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God and the Unconscious – Victor White

June 18, 2015

GATUVictor Francis White (1902–1960) was a Dominican priest who corresponded and collaborated with Carl Gustav Jung. He was initially deeply attracted to Jung’s psychology. White’s correspondence with Jung made Jung refer to him as “my white raven,” inasmuch as he was the only theologian who really understood something of the problem of psychology in the present world.

For the author, Christian growth is not merely head-stuff. ‘Those who are being initiated [into the, Mysteries] are not required to engage in active study but to be passive to inner experience.’

He regards dreams as part of God’s revelation: In his De Divinatione per Somnia he had raised the question whether dreams might be divine in origin, and a means of communication of divine knowledge; and while he rejects the hypothesis, he does not dismiss it as intrinsically impossible.

Although I taught Philosophy of Religion to A’ level, I actively avoided more than year of it at university though I also did philosophy of education during my PGCE. Thus, I dfind philosophy difficult but believe it is important that we reclaim its thought at a basic level so that we are not taken in by false claims.

The difference between Aristotle and Aquinas is that the former was a purely philosophical thinker and the latter was primarily a theologian and only secondarily a philosopher. For the theologian, rational philosophy is primarily of interest as the handmaid of theology (ancilla theologiae): ‘a handmaid who may help in elucidating the mysteries conveyed in revelation and accepted by faith. Revelation takes pride of place.

Aquinas describes the typical apprehension of revelation as a kind of clouded awareness mixed up with darkness ” quaedam cognitio obumbrata et obscuritati admixta (De Veritate xii. 12). In the same place he argues that its quality as prophetic insight into the Divine is in inverse ratio to its quality as clear and distinct knowledge. In its most typical forms, it is everything of which the controlled, orderly, logical and scientific reason is most suspicious. It is governed by no laws of logic or method, it is not even subject to the recipient’s volition; it may well be, as in the case of Jeremiah, clean contrary to it. It is no permanent disposition (habitus) to be used at will, but something momentarily undergone (passio); something, not that the recipient does, but that is done to him, which seizes him and overpowers him compulsively (De Veritate xii. i; Summa Theol. 1‑1)

It proceeds by no measured steps, which can be checked by laws of logic and detached scientific observation; it is an intuitus, an intuition‑a vision‑more especially an inward vision or auditon ‑ an instinctus, an inspiration (ibid). Its normal and typical vehicle is not the rational concept, but the concrete image, the phantasy, dream, the hypnogogic (sleepy) uncontrolled imagina­tion (De Ver. xii. 7, 81; 1‑11.1 ‘173, 2, etc. It thrives under conditions of intense introversion, of alienation from ex­ternal sense‑perceptions, in states of ecstasy, of trance, of frenzy, which, Aquinas recalls, may be induced by solitude or,as by Saul and Elisha, by the sense‑lulling, hypnotising effects of music (De Ver. xii. 9; 1‑11. 173, 3). The prophet does not always know what he sees nor even what he says (1‑11. 173, 4); nor of these does he Invariably discern between what is of divine or super­human origin and what is ” from his own –spirit per spiritum probrium ‘), a product, as Aquinas himself puts it, of his own instinct. He may de moved not only to see and say the strangest things, but to them too, as Hosea was moved to take a succession of harlots to wife. More shocking still is Aquinas’s emphasis that prophetic revelation is as such independent of good morals – let De Ver. xii. 5; 1‑11. 172, 4). For alone of personal sanctity (prophecy is required, he says tersely, not ” goodness of morals ” (bonitas morum) but ” goodness of imagination (bonitas imaginationis). If sexual excess and worldly preoccupation, he adds, are inimical to prophetic insight, that is not for any ethical reason, but for the purely psychological, one that they withdraw attention and interest (i.e. libido) from the interior image to the external world. Aristotle had already remarked on the fact that it is not the best people who have the best dreams;’ he had also remarked that it is ” the melancholic. “‑ we might render this as the ” introverted intuitive “‑who is usually the best dreamer quite irrespective of his morals.’ Aquinas finds Scriptural warrant for parallel phenomena even in regard to supernatural revelation. Nor does he hesitate to draw the parallel ‑ even while he most carefully marks the differences ‑ between the typical condition of the inspired prophet in the act of perceiving Divine revelation, with that of the psychotic, the “raging maniac ” (furiosus), the man whose ” mind is possessed ” (mente captus). Nay, the prophets are to be likened to the brute beasts inasmuch as “they are rather acted upon than act” (“magis’aguntur quam agunt”). (De Ver. xii. 3).

