Doctrinalising dreams: patristic views of the nature of dreams and their relation to early Christian doctrines
Modern scholarship has generated several works on ancient Greco-Roman, Jewish or biblical oneirology, whereas it has never resulted in a book or monograph devoted solely to the study of patristic oneirology. Although many articles discuss the dreams in patristic texts, most of their authors do not analyse these dreams correctly in their doctrinal context, a context from which virtually all patristic dream narratives or discourses emerged. This thesis endeavours to remedy the deficiency in the construction of patristic views of dreams by a corresponding analytic approach. Numerous early Christian writers attempted to formulate a Christian dream theory, conceptualise dream phenomena, or interpret their own dreams or the dreams of prominent figures. This thesis argues that from their perspective, the nature of human-inspired dreams can be conceived of as creations of the soul, as indicators of the dreamer’s state and as moral reflection (Ch.1 to 3), that of demon-inspired dreams as demonic assault, temptation and deception (Ch.4) and finally that of divinely-inspired dreams as a site of epiphany, as divine messages and as the dynamic of faith reinforcement (Ch.5 to 7). In addition to investigating their thoughts on dreams, additional discussions of Greco-Roman, Jewish and biblical dream traditions will be provided as helpful references for readers to understand the background in which patristic oneirology was shaped and cultivated (Appendixes). Moreover, unlike pagan authors, these Christian writers did not elucidate dreams for oneirological, physiological or psychological purposes. Rather, their real agenda was to promulgate Christian doctrines, including the doctrines of man, asceticism, sin, demonology, God, Christology, revelation and eschatology. When they encountered dreams, they not only interpreted but doctrinalised them, just as they did to many other aspects of human life. Methodologically, they dogmatically expounded dreams so as to facilitate their dissemination of the doctrines. The making of patristic oneirology was essentially the propagation of dogmatics. Hermeneutically, they integrated doctrinal tenets into their explication of dreams. The doctrines defined the essence of dreams and even orientated their mission outside the dream world. Accordingly, their oneirological and doctrinal conceptions were intertwined and serve each other. This doctrinalised oneirology marked the birth of a new ideology of dreams in late antiquity. Hence, in each chapter the methodological and hermeneutical relationships between dreams and the related doctrine in patristic texts will be demonstrated. Due to these relationships, this thesis contends that the task of penetrating patristic views of dreams cannot be accomplished without analysing them in their doctrinal context; meanwhile, the doctrines cannot be fully represented without undertaking that task.