Jungian and Catholic?

Chapter 4: The Psychoid Unconscious


Soul-like (seelenanlich), the quasi-soul-like (quasi-seelisch) and soul-formed (seelenformig) and psychoid were all ways in which Jung described the archetypes and the collective unconscious itself:

"...the collective unconscious... represents a psyche that... cannot be directly perceived or 'represented', in contrast to the perceptible psychic phenomena, and on account of its 'irrepresentable' nature I have called it 'psychoid"'. (The Structure and Dynamics of the Psyche, CW 8, p. 436)

If the archetypes are soul-like inasmuch as they act like faculties that organize and form the archetypal images, then the collective unconscious must be the matrix in which these various faculties are found. The archetypes are not simply floating islands in the sea of the unconscious, but rather are the very structural components that constitute it. For Jung, the words like psychoid or on occasion "metaphysical" had no direct connection with traditional philosophy and its talk of soul or form. They were the outcome of the empirical explorations that led him ever more deeply into the psyche, and to conclusions that had more and more ontological resonances and properly metaphysical implications. And by approaching the realm of the philosophy of nature through the concrete manifestations of the psyche, he rendered a particularly moving testimony to it that has a special meaning for our own age. It is as if he is saying, "pursue and experience the very life of your psyche and you will be led to that frontier at which it is necessary to struggle to create a vocabulary that points to the apparently transcendent nature of the archetypes and thus the psyche itself." So Jung will see that there are unknowable organizing principles of psychic images. They are unknowable in virtue of the fact that they transcend the realm of the psychic images and their unknowability takes on an almost philosophical air by being formulated in quasi-Kantian terms, as we saw.

For Jung, the basic structure of the psyche can be described in terms of the conscious and the unconscious. Ego consciousness is like the eye and consciousness is the whole field of psychic contents that it sees. What the ego does not see and does not know is by that fact called unconscious. It includes whatever we have repressed and "everything of which I know, but of which I am not at the moment thinking; everything perceived by my senses, but not noted by my conscious mind; everything which, involuntarily and without paying attention to it, I feel, think, remember, want, and do; all the future things that are taking shape in me and will sometime come to consciousness: all this is the content of the unconscious." (The Structure and Dynamics of the Psyche, CW 8, p. 185.)

And deeper down there is an impersonal or collective or even unknowable unconscious which is the world of the instincts and the archetypes. This is the unconscious that fascinated Jung and led him to his psychoid speculations. But if the unconscious is in some sense soul-like, it is also, according to Jung, body-like.

"The deeper 'layers' of the psyche... lose their individual uniqueness as they retreat farther and farther into the darkness. 'Lower down', that is to say as they approach the autonomous functional systems, they become increasingly collective until they are universalized and extinguished in the body's materiality, i.e., in chemical substances." (The Archetypes and the Collective Unconscious, CW 9, i, p. 173)

But how does all this look from the perspective of the philosopher of nature? Does the notion of the spiritual soul preclude talking about the unconscious? Not at all. It would be precluded only if ego consciousness were to be identified with the spiritual soul. But such a concep~tion has much more to do with Descartes than St. Thomas. Yet it must be admitted that an over accentuation of rational thought in later scholastic philosophy and in the West in general - even if in theory it did not identify the soul with ego consciousness - had the practical effect of overemphasizing the role of the ego and hindering a more integral view of human nature.

For St. Thomas, consciousness was not the result of a spiritual transparency of the soul to itself. We cannot identify our ego consciousness with our soul or any sort of spiritual vision of the soul of itself, even though ego awareness is an intimate and precious kind of knowledge. In the language of Maritain, there is not even a partial auto-intellection of the soul of itself. Instead, our ego consciousness nourishes itself on the reflections we make on our acts. We know things and reflect on our acts of knowing, and know ourselves as the subjects who know.

This view has two important consequences. First, why is this auto-intellection or spiritual vision of the soul of itself impossible? It is not because the soul is not spiritual. It is. But it is, in St. Thomas' mind, the weakest of all the spiritual forms. The human intellect is not always in act, but rather it is a being in potency and needs to be brought into act in order to know. Once it is actually knowing, then it is activating its spiritual nature, so to speak, and becomes aware of itself because of this momentary spiritual transparency. Another way in which to express this same potency of the human intellect is to say that the soul is profoundly united to matter, but we must be careful not to image the soul somehow as a prisoner of matter. It is quite the other way around. The soul is united to matter so it can activate itself, just as it knows through using the senses and the imagination. The soul is the very principle of life which activates matter and perfects itself even in the order of intellectual knowledge by starting with material objects.