GATU2This kind of thinking is something of a scandal to the cultivator of the clear‑and‑distinct, the cut‑and-dried, the methodical and the controlled. It is the scandal which had led Plato to identify prophecy and mania, and to expel the “enthusiast” and the inspired from the Republic. Aristotle was too open‑minded an empiricist and too integral a rationalist so easily to dismiss the manifestations of unreason, embarrassing though he found them to be. For him, facts were facts, and to that extent subject to the investigation of reason. However little he may seem to us to be at home with the uncanny subject in his treatise On Divination by Dreams, he did not ignore it. Aquinas had read that work on dream‑interpretation, and his own De Prophetia utilises some of its ideas.

A narrower rationalism is less patient with irrationality, with anything less than the comprehensive, clear‑cut concept, the water‑tight argument, the established conclusion. “Some,” said Aristotle in the Second Book of his Metaphysics, “desire to have all things clear‑and‑distinct while others are annoyed at it ” and both there and early in his Nicomachean Ethics he warns his hearers of the danger of that desire when the object of our study does, not permit of such sharpness of outline. Aquinas at the beginning of his Summa quotes from the same book of the Metaphysics the warning that there are objects before which our minds are as the eyes of bats in respect of daylight; but he adapts and stresses it to the point of saying that, in. respect of divine things, our minds are as bats’ eyes before the naked light of the sun. Such a situation is a painful one for the adept of the idlee claire, of Latin precision, law and order. Aquinas also was a Latin, by culture if not by birth, and never was there one more vigorous in vindicating the function of reason in theology, more thoroughgoing in drawing its logical implications, more dexterous in manipulating the concept, the proposition, the syllogism; but never as ends in themselves, never with the idea that scientific rational theology was a substitute for, let alone an improvement upon, the original revelations on which it is based and ‘which it is its purpose to clarify. The more you get into the analogies in Aquinas’s thinking in the Summa, its first impression of clarity, of the clear‑and‑distinct, of the comprehensible and the cut and dried, rapidly vanishes. Aquinas did not neglect to direct his powerful reason upon the largely non‑rational phenomena which underlie it all and to attempt to account for them in rational fashion and by rational means. Plato could expel the inspired and the possessed from the Republic; they can never be expelled from the Church which is built on the foundations of the prophets and apostles.

One difficulty of his thought lies in the enormous variety and multiplicity of the actual phenomena which demand to be considered, a fact which renders the subject peculiarly impervious to any facile schematisation and generalisation “God who at sundry times and in divers manners spoke in times past unto the fathers by the prophets.” Commenting on this first verse of the Epistle to the Hebrews, Aquinas stresses the extraordinary richness and variety to be found in the methods which God has devised to make his saving ways known to men ‑ even in the Old Testament alone.

There is no one mode. The Spirit of God bloweth where it listeth, and it is unscientific to attempt to contain the infinitely rich and diverse operations of the self‑revealing God into any one preconceived human category. At the human end, the receiving end there is no one single event, called Revelation: there are countless revelations of very varying kinds and very varying degrees. The task of theology is not to lay down some a priori pattern of how God should reveal and what he should reveal; its task is to bow down in deep humility before the manifold and bewildering variety of what God actually does; to accept it, in the first place, as naked, unchangeable fact, however offensive or otherwise it may be to particular human tastes and preconceptions. If inquiry is to be truly scientific, not to say reverent, it will not attempt to mould and transmute the elementary data in the interests of some preconceived theory. But neither will it be satisfied merely to record and describe; it must analyse the bare phenomena into their constituents, assign causes and purposes in the light of the revelations themselves and with the air also of knowledge derived from other sources; attempt classification of kinds and degrees of revelation on the basis of the knowledge thus obtained. Any attempt to reduce the vast body of highly variegated raw material to some intelligible unity without prejudice to its richness and variety, and without loss to the unique individuality of the particular specimen which fall under its consideration. Its method will be primarily inductive; but it will not hesitate to employ the findings of deductive as well as inductive sciences in the accomplishment of its task.

