From the appendix of Morton T. Kelsey’s God, Dreams, and Revelation: A Christian Interpretation of Dreams.
If any one man stands between this era and the modern world, it is Augustine. There is good reason for his influence, not only on Western Catholicism, but perhaps even more on Luther, Calvin, and the entire Protestant world. Within his own experience, Augustine was able to stand between several pairs of worlds, particularly the spiritual and the worldly. His youth was spent carelessly, or sometimes almost carefully, doing what he should not and absorbing gnostic Manicheism. At the same time he became an excellent teacher of rhetoric, and so came to Milan, where Ambrose was bishop. Here he was touched by Neo-Platonism and, turning toward Christianity, he sought out personal contact with Ambrose.
It was then he had his great religious experience, which brought him to baptism. And in the next half century Augustine went on, almost singlehanded, to prepare the intellectual foundation for Western Christian thinking for another thousand years. Until Aquinas became accepted, Augustine was the Western theologian. Not only do we find in him a deeply religious, a mystical longing and experience, but here was one of the most inquiring minds of the time. His philosophical ability and the penetrating psychological insight his studies show would make him important entirely apart from his Christian connections. The study of dreams is for him a significant tool in understanding both the psychology of man and his relations with God and the spiritual world.
Augustine’s psychology and epistemology were based upon a sophisticated psychophysical dualism in which he saw two essentially different kinds of reality—the purely corporeal or physical, and the non-corporeal or “mental,” which is spiritual in nature. This is essentially the theory that Lovejoy supports in his classical study of modern epistemology, The Revolt Against Dualism. It is again essentially the theory of the objective psyche proposed by Dr. C.G. Jung and his followers to explain the experiences of their medical and psychological practice.
Augustine’s study of perception was as sophisticated as any in the ancient world. He saw reality as consisting of outer physical objects to which we react with our bodies, and then of the impressions of this sense experience, impressions that are “mental” in nature. We then have the inner perception of this sense experience, and finally the mental species in its remembered form. It is the action of the ego (called the will by Augustine) that unites these perceptions to the object. In one place he calls the faculty of imagination the bridge that mediates the object to consciousness, thus presenting almost the same thinking as that worked out by Synesius of Cyrene. Augustine saw man as possessing an outward eye that receives and mediates sense impressions, and an inward eye that observes and deals with these collected and stored “mental” realities that are called memory.
In addition to the realities that come from outer perception and from inner perception of “memories,” autonomous spiritual realities (angels and demons) can present themselves directly to the inner eye. These are of the same nature as the stored “mental” or psychic realities that are perceived inwardly. Augustine writes that men in sleep or trance can experience contents that come from memory “or by some other hidden force through certain spiritual commixtures of a similarly spiritual substance.” 42 These autonomous realities are non-physical; yet they can either assume a corporeal appearance and be experienced through the outward eye, or be presented directly to consciousness through the inner eye in dreams, visions, and trances. Thus through dreams man is presented with a whole storehouse of unconscious memories and spontaneous contents, he is given access to a world that the fathers called the realm of the spirit, which Jung has seen as the “objective psyche.” Man has no control over this world; the contents of a dream or vision are as objective, as much “given” to the inner eye as sense experience is to the outer eye. 43
Augustine admitted that it was easier to describe what the angels and demons do than to explain what they are. In discussing the dreams that people have of the dead, he stated that it is not the dead person himself who appears (just as one doesn’t expect the living person to know when one dreams of him), but “by angelical operations, then, I should think it is effected, whether permitted from above, or commanded, that they seem in dreams to say something . . . .” 44 just as angels have direct contact with man’s psyche and present their messages before the inner eye, so also do demons.
They persuade [men], however, in marvelous and unseen ways, entering by means of that subtlety of their own bodies into the bodies of men who are unaware, and through certain imaginary visions mingling themselves with men’s thoughts whether they are awake or asleep. 45
Augustine, as we can see, considered these experiences equally important whether they came in a waking vision or a dream.