Secondly, there can be two distinct ways in which something can be unconscious, and these two ways mirror Jung's talk of the psychoid nature of the unconscious and the unconscious as body. Something can be unconscious to us because it belongs to our bodily constitution, or it can be unconscious because, although it is connected to our spiritual soul, it is not seen by our ego consciousness. In other words, there are reaches of our spirit that are not conscious to us. Our ego consciousness is a fragmentary and precarious consciousness. It is a self-reflection that can be diminished by our attention to the objects around us and extinguished in our sleep. it is a light illuminating an ever increasing field, but it is a field that embraces only the intersection of two much greater realities, the physical universe and the spiritual universe. In relationship to these universes the light of consciousness forms a small circle surrounded on every side by the unconscious. But for the philosopher of nature, even though the material universe and the spiritual universe are intimately united in human nature, spirit is not matter so there is a spiritual unconscious and a material unconscious that go to make up what Jung calls the unconscious.

Maritain developed this distinction in his Creative Intuition in Art and Poetry in order to pave the way for an understanding of the nature of poetic inspiration. He distinguishes a spiritual unconscious or preconscious, which "does not necessarily mean a purely unconscious activity. It means most often an activity which is principally unconscious, but the point of which emerges into consciousness" (p. 67), from what he calls a Freudian unconscious which is the "unconscious of flesh and blood, instincts, tendencies, complexes, repressed images and desires, as constituting a closed or autonomous dynamic whole." (p. 67) For Maritain, these two kinds of unconscious are distinct in nature but they intermingle and interact with each other in the psyche. Beyond the horizon of ego consciousness shimmers the universes of spirit and matter out of which the ego and its activities emerge. How sterile is a view of the soul that sees in it solely the well-oiled mechanism of formal logic or a scale that weighs our motives and the attraction of the good:

"Far beneath the sunlit surface thronged with explicit concepts and judgments, words and expressed resolutions and movements of the will, are the sources of knowledge and creativity, of love and suprasenuous desires, hidden in the primordial translucid night of the intimate vitality of the soul." (p. 69)

Jung's unconscious clearly partakes of both the spiritual and material unconscious and therein lies its fascination. It does not limit itself to what Maritain calls the Freudian or automatic unconscious of the world of matter, but sees the spiritual unconscious from the point of view of its empirical manifestations. Two points illustrate the difficulty of a conversation between the philosophers of nature and the psychologists. While Jung recognized the spiritual and bodily aspects of the unconscious it did not fall within the province of his science to make a distinction between spirit and matter. Maritain, on his part, having Freud more in mind than Jung, characterized the Freudian unconscious as "deaf to the intellect, and structured into a world of its own apart from the intellect." (p. 67) The Jungian unconscious, however, is not deaf and it hears the music, as it were, of the realm of the spiritual soul.

At the heart of Maritain's spiritual unconscious lies the partial and incomplete nature of self-consciousness and the vibrant spiritual activity of the psyche. Aristotle, in order to explain how spiritual knowledge could begin with the senses, deduced that there must be in the psyche an active spiritual power which he called the active or agent intellect. This agent intellect was the spiritual illuminating power of the soul by which it penetrated, elevated and released from the images derived from the senses, ideas or forms which were then ready to be known by the intellect. This illuminating power is rooted in the very nature of the spiritual soul with its intrinsic but yet unrealized transparency to itself. It is the spiritual soul's natural inclination to know and it operates on material objects because they are accessible to us. It is restlessly devouring and preparing them to unleash their meaning if the intellect should turn to them and make the struggle to understand.

The intellect, then, is much wider than its formal manipulation of concepts by the ego; "intellectual knowledge is at first a beginning of insight, still unformulated, a kind of many-eyed cloud which is born from the impact of the light of the Illuminating Intellect on the world of images, and which is but a humble and trembling inchoation, yet invaluable, tending toward an intelligible content to be grasped." (p. 73) And if dreams often speak the language of the material unconscious and the processes of the body, intermingled with these less than lofty images are images touched with this light of the spirit which Maritain explored to discover the roots of poetry, but which Jung experienced in numinous dreams of great spiritual significance. The world of dreams, illuminated by that hidden, unconscious spiritual light, is subject not only to the demands of matter and the vagaries of more or less mechanical association, but these dream images become the bearers of secret meanings that stammer of the inner nature of the psyche and the very psychoid nature of the unconscious and its archetypes. For Jung a symbol was "the best known formulation of a relatively unknown thing." A symbol was "expressing an as yet unknown and incomprehensible fact of a mystical or transcendent, i.e., psychological nature." (Psychological Types, p. 474)

From the perspective of the philosophy of nature a symbol is matter carrying a spiritual significance. It is the illuminating intellect that is ceaselessly unleashing the natures of material things and endowing them with a higher spiritual energy so as to make them the vehicles by which the soul can try to understand them and itself. The psyche itself, as a spirit profoundly united to and animating matter, is the primordial symbol from which all symbols come, just as it is the primordial archetype. We continually create symbols in the form of words and gestures and glances, all of which are not matter alone, but matter animated by spirit and carrying a spiritual significance and beckoning us to enter the world beyond explicit concepts and intentions that is the realm of the spiritual unconscious so intimately bound up in us with the unconscious of matter.

