Fish Eaters: The Whys and Hows of Traditional Catholicism

``Where the Bishop is, there let the multitude of believers be;
even as where Jesus is, there is the Catholic Church'' Ignatius of Antioch, 1st c. A.D


What are dreams? The workings of the brain as it tries to make some sort of sense of the random firing of neurons? Coded "messages" from the unconscious mind containing clues as to things you might need to pay attention to in your life? Messages from God?

The answer is likely "all of the above," but it's that last category of dreams that this page is about. In Numbers 12:6, it is written very explicitly,

The Lord came down in a pillar of the cloud, and stood in the entry of the tabernacle calling to Aaron and Mary. And when they were come, He said to them: Hear my words: if there be among you a prophet of the Lord, I will appear to him in a vision, or I will speak to him in a dream.

Job 33:14-16 is also clear in saying,

God speaketh once, and repeateth not the selfsame thing the second time.  By a dream in a vision by night, when deep sleep falleth upon men, and they are sleeping in their beds: Then he openeth the ears of men, and teaching instructeth them in what they are to learn.

So, that God can and does speak to us in dreams is evident from Sacred Scripture, not just through those verses, but from the numerous examples from both the Old Testament and the New, wherein He is depicted as speaking to people as they sleep. A little tour of such instances follows, beginning with the dream of King Abimelech, to whom was given Abraham's wife, Sara. From Genesis 20:3-7  

And God came to Abimelech in a dream by night, and he said to him: Lo thou shalt die for the woman thou hast taken: for she hath a husband. Now Abimelech had not touched her, and he said: Lord, wilt thou slay a nation, that is ignorant and just?  Did not he say to me: She is my sister: and she say, He is my brother? in the simplicity of my heart, and cleanness of my hands have I done this.

And God said to him: And I know that thou didst it with a sincere heart: and therefore I withheld thee from sinning against me, and I suffered thee not to touch her.  Now therefore restore the man his wife, for he is a prophet: and he shall pray for thee, and thou shalt live: but if thou wilt not restore her, know that thou shalt surely die, thou and all that are thine.

This dream is important in not just showing that God can speak to us through dreams, but also in how it shows that God knows our hearts and is able to look past our objective actions, including sins, to see the motives behind our "missing the mark" and, therefore, being perfectly capable of knowing when to assign guilt for those sins, and when to grant mercy. After this dream comes the famous dream of Jacob, with its vision of the stairway to Heaven, found in Genesis 28:10-19, and depicted in the painting at the top of this page:    

But Jacob being departed from Bersabee, went on to Haran.  And when he was come to a certain place, and would rest in it after sunset, he took of the stones that lay there, and putting under his head, slept in the same place.

And he saw in his sleep a ladder standing upon the earth, and the top thereof touching heaven: the angels also of God ascending and descending by it;  And the Lord leaning upon the ladder, saying to him: I am the Lord God of Abraham thy father, and the God of Isaac; the land, wherein thou sleepest, I will give to thee and to thy seed.  And thy seed shall be as the dust of the earth: thou shalt spread abroad to the west, and to the east, and to the north, and to the south: and IN THEE and thy seed all the tribes of the earth SHALL BE BLESSED.  And I will be thy keeper whithersoever thou goest, and will bring thee back into this land: neither will I leave thee, till I shall have accomplished all that I have said.

And when Jacob awaked out of sleep, he said: Indeed the Lord is in this place, and I knew it not. And trembling he said: How terrible is this place! this is no other but the house of God, and the gate of heaven.  And Jacob, arising in the morning, took the stone, which he had laid under his head, and set it up for a title, pouring oil upon the top of it. And he called the name of the city Bethel, which before was called Luza.

Genesis 37:5-9 tells us the story of Joseph's prophetic dream, which he reveals to his envious brothers:

Now it fell out also that he told his brethren a dream, that he had dreamed: which occasioned them to hate him the more. And he said to them: Hear my dream which I dreamed. I thought we were binding sheaves in the field: and my sheaf arose as it were, and stood, and your sheaves standing about, bowed down before my sheaf.  His brethren answered: Shalt thou be our king? or shall we be subject to thy dominion? Therefore this matter of his dreams and words ministered nourishment to their envy and hatred. He dreamed also another dream, which he told his brethren, saying: I saw in a dream, as it were the sun, and the moon, and eleven stars worshipping me.  

Joseph is sold into slavery in Egypt by those brothers of his who hated him, and there he interpreted the dreams of two of Pharaosh's prisoners, after which he was called upon by the Pharaoh himself to interpret the Pharaoh's own dreams (Genesis 40 and 41). Joseph's God-given ability to interpret dreams led to his being given great authority in Egypt.

Judges 7: 13-15 reveals how Gedeon is told of a dream about his, Gedeon's, defeat of the Madianites: 

And when Gedeon was come, one told his neighbour a dream: and in this manner related what he had seen: I dreamt a dream, and it seemed to me as if a hearth cake of barley bread rolled and came down into the camp of Madian: and when it was come to a tent it struck it, and beat it down flat to the ground.  He to whom he spoke, answered: This is nothing else but the sword of Gedeon the son of Joas a man of Israel. For the Lord hath delivered Madian, and all their camp into his hand.  And when Gedeon had heard the dream, and the interpretation thereof, he adored: and returned to the camp of Israel, and said: Arise, for the Lord hath delivered the camp of Madian into our hands.

