What’s Wrong with Christianity? — Carl Jung and the Divine Feminine
In the previous article in the series I described two incidents in Jung’s life which might lead us to think that his ideas represent a new religion, or the revival of an old one (i.e. Gnosticism) for modern times. Now I’ll turn to the question of why such a revival might be necessary. What is wrong with the Christianity that has been the foundation of Western society for 2000 years?
There is so much that could be said that it’s tempting to begin by asking, how long have you got? One obvious point is that, like other organised religions, Christianity, at least in its exoteric forms, lacks true spirituality, the search for the Divine within us. It has replaced this with creeds, moral injunctions, and rituals. Thus, Julia Jewitt refers to “the reality that at one time religion was an experience of the Divine energy, (and) the accompanying reality that that experience gets codified, dogmatized and institutionalized. If we would be in touch with living religion (such as that offered by Jung), with the still-pulsing life energy, we must go inside, turn ego’s attention toward the Self in order to reconnect to our Source”¹.
The Self for Jung was the image of the divine in a human, a centre of wholeness of the personality where opposites are transcended and unified. The two most obvious pairs of opposites are good and evil (which will be the subject of a further article), and male and female. Thus June Singer, when concerning herself with the concept of androgyny, says that she “became aware that the anima described by Jung is an aspect of the World Soul, Anima Mundi. In her higher aspect she is the feminine aspect or consort of the Divine Essence. As I studied the various myths surrounding the Divine Syzygy, the ‘Two in One’, I found myself intrigued by the possibility of another dimension of reality beyond the one we know and call ‘our world’. In the other dimension, unity and order would prevail, unlike in this dimension, which is characterized by the splitting of opposites, fragmentation, and disorder”².
It is well known that Jung considered all humans to have a contrasexual component to their personality, for men a female anima — referred to by Singer in that last quote — and for women a male animus, so I won’t go into a discussion of that theme. Suffice to note that towards the culmination of the Individuation process, there is a sacred marriage (hieros gamos) between the higher aspects of the masculine and feminine principles. This was studied by Jung in his last major book, perhaps therefore the culmination of his thinking, the 556-page Mysterium Coniunctionis, subtitled An Inquiry into the Separation and Synthesis of Psychic Opposites in Alchemy.
Instead I’ll discuss an important event that occurred during Jung’s lifetime. In 1950 Pope Pius XII declared the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary to be an infallible doctrine — this was apparently only the second occasion that a Pope had taken such a step. Although it may not have been stated in so many words, the implication was that Mary had been incorporated into the Godhead, had become divine (like her son). Frank McLynn, one of Jung’s biographers, notes that “Jung immediately hailed the enunciation of this dogma as the most significant religious event since the Reformation”³.
Why did he think that? To put it in Jungian terms, the Catholic Church had acceded to the demands of the collective unconscious by adding a long-neglected feminine aspect to the masculine trinity. McLynn makes that point when he says that the different threads in Jung’s argument were: “the ‘nisus’ of the unconscious; the enthronement of the feminine principle; the integration of matter; compensation or enantiodromia; the reinforcement of alchemical doctrine, and the underscoring of the quaternity… The Assumption satisfied a deep unconscious need”. (Nisus = a mental effort to attain an end.)
He goes on to say that:
- “the fact that Mary was now a goddess seemed to Jung to pose theological problems overlooked by the papal advisers”
- “Christianity was at last jettisoning its age-old disdain for matter”
- the Doctrine raised “a symbol of matter to the level of godhead. The Assumption was really the Christian version of the hierosgamos or sacred marriage”.
Jung had always thought that four was the true mystical number, the symbol of wholeness and completion. Christianity’s Trinity was therefore by definition incomplete. As McLynn says, Jung thought “that the dogma of the Assumption clinched the case for four as the mystical number, since it meant that the Catholic Church had tacitly abandoned the Trinity in favour of a quaternity. Although it was not strictly true that there was no feminine element in the Trinity — since Jung often argued that the Holy Ghost was one manifestation of Sophia⁴ — nevertheless the perfection of God had now been fully achieved by God’s union with Sophia in the guise of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Mary was thus in effect a fourth member of the godhead, so that the Trinity was now a quaternity”.