Let's return to our previous example of the axis mundi archetype. The analytical psychologist could say that it expresses how the ego is rooted in the world of matter and the instincts below, relates to the world around us and is also rooted in the world above, the world of the archetypes and the collective unconscious. The philosopher of nature, in turn, could come to analogous conclusions. He could say that this archetype is but an expression of how the psyche is a spiritual form, and an integral part of the visible universe and profoundly united to the body. Archetypal images, then, are the spontaneous language of the soul. Mountains become world centers and ladders, the pathway to heaven, all without deliberate reflection, for the soul ceaselessly tries to express itself. But if archetypal images are the language of the soul, this is not the language of a static eternal form, but of a psyche that strives to grow and complete itself and to arrive at what Jung calls individuation.

Jung discovered that we possess an inborn urge to wholeness which tries to realize itself by finding a proper balance between the conscious and the unconscious, and he charted some of the milestones of this journey. On it we meet the shadow, that negative part of our personality that does not fit the ideal image we would like to present to society, and the anima or animus, the contrasexual dimension of our psyche so implicated in the delights and difficulties of dealing with people of the opposite sex. But the culminating stage of the journey is what Jung called the emergence of the self, the appearance of symbols of totality, and wholeness or god-images that express the center of the soul around which ego and unconscious ought to revolve. These symbols can be as diverse as circles or squares or mandalas or four-fold objects, etc. In short, they exhibit all the plasticity of expression of any archetype.

Archetypes do not only differ in content, but are connected to each other in a certain organic pattern which reflects the psyche's movement towards wholeness. If we deal with one archetype our progress might be signaled by the constellation or activation of another archetype attached to the bottom of it, as it were. The archetypes are connected to each other and are leading us deeper into a confrontation and reconciliation with the unconscious which reaches a certain maturity with the emergence of the self. Through this process of individuation, the ego learns that it is not the absolute center of the psyche, as if growth were always a question of ego expansion. If before, in growing up we had to learn to adapt our egos to the people and things around us, now the process of individuation shows us the inner world of the archetypes and the collective unconscious which also demands our adaptation. Individuation is our lived recognition that our self embraces both ego and unconscious.

A genuine philosophy of nature will see in Jung's journey to wholeness a reflection of the nature of the psyche. We have already discussed how, from the point of view of the philosophy of nature, the relationship of the archetypal images to the archetypes is analogous to how the archetypes relate to the psychoid unconscious itself. Now we have to take this analogy a further and final step. For St. Thomas, forms or ideas or archetypes did not float around in God's mind waiting for the moment when God wanted to create something so they could serve as models. Aristotle had thought that forms or essences were the ultimate principles of being, but Thomas went beyond this essentialistic perspective. He saw that an essence was a certain kind of ability to exist. Essences were this or that capacity or potency to exist. They were the rainbow of colors that expressed, each in its own limited way, what the sun of existence was like. And existence in itself, unreceived and unlimited by any particular capacity, was for Thomas the most proper metaphysical description of God. God did not have ideas or essences in God's mind, rather God's very being which was to be, embraced in a supereminent fashion all the possible limited modes of existing or essences. The final analogy, therefore, becomes: archetypal images to archetypes, archetypes to the soul, the soul to God.

If the spiritual soul is a reflection and creation of God, if it comes forth from the hand of God, then its deepest center will be marked with the imprint of this god-likeness. It will have inscribed in its very being a natural desire to return to God and it will do this by becoming itself to the greatest degree possible. The soul possesses a genuine movement towards God, for it is only in relationship to God that it can understand its own nature. The psyche possesses a god-archetype, or self-archetype in its deepest center which is no different than this natural orientation to God which is not imposed from the outside but is an expression of our very being. And the self generates a whole spectrum of archetypal images in its ceaseless striving to awaken us to this god-likeness. This identification of the archetypes with the very fabric and being of the soul helps us understand the spontaneous and non-conscious nature of the archetypal images. They appear in dreams, for example, whether we remember the dreams or not and whether we understand the images or not. The archetypal images are a ceaseless call for us to realize consciously and freely, the god-like nature we possess.

Jung's archetypes exhibit a certain interconnectedness and an overall sense of direction, in short they are caught up in the flow which is the process of individuation. But, from the point of view of the philosophy of nature, why does this happen? The reason is that the self is not simply one archetype among many but it is the culmination and goal of the whole archetypal process of individuation. It exerts an attractive power on all the other archetypes and orders them so that they serve the journey to wholeness.

The archetypal images swirl and shimmer around the archetypes that generate them and, in turn, the archetypes radiate out from the central archetype of the self like the spokes of a wheel or a mandala and are caught with their images in its ultimate gravity which shapes them to the process of individuation. And the philosopher of nature, accepting this description, searches for the ontological roots of this center and finds them in the relationship of the soul to God its creator. This is the ontological foundation of the natural religiosity of the soul that Jung forcefully emphasized when he asserted that many people in the second half of their lives were healed of their afflictions by the discovery of a deeper meaning of life. Clearly this religiosity had nothing to do with creeds and dogmas, but was identical for Jung to the process of individuation itself. And the process of individuation culminating in the self is for the philosopher of nature the reflection of the natural relationship the soul has with God.



Chapter 5