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Home > Fathers of the Church > Letters of St. Augustine > Letter 8

Letter 8 (A.D. 389)

To Augustine Nebridius Sends Greeting.

1. As I am in haste to come to the subject of my letter, I dispense with any preface or introduction. When at any time it pleases higher (by which I mean heavenly) powers to reveal anything to us by dreams in our sleep, how is this done, my dear Augustine, or what is the method which they use? What, I say, is their method, i.e. by what art or magic, by what agency or enchantments, do they accomplish this? Do they by their thoughts influence our minds, so that we also have the same images presented in our thoughts? Do they bring before us, and exhibit as actually done in their own body or in their own imagination, the things which we dream? But if they actually do these things in their own body, it follows that, in order to our seeing what they thus do, we must be endowed with other bodily eyes beholding what passes within while we sleep. If, however, they are not assisted by their bodies in producing the effects in question, but frame such things in their own imaginative faculty, and thus impress our imaginations, thereby giving visible form to what we dream; why is it, I ask, that I cannot compel your imagination to reproduce those dreams which I have myself first formed by my imagination? I have undoubtedly the faculty of imagination, and it is capable of presenting to my own mind the picture of whatever I please; and yet I do not thereby cause any dream in you, although I see that even our bodies have the power of originating dreams in us. For by means of the bond of sympathy uniting it to the soul, the body compels us in strange ways to repeat or reproduce by imagination anything which it has once experienced. Thus often in sleep, if we are thirsty, we dream that we drink; and if we are hungry, we seem to ourselves to be eating; and many other instances there are in which, by some mode of exchange, so to speak, things are transferred through the imagination from the body to the soul.

Be not surprised at the want of elegance and subtlety with which these questions are here stated to you; consider the obscurity in which the subject is involved, and the inexperience of the writer; be it yours to do your utmost to supply his deficiencies.

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Source. Translated by J.G. Cunningham. From Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, First Series, Vol. 1. Edited by Philip Schaff. (Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Publishing Co., 1887.) Revised and edited for New Advent by Kevin Knight. <http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/1102008.htm>.

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