When asked by his lifelong friend, the bishop Evodius, how man can have such strange experiences of telepathy and clairvoyance, or precognition, Augustine replied that ordinary experience is strange and difficult enough to explain, and such things as this happen, but they are beyond man’s power to explain. It should also be noted that, although Augustine believed that these visionary experiences are important sources of knowledge, the ‘highest experience of God transcends even these means. Dreams and visions do not reveal the nature of God, but they are given by him. They are examples of his providential care, his gifts. Referring to a dream that had brought conviction about life after death, he wrote of this vision: “By whom was he taught this but by the merciful, providential care of God?” It is also clear that Augustine found the operation of the inner eye and its lack of dependence upon the physical body to be excellent grounds for belief in the persistence of man’s psyche after death. 46
In addition to presenting a theory of dreams and visions, Augustine also discussed many examples of providential dreams in the course of his writings. One of the most important of them was the famous dream of his mother Monica, in which she saw herself standing on a measuring device while a young man whose face shone with a smile approached her. She was crying, and when he asked why, she told of her sorrow that her son turned away from Christ. He told her to look, and suddenly she saw Augustine standing on the same rule with her and she was comforted. Realizing the significance of the symbolism, she was able to go on praying for him with patience and hope; her dreams and visions are also mentioned in several other places in The Confessions. 47
Fascinating stories of a number of parapsychological dreams, as well as stories and discussions of other influential dreams, are found in various places in Augustine’s writings. Particularly in the correspondence with Evodius there are accounts of dream experiences as uncanny as any in the modern literature on psychical research, or even in the Bible. Some of this material is included in the appendix [segued immediately below], and there are other references in a letter to Alypius and in The City of God, 48 as well as in material already referred to. It is no wonder Augustine was led to study these experiences so thoroughly, and with such faith in his Christian calling.
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The Bishop of Uzala, Evodius, was one of Augustine’s early friends. In the Year 414 he wrote to Augustine (Letter CLVIII), describing certain dreams and visions which made him ask; What are we after death? He went on to say:
9. These dreams suggest another question. I do not at this moment concern myself about the mere creations of fancy, which are formed by the emotions of the uneducated. I speak of visitations in sleep, such as the apparition to Joseph in a dream, in the manner experienced in most cases of the kind. In the same manner, therefore, our own friends also who have departed this life before us sometimes come and appear to us in dreams, and speak to us. For I myself remember that Profuturus, and Privatus, and Servilius, holy men who within my recollection were removed by death from our monastery, spoke to me, and that the events of which they spoke came to pass according to their words. Or if it be some other higher spirit that assumes their form and visits our minds, I leave this to the all-seeing eye of Him before whom everything from the highest to the lowest is uncovered. If, therefore, the Lord be pleased to speak through reason to your Holiness on all these questions, I beg you to be so kind as make me partaker of the knowledge which you have received. There is another thing which I have resolved not to omit mentioning, for perhaps it bears upon the matter now under investigation:
10. This same youth, in connection with whom these questions are brought forward, departed this life after having received what may be called a summons at the time when he was dying. For one who had been a companion of his as a student, and reader, and shorthand writer to my dictation, who had died eight months before, was seen by a person in a dream coming towards him. When he was asked by the person who then distinctly saw him why he had come, he said, “I have come to take this friend away”; and so it proved. For in the house itself, also, there appeared to a certain old man, who was almost awake, a man bearing in his hand a laurel branch on which something was written. Nay, more, when this one was seen, it is further reported that after the death of the young man, his father the presbyter had begun to reside along with the aged Theasius in the monastery, in order to find consolation there, but lo! on the third day after his death, the young man is seen entering the monastery, and asked by one of the brethren in a dream of some kind whether he knew himself to be dead. He replied that he knew he was. The other asked whether he had been welcomed by God. This also he answered with great expressions of joy. And when questioned as to the reason why he had come, he answered, “I have been sent to summon my father.” The person to whom these things were shown awakes, and relates what had passed. It comes to the ear of Bishop Theasius. He, being alarmed, sharply admonished the person who told him, lest the matter should come, as it might easily do, to the ear of the presbyter himself, and he should be disturbed by such tidings. But why prolong the narration? Within about four days from this visitation he was saying (for he had suffered from a moderate feverishness) that he was now out of danger, and that the physician had given up attending him, having assured him that there was no cause whatever for anxiety; but that very day this presbyter expired after he had lain down on his couch. Nor should I forbear mentioning, that on the same day on which the youth died, he asked his father three times to forgive him anything in which he might have offended, and every time that he kissed his father he said to him, “Let us give thanks to God, father,” and insisted upon his father saying the words along with him, as if he were exhorting one who was to be his companion in going forth from this world. And in fact only seven days elapsed between the two deaths. What shall we say of things so wonderful? Who shall be a thoroughly reliable teacher as to these mysterious dispensations? To you in the hour of perplexity my agitated heart unburdens itself. . . .
