Project Canterbury

Liberal Catholicism and the Modern World

Edited by Frank Gavin

Milwaukee: Morehouse, 1933.



FIRST WE SAY, "That's not true"; and soon, "It's against religion"; then finally, "Oh, we knew that long ago." Such is said to be the course of assimilation of new knowledge among human beings. As our concepts are drawn into the flux of new ideas, our faith becomes unsteady and we speak of crisis. Among the most striking and picturesque of earlier crises is that precipitated by the Copernican discovery. The belief that the earth is after all not the center of the universe produced an upheaval only comparable to that precipitated today by the application of the scientific method through the new psychology to the study of human behavior. [The term is used throughout this article in the general sense as indicating new developments in psychology, not technically as pertaining to any special schools.] It is interesting to recall that well on to two thousand years before Copernicus it was known that the earth is not central in the universe. Copernicus merely brought it finally to consciousness after what might be called centuries of repression.

That we are able in any sense to apply the scientific method to human behavior represents in itself a high achievement, and an achievement for which centuries of thought have been preparing us. It bears witness to the gradual triumph of the will to know over the will not to know. First we separated our ideas of cause from our ideas of purpose and then we separated the scientist and the philosopher, then reluctantly we surrendered the world around us to scientific investigation. Then later we separated our bodies from our souls and gave our bodies to the scientist, more or less. But now the scientist finds that he cannot understand our bodies without studying our souls, even though our bodies have a certain bearing on our souls as well as vice versa. We find that soma is not so readily separated from psyche as we thought. [For this whole development in its significance for medicine and religion, Cf. H. Flanders Dunbar, "Medicine, Religion, and the Infirmities of Mankind," Mental Hygiene, January, 1934.] Will the scientist leave us anything of our souls? Even students of theology feel themselves threatened and are reaching out desperately after scientific techniques. No longer able to insist "it is not true," and having found it futile to combat the new psychology as contradicting religion, theologians are incorporating it bodily. But what of the faith?


It is perhaps little wonder that the faith which has survived many such crises as that precipitated by the Copernican discovery should find itself nevertheless shaken today. The crisis precipitated by the new psychology not only involves the assimilation of new knowledge, with an appropriate alteration in emotional attitudes, but also involves primarily an alteration in emotional attitudes. What wonder, then, that the faithful are more than ever inclined to get emotional about it. Fearing destruction by the new psychology, exponents of the faith are seeking to appropriate it, often none too advisedly. This is an impulse deeply rooted in human nature: fearing the tiger one incorporates the tiger's heart in order to be strong as he. So hot-headedly is this being done that very often there has not been time to ask just what is the new psychology. Exponents of the faith are speaking of "controlled experiments" conducted on the basis of methods which science itself is outgrowing. Sermons are being preached on personal counseling and mental hygiene, and innumerable new books are coming out in the field. These productions, however, represent only too often the none too skillful appropriation of the subject matter and techniques belonging to the new psychology (broadly considered), with possibly some injection of religion into them, rather than the development of the age-old techniques of religion in the light of the new understanding.

What is the new psychology? Volumes have been written in an attempt to answer this question. If they have failed to convey to the lay reader a real answer it is usually because they have failed to provide a perspective. No attempt will be made here to discuss the question technically because innumerable handbooks are available giving the bias of specific schools.

"Psychology," to quote President Angell's formulation, "is the scientific endeavor to discover and make clear the facts and principles underlying human nature--thought and conduct--and thus to gain a more fundamental knowledge of the individual and of the society in which he lives." [James R. Angell, "Psychology Today." In Psychology Today. Edited by Walter V. Bingham. Chicago, University of Chicago Press, 1932. Pp. 3-11.]

The newest emphasis in psychology is, as we shall see, an emphasis on the individual as a whole and on the individual in his environmental setting as a whole--this against the background of the newer trends in science itself.

Perhaps the most important thing about the new psychology is its interrelationships in the sphere of scientific thinking. It is significant, as I have pointed out more than once, that psychiatry and the whole question of personality adjustment is coming to the fore in medicine, not only because of the achievements of psychologists and psychiatrists, but even more fundamentally because of findings in the various fields of medical and biological research. [Cf. for example, H. Flanders Dunbar, Discussion on "Medical Clinical Clerkships and Psychiatry," by Dr. George Eaton Daniels; at the meeting of the American Psychiatric Association, Boston, Mass., June 1, 1933.]

