Jung and Typology, Gnosticism and Christianity

The following are excerpts that I thought were related.  I specifically was considering Jung and his views on various ideas.  These excerpts give an interesting context to how Jung came to his understanding about the structure and development of the individual.  In particular, I found fascinating the connection between trinity as representing hierarchy (including hierarchy as development) and quaternity as representing non-hierarchical structure.  By this, it can be shown how the tripartite division of Platonism and Gnosticism relates to Jung’s typology.  I was also thinking about Jung’s consideration of Catholic ideas in terms of his relationship with Father Victor White.  Jung felt the Trinity was incomplete and conjectured that Catholicism was denying a fourth element in its theological conception of evil.


Quodlibet Journal: Volume 4 Number 2-3, Summer 2002
Carl Jung and the Trinitarian Self
Michael J Brabazon

As the alchemists discovered, the spirit Mercurius can be a good friend (as in the Liverpool dream) or the “dark tricephalus”[f], the tempter, deceiver and adversary of the universal hero.  By overcoming the chthonic trinity the saviour not only becomes a demi-god but, in bringing the fruits of his victory to the tribe, ensures the spiritual and physical well-being of mankind. One of the stories from Hindu mythology seems to prefigure the struggles of Buddha and Christ with the Evil One.  In the case of Hinduism the Christ-like person is the son of a Brahman, Tvashiri, who is eventually killed by the god Indra.  Tvashiri, in a bid to outdo Indra, created a three-headed son who possessed wondrous spiritual power which grew at such a rate it promised to absorb the universe.  The three heads had the separate functions of reading the Vedas, feeding himself, and observing all that existed:  a combination of intellectual, physical and divine sustenance – the totality of life.  As in the accounts of the temptations of Christ and the trials of Gautama, the tricephalus Brahman is attacked three times: firstly through seduction by Heavenly maidens; secondly by a thunderbolt thrown by Indra which kills the hero; and lastly by a triple decapitation.  The final onslaught, ordered by Indra because the body continued to glow with the light of spirituality, released a great flight of doves and other birds, symbolising the resurrection of the perfected spirit and is analogous to the enlightenment of Buddha and the defeat of Satan in the wilderness.  The attacks on Gautama by Mara are variations on the same ideas of seduction, attack by the actual god and attack by the god’s henchman.  The Buddha now becomes an enlightened being, losing his old material desires, and brings salvation to mankind.

In the Middle East there existed other notorious examples of the triple heroic test, and cannot be unconnected with the  temptations of Christ.  In ancient Egypt one of the stories of Se-Osiris (reputedly the greatest Egyptian magician) from the 13th century BC show him in psychic battle with the Ethiopian the Son of Tnahsit who is the agent of Apophis, the Egyptian Devil.  As in the other stories, Se-Osiris has to overcome his satanic adversary three times in order to prove himself and gain total victory.  Firstly, the Ethiopian manifests a huge serpent in front of the Pharoah, but Se-Osiris picks up this giant cobra, turns it into a small white worm and throws it out of the window.  Next the evil protagonist summons a large black cloud which resembles the darkness of the tomb or the dark cloud of smoke from burning bodies.  Again, the hero easily decreases the threat to an infinitesimal size and throws it out of the window.  The final threat is in the shape of a sheet of flame moving towards Pharaoh, but the good magician reverses its movement back in the direction of his adversary, who is subsequently engulfed and totally defeated.

Joseph Campbell in The Hero with a Thousand Faces, writes of the triple life force released by the universal hero upon completion of his struggle with the internal monster; the bestowing of the secret treasure, the Holy Grail:

The effect of the successful adventure of the hero is the unlocking and release again of the flow of life into the body of the world.  The miracle of this flow may be represented in physical terms as a circulation of food substance, dynamically as a stream of energy, or spiritually as a manifestation of Grace.  Such varieties of image alternate easily, representing three degrees of condensation of the one life force.[37]

The hero’s encounters infer a triality of character, with ramifications for typological classification.  Tripartite man is a theme as old as that of the trinity, the two being inextricably linked in the relationship of micro and macrocosmic.  The origin of much of the tripartite formulations is to be found in the works of Plato, originator of the archetype theory of Form or Idea.  Plato’s own threefold division of the soul is into spirit, reason and desire.  It is from these three segments that the layers of society in the utopian Republic are derived: the Guardians, the Auxiliaries and the Plebs.  Broadly, the philosophers, the spiritually enlightened, rule over and guide society, the military types carry out the directives of the elite, applying the rules to the governorship of the materialistic majority.  This hierarchical view of tripartness is counter-balanced by an egalitarian formulation allegorised in the Phaedrus by a charioteer and two horses.  One horse is an expression of honour and modesty whilst the other stands for man’s animal desires, with their unity in the hands of the charioteer, the middle conjoining factor.  The Gnostics use this platonic schema in their soteriological explanations – the saved spiritual type, the pneumatic, the damned materialists, the hylic, and those with the possibility of  choice, the psychic – described in the Jung codex of the Nag Hammadi library.

