Surely, the depth, breadth and complexity of the Christ archetype is the crowning beauty of the Christian faith. There is of course an interesting relationship between Jesus of Nazareth and the Christ archetype to which we will return late, lest we as Paul warned us, know only of him in the flesh. One of the primary archetypes of Christ is that of the divine man. By definition an archetype cannot be unique to any one religion and culture and we see this archetype at the forefront in a number of faiths. If we turn to the India, Krishna looms large in the devotion of many Hindus, an avatar of Vishnu who according to Bhagavata Puranaine was born without a sexual union, but by divine “mental transmission” from the mind of Vasudeva into the womb of Devaki. The archetypal nature of the Christ figure is further attested by the tendency within Buddhism for the Buddha to become a divine-human figure. There were of course closer Christ archetypes, around the time of Jesus and much has been made more recently of Mithras, the Persian divine man adopted by the Romans.
The primary motif for the archetype of the Christ is the union of the physical body and the spiritual, divine spirit.
For Jung, the Christ was an archetype of the self that informed the process of the individual ego joining with the self, which for him included access to the collective unconscious.
Jesus and the Christ
There are a number of ways people come to terms with the relationship of Jesus to the Christ archetype.
The first holds that Christians have projected the Christ archetype on to the historical figure of Jesus of Nazareth. The Jesus of faith then comes to represent the combination of an historical figure and an archetype. This is most probably Jung’s own position. The difficulties around this position is the question of why Jesus and not any other person. It makes worship a challenge because the person who holds this position has to effectively separate the Christ archetype from the person of Jesus and those who hold this position are perhaps likely to be a little removed from the practice of faith. The strength of this approach may be in openness to inter-faith dialogue in that those who come from this position are able to celebrate the
The second way of approaching the relationship of Jesus and the Christ Archetype is to hold that Jesus embodied the archetype. I know of a woman, as may you, who just seems to embody the mother archetype, she mothers all who come into her presence and is passionately engaged in living the mother archetype to her children. So some see Jesus as a person who embodied the Christ archetype. The question then becomes how this embodiment affected the life of Christ; his teaching, charisma, his miracles and even his resurrection can be viewed as a outworking of this embodiment; an outworking of the archetypal energy filling the person. In one sense this leads to an adoption of Christ into God as he becomes the Christ archetype and is a kind of “bottom-up” approach.
Another, third approach, is to view Christ as the pre-existent archetypal person of the Christ who takes on human form. This “high” view of Jesus firmly stresses his divinity but has often been in danger of losing his humanity. One of the marks of a healthy person is their capacity to not lose touch with their humanity when under the power of archetypal energy; a disease disctators are constantly falling foul of.
Of course the later two approaches are not necessarily mutually exclusive. For in one sense we are all archetypal energies made flesh. One may be able to hold to a view that the Christ archetype from the start shaped the life and nature of Jesus just as some are born as musicians. As Jesus then recognizes and embraces his archetypal nature then he emobies and lives it out and then this archetypal gets resumed into the being of God. The archetype taking on human form and the person embodying the archetype may be just two perspectives on the one movement.
One can see that these questions are the same that the church has struggled with over the centuries and tried to give voice to in the creeds. But they are also the questions which plague as a humans. Are we a product of these archetypes – do they have us – or are they something we become – do we have them. Here we see the very essence of the question reveals why the Christ archetype is so enduringly powerful and why it speaks to each one of us. The journey of Christ reflects the journey of us all and the tension he lived between his humanity and divinity stretches us too.