Chapter IV of Liber Secundus is called “The Anchorite. Dies 1” and relates the first day of Jung’s encounter with a hermit monk, who lives in the Libyan desert. While reading The Red Book I was particularly struck by all the passages in which Jung describes nature; they are always extremely evocative. He starts:
“On the following night, I found myself on new paths; hot dry air flowed around me, and I saw the desert, yellow sand all around, heaped up in waves, a terrible irascible sun, a sky as blue as tarnished steel, the air shimmering above the earth, on my right side a deeply cut valley with a dry river bed, some languid grass and dusty brambles. In the sand I see the tracks of naked feet that lead up from the rocky valley to the plateau.”
What follows is an encounter with “a haggard man” wearing a white mantle and holding a parchment, which Jung recognizes as a Greek gospel. The first topic of their conversation is language and interpretation. Jung is surprised that the Anchorite can occupy himself with just a single volume for the entirety of his time on the desert. The hermit berates Jung’s childishness. A book, he says, reveals something new each time it is read because “on the higher levels of insight into divine thoughts, you recognize that the sequence of words has more than one valid meaning.”
He proceeds to tell Jung that before he converted to Christianity he was a rhetorician and philosopher in Alexandria, a city founded by Alexander the Great, who, according to a legend, was inspired by a fragment of Homer’s Odyssey about an island called Pharos, lying off Egypt. (1) There the genius of Hellenism and the genius of Egypt met. The population of Alexandria was very diverse, predominantly Greek, Egyptian and Jewish, but with sizeable groups from people from all over the world. As Vrettos puts it, “the city was a universal nurse, …, nurturing each race that settled there.” (2) There the anchorite from The Red Book taught philosophy, both Greek and modern, concentrating on the teachings of the great Philo of Alexandria, the first Western esotericist. Philo was a Jewish thinker, whose aim was to harmonize the Torah with Greek philosophy. His writings, especially the doctrine of the logos, influenced early Christian writers, including the prologue to the Gospel of John, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God.” In the Greek version of the Gospel of John in the beginning was not “the Word” but “logos.”
The concept of “logos” was first found in Heraclitus, who used it to refer to order and knowledge, though already in his philosophy there was already more to logos than simply “measure” or “word.” There exists a breathtakingly powerful short passage of Heraclitus, in which he ponders the unlimited nature of the psyche: “You would not discover the limits of the soul although you have travelled every road. So deep is its logos.”
Philo expanded the theory of the logos. He saw it as the principle of order in the world and the way God manifests himself in matter:
“It is the powerful word that gives solid consistency to the universe … It is synonymous with due measure and harmony, both in God, reconciling the contrasting attributes of mercy and justice …, and in the world, bringing together the different elements and neutralizing the forces of chaos. ….Philo links Sophia to a life-giving feminine maternal principle. In union with God, she generates the Logos and the cosmos.
…the Logos not only provides order to the world, but it also actively and constantly dominates and controls it, or even, when necessary, props it up internally. In fact, Philo goes so far as to say that ‘the most venerable Logos of the one who is put on the world as a garment’ … In this fashion the Logos comes to take the place of the Platonic ‘world soul’ in an extraordinary integration of philosophical notions and concepts.” (3)
It seems that for Philo logos served as an intermediary between God and the material world.
The Anchorite asks Jung to read the Prologue to John’s gospel. With the ardour of a new convert, the hermit argues that Philo’s logos was just a word, a dry concept, an abstraction, while John equated logos with Jesus, God’s “son in flesh.” The Anchorite seems to perceive pre-Christian philosophy as purely abstract intellectual exercise. He encourages Jung to “unlearn” everything.
Jung admires anchorite’s simple but full existence:
“…The solitary seeks the sun and no one else is so ready to open his heart as he is. … In the desert the solitary is relieved of care and therefore turns his whole life to the sprouting garden of his soul, which can flourish only under a hot sun. … You think that the solitary is poor. You do not see that he strolls under laden fruit trees and that his hand touches grain a hundredfold. … He cannot tell you, since the splendor of his garden is so abundant. He stammers when he speaks of it, and he appears to you to be poor in spirit and in life. But his hand does not know where it should reach, in all this indescribable fullness.”
The final part of the chapter is Jung’s meditation on words and their danger to the psyche, whose depth they often seek to obliterate. He asserts the importance of finding new words, but first we need to shatter the old ones. The silence of the desert opens the soul to “the boundless,” while words often banish it. Silence allows us to “comprehend the darkness” and
“Through comprehending the dark, the nocturnal, the abyssal in you, you become utterly simple. … Peace and blue night spread over you while you dream in the grave of the millennia.”
(1) Theodore Vrettos, Alexandria: City of the Western Mind
(3) Adam Kamesar, ed., The Cambridge Companion to Philo
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