The pneumatic dimension:

The presence of God in the human heart and its therapeutic function



The inclusion of the pneumatic dimension


Let us begin with the “dimensional ontology” endorsed by Viktor Frankl in his Logotherapy meaning by it the hierarchical structure of biological-somatic, psychological and spiritual-noetic dimensions of the human being. In his terminology the term “spiritual” does not have religious meaning but refers to what is specifically human, the realm of responsibility, freedom, decisions and search for meaning and he refers to it often also as noological or noetic dimension (from the Greek ‘noos’ word meaning ‘mind’)[1]. Frankl’s stress to free the term “spiritual” as he used it from any religious connotation [2] is inspired by the wish to keep Logotherapy open for all independently of their beliefs and his effort of keeping religion and psychiatry apart did not mean the denial the validity of the religious sphere which would mean a form of reductionism against which he fought insistently. He sees them as belonging to different dimensions and adds: “From the very analogy of dimensions, however, it should become clear that these realms are by no means mutually exclusive. A higher dimension, by definition, is a more inclusive one. The lower dimension is included in the higher one; it is subsumed in it and encompassed by it. Thus biology is overarched by psychology, psychology by noology, and noology by theology” [3] Here we see an indication of an all-encompassing fourth dimension, to which religion and specifically theology belongs. This we call “pneumatic” dimension (from the Greek word "pneuma" for “spirit”; here alluding to the Holy Spirit of God) and it was explicitly introduced by the Frankl scholar Donald F. Tweedie [4].

A further example for treating the pneumatic dimension is found in the work of Lou Marinoff. “Marinoff is influenced by Frankl, fights like Frankl against reductionism (biologism and psychologism), and adds to the somatic (Biology: wellness versus illness; province of medicine), psychic (Affect: order versus disorder; province of psychology), and noetic dimension (= he calls it the "philosophical dimension") (Thought: Ease versus Dis-ease; province of philosophy) the pneumatic dimension (Spirit). Marinoff's "Golden Triangle" where the fourth or pneumatic dimension (Spirit) lies above (see the picture in the book "Philosophical Practice", p. 96) is very similar to Frankl's dimensional ontology - but Marinoff mentions the pneumatic dimension here”[5].

Frankl used the analogy of the point of perspective that lies outside of the picture but without it the image has no correct proportions and sense of depth to illustrate that God although stands outside of the human life but gives meaning to it [6]. With the inclusion of the pneumatic dimension so to speak we draw this “point of perspective” in our view of the human being. The inclusion of the fourth dimension from Catholic (and from most Protestant) point of view has its foundation in the presence of the Holy Spirit in every human being created in the image of God and particularly in the teaching about the indwelling of the Trinity as a gift of God in the soul. Thus the pneumatic dimension is not simply a facet of the human existence but its very core, which permeates and organizes all other dimensions and is the source of the uniqueness of the human person and of its communication with God. “…God himself as the abiding and holy mystery, as the incomprehensible ground of man’s transcendent existence is not only the God of infinite distance, but also wants to be the God of absolute closeness in a true self-communication, and he is present in the spiritual depths of our existence as well as in the concreteness of our corporeal history” [7]

The “human trinity”[8] (somatic, psychic, noetic dimensions) created on the image of the divine Trinity has this fourth dimension, which is the ground of its existence and a special dimension of communication through grace with God, and so we have a “quaternity”. During the Middle Ages there were representations of the divine “Quaternity”, bringing in God a human, feminine figure, often the Blessed Virgin Mary. Might we say that God has something human in him, not only because of the Incarnation but also as an immanent feature?

While classical Logotherapy should avoid the confusion with religious connotation, a really holistic Catholic approach to healing and growth in general, as Christotherapy, can and should take into its field of work all the four dimensions of the human being. Moreover, the pneumatic dimension constitutes its specific area, meaning by this that Christotherapy offers a way to healing in problems specific of the pneumatic dimension (for example healing from sinful and destructive tendencies where Christotherapy relies on the dynamics of the Spiritual Exercises). On the other hand when a change occurs on the pneumatic level, it will influence the somatic, psychic and noetic dimensions as well. For example, the effects of forgiveness might resound on the somatic level, including physical healing as in he story of the paralyzed young man in Mark’s gospel (2:2-12). Jesus says to the paralytic “Child, your sins are forgiven” and this healing on pneumatic level - since it was a reconciliation with God - the young man becomes able to get up, take his mat and go home [9]


