This week’s blog is the conclusion of Murray Stein’s lecture on Betrayal, given at Jungian Odyssey 2010. In it he looks at the intense friendship and later dramatic breakup of Carl Jung and Father Victor White.
If you watch the performance of The Jung-White Letters (now available on DVD), featuring Paul Brutsche in the role of C.G. Jung and John Hill as Victor White, O.P., you will witness the trajectory of a relationship begun in the summer of 1945 just after the end of WWII with high hopes and enthusiasm for collaboration between the psychologist on the one side and the Roman Catholic theologian on the other. The arc of their collaboration and friendship rises with rapid acceleration to a zenith (around 1948), then begins to flounder when they enter into a more earnest exchange of views on the nature of God and on the Roman Catholic doctrine of evil as privatio boni (1949-1955), and finally lose its basis and falls into severe disarray and finally into a rupture around what Victor White perceived as a betrayal and Jung then responded to as an unwawarrented attack from White on his integrity. The causal agent of White’s sense of betrayal was Jung’s publication of Answer to Job. “I wonder what induced you to publish it; when you gave me the manuscript to read you were so emphatic that you would not!” (Lammers, p. 259), White writes bitterly after the book was published and translated into English. Earlier he had found the work fascinating, but when he had to answer pointed questions about its contents from his priestly colleagues and his Catholic followers and analysands, he became extremely uncomfortable and felt that Jung had cut the ground out from under him with the publication of this heterodox work.
Certainly from a Roman Catholic theological perspective rooted in the teachings of St. Thomas Aquinas, which White knew backwards and forewards and had taught to seminarians for many years, Jung’s views were completely indefensible and out of bounds. How could he, a priest, work with Catholic students and analysands, when the founder of the psychology he was using and had been advocating was putting forward a view of God and the Bible and what must be done by modern men and women that so utterly contradicted what the Church would ever condone? White found himself strangely in the position of Job when betrayed by God – the very basis of his livelihood and professional existence was pulled out from under his feet. Unlike Job, however, he vented his rage with the transference object, C.G. Jung, and separated himself from him, going his own way: “It seems that I am destined to be a wanderer & as homeless physically as I am spiritually.” (ibid.) Ironically, Jung repeated almost exactly with his Answer to Job the very thing he had been dealing with so passionately in the book itself – betrayal.
Perhaps it was inadvertant. From White’s side, it must have seemed like the betrayal of a faithful and pious man (i.e., himself) at the hands of a mistakenly idealized transference object (i.e., Jung). Jung retorted to White’s letter of accusation saying that he had never promised such a thing: “Should I set the light of such an insight ‘under a bushel’?” he cries out. (Lammers, p. 261) He was burdened with a message for humanity, which he felt was urgently needed in the time when the world was on the verge of catastrophic splitting and destruction. He was advocating for consciousness, for individual responsibility, for maturity. Only under such advances in humanity would the world survive, he felt. And White was trying to protect an illusion that robbed people of their initiative, diminished their consciousness of individual responsibility, and had been helpless to prevent the European nations from entering into two horrific wars in the 20th Century.
As Jung looked at the world, the Christian religion, as it had been presented and lived to this point in Europe, was not adequate to contain the powerful splitting tendencies at work in history. It simply hid people’s heads in the sand and foolishly let them believe that everything would come out alright in the end since a good God is in control of history. For Jung, the example of Jesus Christ taught the opposite – the image of the wholly good God is shattered by betrayal, on the cross and ends in tragedy. People have to grow up and take responsibility for history and for the planet and not wait passively for a good God to put things right. One must take a less naïve view of God. This is the message of Answer to Job.
I do believe that Victor White achieved wisdom and did not fall into cynicism as a result of his betrayal at the hands of Jung. In the end he was able to see Jung’s person more clearly, for better and for worse, without casting him utterly aside. The transference object was broken and a new consciousness had space to dawn in him. In a final exchange of letters shortly before White’s death from inoperable cancer in 1960, both men showed gratitude for what they had learned from the other. They had separated but not become antagonists or enemies. Splitting was overcome in favor of holding together the opposites and achieving object wholeness. This is the psychological basis of wisdom.
-Lammers, A. (ed.) 2005. The Jung-White Letters. London: Routledge.