Scientists have operated for a long time on the hypothesis that the summation of enough detailed studies of isolated fragments of life would finally give an understanding of the whole; they are coming now to realize that the whole is something more than and other than the sum of all its parts. The new emphasis which is permeating the various specialized research fields is given well by William Emerson Ritter: "The organism in its totality is as essential to the explanation of its elements as its elements are to an explanation of the organism," and that furthermore, neither the whole nor any part has any separate existence, each being but a different aspect of an organic unity. [The Unity of the Organism, or the Organismal Conception of Life. Boston: Badger, 1919. 2 vols.] This is being said on the basis of experimental findings by biologists and psychologists alike. Specialization has carried us a long way, but we have reached a point where progress in the specialities themselves is blocked by a lack of understanding of the relationships between them. Nowhere is this more true than in those sciences which deal primarily with the animate world. A good deal of that which is common to them has been pooled in the new psychology. Here there are no concepts more important than the new concept of organism and the new concept of disease essentially implicit in it.

Having come to recognize the existence of a something representing the total individual with which we must reckon in every study of a part of him, the failure to recognize which involves inevitable vitiation of our results, we can no longer speak of disease in terms of a pathological heart, or lung, or conditioned reflex. Health requires that the individual as a whole maintains control over all his parts. When the parts become recalcitrant and act without reference to the whole, we have disease ranging from physiological to structural alteration and including all kinds of personality disturbance. [Cf. H. Flanders Dunbar, "Our Changing Concept of Disease." 1933. Address at the annual meeting of the Committee on Religion and Medicine, of the Federal Council of Churches, and the New York Academy of Medicine, May 16, 1933.] In developing this concept we find ourselves compelled to consider not only the individual-as-a-whole, as a basis for understanding part reactions, but also the individual-in-his-environment as a whole. Such concepts as these can add richness and detail to the theologians' concepts by way of filling in the picture, but wreak havoc if allowed to blot it out.

Because it is easier to see a development in a specific field it may be well to review the newer trend from the point of view of medicine. Medicine today is emerging from a period of extreme specialization. This has taken place by way of several rather definite steps. First specialists who had devoted their lives to an attempt to understand the laws governing the heart, bones, eyes, or noses came to see that even more important than the laws they had studied were the laws determining the relationship of these organs in the body as a whole--for example, that a simple broken bone represents quite different problems according to whether it occurs in a young individual or an old individual, in an otherwise healthy individual, or in an individual who is malnourished or diabetic.

The next discovery was that any disorder is profoundly influenced by the mental and nervous condition of the sufferer, and must be treated accordingly. Now our big hospitals are requiring psychiatrists and specialists in mental and nervous diseases in attendance on every ward. While medical men were beginning to learn these things they began to see also that an individual, body and mind included, cannot be considered apart from his environment. Curing some particular disease accomplishes very little if the patient be sent back into surroundings and a way of life which cannot but result in a recurrence of the trouble. Then social service was developed to investigate social conditions.

Now the latest word in medicine, and the newest interest, is the study of psycho-somatic relationships, which is a modern term reasserting the importance of a truth which Socrates brought to the attention of the Greeks in the following words: "Just as you ought not to attempt to cure eyes without head or head without body, so you should not treat body without soul." It was the Father of all Medicine who said: "In order to cure the human body one must have an understanding of the whole of things." This brings in not only the relationship of mind and body, but the relationship of the whole individual to his environment, inner as well as outer, which means to the universe at large.


Religion has always had its own techniques and its own symbols, and they are techniques and symbols directed primarily toward wholes. The scientist, just learning that he cannot progress much farther in his factual study of the human being without a study of the intricate relationships of these parts within the whole, is finding it necessary to develop new concepts and new techniques. (In this the new psychology is helping him.) Because of this growing realization he is beginning to turn his attention to religion. This is true especially of the psychiatrist, and more particularly of the psychiatrist on the Continent. It is no longer exceptional to find an article dealing with religion published in a medical journal. In 1922 there was founded the Internationale Religionspsychologische Gesellschaft (International Society for Psychology of Religion), with a membership including general physicians, psychiatrists, psychologists, theologians, and others. It is being said: "Psychiatry must take up into itself metaphysical and philosophical conceptions in order to be able to do justice to religion and the realm of mental illness, not only psychologically but also practically." [Linzbach, "Wissenschaftliches Verstehen des Religioesen unter Bezugnahme auf die Psychiatric." Psych. Neural. Wochnsch. 30, 186-189 (May 5) 1928.] As I have noted elsewhere, a chemical may be isolated, purified, and studied under relatively simple conditions, but to isolate and purify man is to destroy him, because his environment is a vital part of himself. The most important thing about him is his relatedness: hence the necessity for some conception of the whole of things.