Pneumatic unconscious


When Logotherapy included the noological dimension in psychology it meant in particular the introduction of the noetic also in depth psychology, in the psychology of unconscious [10]. While psychoanalysis considered only the instinctual unconscious, Frankl pointed out the existence of the “spiritual” (noetic) unconscious. It is the realm of the conscience, art and love, it manifest itself in responsibleness, moral conscience, intuition, and artistic creativity for example. Human existence itself is unconscious, as it cannot be made totally conscious and reflected upon, and all dimensions of the human being extend on the unconscious, preconscious as well as on the conscious level. The modified dimensional ontology of four dimensions shows the existence of the “pneumatic unconscious” as well, that part of the pneumatic dimension that cannot be fully reflected upon, or brought into consciousness but is at the “depth” of the human person. The phenomenon that occur in the unconscious depths of the pneumatic dimension fall into the realm of religious conversion, religious intuition or inspiration by the Holy Spirit, mystical experience of the indwelling God and similar. I would say that the so-called charismatic phenomena, relying on the gifts of the Holy Spirit, like prophetic insights and healing experiences belong to he manifestations of the “pneumatic unconscious”.

The pneumatic dimension is the “place” (not in spatial sense) of communication with the indwelling God and this inner dialog is often unconscious even if it might have initiated by a conscious desire that is when one begins to pray. All prayer can reach the depths of the pneumatic unconscious but this characteristic is more manifest and directly intended in non-conceptual contemplative prayer, sometimes called also the prayer of the “heart” [11], to which category also centering prayer and the Jesus prayer belongs. The Christian mystical life is the living and transforming dialog with the indwelling God, and the fruits of this dialog are realized in the concreteness of love outward. Thus to be mystics means to love all creatures of God from the source of love in the depths of one’s pneumatic dimension.

The works of St. John of the Cross reveal much of the dynamics of the intimacy between the person and the indwelling Trinity through the pneumatic unconscious. God is communicating with the human person through his grace but this is always a self-communication; in this way one grows in knowledge and love of the Trinity and participates in the divine nature although remaining distinct creature. St. John of the Cross’ writings show that paradoxically the self-communicating God, as one grows in intimacy with him becomes experienced more and more as inaccessible and transcendent, “hidden God”. The first stanza of The Spiritual Canticle expresses in a form of lyrical love poem the tension of this experience as the lover complaints of the painful absence of the Beloved:


¿Adonde te escondiste,

Amado, y me dejaste con gemido?

Como il cervo huiste Habiendome herido;

Salí tras ti clamando, y eras ido


Where have You hidden,

Beloved, and left me moaning?

You fled like the stag

After wounding me;

I went out calling You and You were gone. [12]


St. John also offered a commentary to the Canticle and in connection with this stanza he speaks of the “hidden” (unconscious) presence of the indwelling Trinity in the innermost being of soul (pneumatic dimension) thus adding to the ontological reference of the presence of God in the pneumatic dimension an experiential characterization, it is unconscious: “It should be known that the Word, the Son of God, together with the Father and the Holy Ghost, is hidden by His essence and His presence in the innermost being of the soul.  A person who wants to find Him should leave all things through affection and will, enter within himself in deepest recollection, and regard things as though they were nonexistent.  St. Augustine, addressing God in the Soliloquies, said:  I did not find You without, Lord, because I wrongly sought You without, Who were within. God, then, is hidden in the soul and there the good contemplative must seek Him with love, exclaiming:  "Where have you hidden?"[13]

When a person gets closer to God instead of becoming less free, so to say crushed by the overwhelming grandeur of the Absolute, he or she will grow not only in faith, knowledge and love of God, but in personal freedom and in other specifically human areas; and sometimes might experience even psychosomatic benefit. It might be said that God retreats, hides in the unconscious to give space for the creature and let him or her be transformed and reach spiritual and human maturity: St John explains the hiddenness of God in this way: "Yet you inquire: Since He Whom my soul loves is within me, why don't I find Him or experience Him?  The reason is that He remains concealed and you do not also conceal yourself in order to encounter and experience Him" [14]

The person’s deepest actions in the pneumatic dimension remain unconscious, because of the intensity involved one cannot reflect upon oneself similarly to the conscience, love and art on the human noetic level. In the pneumatic dimension conscience, love and intuition is informed by grace, infused by the Holy Spirit; here the human existence with its unconscious depths opens up and “runs” into God. God however is not a puppeteer in its relationship to the human being. The grace of God when assists the conscience in its depths does not takes away the freedom of the creature but increases it to its fullest potential and autonomy; similarly, the works inspired by the Holy Spirit are fully human achievements and the love infused by grace is most authentically the love of the person.