In I King 3:9-15 (I Samuel 3:9-15 in Bibles with Masoretic numbering) is the story of the child Samuel's dream, a dream he first mistook for being the sinful Heli calling to him. Samuel, who'd been dedicated to God at a very young age, and Heli were both asleep, and three times Samuel heard himself being beckoned. Three times he ran to Heli asking what he wanted. Then, we read:

Heli understood that the Lord called the child, and he said to Samuel: Go, and sleep: and if He shall call thee any more, thou shalt say: Speak, Lord, for Thy servant heareth.

So Samuel went and slept in his place.  And the Lord came and stood: and He called, as He had called the other times: Samuel, Samuel. And Samuel said: Speak, Lord, for Thy servant heareth.

And the Lord said to Samuel: Behold I do a thing in Israel: and whosoever shall hear it, both his ears shall tingle.  In that day I will raise up against Heli all the things I have spoken concerning his house: I will begin, and I will make an end.  For I have foretold unto him, that I will judge his house for ever, for iniquity, because he knew that his sons did wickedly, and did not chastise them. Therefore have I sworn to the house of Heli, that the iniquity of his house shall not be expiated with victims nor offerings for ever. 

And Samuel slept till morning, and opened the doors of the house of the Lord. And Samuel feared to tell the vision to Heli.

Then there's the dream of Nabuchodonosor (Nebuchadnezzar), which was interpreted by Daniel in yet another dream. Daniel 2:1-2, 19:

In the second year of the reign of Nabuchodonosor, Nabuchodonosor had a dream, and his spirit was terrified, and his dream went out of his mind. Then the king commanded to call together the diviners and the wise men, and the magicians, and the Chaldeans: to declare to the king his dreams: so they came and stood before the king...

...Then was the mystery revealed to Daniel by a vision in the night: and Daniel blessed the God of heaven.

II Machabees 15:11 tells us how Judas used a dream to inspire his army:

So he armed every one of them, not with defence of shield and spear, but with very good speeches and exhortations, and told them a dream worthy to be believed, whereby he rejoiced them all.

Such prophetic dreams are found in the New Testament as well, in the very first chapter of the very first Book. The Gospel according to St. Matthew 1:16-25 reads: 

And Jacob begot Joseph the husband of Mary, of whom was born Jesus, who is called Christ. So all the generations, from Abraham to David, are fourteen generations. And from David to the transmigration of Babylon, are fourteen generations: and from the transmigration of Babylon to Christ are fourteen generations.

Now the generation of Christ was in this wise. When as his mother Mary was espoused to Joseph, before they came together, she was found with child, of the Holy Ghost. Whereupon Joseph her husband, being a just man, and not willing publicly to expose her, was minded to put her away privately.

But while he thought on these things, behold the angel of the Lord appeared to him in his sleep, saying: Joseph, son of David, fear not to take unto thee Mary thy wife, for that which is conceived in her, is of the Holy Ghost.

And she shall bring forth a son: and thou shalt call his name JESUS. For he shall save his people from their sins.  Now all this was done that it might be fulfilled which the Lord spoke by the prophet, saying:  Behold a virgin shall be with child, and bring forth a son, and they shall call his name Emmanuel, which being interpreted is, God with us. 

And Joseph rising up from sleep, did as the angel of the Lord had commanded him, and took unto him his wife.  And he knew her not till she brought forth her firstborn son: and he called his name JESUS.

In the very next chapter of the same Gospel, St. Joseph is warned in a dream to take the Child and His mother and flee to Egypt. From Matthew 2: 13-15: 

And after they were departed, behold an angel of the Lord appeared in sleep to Joseph, saying: Arise, and take the child and his mother, and fly into Egypt: and be there until I shall tell thee. For it will come to pass that Herod will seek the child to destroy him. Who arose, and took the child and his mother by night, and retired into Egypt: and he was there until the death of Herod: That it might be fulfilled which the Lord spoke by the prophet, saying: Out of Egypt have I called my son.

From all of the above, it's clear, quite obvious, that God does communicate through dreams at times. However, while this is a fact, it's also a fact that the Old Testament gives warnings about dreams. A few such verses, my emphasis in italics:

Leviticus 19:26
You shall not eat with blood. You shall not divine nor observe dreams.

Deuteronomy 18:10-11
Neither let there be found among you any one that shall expiate his son or daughter, making them to pass through the fire: or that consulteth soothsayers, or observeth dreams and omens, neither let there be any wizard, nor charmer, nor any one that consulteth pythonic spirits, or fortune tellers, or that seeketh the truth from the dead.

2 Paralipomenon 33:6 (2 Chronicles in Bibles with Masoretic numbering) 
And he made his sons to pass through the fire in the valley of Benennom: he observed dreams, followed divinations, gave himself up to magic arts, had with him magicians, and enchanters: and he wrought many evils before the Lord, to provoke him to anger.

