´α [being] of evil.  You call God the Lord over Evil.

But if the latter is μη`’o´ ν [non-being], He is Lord over nothing, not even over the Good, because he is it himself as the Summum Bonum that has created but good things which have however a marked tendency to go wrong’ (Jung to White, 30 April 1952).

13 In A Dominican Gallery: A Portrait of a Culture (Leominster, Herefordshire: Fowler Wright Books, 1997, p. 54), Aidan Nichols states that what happened to White in 1954 was most likely may be a good time for you to leave Oxford. Why not visit the Dominicans in California?’.

White never returned to teaching at Oxford. Having determined to stay in the order, his anger had no good outlet. He was tired of teaching at Blackfriars and exhausted from the internal conflict of the past year, so he could write to Jung truthfully that the news was ‘in some ways a huge relief’ (ibid.). But from what followed, it is clear that he could not assimilate the humiliation and loss represented by the rejection. His natural rage, which had to go somewhere, was displaced onto Jung. He wrote a review of Answer to Job, appearing in the journal Blackfriars in March 1955, in which he attacked Jung personally. Although he wrote to Jung even as the review was being published to ask forgiveness, and although Jung agreed to meet with him and discuss their differences, the friendship was effectively over. They met at the convalescent home where Emma Jung was recovering from surgery; but they did not discuss White’s list of ‘problems arising from the publication of Answer to Job’(White 10 May 1955). At this meeting Jung proposed that they suspend all further contacts, and White had no choice but to agree (White 21 May 1955).

On Jung’s side the ensuing silence was stubbornly preserved, and it would have been final but for the intervention of a long-time friend of Victor White’s, the Mother Prioress of a contemplative order. She first wrote to Jung in 1959, when White was recovering from a near-fatal motorscooter accident and shortly before he was found to be dying of stomach cancer. She wishes Jung well on his birthday and mentions how much Father Victor has helped her and her nuns to build up their small community. Because of White, she says, Jung’s teachings are woven into their common life. She and her nuns pray for Jung daily; she asks him to pray for them as well. Rather than urging him to write to his injured friend, she simply pours out love, gratitude and compassion toward the old man whose teachings have inspired and enlightened her, and who is now nearing his own last days.

Replying to the Mother Prioress—how could he not?—Jung includes in his letter a greeting to White. This crack in the door opens the way for their final, brief exchange, in which they come as close to a personal reconciliation as their still unresolved intellectual conflicts, and White’s impending death, allow. The intervention of the Mother Prioress changes the ending of the Jung-White story as the voice from heaven transforms the ending of Goethe’s Faust I. She gathers the fragments of their broken relationship, reframing the wounds each has dealt the other, permitting their fractures to realign. Jung had been steadfast in refusing to contact White, even after he learned of the motorscooter accident from mutual friends (Cunningham 2007, pp. 333f). It seems nearly miraculous the work of his Prior Provincial, Hilary Carpenter, who seems to have exerted influence behind the scenes with the interim Master General. Documents at the English Dominican archive, however, recently uncovered by Adrian Cunningham and the English Dominican archivist, Fr. Bede Bailey, suggest rather that the interim Master General took matters into his own hands.

that, writing to a man she had never met, from behind the walls of a cloister, she could so touch his heart.

But even grace cannot resolve intellective contradictions, and the two men remained estranged in the world of ideas. With hindsight, one may argue that their bridge-building was doomed from the start. As a Dominican, with ample training in philosophy, White could have known about serious obstacles to his planned synthesis. In fact, his initial writings name some of the major conflicts between Jung’s God-talk and his own. Why, then, did he put so much of himself into what could so easily become a hopeless endeavour?

The answer to this question is that, although White knew, he also did not know. One could say the same of Jung, the older, wiser and wearier member of the pair. Experienced as he was with psychological-theological misunderstandings, Jung must have suspected that sooner or later they would hit an immovable block. Yet the evidence of their letters shows that, knowing what they knew, neither of them could choose another path. They were being invited—wooed—to begin a journey, no matter what the risk. The invitation came from beyond them, with irresistible power.

