The importance of the symbol has been previously emphasized in the introduction. The ‘symbol’ is the communication-element of the Second Quadrant (II), following the ‘signal’ of the First Quadrant (I). Symbolism is the name for a complex of approaches in a communication, centered on the symbol.
LADNER (1979) described the history of the Greek ‘symbolon‘, which originated in ‘symballein‘, meaning to bring together, collect or compare. ‘Symbola‘ expressed in its original meaning a contrast between at least two partners, in which a comparison was sought.
In the Christian history, the ‘symbol’ was seen as an expression of uniting powers. Simultaneously, the synonym ‘semeion‘ or ‘signum‘ developed into the sign. This ‘sign’ is as yet uncomprehending and ‘symbolon‘ pointed to a sign with a spiritual and mystical meaning.
The first symbolical interpretation of texts of the Old Testament was given by Philo of Alexandria (ALLERS (1944, p. 329). Texts and numbers were placed in a wider context. Philo paid, in his book ‘De Opificio Mundi’ (48 – 52), special attention to the number four and its symbolic meaning (VIRET, 1983). BARKAN (1975, p. 29) called him ‘perhaps the inventor of symbolic scriptural interpretation.’
The Church Fathers used in due course the same (numerological) method and interpretations. Clement of Alexandria (c. 150 – before 215 AD) distinguished three levels: literal, ethical and mystical. Gregory of Nyssa (c. 330 – 395 AD) applied, in his ‘Vita Moysis‘ (The Life of Moses), a symbolic explanation for the life of Moses. His life was seen as a mystical journey of the soul towards God.
The clarification, as given by Augustinus (354 – 430 AD) in his ‘De Doctrina Christiana‘, was four-fold. He distinguished in symbolism the following ‘signa‘:
1. signa naturalia the given fact
2. signa data signs, scepters, attributes
3. signa propria words
4. signa translata ‘tropes‘, metafores
Finally, Gregory the Great (Gregorius Magnus, c. 540) established the interpretative method as a standard explanation for the ages to come. He stated in his ‘Super Canticum Canticorum expositio‘: ‘the word is a sign or a thing, and this thing can be a signal or symbol of something else.’ In (modern) terms of quadralectic thinking this means: the word is an element of visible visibility (mainly in the quadrants III and IV), which is also applicable in the areas of invisible invisibility (I) and/or invisible visibility (II).
The development of thought in the European history disclosed – from the second century AD onwards – a gradual increase in the importance of a ‘meaning’. Irenaeus of Lyon (c. 202) played in this process an initiating part. He believed in finding the ‘code’, which would open the road to heaven.
GUZZARDO (1975/1981) called the twelfth century the ‘Age of Symbolism‘, when the search for (deeper) implications reached a peak. Alternatively, like ALLERS (1944, p. 386) put it: ‘it often happens that ideas, immediately before being cast into temporary oblivion, blossom out violently, tend to expand and to become fantastically exaggerated.’ In the following ages, symbolism continued to repeat, over and over again, the ‘deeper meanings’. Scholars like Rupert of Deutz collected the intentions in his ‘De Divinis Officiis‘. He treated the symbol in Lib. II, Cap. I of the 1541-edition of this work. ‘Symbolum‘ was identified as a ‘Credo in unum deum‘, virtually indicating the bankruptcy of the symbol as a creative element.
The twentieth century, with an explosive development of the multitude, brought back the revival of symbolism. SPENGLER (1927) noted that: ‘Alles, was ist, ist auch Symbol‘ and stated that ‘Symbole gehören zum Bereich des Ausgedehnten.’ The multitude offered an unlimited space for a symbolic language, written for new believers (not necessary in the same God as the one left behind in the twelfth century).
The Swiss psychiatrist Carl Gustav JUNG (1963) searched for the symbol in the dream. He regarded dreams as a reflection of occurrences, which had taken place in the unconscious. His ideas were part of a rapid development of psychology as a means to new symbolism. Human behavior was interpreted as a response to topics like sexual behavior (Freud), family circumstances (Adler) or environment (Skinner). For those who wanted to benefit from the therapeutic effects of these methods, it is crucial to understand the symbolic language and belief in its meaning.
Clearly, the Western-psychological development of the twentieth century drew heavily on the Jewish-Christian way of thinking. The importance of the conscious and unconscious state of the mind, the emphasis on sexual opposites (father and mother), being awake or dreaming and the emphasis on power were all features, which find their roots in oppositional reasoning. Many psychological interpretations are directly related to thinking in terms of identity: the knowledge of the ego – expressed in therapeutic symbols – should lead the way to an improvement of the self.
The ‘problem of identity’ becomes obsolete in a quadralectic world: the ego (or identity) is a phase or position in an eternal communication process, where a certain insight has reached a particular type of visibility. The value connected to this position is a personal matter, which is related to the consciousness of the division a-priori and its subsequent appreciation.
The present trend in psychology, as a relative young and inexperienced science, would benefit from a philosophical study of the human division background. A ‘difficult youth’ can be blamed to a dominating father, a neurotic mother or awful circumstances. These influences can be erased, is the common idea, in a treatment based on a psychological cognition.
It is also possible, from a quadralectic point of view, to place such a period in the light of a ‘wrong’ division-model. Therapy, in the latter case, would involve an analysis of the past and present situation in terms of a particular kind of division-thinking. This approach is fundamentally different from the dabbling around in the symbolism of power, which is the present practice in psychology.
ALLERS, Rudolf (1944). Microcosmus – from Anaximandros to Paracelsus. Pp. 319 – 407 in: QUASTEN, Johannes & KUTTNER, Stephan (Ed.). Traditio, Vol. II. Cosmopolitan Science & Art Service Co., Inc. New York, 1944.
BARKAN, Leonard (1975). Nature’s Work of Art. The Human Body as Image of the World. Yale University Press, New Haven & London. ISBN 0-3-01694-8
GUZZARDO, John J. (1975/1981). Christian Medieval Number Symbolism and Dante. The John Hopkins University (Ph. D. thesis 1975). Xerox University Microfilms, Ann Arbar, Michigan 48106 (1981).
JUNG, Carl G. (1963). Memories. Dreams. Reflections. Random House, New York.
LADNER, Gerhart B. (1979). Medieval and Modern Understanding of Symbolism: A Comparison. Pp. 223 – 256 in: Speculum, A Journal of Medieval Studies. Vol. LIV, April 1979, No. 2.
SPENGLER, Oswald (1927). Der Untergang des Abendlandes. Umrisse einer morphologie der Weltgeschichte. I: Gestalt und Wirklichkeit; II: Welthistorische Perspektiven. C.H. Beck’sche Verlagsbuchhandlung, München. Also as: The Decline of the West (tr. Charles F. Atkinson) (1962). Modern Library, New York.
VIRET, Jacques (1983). Le Quaternaire des éléments et l’harmonie cosmique selon Isidore de Seville. Pp. 7 – 25 in: BUSCHINGER, Daniëlle & CREPIN, André (1983). Les quatre elements dans la culture medievale. Université de Picardie, Centre d’Etudes Medievales. Nr. 386. Kümmerle Verlag, Göppingen. ISBN 3-87452-606-2