Charles Macfie Campbell, among others in America, has said: "The study of beliefs is ... part of the general study of the mechanisms of man's adaptation to his environment." "The term health" is now coming to "include sanity of beliefs as well as soundness of body." [Delusion and Belief. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard, 1927.]

In other words, we have come to a point where the new psychology, against the background of its intricate relationships in the special sciences, medicine, sociology, and education, is prepared to give religion serious attention, and this not as a thing apart but as having a real place in the whole. It is this aspect of the new psychology in its perspective which makes it vital to the faith, but it is of this aspect that exponents of the faith have remained largely unaware.

In the meantime, exponents of the faith have come to feel themselves on the defensive, are forgetting their tradition and heritage, are turning their back on the whole and looking to the new psychology--imperfectly understood--for weapons and for techniques with which they may deal with parts. Rather than an increased interest in the techniques of religion itself (worship, or such devotional techniques as prayer and meditation) we find priests adopting psychoanalysis, and psychiatric clinics in connection with Churches where techniques belonging to medicine are rather disastrously plied by untrained persons. It is not putting the situation too strongly to say that, at a time when the exponents of the new psychology are beginning to turn to religion, the exponents of religion are beginning to offer them a sentimentalized group of religious ideas inherited from the past of which they themselves are not too sure, supplemented by a pseudo-version of that which is already psychology's own.

One movement, however, has developed against this background which merits consideration: the Council for the Clinical Training of Theological Students. The inspiration of this movement was the realization that the clergyman today is the only specialist in human problems who is forced to go directly from his books to the practice of his profession without a period of what might be called clinical experience under supervision. The physician has his hospital clinical clerkship and his interneship, the teacher has his period of supervised teaching, the vocational director and the social worker his period of supervised case study, but the clergyman goes directly from his classroom to his parish. He is often denied even the apprenticeship under a clergyman more experienced than he, which is the nearest approach to supervised clinical experience that has ever been offered him. The Council for the Clinical Training of Theological Students represents then, to quote from its leaflet,

"a movement somewhat analogous to a movement which took place in medical education not much more than fifty years ago when the medical student went directly from his books to his practice in the community, as does the theological student today, and found himself similarly at a loss. He was expected to treat minor and major illnesses which he had never seen on a basis of what was at best a reading and lecture knowledge of them. Similarly the pastor is faced in the precincts of his study, only too often for the first time, with the real human problems with which he is to deal--problems about which he may have read but in the handling of which he has not been trained.

"A need for training in personal counseling is being felt today not only by theological students but especially by pastors five or ten years out in the field. So soon as the pastor steps from the seminary into his study the following questions become important: Is the problem of this parishioner who comes to me for help really a problem in religion and theology, or does he need psychotherapy, or is he perhaps physically ill? Perhaps the pastor has read that an organic illness may masquerade as a spiritual problem, just as a spiritual problem may masquerade as an organic illness, a headache or indigestion. WTiat does the pastor need to know about his parishioner in order to decide with what sort of problem he is dealing? Again is it perhaps a problem of economics? On what social agencies can he call? Does he need a social worker in his parish? Should he think in terms of prevention or of therapy or of both? Should he become a psychoanalyst? Books cannot answer these questions. But students working under the Council are obtaining a basis on which to answer them. . . ."

The following plan has been developed for offering this training:

"The Council board consists of physicians (representing both general physician and psychiatrist), and clergymen of various communions. This board, together with the Council staff, is supervising the clinical training of theological students in ten training centers, including a poor farm, state prison systems, child guidance clinics, mental and general hospitals.

"This training is offered to a limited number of qualified students from theological seminaries of recognized standing irrespective of denomination. It consists of directed case work and study of the social resources of the community; actual work with patients in the hospitals and clinics; participation in the medical ward rounds and conferences with regard to these patients; and finally, seminars in which general physician, psychiatrist, psychologist, and social worker discuss together with the theological students the patients with whom they are working. Thus theological students and pastors in training under the Council find themselves learning about human problems, not from text books but from life. In their work in the wards and in their family case work they obtain a perspective with regard to their relationship to the psychologist, to the social worker, to the general physician, and to the psychiatrist, not only theoretically but also by working together with them. . . ." [A New Opportunity in Theological Education. A description of the policy and program of the Council for the Clinical Training of Theological Students (Revised and approved 1933). 14 pages.]

