“Spiritus contra spiritum” literally translates to “spirit against spirit”. Loosely translated, it refers to “a spiritual experience to counter addiction to the spirits (alcoholism).” Spiritus in Latin means both alcoholic beverages, i.e., spirits, and the highest religious experience. In relating this simple phrase, Jung confirmed for Bill that the A.A. program aimed at spiritual development and a spiritual awakening, as treatment for alcoholism, was the correct direction.
On January 23, 1961, Bill sent a letter of appreciation to Dr. Jung thanking him for his contribution to A.A.’s solution for alcoholism through his work with Rowland H. The Big Book refers to part of the story on pages 26 & 27. This letter, dated January 30, 1961, was Dr. Jung’s immediate reply.
Dear Mr. Wilson,
Your letter has been very welcome indeed.
I had no news from Rowland H. anymore and often wondered what has been his fate. Our conversation which he has adequately reported to you had an aspect of which he did not know. The reason that I could not tell him everything was that those days I had to be exceedingly careful of what I said. I had found out that I was misunderstood in every possible way. Thus I was very careful when I talked to Rowland H. But what I really thought about was the result of many experiences with men of his kind.
His craving for alcohol was the equivalent, on a low level, of the spiritual thirst of our being for wholeness, expressed in medieval language: the union with God.*
How could one formulate such an insight in a language that is not misunderstood in our days?
The only right and legitimate way to such an experience is that it happens to you in reality and it can only happen to you when you walk on a path which leads you to higher understanding. You might be led to that goal by an act of grace or through a personal and honest contact with friends, or through a higher education of the mind beyond the confines of mere rationalism. I see from your letter that Rowland H. has chosen the second way, which was, under the circumstances, obviously the best one.
I am strongly convinced that the evil principle prevailing in this world leads the unrecognized spiritual need into perdition, if it is not counteracted either by real religious insight or by the protective wall of human community. An ordinary man, not protected by an action from above and isolated in society, cannot resist the power of evil, which is called very aptly the Devil. But the use of such words arouses so many mistakes that one can only keep aloof from them as much as possible.
These are the reasons why I could not give a full and sufficient explanation to Rowland H., but I am risking it with you because I conclude from your very decent and honest letter that you have acquired a point of view above the misleading platitudes one usually hears about alcoholism.
You see, “alcohol” in Latin is “spiritus” and you use the same word for the highest religious experience as well as for the most depraving poison. The helpful formula therefore is: spiritus contra spiritum.
Thanking you again for your kind letter
C. G. Jung
*As the hart panteth after the water brooks, so panteth my soul after thee, O God.”(Psalms 42:1)