Saint Augustine's Confessions -or- Dreaming of the Golden Rule

This Field Note is about a dream found in Saint Augustine's "Confessions". While I can identify with a variety of the many ideas and sentiments found in his Christian groundbreaking show and tell all literary work, my own autobiographical experience since being a student, was different. My own confessions, find a greater affinity to Jean Jacques Rousseau's more modern autobiographical work "Confessions".

City of God -or- Theological Dream Interpretation 

Christianity is a monotheistic offshoot of Judaism. Read the Field Note, "Theological Dream Interpretation". Having lived in Switzerland for twelve years, it was hard not to see the after effects of the religious schism of the Reformation in Europe. Switzerland has both Protestant and Catholic Kantons. Europe was not always Christian, it was principally pagan in nature.

Reportedly in 312 AD, the Roman emperor Constantine after having experienced a dream vision, later legalized Christianity (via the edict of Milan) as an official religion. Read the Field Note, "Constantine the Great and Christianity". Pagans, Jews, Christians and Arabs coexisted for some time after Constantine's religious and political conversion. After the edict of Thessalonica in 380 AD by the Christian Roman emperor Theodosius, paganism in the Roman empire increasingly came under attack.

Theodosius reportedly banned the Greek Olympics in 393 AD, which would not return until 1896. Morton T. Kelsey "God, Dreams and Revelation" reports that the influential Saint Ambrose believed that the Holy Spirit spoke through dreams. Ambrose referenced Solomon, Joseph and Daniel in the Old Testament for their hermeneutic abilities to interpret dreams. Ambrose would also discuss the relevance of Jacob's dream of the ladder related to Christ. Dream vision has played an important historiographical role in pagan philosophy, the Old and the New Testament, as well as everyday life. Read the Field Note "Words with Power".

This troubled "Zeitgeist" of the Roman empire was the historical turning point for the Christianization of Europe, Christendom and the history of Christianity. The Roman civil war battle of Frigidus in 394 AD (led by the victorious Theodosius), marks the beginning of the end of the pagan political revolts in the Roman empire.

The dream factory film "Agora" features the life of Hypathia, a contemporary of Augustine. The film provides a different perspective of the Mediterranean regions' turmoil and religious strife between classical pagan philosophy and Christianity. Some believe that the death of Hypathia in 415 AD formally marks the end of the classical antiquity era. Classical philosophy and literature would not return until the Florentine cultural movement of the Renaissance, especially via Dante "Divine Comedy" and Francesco Petrarch, whose work reintegrated classical pagan teachings with Christianity. Petrarch's work, "Secretum" would be inspired by Augustine's "Confessions". Read the Field Note "The School of Athens".

Morton T. Kelsey believes; "If any one man stands between this era (classical and early Christian) and the modern world, it is Augustine." Augustine's conversion from Manichean paganism to Christianity was strongly influenced by Saint Ambrose. Augustine would report, that St Ambrose found the location of two Christian martyrs Gervasius and Protasius, which was revealed to him via a dream.

In "City of God" written in the midst of the decline and fall of the Western Roman empire (sack of Rome in 410 AD), Augustine attempted to persuade Christian Romans that they should not be concerned with this historical turmoil of worldly political events, their attention should instead be turned to the spiritual, and the mystical city of "New Jerusalem". The City of God would ultimately triumph over earthly and passing pleasures (City of Man). Read the Field Note, "Jung's Near Death Experience".

Prior to writing "City of God", Augustine penned the grief inspired "Confessions" written in 397-398 AD which reports the dream of his mother Monica. Here is Monica's dream;

"In her dream she saw herself standing on a sort of wooden rule, and saw a bright youth approaching her, joyous and smiling at her, while she was grieving and bowed down with sorrow. But when he inquired of her the cause of her sorrow and daily weeping (not to learn from her, but to teach her, as is customary in visions), and when she answered that it was my soul's doom she was lamenting, he bade her rest content and told her to look and see that where she was there I was also. And when she looked she saw me standing near her on the same rule."

In Dreams Begin Responsibilities -or- I Dreamed I Saw St Augustine

Is it a stretch of the ethical imagination to think that the wooden rule that Augustine and his mother are both standing on is Christ's version of the "Golden Rule", which in turn points to the "Gospel"? The Golden Rule from a Christian ethical code perspective summarizing the Old Testament reads: "Do to others what you want them to do to you. This is the meaning of the law of Moses ("Great Commandment") and the teaching of the prophets."