The Council, in a supplement to the statement of policy set forth in the leaflet, brings out the following important point:

"The Council has been the pioneer in bringing to the attention of the professions of theology and medicine the need of clinical training for theological students. . . . Eight years ago, it was with great difficulty that the interest of any doctor or even theologian was aroused. Unfortunately, however, as so often happens, the pendulum has swung to the other extreme. Theological students are to be found in child guidance clinics, hospitals, and institutions for social welfare throughout the country getting such training as they can, very often without the knowledge of their seminaries and very generally without adequate supervision. Only too often these students, after a few months training, go out into the community to set up psychiatric clinics in churches (with no medical affiliation), and to apply what they have picked up of psychiatric techniques in their pastoral work. Such notices as the following are attracting increasing numbers of people: 'Now at last you can consult a psychoanalyst free of charge. Come to our church clinic.' This situation plays into the hands of charlatanism and is becoming a public menace. Today, therefore, the need is not to increase the amount of clinical training but to safeguard its character." [Supplement to statement of policy set forth in the leaflet: A New Opportunity in Theological Education--now incorporated in this leaflet as revised for 1934.]

On the basis of this realization the Council has devoted considerable time to the matter of curriculum. It is rather a striking thing that hospitals and physicians have given both more time and more money than have seminaries in making possible this opportunity. Apparently today they have a perspective which makes the importance of this movement more obvious to them than it is to the clergyman.

This is indicated in such statements as the following: Twelve years ago Dr. Walter Timme, speaking of the relationship of endocrinology to various types of personality disorder, concluded his address with the remark, "Endocrinology, gentlemen, marks a new era in medicine." In the same address, however, he made a remark prescient of still another new era in medicine when he said with regard to a large group of patients whom men of medicine are not prone to understand: "We have deprived them of their coffee, their tea, their tobacco, and their alcohol; we have changed their surroundings and their habits, but we have failed to change their religion. This they have done themselves to remedy our neglect, they have become Christian Scientists." ["Endocrinologic aspects of some neurologic conditions." Arch. Neural. & Psychiatr. 3, 1920, 601-608.]

This remark of Dr. Timme's contains a message which is important for exponents of the faith as well as for physicians.

In this connection it is interesting again that not even a physician but a pure scientist, Charles Steinmetz, made the following remark in a reply to Mr. Babson's question "What will be the next greatest invention?":

"I think the greatest discovery will be along spiritual lines. Here is a force which history clearly teaches has been the greatest power in the development of men and history.

"Yet we have merely been playing with it and never seriously studied it, as we have the social forces. Some day people will learn that material things do not bring happiness and are of little use in making men and women creative and forceful.

"Then the scientists of the world will turn their laboratories over to the study of God and prayer and the spiritual forces which as yet have been hardly scratched.

"When this day comes, the world will advance more in one generation than it has in the past four generations."

There is a sense in which the Council for the Clinical Training of Theological Students may be considered one of these laboratories. The student working side by side with the physician, social worker, psychologist, and laboratory man finds himself with actual laboratory facilities for the working out of his problems. To quote again from the leaflet:

"In contradistinction to the student who has had all his training in the seminary, the student under the Council finds himself no longer very much interested in the taking over of techniques from the psychologist, and the psychiatrist, or even in the injection of religion into them, but rather in the development of his own techniques in the light of his new knowledge in psychiatry and psychology. He has learned that psychoanalysis is a specialized technique, after the pattern of many surgical procedures, not to be undertaken by untrained persons. He has learned, furthermore, the limitations in its applicability. He has come to see the social problems with which he is dealing in the broader aspects of community relations.

"More than this the student has come to realize the need for further research in his own sphere, especially in such fields as the following: The relation to the problems of the human personality of religious devotional techniques, meditation and prayer, and of the symbolic heritage of the Church in doctrine and ritual. He approaches the problem of personal counseling with the question in his mind: Just what is my unique contribution? What techniques has religion to offer? How should they be further developed or modified in order to enable me to cooperate with other specialists in these problems of illness and health? In other words these students are no longer lost among the many types of specialists who deal with human problems; they go back to their seminaries and their parishes able to take a critical and effective part in the clearing up of some of the problems confronting the pastor today."

It seemed worth while to discuss the Council in some detail in that it is a movement in theological education which has developed with the specific aim of helping theological students to cope with the problems raised by the new psychology in practical as well as in theoretical terms. It is interesting that through it the student's attention is turned again toward devotional techniques and the symbolic heritage of the Church, matters which he is prone to forget in his first impact with the new psychology.