The multiplication of tripartite theories has produced an overwhelmingly extensive list of variations on the same theme, including Freud and beyond, but I think it worthy of note to mention that it was part of Carl Gustav Carus’ thinking.  I say this because he was one of the old-school of psychologists much admired by Jung.  Interestingly, Dostoyevsky was also a great fan and one wonders if the three Karamazov brothers, Dmitri, Ivan and Alyosha, characterising respectively blind social obedience, the human intellect and mystical-propheticism, were not Carus-inspired. 

In Toynbee-like fashion, it does not seem unreasonable to look for the external organisations and trends associated with the different types.  I had initially made a deduction from studies on the history of religious thought that a threefold division could be made along the lines of fundamentalist, developmentalist and prophetic, when I read with interest the post-Jungian division of schools made by Andrew Samuels in Jung and the Post-Jungians[38]: Classical, Developmentalists and Archetypal.  Perhaps a trinitarian view could be taken of the foundation of modern psychology employing the God, Man, Nature schema (or as C S Hall and G Lindzey would have it in Theories of Personality: primordial thought patterns; social interest; and sex) for Jung, Adler and Freud?  Jung certainly had no qualms about such a unity; he could be both Adlerian and Freudian as the need arose (see Memories, Dreams, Reflections).

The fourfold typology posited by Jung was an update of the ancient Greek formulation based on the humours of the body, which makes perfect sense seen from an homeostatic point of view.  However, just as valid is the Vedic counterpart using three humours which also describe three character types, namely kapha, vata and pitta, and restated by the god Krishna in the Bhagavad Gita when he tells Arjuna, “Each has the duty, ordained by his nature, born of the gunas [the threefold, hierarchical hypostases of prakriti]”.  Again, both are inherently logical – and apparently complete – systems, but the latter schema is hierarchical and the former egalitarian.

A real hierosgamos would be if tripartite typologies could be synthesised with the four Jungian types with a resulting twelvefold system[g] satisfying both viewpoints and giving a psychological raison d’etre to the zodiacal system, much beloved by Jung.  He himself hints at a desire to unite his quaternity with the astrological method:

Since the earliest times, attempts have repeatedly been made to classify individuals according to types and thus to bring order into what was confusion.  The oldest attempt of this sort known to us was made by Oriental astrologers who devised the so-called trigons [sets of three star signs] of the four elements, air, water, earth and fire.[39]


James Hillman


A closer look at the way Jung speaks of the types, however, suggests that they too are archetypal.  For what determines type?  Here the a priori element enters: Jung speaks of a “numinal accent” falling on one type or another (§982).  This selective factor determining type is unaccounted for it is simply given.  A numinal accent selects our bias toward what becomes our superior function which drives the others into the background (§984).  We begin to see that the four types are more than mere manners of functioning.  There is something more at work in them, something numinal – and “numinal” means “divine”.  And surely when in the grips of our typical set, as we cannot help but be when we imagine ourselves typologically, the structuring power of the type is like that of an archetype or mythologem.  Especially the experience of the inferior function, also referred to as numinous, brings with it a radical shift of perspective, as if there has been an ontological shift, an initiation into a new cosmos or archetypal seinsweise.

An archetypal background for the four functions has already been intimated by Jung himself.  He speaks of a philosophical typology in Gnosticism or Hellenistic syncretism (§§14, 964) by means of which human beings could be called hylikoi, psychikol, or pneumatikoi.  Jung does not document this typology but Professor Sambursky considers that these terms were applied less to actual persons than to the imaginal persons of Neoplatonism, especially by Plotinus.  These imaginal regions and their beings might thus be the archetypal imagination at work in the functions, giving to them each its nominal accent and each its ontological significance as structuring ground of consciousness.

Then hylikoi, or physis, with its attendant ideas of matter, body, actual physical reality would be the archetypal principle in what Jung called sensation; psychikoi, or soul, with its attendant Jungian description of love, value, experience, relatedness, woman, salt, colour would be the archetype within and behind what Jung called feeling; pneumatikoi, or spirit, with its attendant descriptions in terms of light, vision, swiftness, invisibilities, timelessness, would be what Jung called intuition; and finally, not expressly distinguished in this Hellenistic triad, nous, logos, or intellectus, with its capacity for order and cogni-


tive intelligence, would be the archetypal principle that Jung called the thinking function.  (Jung himself identifies thinking with pneumatikoi, §14.)