[Evodius went on to tell one of his own dreams and ask urgently about the soul’s existence after death, and what is meant by wisdom, such as the gift given to Solomon. In answer Augustine wrote:]
To Evodius, my lord most blessed, my venerable and beloved brother and partner in the priestly office, and to the brethren who are with him, Augustine and the brethren who are with him send greeting in the Lord.
1. Our brother Barbarus, the bearer of this letter, is a servant of God, who has now for a long time been settled at Hippo, and has been an eager and diligent hearer of the word of God. He requested from us this letter to your Holiness, whereby we commend him to you in the Lord, and convey to you through him the salutations which it is our duty to offer. To reply to those letters of your Holiness, in which you have interwoven questions of great difficulty, would be a most laborious task, even for men who are at leisure, and who are endowed with much greater ability in discussing and acuteness in apprehending any subject than we possess. One, indeed, of the two letters in which you ask many great questions has gone amissing, I know not how, and though long sought for cannot be found; the other, which has been found, contains a very pleasing account of a servant of God, a good and chaste young man, stating how he departed from this life, and by what testimonies, communicated through visions of the brethren, his merits were, as you state, made known to you. Taking occasion from this young man’s case, you propose and discuss an extremely obscure question concerning the soul,—whether it is associated when it goes forth from this body with some other kind of body, by means of which it can be carried to or confined in places having material boundaries? The investigation of this question, if indeed it admits of satisfactory investigation by beings such as we are, demands the most diligent care and labour, and therefore a mind absolutely at leisure from such occupations as engross my time. My opinion, however, if you are willing to hear it, summed up in a sentence, is, that I by no means believe that the soul in departing from the body is accompanied by another body of any kind.
2. As to the question how these visions and predictions of future events are produced, let him attempt to explain them who understands by what power we are to account for the great wonders which are wrought in the mind of every man when his thoughts are busy. For we see, and we plainly perceive, that within the mind innumerable images of many objects discernible by the eye or by our other senses are produced,—whether they are produced in regular order or in confusion matters not to us at present: all that we say is, that since such images are beyond all dispute produced, the man who is found able to state by what power and in what way these phenomena of daily and perpetual experience are to be accounted for is the only man who may warrantably venture to conjecture or propound any explanation of these visions, which are of exceedingly rare occurrence. For my part, as I discover more plainly my inability to account for the ordinary facts of our experience, when awake or asleep, throughout the whole course of our lives, the more do I shrink from venturing to explain what is extraordinary. For while I have been dictating this epistle to you, I have been contemplating your person in my mind,—you being, of course, absent all the while, and knowing nothing of my thoughts,—and I have been imagining from my knowledge of what is in you how you will be affected by my words; and I have been unable to apprehend, either by observation or by inquiry, how this process was accomplished in my mind. Of one thing, however, I am certain, that although the mental image was very like something material, it was not produced either by masses of matter or by qualities of matter. Accept this in the meantime from one writing under pressure of other duties, and in haste. In the twelfth of the books which I have written on Genesis this question is discussed with great care, and that dissertation is enriched with a forest of examples from actual experience or from trustworthy report. How far I have been competent to handle the question, and what I have accomplished in it, you will judge when you have read that work; if indeed the Lord shall be pleased in His kindness to permit me now to publish those books systematically corrected to the best of my ability, and thus to meet the expectation of many brethren, instead of deferring their hope by continuing further the discussion of a subject which has already engaged me for a long time.