So, how to sort all this out? Pope St. Gregory the Great, in Book IV of his "Dialogues," writes the following on the question, " Whether dreams are to be believed: and how many kinds of dreams there be":

Concerning this point, Peter, you must understand that there are six kind of dreams. For sometime they proceed of too much fulness or emptiness of the stomach: sometime by illusion: sometime both by thought and illusion: sometime by revelation: and sometime both by thought and revelation.

The two first all by experience know to be true: and the four latter we find mentioned in Holy Scripture. For if dreams did not sometime proceed by illusion from our secret enemy, never would the wise man have said: "Dreams have made many to err, and hoping in them have they been deceived: and again: Thou shall not be soothsayers, nor observe dreams: by which words we see how they are to be detested, that are compared with sooth-sayings."

Again, if dreams did not sometime proceed both of thought together with illusion, the wise man would not have said: "Dreams follow many cares."

And if sometime also they did not come by mystical revelation, Joseph had never known by dream that he should have been exalted above his brethren: neither the Angel would ever in a dream have admonished the spouse of our Lady to fly away with the child into Egypt.

Again, if sometime they did not also proceed both from thoughts and divine revelation, never would the prophet Daniel, disputing of Nabuchodonosor's dream, have begun from the root of his former thoughts, saying: "Thou, O king, diddest begin to think in thy bed, what should happen in times to come; and he that revealeth mysteries did shew thee what things should come," and a little after, "Thou diddest see, and behold as it were a great statue: that great statue and high of stature did stand against thee." Wherefore, seeing Daniel doth with reverence insinuate that the dream should come to pass, and also declareth from what cogitation it did spring, plainly do we learn that dreams sometimes do come both of thought and revelation together.

But seeing dreams do grow from such divers roots, with so much the more difficulty ought we to believe them: because it doth not easily appear unto us from what cause they do proceed. Holy men, indeed, by a certain inward spiritual taste, do discern betwixt illusions and true revelations, by the very voices or representations of the visions themselves, so that they know what they receive from the good spirit, and what they suffer by illusion from the wicked, and therefore, if our mind be not herein very attentive and vigilant, it falleth into many vanities, through the deceit of the wicked spirit who sometime useth to foretell many true things, that, in the end, he may by some falsehood ensnare our soul.

St. Thomas Aquinas, in the Summa Theologica, II:II:95:6, on the same question -- "Whether divination by dreams is unlawful?" -- writes, with the last paragraph summing things up, is to be observed that the cause of dreams is sometimes in us and sometimes outside us. The inward cause of dreams is twofold: one regards the soul, in so far as those things which have occupied a man's thoughts and affections while awake recur to his imagination while asleep. A such like cause of dreams is not a cause of future occurrences, so that dreams of this kind are related accidentally to future occurrences, and if at any time they concur it will be by chance. But sometimes the inward cause of dreams regards the body: because the inward disposition of the body leads to the formation of a movement in the imagination consistent with that disposition; thus a man in whom there is abundance of cold humors dreams that he is in the water or snow: and for this reason physicians say that we should take note of dreams in order to discover internal dispositions.

In like manner the outward cause of dreams is twofold, corporal and spiritual. It is corporal in so far as the sleeper's imagination is affected either by the surrounding air, or through an impression of a heavenly body, so that certain images appear to the sleeper, in keeping with the disposition of the heavenly bodies. The spiritual cause is sometimes referable to God, Who reveals certain things to men in their dreams by the ministry of the angels, according Numbers 12:6, "If there be among you a prophet of the Lord, I will appear to him in a vision, or I will speak to him in a dream." Sometimes, however, it is due to the action of the demons that certain images appear to persons in their sleep, and by this means they, at times, reveal certain future things to those who have entered into an unlawful compact with them.

Accordingly we must say that there is no unlawful divination in making use of dreams for the foreknowledge of the future, so long as those dreams are due to divine revelation, or to some natural cause inward or outward, and so far as the efficacy of that cause extends. But it will be an unlawful and superstitious divination if it be caused by a revelation of the demons, with whom a compact has been made, whether explicit, through their being invoked for the purpose, or implicit, through the divination extending beyond its possible limits.

So, to wit, and as with anything -- e.g., apparent ghosts, visions, etc. -- it all comes down to "discerning the spirits." The First Epistle of St. John 4:1-3 tells us how to do this:

Dearly beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits if they be of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world. By this is the spirit of God known. Every spirit which confesseth that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh, is of God: And every spirit that dissolveth Jesus, is not of God: and this is Antichrist, of whom you have heard that he cometh, and he is now already in the world.

If any dream, apparent ghost, vision, or what have you,"dissolveth Jesus," if it goes against traditional Church teaching, if it takes you away from your faith in any way, ignore it as a source of Truth. And if you're not sure, well, to paraphrase Johnny Cochran, "If it doesn't fit, get rid of it."

On a different level, dreams are often psychologically natural means to ascertain things you need to think about. If you have recurring dreams or dream themes, look into them and the meanings behind the dream symbols. If a certain person, object, or theme keeps coming up, describe these things to yourself, and ask what other things those descriptive words remind you of. You may be wiser than you know.


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