The Malta Independent 2 June 2023, Friday
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Book review: From the Trinity to a quaternity

Noel Grima Sunday, 26 March 2023, 08:20 Last update: about 3 months ago

'Psychology and Western religion'

Author: C. G. Jung

Publisher: Ark Paperbacks Routledge / 1993

Pages: 307


In 1940, in the darkest days of World War II, a group of persons gathered at Ascona in neutral Switzerland for what was called the Eranos meeting.

The speaker was the well-known psychologist Carl Gustav Jung, a former collaborator of Sigmund Freud before coming up with his own theory.


Jung's principal interest was in the psychology of Western men and women. The son of a pastor, he was also deeply interested in the religious life and development of people. He was struck by the contrasting methods of observation employed in the religions of the East and in those of the predominantly Christian West. In his view, the two are radically different.

The first conference, subsequently expanded, was about the Dogma of the Trinity. Jung was no theologian and this lecture proved to be controversial, as he himself expected. However, he argued against what he called the "timid defensiveness" of his critics, adding that "wherever belief reigns, doubt lurks in the background".

Triads of gods appear very early in human history, at a primitive level, he says, and in all probability formed the basis of the Christian Trinity. Often these triads do not consist of three different deities independent of one another. Rather, there is a tendency for certain family relationships to arise within the triads.

He draws on Babylonian examples, moves on to Egyptian ones and thence to Greek ones from which come, he says, the pre-Christian sources of the Trinity.

In the words of a commentator, Zeller, "one is the first from which other numbers arise, and in which the opposite qualities of numbers, the odd and the even, must therefore be united; two is the first even number; three the first that is uneven and perfect, because in it we first find beginning, middle and end".

But then, Plato in the very first sentence of the Timaeus, asked "One, two, three - but where, my dear Timaeus, is the fourth?"

I am summarising some very dense pages. The concept of quaternity denotes completeness - four elements, four prime qualities, four colours, etc. Where indeed is the fourth?

The Christian reply is that the fourth element is the principle of evil. How can one speak of "good" if there is no "evil"? Or of "light" if there is no "darkness"? Or of "above" if there is no "below"?

The idea of a quaternity of divine principles was violently attacked by the Church Fathers when an attempt was made to add a fourth - God's "essence" - to the Three Persons of the Trinity. But medieval iconology evoked a quaternity symbol in its representations of the coronation of the Virgin and surreptitiously put it in place of the Trinity. The Assumption of Mary paves the way not only for the divinity of the Theotokos (that is, her ultimate recognition as a goddess) but also for the quaternity.

And so on and so forth. The writing gets denser and difficult to comprehend.

The book also includes a second Eranos conference on the transformation symbolism in the Mass. Several shorter works are grouped in the third section: a study of the Swiss patron saint, Brother Klaus and two essays on the relationship between psychotherapy and religious healing.

The book closes with a long section consisting of questions put to Jung by two English clergymen and his often extensive replies.

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