For St Thomas, the purpose of all theological inquiry is the greater clarification to our own minds of what is contained in divine teaching , the more intelligent understanding of God’s ways with man for his salus‑his ultimate ,health and well‑being and salvation.

There is no simple picture of a transcendent God periodically “invading” the natural order according to one single, established scheme, and regardless of natural causes, needs and factors. As often as not, Aquinas finds revelation to be brought about through the most natural and lowly causes and to be reflected in the most commonplace processes, as well as by causes and processes of the most transcendent character.

It helps to understand his terminology as he himself understood it, and not subconsciously to read into it our own derived from current speech, or even from current theology. This warning is especially necessary in the case of the terms prophetia and propheta themselves. For Aquinas a Propheta is not necessarily one who foretells the future (De Ver. xii. 2). A propheta, as he understands the word, does not necessarily, tell anything at all; when he does so whether by speech, by writing, by gesture or by dramatic action‑that is all secondary and consequential to the essential ” gift of prophecy “; it belongs to the employment (usus) or the proclamation (denuntiatio) of prophecy. Primarily and essentially prophecy is not a certain kind of speech, but a certain kind of consciousness or knowledge: a cognitive psychological event which the prophetic utterance presupposes and expresses outwardly ( De Ver. xii. I et 13). At the outset of both treatises Aquinas recalls the passage in I Samuel ix. 9, ” He that is now called a Prophet, in times past was called a Seer.” a Videns. Not, evidently, that anyone whosoever who “sees ” anything whatsoever, in any way whatsoever, is to be called a Seer or Prophet. The distinguishing mark of prophetic sight lies in the remoteness, the distance of what is seen from normal vision and cognition: “Prophets know those things which are far removed from the knowledge of men ” (” prophetae cognoscunt ea quae sunt procul remata ab hominum cognitione “) : “They saw things which the rest did not see ” (“videbant ea quae caeteri non videbant “). We might render this by saying that the prophet is conscious of that of which other men are unconscious: he sees ” as it were, from afar ” (“quasi ex longinquo “) what is remote or opaque to average consciousness. If foreknowledge of the future is peculiarly characteristic of prophetic insight, that is only because the future is peculiarly remote and opaque to ordinary conscious apprehension, in contrast to the present or the past (De Ver. xii. 2). This does not mean that the field of prophetic vision is necessarily totally different and remote from the field of ordinary vision and apprehension; Aquinas is most emphatic that it is not, and that the field of natural perception and reason may fall within the scope of the prophet’s vision. The prophet may see what anybody can see with his own eyes, or reason out in his own brain (De Ver. xii. 2); but within that field the prophet will see something which our connatural faculties cannot see, and he sees it by means other than those of the consciously directed employment of those faculties. His knowledge is essentially any sort of direct perception: it may, and often will, take not only visual but also aural forms, and even forms which altogether transcend the processes of exterior and even interior sensation.

