Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers: Series I/Volume I/Confessions/Book X/Chapter 30
Chapter XXX.—Of the Perverse Images of Dreams, Which He Wishes to Have Taken Away.
41. Verily, Thou commandest that I should be continent from the “lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life.” Thou hast commanded me to abstain from concubinage; and as to marriage itself, Thou hast advised something better than Thou hast allowed. And because Thou didst give it, it was done; and that before I became a dispenser of Thy sacrament. But there still exist in my memory—of which I have spoken much—the images of such things as my habits had fixed there; and these rush into my thoughts, though strengthless, when I am awake; but in sleep they do so not only so as to give pleasure, but even to obtain consent, and what very nearly resembles reality. Yea, to such an extent prevails the illusion of the image, both in my soul and in my flesh, that the false persuade me, when sleeping, unto that which the true are not able when waking. Am I not myself at that time, O Lord my God? And there is yet so much difference between myself and myself, in that instant wherein I pass back from waking to sleeping, or return from sleeping to waking! Where, then, is the reason which when waking resists such suggestions? And if the things themselves be forced on it, I remain unmoved. Is it shut up with the eyes? Or is it put to sleep with the bodily senses? But whence, then, comes it to pass, that even in slumber we often resist, and, bearing our purpose in mind, and continuing most chastely in it, yield no assent to such allurements? And there is yet so much difference that, when it happeneth otherwise, upon awaking we return to peace of conscience; and by this same diversity do we discover that it was not we that did it, while we still feel sorry that in some way it was done in us.
42. Is not Thy hand able, O Almighty God, to heal all the diseases of my soul, and by Thy more abundant grace to quench even the lascivious motions of my sleep? Thou wilt increase in me, O Lord, Thy gifts more and more, that my soul may follow me to Thee, disengaged from the bird-lime of concupiscence; that it may not be in rebellion against itself, and even in dreams not simply not, through sensual images, commit those deformities of corruption, even to the pollution of the flesh, but that it may not even consent unto them. For it is no great thing for the Almighty, who is “able to do . . . above all that we ask or think,” to bring it about that no such influence—not even so slight a one as a sign might restrain—should afford gratification to the chaste affection even of one sleeping; and that not only in this life, but at my present age. But what I still am in this species of my ill, have I confessed unto my good Lord; rejoicing with trembling in that which Thou hast given me, and bewailing myself for that wherein I am still imperfect; trusting that Thou wilt perfect Thy mercies in me, even to the fulness of peace, which both that which is within and that which is without shall have with Thee, when death is swallowed up in victory.
- 1 John ii. 16. Dilating on Ps. viii. he makes these three roots of sin to correspond to the threefold nature of our Lord’s temptation in the wilderness. See also p. 80, note 5, above.
- In Augustin’s view, then, dreams appear to result from our thoughts and feelings when awake. In this he has the support of Aristotle (Ethics, i. 13), as also that of Solomon, who says (Eccles. v. 3), “A dream cometh through the multitude of business.” An apt illustration of this is found in the life of the great Danish sculptor, Thorwaldsen. It is said that he could not satisfy himself with his models for The Christ, in the Frauenkirche at Copenhagen,—as Da Vinci before him was never able to paint the face of the Christ in His noble fresco of the Last Supper,—and that it was only in consequence of a dream (that dream doubtless the result of his stedfast search for an ideal) that this great work was accomplished. But see Ep. clix.
- Ps. ciii. 3.
- Eph. iii. 20.
- Ps. ii. 11.
- See note 4, p. 140, above.
- 1 Cor. xv. 54.