The Reformation and the Transformation of the Western Mind

Tetsunori Koizumi, Director

One of the by-products of the Protestant Reformation was the secularization of the arts, as exemplified by the transformation of Lucas Cranach the Elder (1472-1553) from an artist into an entrepreneur. The individual transformation of Cranach the Elder is actually quite symbolic of the transformation of the Western mind that the Reformation unleashed. In fact, the Reformation marks the rise of the rational mind, of the left-hemisphere mode of inquiry into the world, in the evolution of Western civilization.

When Martin Luther (1483-1546) and other Protestant reformers rose to protest and rebel against the authority of the Church of Rome, they were rejecting the psychological role the church had played in the evolution of Western civilization. From the very beginning, the church had been conceived as a place where the sense of togetherness, the spirit of community, could be experienced. Thus, in the Acts of the Apostles we find the following lines: “And all that believed were together, and had all things common; And sold their possessions and goods, and parted them to all men, as every man had need.” (Acts 2: 44, 45)

A more interesting interpretation of the role of the church appears in Paul’s reference to the church as the bride of Christ: “For the husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the church: and he is the savior of the body. Therefore as the church is subject unto Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in everything. Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself to it.” (Ephesians 5: 23, 24, 25)

The idea of the church as the bride, or the wife, of Christ is mainly significant in its relation to matriarchal psychology. If the Christ the Son of God inherits and, therefore, represents the patriarchal psychology of God the Father, then the church as the bride of the Son of God can be interpreted as representing the matriarchal psychology of the Mother of the Son of God. Although the mother figure was not an integral part of the central doctrine of Christianity in the beginning, the early church adopted Mary as the Mother of the Son of God as a symbol mainly in an effort to convert the people of the Mediterranean and the Near East who had been exposed to the figure of the Great Mother Goddess. In fact, it was the Eastern Church that adopted Virgin Mary as a symbol of the Holy Wisdom, or Sophia. If the Church of Rome decided to incorporate the Virgin Mary as a central symbol, it was an attempt on its part to be in conformity with these traditions.

What is significant in the context of the evolution of the Western mind is the revival of the Virgin worship in the Middle Ages. The Virgin worship surfaced most notably in the form of statues of the Virgin and the Child in the twelfth century, one of the earliest examples being found at the Abbey of St. Denis constructed in 1130. This form of artistic (or religious) expression blossomed in many parts of Europe, becoming an integral part of Gothic churches mostly constructed in the thirteenth century. The sudden revival of the Virgin worship in the history of Christianity around this period appears to be related to the Crusades. The Crusades, which were already in full swing in the eleventh century, brought destruction by perpetuating violence in the name of religious devotion. It would be quite natural, then, if the matriarchal aspect of human psychology was revived as a reaction, rekindling the need for motherly values of compassion and togetherness among the Christian nations. A contact with matriarchal religions of the East during the Crusades may also have contributed to the revival of the Great Mother worship in the Virgin Mary. In fact, St. Sophia in Istanbul, called the Great Church of the Holy Wisdom, was known for its majestic incarnation of the motherly wisdom. This obvious association of the Virgin Mary with matriarchal psychology immediately suggests the vital symbolic role of the Virgin Mary in Christian psychology. To the extent that matriarchal psychology is linked to the unconscious psyche, the Virgin Mary serves as a symbol for the world of unconsciousness for the Christians.

Did the Protestants lose their contact with matriarchal psychology with the rejection of the authority of the Church of Rome? To the extent that the Protestants kept their link to their church and to the extent that they understood the psychological role of their church in promoting the sense of togetherness, the spirit of community, they had access to the same institutional protection and guidance as the Catholics had from their church. However, as the individual interpretation of the Bible became recognized as a valid means of maintaining Christian faith, the Protestant movement naturally led to an increase in the number of Christians who would break away from their church. And those Christians who broke their spiritual ties with their church and decided to deal with the problem of their salvation on their individual interpretation of the Christian dogma had to develop the mind of their own—the Protestant mind, if you will—in order to deal with their psychological problems.

The Protestant mind is characterized by its reliance on the power of reason, which represents the rational mode of dealing with psychological problems and the left-hemisphere mode of comprehending realities in the world. The development of science, although it can be traced back to the humanistic spirit of the early Renaissance, is essentially a Protestant venture in its psychological implications. With its emphasis on the power of reason, the development of the Protestant mind led to the neglect, if not the total suppression, of other psychological functions of human psychology besides reason. In fact, Freudian psychology can be seen as an extension of the Protestant mind. Though not a Protestant, the way Freud treats “id” as a force to be suppressed and controlled by the development of “ego” is in conformity with the Protestant spirit that places emphasis on the rational mode of dealing with human psychology.

As long as the psychological implications of the church and the Virgin Mary and other symbols are properly understood, it does not matter whether the individual Christian is a Catholic or a Protestant. Unfortunately, however, those zealous Protestant reformers did not properly understand these psychological implications in their eagerness to break away from the corruption and moral decay of the Church of Rome. Much as the intention of these reformers to restore Christian faith may be admired, their efforts actually contributed to perpetuate and stimulate dissentions among Christian nations and eventually led to the emergence of the gulf in the Western mind between the Catholic and the Protestant mind. Needless to say, we are not suggesting that these reformers ought to be blamed for their lack of historical insight. Any product of human imagination is destined to lead its own life once it leaves its producer. The Reformation was no exception in this regard. And these reformers could not be held responsible for the fate of the Protestant movement once it was thrust into the stage of history that involved far more complex forces than they could possibly have anticipated.