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Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol III:
Tertullian: Part I: Causes and Circumstances of Dreams. What Best Contributes to Efficient Dreaming.

Early Church Fathers  Index     

Chapter XLVIII.—Causes and Circumstances of Dreams. What Best Contributes to Efficient Dreaming.

They say that dreams are more sure and clear when they happen towards the end of the night, because then the vigour of the soul emerges, and heavy sleep departs. As to the seasons of the year, dreams are calmer in spring, since summer relaxes, and winter somehow hardens, the soul; while autumn, which in other respects is trying to health, is apt to enervate the soul by the lusciousness of its fruits.  Then, again, as regards the position of one’s body during sleep, one ought not to lie on his back, nor on his right side, nor so as to wrench 1776 his intestines, as if their cavity were reversely stretched: a palpitation of the heart would ensue, or else a pressure on the liver would produce a painful disturbance of the mind. But however this be, I take it that it all amounts to ingenious conjecture rather than certain proof (although the author of the conjecture be no less a man than Plato); 1777 and possibly all may be no other than the result of chance. But, generally speaking, dreams will be under control of a man’s will, if they be capable of direction at all; for we must not examine what opinion on the one hand, and superstition on the other, have to prescribe for the treatment of dreams, in the matter of distinguishing and modifying different sorts of food.  As for the superstition, we have an instance when fasting is prescribed for such persons as mean to submit to the sleep which is necessary for receiving the oracle, in order that such abstinence may produce the required purity; while we find an instance of the opinion when the disciples of Pythagoras, in order to attain the same end, reject the bean as an aliment which would load the stomach, and produce indigestion. But the three brethren, who were the companions of Daniel, being content with pulse alone, to escape the contamination of the royal dishes, 1778 received from God, besides other wisdom, the gift especially of penetrating and explaining the sense of dreams. For my own part, I hardly know whether fasting would not simply make me dream so profoundly, that I should not be aware whether I had in fact dreamt at all. Well, then, you ask, has not sobriety something to do in this matter?  Certainly it is as much concerned in this as it is in the entire subject: if it contributes some good service to superstition, much more does it to religion. For even demons require such discipline from their dreamers as a gratification to their divinity, because they know that it is acceptable to God, since Daniel (to quote him again) “ate no pleasant bread” for the space of three weeks. 1779 This abstinence, however, he used in order to please God by humiliation, and not for the purpose of producing a sensibility and wisdom for his soul previous to receiving communication by dreams and visions, as if it were not rather to effect such action in an ecstatic state. This sobriety, then, (in which our question arises,) will have nothing to do with exciting ecstasy, but will rather serve to recommend its being wrought by God.





See his Timæus, c. xxxii. p. 71.


Dan. i. 8-14


Dan. x. 2.

Next: No Soul Naturally Exempt from Dreams.

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