More and more, attention is being called to the importance of these elements in the development of religion itself. Science involves a gradual mastering of ideas and of the universe in terms of them: religion is the realm of those ideas which we have not yet mastered. Its language is thus inevitably the language of symbolism. ("Symbols are the chief means by which the human mind expresses . . . those ideas . . . which it has not yet mastered.") [J. H. van der Hoop, Character and the Unconscious; a Critical Exposition of the Psychology of Freud and Jung. Authorized translation by Elizabeth Trevelyan. London: Truebner; New York: Harcourt, Brace, 1923, p. 119.]

It is rather striking that symbolism, which must remain the channel of religious growth, and is in itself a powerful technique, is given relatively little attention in the theological curriculum and by exponents of the faith. On the other hand, the new psychology has just come to appreciate the role played by symbols in human development, and, in consequence, to turn to religion for an answer to many questions.

The term Christianity implies that "Christ" occupies a central position in it. "Christ" suggests to the faithful the second person of the Trinity, instrument of creation through which God is made manifest. Hence the primacy of symbolism, and of the whole Logos doctrine. The infinite, timeless, spaceless, "reality" can be made manifest in finite terms only symbolically. Now the difficulty with symbols is that they are by nature organic and dynamic containing a dual tendency to increase insight and to conceal.

So long as a symbol is used consciously, attention being focused on that which the symbol aims to express, it conveys an ever increasing understanding and new meanings are grasped which succeed each other in a sort of hierarchy of development, each supplementing and correcting the other, not contradicting or falsifying it. But there is an eternal tendency to focus the attention on the symbol as being actually that and all of that which is being symbolized, to become unconscious of it as symbol, and then the symbol becomes outworn and dead, a deception, a shackle, a neurotic mechanism. It comes then to serve the will not to know rather than the will to know.

Whether or not the faith works in the direction of personality integration depends on whether in the symbolism as it is grasped and lived the dynamic forces predominate. As the consciousness of dynamic symbolism dims, the appreciation of the sacramental principle in life fades likewise. The sacramental principle in life, like symbolism itself, involves more than intellectual formulations. It is in itself a Weltanschauung, which means philosophy of life developed in its emotional, intellectual, and volitional aspects.

Religion has fulfilled its task essentially through symbolism, which is the reason for its creeds and rituals. A purely intellectual formulation can neither embody nor develop Weltanschauung in the sense of emotional and intellectual attitude determining life direction. We are in a period of unbelief today because we have forgotten the meaning of symbolism. If a symbol be taken literally it comes into inevitable conflict with scientific thought and becomes ridiculous. If a symbol be taken to have meaning in the realm of the intellect only and has failed to develop in the realm of the emotions or vice versa, infantile reactions persist in the personality which cause the individual to lose faith in himself and in the universe. A great many people today are giving up religion either because it seems to them ridiculous to believe that God is anthropomorphic--an old man with white hair sitting above the clouds--or because they have a deep hidden resentment against the tyranny of their own fathers which makes it impossible for them to pray "dear heavenly Father" with any sort of comfort. They fear or resent in the Church a continuation of parental authority--or long for it. Were it but realized that when we call God "Father," we are but using a symbol that is tangible and humanly comprehensible to express the source of life and power in the universe, which because infinite is finitely incomprehensible, these intellectual and emotional difficulties would lose their force. It would be realized furthermore, as was said in the middle ages, that the development of several symbols guards against the possible falsification brought in by a too great stressing of any one of them. God is not only Father but also Architect; as triune He is called Life, Wisdom, Love.

This whole subject of symbolism in religion is so vast that from many points of view it should not have been touched upon in this paper, but one can hardly speak of the faith and the new psychology without mentioning it. It is fundamental in the whole process of the integration of the individual within himself and in his environment.


The aim in this article has been to give not a carefully articulated outline but, what is far more important, a sense of the interrelationships of the faith and of the new psychology through which they are being related to each other. The faith will not survive the crisis precipitated by the new psychology by simply adopting its techniques and point of view in pseudo forms. Even the grafting of this point of view and these techniques in their true form onto the traditional heritage of religion (should this be possible) would not help. Growing in the atmosphere produced by them the faith can check its expression of its own corporate life. In so doing it will find its place, with reference to the new psychology, in mental hygiene and preventive medicine, but what is much more important it will come to understand itself more truly.

Project Canterbury