As we have seen, the topic of the Self and its symbols is at the heart of their work together. Self-symbols are sprinkled through the texts of their letters, beginning with the earliest. In some ways the Self can be seen as a third party to the collaboration, the most powerful, as it draws the two men together and invites them to carry out a more-than-human task of synthesis. What is true of all archetypes is especially true of the archetype of wholeness: it has a double aspect. Jung often warns that the God-image in the soul, the transcendent function, is always powerful but not always good. He likes to remind us that God (i.e., the God-image) has two hands, a left and a right.

As the God-image in the psyche, the Self belongs to eternity; yet it demands to be expressed by mortals and incarnated in history. It invites us into its service through whatever attracts the soul—beauty, a vision of wholeness, the yearning to be all we can be. As human beings we long to fulfil our destiny and be fully alive. The Self also seeks to live out its myth. But the integration of opposites is a goal that surpasses human finitude, challenging the limits of knowledge, time and energy. It requires everything from those who take up the task. The Self invited Jung and White on a journey that would lead to suffering, and they accepted the invitation. ‘It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God’, writes the author of the Epistle to the Hebrews. Similarly, in Answer to Job (in the passage providing the title for this paper), Jung writes,

God has a terrible double aspect: a sea of grace is met by a seething lake of fire, and the light of love glows with a fierce dark heat of which it is said ‘ardet non lucet’ – it burns but gives no light. That is the eternal gospel: one can love God but must fear him. (Jung 1954, para. 733)

One aspect of the enormous task which drew Jung and White into collaboration is named in a letter Jung wrote to a pastor after meeting White for the first time:

Last year I saw an English Dominican who spontaneously admitted that everything depended on whether the Church would go along with modern psychological developments or not. I was very surprised to hear that from a Catholic theologian. I wouldn’t have gone so far. (Jung to Pastor Werner Niederer, 23 June 1947)14

Jung sometimes warns of the danger that arises when the ego is swallowed up by or identifies too closely with the Self.15 When the Self woos and the ego yields, the state that tends to follow is a dangerous inflation. Reflecting on the haste with which the two men embraced their shared task, one recalls the urgency of the post-war years and the pressure of Jung’s advancing age. But the pressure of their archetypal mission played at least an equal role. If they were working for the transformation of civilization, they could not delay, not even to discuss underlying contradictions in their philosophical starting points.

Symbols of the Self tend to arise, in the Jung-White narrative, in the form of sparks. In Aion Jung discusses the scintilla, the spark or tiny point, which can signal the emergence of the mandala in the psyche (Jung 1958/1968, para. 340ff.). He connects what Greek philosophers call the αμε´ρισ τ oς στιγ μη´ (the ‘indivisible point’) with the tiny point mystics and Gnostics call ‘the jot of the iota’, which is equivalent to another tiny point, the ‘half-hook’ of the Hebrew yod. A first-century Gnostic, Mono¨ımos, refers to the Monad, others to the σπινθ η´ρ (‘spark’). Medieval mystic and theologian Meister Eckhart refers to ‘the little spark of the soul’. In all its forms, the scintilla signifies the interior presence of God.

In the Jung-White correspondence the spark has many guises. In early letters it is an energetic impulse, prodding the writers to say more than they may have intended. For example, at the end of his first long letter to White, 5 Oct. 1945, Jung remarks,

Well – a long letter! Not my style at all. ‘It’ has made an exception in your case, my dear Father, because ‘it’ has appreciated your conscientious and far-sighted work.

14 White’s radical idea evidently pushed Jung’s own thinking forward. In the late 1940s, when he revised his 1912 work, Wandlungen der Symbole, Jung added a passage that shows how fully he had appropriated White’s surprising statement: ‘Dogma must be a physical impossibility, for it has nothing whatever to say about the physical world, but is a symbol of transcendental or unconscious processes which, so far as psychology can understand them at all, seem to be bound up with the unavoidable development of consciousness. Belief in dogma is an equally unavoidable stopgap which must sooner or later be replaced by adequate understanding and knowledge, if our civilization is to continue’ (CW 5, Symbols of Transformation, para. 674, p. 435, italics added).

15 Cf. Jung, ‘Transformation Symbolism in the Mass’, Psychology and Religion: West and East, especially paras. 390-96, pp. 256ff. For further elaboration of the theme, see Edward Edinger, Ego and Archetype and his more recent The New God-Image.

A week later White replies,

Meanwhile ‘It’ simply insists that I send you an unadorned record of my January dream which I have already mentioned. … [I]t may … tell you much more than ‘ego’ can about me.