Frankl pointed out that although conscience is unconscious still we could explore some of its operation through dreams[15]. In the existential analysis of dreams are interpreted as messages from the conscience originated in the noetic, human dimension. In the modified dimensional ontology we see the foundation and source of conscience reaching in the pneumatic dimension and certain dreams might be interpreted as messages from this depth, from the indwelling Trinity. Scriptural examples of such messages are the dreams of St. Joseph in the infancy narrative of the gospel of Matthew (chapters 1 and 2); in these dreams the “angel of the Lord” (representing God’s intervention) delivers the messages of which one is the explanation of the situation with Mary and there are warning dreams of possible danger. In the analysis of such dreams the interpreter as well relies partially on the unconscious depths when recognizes a dream as authentic message from the indwelling God. The interpretation of such inspired dreams needs to be done with the help of grace with discernment and cautiously; the same is valid for these phenomena than for the so-called private revelations: they are authentic if they help live in faith, love and hope and are in harmony with the faith of the Church.


The pneumatosphere


It seems that we might speak of a pneumatoshpere, which like the noosphere and biosphere constitutes our environment. The pneumatosphere is not restricted to the Church since the Holy Spirit acts in all mankind, although the Church receives a special guidance for its mission. Similarly as the other “spheres” the pneumatosphere sometimes gets “polluted” and as in case of collective noogenic neurosis we witness the influence of collective neurosis of pneumatic origin. God respects the freedom of the human person and although his presence cannot be destroyed and the spiritual (noetic and pneumatic) core of the human person cannot get sick, the thirst of the human heart for God sometimes gets frustrated – maybe often because of the lack of authentically presented and lived faith on the part of the Church. The frustrated search for the Ultimate Meaning in God tends to manifest itself in symptoms of pseudo-religiosity. I think that collective neurosis of pneumatic origin appears not only in the cults, New Age and countless esoteric practices, healing gurus but also in distortions of Christian religiosity as well. The healing of this type of neurosis requires therapies like Christotherapy that reach to the pneumatic sphere and discover spiritual, pneumatic methods of therapy to use them along with classical Logotherapy and psychotherapy.


 - Krisztina

November 19, 2005



Copyright © 2005 Our Lady of the Graces Hermitage. All rights reserved.

[1] Throughout this writing for additional clarity I will use the term noological or noetic for the third dimension.

[2] For example in Viktor Frankl, The Doctor and the Soul, (New York: Knopf, 1965) p. xi.

[3] Viktor Frankl, The Unconscious God, (New York: Washington Square Press, 1985) p.13.

[4] See the presentation of fourth dimension in Donald F. Tweedie, The Christian and the Couch. An Introduction to Christian Logotherapy, (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Book House, 1963) pp. 48-58.

[5] This quote is from a communication with Dr. Reinhard Zaiser Ph.D. Logotherapist and Existential Analyst, member of the American Philosophical Practitioners Association (APPA). Cf. Lou Marinoff, Philosophical Practice, (San Diego, NewYork, London: Academic Press, 2002) pp. 96-97. Marinoff is a philosophy professor at the City College and New York and president of APPA

[6] Cf. Viktor Frankl, Homo Patiens, (Wien: Franz Dietcke, 1950) p. 86. Quoted in Robert C. Leslie, Jesus as Counselor, (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1968)

[7] Karl Rahner, Foundations of the Christian Faith, (New York: The Seabury Press, 1978). P.137.

[8] Once I saw an interesting illustration of the Star of David, composed of two equilateral triangles; the pointing up represents the “human trinity” and the other the divine “Trinity”. In this imagery the fourth “dimension” is this superposed divine triangle. The illustration was intended as a symbol of Jesus, Son of David, perfect man and perfect God. We could play with the thought that in the case of all other humans the two triangles are more or less perfectly superposed…

[9] See the detailed presentation of this gospel “case study” in Leslie, “Jesus as Counselor,” pp. 55-63.

[10] See the chapter “The Spiritual Unconscious” in Frankl, “The Unconscious God,” pp. 25-32.

[11] The “heart” as Hebrew biblical concept sometimes means the whole person, more often the center of the human being, the source of all faculties not associated only with the emotions as in Western culture and it seems to refer also to the pneumatic dimension.

[12] From The Collected Works of St. John of the Cross, translated by Kieran Kavanaugh, OCD and Otilio Rodriguez, OCD., (Washington DC: Institute of Carmelite Studies, 1979) p.712.

[13] Ibid., commentary to the first stanza, sixth point, p. 418. The quote of St. Augustine is in Pseudo-Augustine, Soliliquiorum animae ad Deum liber unus, c.30:PL 40, 888.

[14] Ibid., ninth point of the commentary of the first stanza, p. 419.

[15] Cf. Frankl, “The Unconscious God,” pp. 40-51.