This archetypal background gives a deeper sense to what Jung says about the four functions.  For instance, if sensation so often brings with it an uncomfortable inferiority, and intuition, superiority, the reason is not functional, but archetypal – the one being hylitic and bearing all the aspersions put upon physis in our tradition, the other, pneumatic, windy with the idealizations of the spirit. 28  Or, it is hardly a feeling function, as an ego-disposable mode of adaptation through evaluations, which can support such redemptive features that Jung claims for “feeling” (cf. CW 14, §§328-34; CW 16, §488-91; CW 13, §222, and also CW 8, §§668-69 where his discussion of evidence for soul turns on “feelings”), unless we realize that “feeling” has become a secular psychologism for soul. 29

Furthermore, we now can grasp better that connection which Jung makes between the four functions and the wholeness of the “total personality” (CW 14, §261), or Adam (ibid. §§555-57).  For now we would be dealing with the root archetypal structures or cosmoi of Western human being, our four “natures” as Jung calls them (CW 14, §§261, 265; cf. CW 11, §§184-85) which as he says there in Mysterium Coniunctionis, are an archetypal prefiguration of “what we today call the schema of functions”.  The four types are thus not mere empirical

28. Practitioners’ descriptions of the puer psychology of young men often call them “intuitive” and airy, needing “sensation” and earth.  The older language of elemental natures has been unwittingly associated with that of functional types.  Actually, the practitioner is discerning young pneumatikoi whose archetypal basis in spirit cannot be reduced to an over-developed empirical ego-function of intuition.

29. Willeford, “The Primacy of Feeling”, J. Analyt. Psychol.. 21, 1976, pp. 115-133 argues for a special place for the feeling function beyond Jung’s polar equalities.  Because Willeford takes feeling to be the function of the “subjective sphere” (an idea which brings us again to Jung’s early identification of feeling with introversion) he is suggesting that its relation with soul is different and more important than that of the other functions.


functions.  They are the physical, spiritual, noetic, and psychic cosmoi in which man moves and imagines. 30

The ancients placed these cosmoi one on top of the other and fantasied the ideal man moving through them from below to above.  Jung too imagines the individuating person moving through the functions, not ascensionally in his model, yet still redemptively from one-sidedness to four-foldedness.  Although these archetypal powers of the ancients present themselves conceptually, they are nonetheless archetypal persons of the imaginal to begin with.

By this I do not mean to replace intuition with spirit, and feeling with psyche, etc., or to equate them or reduce them.  Rather I am maintaining that the functions have been carrying archetypal projections which gives them, and typology, a numinal accent.  Types conceal archetypes.  The contemporary cult of feeling, for instance, is a disguised psychologistic substitution for cult of soul.  The frequent attack on intellect (metaphysics and theology) through Jung’s writings and letters has resulted in poor critical thinking in the Jungian school because the archetypal principle within thinking has been devalued.  Unless we recognize the imaginal persons in our personal modes of functioning these modes lose their numinal accent.  Only an archetypal appreciation of the functions can take them out of the hands of the ego.   Unless the great root principles of Western man’s orientation are seen for what they are, as the modes in which the imaginal operates (functions) in all realms of being, they, and we, are condemned to psychological jargon without numinal accent.  Thus we must cling to the types for orientation since they do conceal the archetypal natures of our Western compass.


Autumn 1988, Vol.40 No. 3, pp. 249-261.
James Arraj:
      Jungian Spirituality:
           The Question of Victor White


The first level is the simple discovery of our psychological type and its application in the ways just described as an instrument for understanding human differences within the field of spirituality. Of great value, this is the level at which a significant amount of the present encounter between Jung’s psychology and spirituality is taking place.

The second level can emerge from this acquaintance with typology. We begin to perceive that typology is not only interpersonal, a way we relate to those around us, but also an intrapsychic process that is no different from the process of individuation itself. We begin to feel the pull of the outgoing tide that leads to the fascinating and terrible night sea-journey of psychic transformation. It is only by means of such a journey that we truly begin to grasp what typology really meant to Jung and what are the psychic contents that exist under the names of the shadow, anima, animus, and self. It is this experience that will sensitize us to the psychological dimension that exists and must exist in the whole of the spiritual life. There is literally no place for the spiritual life to take place but in the psyche, and we row grasp this psyche in all its immediacy and in all the continual process which strives for wholeness. Here, too, there can be no objection to the employment of Jungian psychology in the spiritual life, but rather only a sense of gratitude that we can finally deal with the psychological dimension that exists in all our spiritual activities.

There is a third level where this encounter will more and more take place and has taken place in certain individuals like Victor White. The process of individuation as it is found in Jung and many of his followers is wrapped in an epistemological fabric which resists a Catholic understanding of faith. It is abundantly evident. Jung himself comments, for example,

For lack of empirical data I have neither knowledge nor understanding of such forms of being which are commonly called spiritual. From the point of view of science it is immaterial what I may believe on that score, and I must accept my ignorance . . . . All comprehension and all that is comprehended is in itself psychic, and to that extent we are hopelessly cooped up in an exclusively psychic world.(6)
Similarly, he indicates that he sees individuation as a more evolved stage of consciousness to which Christianity stands as a deficient stage. If in being guided by Jung to the experience of individuation, we unconsciously imbibe this presentation of it, we will find ourselves in the state in which Victor White found himself — torn on one hand by a living awareness of the reality of the individuation that Jung describes, but sensing that the way it was presented conflicted with his faith.

One thought on “Jung and Typology, Gnosticism and Christianity

Please read Comment Policy before commenting.

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s