This teasing ‘It’ resembles a dancing point of light on water that glitters and invites. Jung and White have seen this spark winking at them, and from then on, it seems, nothing can deter them from jumping in. After White’s first visit to Bollingen the spark takes on a sublime form. In December 1946, when Jung is recovering from his heart attack, he writes from his bed to tell White his dream of … one bluish diamond-like star in heaven, reflected in a round, quiet pool – heaven above, heaven below. The imago Dei in the darkness of earth, this is myself. (Jung 18 December 1946)

A homely echo arises in White’s reply, discussing a recent dream of Mrs. Robb:

It’s curious that in this dream, which was a very long one, you were ill in bed in her parental home, and asked her only to fix an electric fire-plug in the wall, which at once produced a luminous blue diamond. The outcome (for some reason beyond my understanding) was a complete change of attitude towards her husband . (White 19 January 1947)

White’s next letter continues the theme: Mrs. Robb’s active imagination about the blue diamond has led her to a hexagonal diagram, her ‘working model of God’ (White 7 February 1947). Jung is quick to acknowledge the objective presence of the Self in Mrs. Robb’s dreams and intuitions, but he warns of the inflation that may accompany the emergence of the Self in such an active form:

One could say, that the psychological development gradually transfers the ‘parties supe´rieures’ of your friend’s psychical functions into a space and time identical with mine and into an indistinctness of ego-personality (upon that higher level) i.e., a confluence of Self I hope she won’t be tempted to identify herself with that greater personality owing to which she knows myself. (Jung 23 January 1947)

Later, when Jung’s and White’s relationship has been bruised by conflicts, they encounter the spark in shadowed form. In 1950 White writes, ‘This is still not the threatened essay on privatio boni. But I enclose a dream which I had soon after your last letter .. .’ His dream is set at the Tower. It reads, in part:

C.G.J. and I are alternatively talking and meditating in silence. Everything seems very peaceful and harmonious between us. It is evening and dusk is falling fast. It gets darker. Then, as I am looking silently across the Lake, I see a spot of bluish light dart across the scene: it is very near and very low, between ourselves and the first row of mountains: it is not very bright. I say, ‘Hullo; is that a meteor?’ But C.G. has not seen it: he had been looking behind himself, over his shoulder. He asked what I saw and where, and when I tell him says it could not possibly be a meteor because at so low an altitude the friction with the atmosphere would be too great for it to be lit up. I secretly think this is not at all convincing, and say to myself that surely the greater the friction the greater the light? But I decide to say nothing to him, as I don’t want to spoil the agreeable harmony between us; nor do I feel too sure of my knowledge of physical science to start an argument about it. (White 4 May 1950)

The low-travelling bluish light, which may or may not be a heavenly body, cannot be discussed between them without disrupting the peaceful atmosphere. Thus it resembles a darkened image of the Self, which has become a disturbing complex. Between the two men a miasma of confusion has set in, a depressed mood that expresses itself in criticism and contest. They are tangled in disputes over a tiny, two-word Greek phrase, μη` ’o´ ν (‘non-being’), another version of the ‘tiny point’—small, ostensibly insignificant, and yet powerful. In this form the spark resembles a biting insect, bedevilling rather than enchanting.

Quite early in their journey, Jung and White had been given a warning of what they might be in for. White’s dream after visiting Bollingen for the first time captures both the exhilaration and the danger of their project:

A few nights ago I dreamed that I was in a largish sailing-boat sailing from (for some reason I have not yet discovered) Norway to England. I was roaming carefree all over the boat. You were the captain at the wheel. After a while I noticed that we were scudding along in a southerly direction at considerable speed and amid perilous rocks and shoals; but we always missed them. I ‘knew’ there was no danger, not so much because you were at the wheel, but because the Wind was taking care of us and would never wreck the pair of us. Presently I found that we were speeding along very close to the shore (on our left), but still we always missed it and its many promontories. After a while we reached a small (?Danish) coastal town; the boat, with you calmly at the wheel and smoking your pipe, imperceptibly mounted the shore and sailed down the streets dexterously missing all the buildings and the traffic. She was amphibious!