But not only, for Aquinas, is there a distinction been the essential prophetic knowledge (cognitto prohetica) and its employment (usus) or proclamation (denuntiatio); the two involve diametrically opposite psychological processes. In regard to the former the propheta is purely passive, as “the atmosphere to the radiation of the sun ” (De Ver. xii. i). Here he is in no way a responsible gent, he sees what he sees and cannot help himself; it appens to him; he does nothing consciously and willingly. Willingly or unwillingly, with or without regard to his own character and predispositions, he is seized by a power, or rather a light, an “inbreathing ” (inspiratio), a touch ” (tactus), beyond his control, whether or not he simultaneously retains the normal use of his own faculties. Truly enough there are conditions and psychological predispositions favourable to such experience, and conditions and predispositions which are unfavourable‑so Amos pro­tested he was no professional prophet, while the “sons of the prophets ” cultivated solitude and introversion, ” turn­ing away from carnal and earthly things a carnalibus et terrenis vacantes”)‑but divine’ power can and does overrule the indispositions, or rather (since divine power always acts according to nature and never against it), supplies the dispositions simultaneously with the vision (De Ver. xii. 5). But in the “employment, proclamation matters are normally very different. Not indeed always because, as Aquinas recognises, there are cases: When the prophet is precisely overwhelmed by superior power to speak or act in a fashion beyond his cognisance or control. But normally it is true that in the employment or proclamation, and in the employment or proclamation only, the “spirits of the prophets are subject to the prophets ” (1 Cor. xiii. 32; cf De Ver. xii. 4); it is within their power to speak or not to speak, to choose their own words, their own images and language. These they will normally choose in accordance with their own character and experience; thus Amos the shepherd naturally uses language and imagery with pastoral associations. In the use of prophetic experience the prophet may receive divine assistance; but, to use the technical language, the prophet is in this a true principal, though secondary, cause, and the divine assistance will be in the nature of co‑operative (gratia co­operans) rather than of operative grace (gratia operans) as in the prophetic knowledge (cognitio prophetica) itself.

Aquinas said repeatedly not just that prophecy receives revelation, but that it is revelation : though it is true that not all revelation is prophecy. To reveal means to uncover, to disclose, to remove a veil; so when we speak of divine revelation we mean that God somehow removes covers and veils from himself. This is an anthropomorphism which will not bear very much rational scrutiny­. For Aquinas every action or relation which we attribute to God but which has its effects in time or space. “adds nothing to God but only to the creature “: it involves no new entity or reality on the side of God who is unchanging Actus Purus, but only a new reality or entity in the created universe. When we say that God reveals‑as also when we say that God creates, moves this or that, or even becomes man, we are not saying that some­thing happens in eternity but that something happens in space and time. And what happens when we say that God reveals, is precisely the psychological occurrence in the prophet’s mind – the “prophetic vision ” (visio prophetica), his awareness of what is commonly hidden from human perception. So, for Aquinas, Revelation is the very perception itself of divine things by which prophecy is brought about; and by this very perception the veil of darkness and ignorance is taken away Revelatio est ipsa perceptio divinorum in quo perficitur prophetia : et per ipsum removetur obscuritatis et ignorantiae velamen.”. It is not God who is wrapped in veils; the veils are the ignorance and darkness, the unconsciousness, which normally envelops our own minds; and it is these precisely which the very fact of the prophetic vision removes. Similarly, the “distance ” which the prophetic vision traverses is not, and cannot be, a distance of God from the creature, for, Aquinas assures us, God is more intimately present to all his creatures than they are to themselves; it is a distance of cognition, an absence from human awareness of divine things. God is not absent from us; but our minds are in greater or less degree absent from him, and indeed must remain so until they possess the final consummation of revelation which is the beatific vision itself. ” Prophecy is something imperfect in the category of divine revelation … its perfection awaits us in our heavenly home.

Aquinas was in no doubt at all that there is, as well as divine or supernatural prophecy or revelation, such a thing which he calls natural prophecy: a prophetia or vision, that is to say, which while attributable to no special innate faculty or spirit of divination ” in human nature, or even in certain favoured human individuals, is yet explicable by purely natural or created finite causes. (Until the nineteenth century it had not become respectable to doubt such phenomena as precognition, telepathy and clairvoyance.) That is why I used to explore these phenomena in Key Stage 4 RE. It not only gripped the pupils interest but paved the way for a consideration of the claims made by religions to have received divine revelation.

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