Psychotheology: archetypes and the God image

The work of Carl Jung is an endeavor to elucidate the sacred dimensions of psychic life.

Jung’s investigations began with the theories of Freudian psychoanalysis. The aim of analysis was to act as an archaeologist of psychic life, digging up the old repressed and forgotten memories of early childhood.

Like Freud, Jung endeavored into analysis, aiming to dig up old forgotten memories. As he did so, he found not only repressed memories but a wealth of images– spiritual in content. Jung realized that the psyche spontaneously produces an occurrence of religious and mythic symbols.

In 1912, Carl Jung published Psychology of the Unconscious. Jung offered an analysis of the writings of Ms. Miller, as well as reading the spiritual texts. Most interestingly, a reading of the Hindu Upanishads. Through this analysis, Jung saw that symbols appear co-emergent with introversion, with the act of turning within. When we meditate, contemplate, or withdraw into a spiritual retreat, these symbols often emerge.

Psychology of the Unconscious expressed the theoretical split between Jung and Freud. This split was about the nature of libido. Freud contended libido was primarily related to sex (and love). Jung contended it was primary related to psychic energy, and in particular was expressed in spiritual symbolism.

From quite early in his career, Jung understood that spiritual symbols express libido. This symbolic expression takes the form of universal, archaic patterns and images. Carl Jung called these universal, archaic patterns and image archetypes. Jung was not the first to use the word. In fact there was a long history of use of this word. In The Archetypes of the Collective Unconscious, Jung provides some references for the word:

  • The term “archetype” occurs as early as Philo Judaeus, with reference to the Imago Dei (God image) in man.
  • Irenaeus, who says: “The creator of the world did not fashion these things directly from himself but copied them from archetypes outside himself.”
  • The Corpus Hermeticum, God is called το άρχέτυπον φώ ς.. (archetypal light).
  • Dionysius the Areopagite, as for instance in De caelesti hierarchia, 11, 4: “immaterial Archetypes,”
  • De divinis nominibus I, 6: “Archetypal stone.”
  • The term “archetype” is not found in St. Augustine, but the idea of it is.
  • Thus in De diversis quaestionibus LXXXIII he speaks of “ideae principales ‘which are themselves not formed … but are contained in the divine understanding.’ “
  •  “Archetype” is an explanatory paraphrase of the Platonic £180,.

It is interesting to note that these primary references which Jung puts forth in introducing the archetypes are all related to the God image. In Aion, Jung speaks directly to God as archetypal image:

“As the highest value and supreme dominant in the psychic hierarchy, the God-image is immediately related to, or identical with, the self, and everything that happens to the God-image has an effect on the latter. Any uncertainty about the God-image causes a profound uneasiness in the self, for which reason the question is generally ignored because of its painfulness. But that does not mean that it remains unasked in the unconscious (para 170).

Carl Jung’s work presents more than a psychology of mental health, it offers a psycho-theology of spiritual realization. The world psyche is from Greek psykhe “soul, mind, spirit, breath” and Theology from Greek theos “gods” and thea “goddess.” Jung’s work showed that psyche is fundamentally related to the God image.

Jung understood, God image is the ‘highest value and supreme dominant in the psychic hierarchy.” The God image guides the growth and development of psychic life. In Psychology and Alchemy, Jung states that the image “promises to heal, to make whole” .

“The goal which beckons to this psychic need, the image which promises to heal, to make whole, is at first strange beyond all measure to the conscious mind (CW 12).

Jung understood that the God image is coincident with the Self. A realization also explicit in the Hindu Upanishads. In Aion he said:

“The self, on the other hand, is a God image, or at least cannot be distinguished from one. (CW 9ii)

Through our awareness of God we come to know who we are as selves. In this process we become whole. Spiritual images guide our psycho-spiritual development, guiding us toward wholeness and integration. Our spiritual calling is a calling toward wholeness of the Self– through both Self-knowledge and the knowledge of God. Archetypal images guide this spiritual realization.


  1. The Archetypes and The Collective Unconscious (Collected Works of C.G. Jung Vol.9 Part 1)
  2. Symbols of Transformation(Collected Works of C. G. Jung Volume 5)
  3. Aion: Researches into the Phenomenology of the Self (Collected Works of C.G. Jung Vol.9 Part 2)
  4. Psychology and Religion (Collected Works of C.G. Jung Vol. 12)
  5. The Structure and Dynamics of the Psyche (Collected Works of C.G. Jung Vol. 8)

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