… I hope this is ‘all right’ and not inflation. Jung wrote back: (White 13 October 1946)

Your dream was very much to the point! I had all sorts of feelings or ‘hunches’ about you and the risks you are running. We are indeed on an adventurous and dangerous journey! But the guiding principle is the ‘wind’ i.e., the ‘πνευ˜μα’. (Jung 6 November 1946)

Shortly after this enthusiastic answer Jung suffered his embolism, suggesting that the risks of the journey were not all on White’s side.

Even if they saw the portents of danger in White’s dream—the rocks, and all that they might signify—it’s possible they were no longer free to take another course. As the dream shows, they were already under way. Acting as captain, the Jung-figure is smoking his pipe as they sail at high speed among rocks. Whether or not they founder will be the wind’s doing, not the steersman’s. And the Spirit (the Wind) does not answer to human definitions of good.

Before he wrote to Jung, White knew about the rocks; he even knew where they were located. He had read Jung’s first public attack on the privatio boni in his 1940 lecture on the Trinity. White’s first long letter in 1945 quotes from this lecture, a statement about the Holy Spirit with which he expresses glowing agreement. Although he has surely also seen Jung’s criticism of church doctrine, printed just a few pages below, he passes over it in silence.

Jung’s 1940 Eranos lecture, ‘Zur Psychologie der Trinita¨ tsidee’ (On the Psychology of the Idea of the Trinity), includes a section immediately after the one which White chose to quote, titled, ‘Das Problem des Vierten’ (The Problem of the Fourth). In translation, this passage reads:

Suppose that Plato in the Timaeus had been writing (as he was not) about the Trinity we would still have to object that this could not be a judgment about wholeness. A necessary fourth would be missing Plato would be denying what is evil and imperfect. What happened to this then? [Wo ist dieses dann geblieben?] To this, Christianity has answered, among other things, that real evil is a privatio boni. But this classical formula robs evil of absolute existence and makes it into a shadow which has only a relative existence, dependent on the light. (Jung 1942, p. 53; trans. ACL)

White cannot have missed this passage. Suppose that in his letter of 23 October 1945 he had written (as he did not): ‘In your essay on the Trinity I think your view is wrong in several ways – wrong because incoherent. You have fundamentally misunderstood the privatio boni doctrine. Your notion of evil as having “absolute” existence is empty, and I can explain why’. He did not write this to Jung. Caught in the spell of the Self, I think, he could not do so.

It is natural to deplore the tragedy of Jung and White. But in the end, according to their letters, neither of them would have wished to avoid their encounter with the force-field that drew them in, nor the wild ride that followed in the wind-driven sailboat. In his last letter, written not long before his death, White confesses that he would not have chosen otherwise:

I do not know if it is true that you have been a ‘petrus scandali’16 to me (as you say you have), but to the extent that you have been, I think I can honestly say that I am grateful for it. (White 8 May 1960)

When the unconscious strives to become conscious, it uses frail human beings

16 for petra scandali, stumbling block. White’s typist misspelled the Latin, and White let it stand, perhaps amused that ‘petrus scandali’ could also be read ‘Peter of scandal’.

for its transformation, enlisting them as its alchemical vessels. A massive work in the service of the Self, such as Jung and White undertook, will probably always entail a measure of unconscious inflation, especially in the early stages. But by the end of the story, the two men have shouldered the conscious suffering that Jung calls the sacrifice of ego to Self.17 Their effort at bridge-building has failed, its religious and epistemological starting points having proven to be too far apart. But it could be said that these very differences created the heat—confusion, disappointment, anger and despair—without which there would have been no alchemical process, and no result.

In contemplating the Jung-White relationship, I am left with irresolvable inner contradictions. Their relationship seems to hover over an abyss, in which a fire burns, giving heat but no light. But I also have a feeling, as I endure their dark crucible, that something is happening within me, an infinitely slow process of change. Jung treasured a certain Latin passage, taken from an alchemical text,18 which reads in my translation:

If you practise hard, with great effort and perseverance, in this way you may arrive; not otherwise. This art will surely demand the whole of your being. Be patient. Set your mind for long endurance and calmly await the action of nature, which is extremely slow.

17 Cf. ‘Transformation Symbolism in the Mass’, op.cit., paras. 387-402.

18 The Latin verse is found among Jung’s papers at the ETH Library archive, in an unpublished typescript prepared by Marie-Louise von Franz and others, where it is attributed to a medieval alchemist named Geber. Many thanks to Ulrich Hoerni for kindly directing me to this source.


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