3. I will narrate briefly, however, one fact which I commend to your meditation. You know our brother Gennadius, a physician, known to almost every one, and very dear to us, who now lives at Carthage, and was in other years eminent as a medical practitioner at Rome. You know him as a man of religious character and of very great benevolence, actively compassionate and promptly liberal in his care of the poor. Nevertheless, even he, when still a young man, and most zealous in these charitable acts, had sometimes, as he himself told me, doubts as to whether there was any life after death. Forasmuch, therefore, as God would in no wise forsake a man so merciful in his disposition and conduct there appeared to him in sleep a youth of remarkable appearance and commanding presence, who said to him: “Follow me.” Following him, he came to a city where he began to hear on the right hand sounds of a melody so exquisitely sweet as to surpass anything he had ever heard. When he inquired what it was, his guide said: “It is the hymn of the blessed and the holy.” What he reported himself to have seen on the left hand escapes my remembrance. He awoke; the dream vanished, and he thought of it as only a dream.
4. On a second night, however, the same youth appeared to Gennadius, and asked whether he recognised him, to which he replied that he knew him well, without the slightest uncertainty. Thereupon he asked Gennadius where he had become acquainted with him. There also his memory failed him not as to the proper reply: he narrated the whole vision, and the hymns of the saints which, under his guidance, he had been taken to hear, with all the readiness natural to recollection of some very recent experience. On this the youth inquired whether it was in sleep or when awake that he had seen what he had just narrated. Gennadius answered: “In sleep.” The youth then said: “You remember it well; it is true that you saw these things in sleep, but I would have you know that even now you are seeing in sleep.” Hearing this, Gennadius was persuaded of its truth, and in his reply declared that he believed it. Then his teacher went on to say: “Where is your body now?” He answered: “In my bed.” “Do you know,” said the youth, “that the eyes in this body of yours are now bound and closed, and at rest, and that with these eyes you are seeing nothing?” He answered: “I know it.” “What, then,” said the youth, “are the eyes with which you see me?” He, unable to discover what to answer to this, was silent. While he hesitated, the youth unfolded to him what he was endeavoring to teach him by these questions, and forthwith said: “As while you are asleep and lying on your bed these eyes of your body are now unemployed and doing nothing, and yet you have eyes with which you behold me, and enjoy this vision, so, after your death, while your bodily eyes shall be wholly inactive, there shall be in you a life by which you shall still live, and a faculty of perception by which you shall still perceive. Beware, therefore, after this of harbouring doubts as to whether the life of man shall continue after death.” This believer says that by this means all doubts as to this matter were removed from him. By whom was he taught this but by the merciful, providential care of God?
5. Some one may say that by this narrative I have not solved but complicated the question. Nevertheless, while it is free to every one to believe or disbelieve these statements, every man has his own consciousness at hand as a teacher by whose help he may apply himself to this most profound question. Every day man wakes, and sleeps, and thinks; let any man, therefore, answer whence proceed these things which, while not material bodies, do nevertheless resemble the forms, properties, and motions of material bodies: let him, I say, answer this if he can. But if he cannot do this, why is he in such haste to pronounce a definite opinion on things which occur very rarely, or are beyond the range of his experience, when he is unable to explain matters of daily and perpetual observation? For my part, although I am wholly unable to explain in words how those semblances of material bodies, without any real body, are produced, I may say that I wish that, with the same certainty with which I know that these things are not produced by the body, I could know by what means those things are perceived which are occasionally seen by the spirit, and are supposed to be seen by the bodily senses; or by what distinctive marks we may know the visions of men who have been misguided by delusion, or, most commonly, by impiety, since the examples of such visions closely resembling the visions of pious and holy men are so numerous, that if I wished to quote them, time, rather than abundance of examples, would fail me.
May you, through the mercy of the Lord, grow in grace, most blessed lord and venerable and beloved brother!
The Appendix of: Kelsey, Morton T. Dreams: Dark Speech of the Spirit, now reissued under the new title God, Dreams, and Revelation: A Christian Interpretation of Dreams.
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