The iconic Christian cross made of the wood of a tree, is the archetypal symbol of Christianity. In this sense, the wooden rule may also represent the "True Cross" which became illustrated in frescos by the early Renaissance artist Piero Della Francesca, which includes "The Dream of Constantine". In this light, Monica's dream vision can be seen as the ministry of Jesus teaching the basic ethical precepts of the Golden Rule. Read the Field Note, "Rabbi and Priest".

Ethics deals with such moral philosophical problems such as right and wrong, good and evil, virtue and vice, justice and crime. From a classical ethical perspective Plato in "Republic" asks the reader "What is Justice?" All these "morality play" thematic concepts can be found expressing themselves and operating in our dreams. As "The Westminster Dictionary of Christian Theology" points out, Augustine's life quest was his attempt to understand the problem of evil. Prudentius "Psychomachia", (also a contemporary of Augustine's), represents the psychological battle between virtue and vice played out for the possession of the soul. From a modern perspective, James Fowler provides a model of the development of faith

Monica says in the dream that she is lamenting the doom of her son's (Augustine's) soul. Perhaps this statement is in reference to Christian ideas and the beliefs about the "afterlife"? J.C. Flugel, "Man, Morals and Society" sees confession as a testimonial means of relieving and purging guilt found in our conscience. In this sense, Augustine's confession can be seen as the Christian theological road to faith, grace and the salvation of his soul. 

Would we be mesmerized, if Monica's dream lament revealed a deeper hermeneutic significance? A deeper collective meaning? Does this family communication oriented dream show the hermeneutic turning away for traditional Greco-Roman grief rituals and symbols towards ones that are distinctly transitioned to Judeo-Christian ones? Read Field Note "Honor Your Father and Mother". Have these Judeo-Christian communication symbols and rituals not survived over sixteen hundred years later? Read the Field Note "Origins of Women's English Poetry". Do they still define traditional Western family values and civilization? Read Field Note "I Say a Little Prayer for You". 

Henri F. Ellenberger "The Discovery of the Unconscious", discussing Augustine's religious conversion points out that Augustine understood that his old pagan personality could still be found operating in his dreams, leading Augustine to ponder the problem of moral responsibility for our dreams. Calvin Hall "The Meaning of Dreams" devotes a whole chapter "The Moral Conflict", in which Hall tells his readers; "The conflict between impulse and conscience is nowhere seen to better advantage than it is in dreams." Read Field Note "Paris Hilton in San Francisco". 

The murder of Kitty Genovese is a classic case study of the urban "diffusion of responsibility" by a crowd of bystanders. The collective moral shadow looms large in our "City of Man" dreams. "Field Notes of a Dream Researcher" will make the depth psychological moral edifice and ethical communication superstructure of collective conscience found in the collective memory of dream vision visible and audible for all to see and hear. Here are a few Field Notes that make transparent the "naked city" problems of collective and individual conscience and communication; 

Erich Neumann, in "Depth Psychology and a New Ethic", is in search of a new ethic. Neumann believed that the old Judeo-Christian ethic was faltering because it no longer encompassed the whole of collective conscious and unconscious communication, especially the "dark side" of human personality. The Field Notes, "Boulevard of Broken Dreams", "Greed is Good" and "The Material Girl",  all testify to the failure to apply the golden rule, and to the modern dark side personality problems of the "human condition". A "new ethic" is necessary. Carl Jung who provides a forward to Neumann's book tells the reader; "We might define the ‘new ethic' as a development and differentiation within the old ethic, confined at present to those uncommon individuals who, driven by unavoidable conflicts of duty, endeavour to bring the conscious and the unconscious into responsible relationship." 

In order to achieve this new ethic, The International Institute for Dream Research calls for a "Revolution in Dream Vision". In this psychodynamic, conscious-unconscious sense, and from a popular culture perspective, a few final notes. Delmore Schwarz tells us in his short story, "In Dreams Begin Responsibilities". Schwarz provides literary photographic film evidence of his dreams and conflicts. From a musical perspective Bob Dylan sings the dream vision body electric in "I Dreamed I Saw St Augustine". 

Further Reading; 

  • Jürgen Habermas, "Communication and the Evolution of Society".
  • Friedrich Nietzsche, "On the Geneology of Morality".
  • Paul Ricouer, "The Symbolism of Evil".
  • Kai Erikson, "Wayward Puritans", A Study in the Sociology of Deviance".
  • H. Aram Veeser, "The New Historicism".
  • Donovan J. Ochs, "Consolatory Rhetoric: Grief, Symbol and Ritual in the Greco-Roman Era".


All material Copyright 2006 International Institute for Dream Research. All rights reserved.