In conclusion, here are a couple of random thoughts. Firstly, Jung’s thinking is more in line with Gnosticism than with Christianity. As June Singer says: “In Christianity the feminine power is subdued, as nature and body are subdued. Where woman is recognized, it is in her biological function as Mother and bearer of the Divine Child, or as virgin, as in religious orders. But as a fully independent and sexual woman, she has little status. In Gnosticism, the feminine is redeemed from the depths of matter and returned to co-equal status with the masculine”⁵.
Joan Chamberlain Engelsman, referring to the feminist revival, says that Jung would certainly have been interested. “He, Eric Neumann, and, of course Esther Harding first began talking about the Goddess and the feminine decades before this new movement began. They are the ones who originally proposed the necessity of recovering the feminine, which they saw as vital for the psychic health of the world”. Jung’s “interest in the anima and in feminine images indicates his belief that these are the images that will vivify and bring life to people in the 20th and 21st centuries”⁶.
When will Christianity wake up?
Conventional Christian David Knott has responded to the above:
Hi Graham, you clearly know much more about Gnosticism than me, but I really do not recognise the caricature you paint of Biblical Christianity.
You say that Christianity “lacks true spirituality, the search for the Divine within us”. What then does the apostle Paul mean when he wrote:
“To them God has chosen to make known among the Gentiles the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.” (Colossians 1:27 NIV)
Christianity declares that those who trust in Jesus as their saviour have Christ, the Son of God, living within them. How much more Divine within are you looking for? The Bible says that without Christ a person is spiritually dead. Spiritual life enters a person when they trust in Christ, this is what “being born again” by the Spirit of God is all about.
Going inside will not connect you with God, but going to Christ will. Jung is diametrically opposed to Christ and Christianity, and is dangerously mistaken on this point.
On the point of Christianity lacking true spirituality, the search for the Divine within us, Paul may have got it right and understood, but did the Church actually follow his ideas? There are different levels of Christianity, which in simple terms could be called exoteric and esoteric. It’s the exoteric level I was referring to in the article. Paul actually made this distinction himself, saying that his teachings were for the spiritual (esoteric) level followers. Others following him were not ready for such teaching, so he said.
It’s also worth noting that Paul himself was considered a Gnostic at the time. For example, the Gnostic teacher Marcion considered him the one true apostle. In modern times the distinguished scholar Elaine Pagels has written The Gnostic Paul.
Christianity may well declare “that those who trust in Jesus as their saviour have Christ, the Son of God, living within them”. But how many conventional (exoteric) Christians have actually found him? Jung offers a way of finding. He is not diametrically opposed to Christ and Christianity, he is seeking to heal it from its misunderstandings.
I hope you have enjoyed this article. I have written in the past about other topics, including spirituality, metaphysics, psychology, science, Christianity, politics and astrology. All of those articles are on Medium, but the simplest way to see a guide to them is to visit my website (click here and here). My most recent articles, however, are only on Medium; for those please check out my lists.
- From an essay ‘Womansoul: A Feminine Corrective to Christian Imagery’, in Jung’s Challenge to Contemporary Religion, edited by Murray Stein and Robert L. Moore, Chiron Publications, 1987, p172
- From an essay ‘Jung’s Gnosticism and Contemporary Gnosis’, as footnote 1, p73–74
- Carl Gustav Jung, Bantam Press, 1996. The quotes can be found on pages 483–485
- See A Psychological Approach to the Dogma of the Trinity, CW11, Princeton University Press, 1969, p161, where Jung shows how this spirit has always had feminine aspects.
- From an essay ‘Jung’s Gnosticism and Contemporary Gnosis’, as footnote 1, p89
- From an essay ‘Beyond the Anima: The Female Self in the Image of God’, as footnote 1, p93, p95