I’ve been reading and organizing like crazy this week. I’m lining up excerpts from the Nicene and post-Nicene eras for when we move into Revelation itself. Also, keeping an eye out for excerpts that would fit what we are doing right now. And, I have one quote here for you today.
This quote is from St. Augustine (354-430), who I expect most of you have heard of; It’s from his book ON THE SOUL AND IT’S ORIGIN, written in 419:
“Not every semblance of a body is itself a body. Fall asleep and you will see this; but when you awake again, carefully discern what it is you have seen. For in your dreams you will appear to yourself as if endued with a body; but it really is not your body, but your soul; nor is it a real body, but the semblance of a body. Your body will be lying on the bed, but the soul walking; the tongue of your body will be silent, but that of your soul in the dream will talk; your eyes will be shut, but your soul will be awake; and, of course, the limbs of your body stretched out in your bed will be alive, not dead. Consequently that congealed form, as you regard it, of your soul is not yet extracted, as it were, out of its sheath; and yet in it is seen the whole and perfect semblance of your fleshly frame. Belonging to this class of similitudes of corporeity, which are not real bodies, though they seem to be such, are all those appearances which you read of in the Holy Scriptures in the visions even of the prophets, without, however, understanding them; by which are also signified the things which come to pass in all time — present, past, and future. You make mistakes about these, not because they are in themselves, deceptive, but because you do not accept them as they ought to be taken. For in the apocalyptic vision where ‘the souls of the martyrs’ are seen, there is also beheld ‘a lamb as it were slain, having seven horns;’ there are also horses and other animals figuratively described with all consistency; and lastly, there were the stars falling, and the earth rolled up like a book; nor does the world, in spite of all, then actually collapse. If therefore we understand all these things wisely, although we say they are true apparitions, yet we do not call them real bodies.”
The concept of the soul walking at night is an old one, and perhaps came from this passage. We understand dreams differently today, yet his description is still apt. The point is that in a dream we perceive our bodies to be real, and use them as if they are real, yet they are constructs in our mind. I don’t know about you, but in some of my dreams I am younger than I am now, and sometimes I am someone else entirely. These would still be constructs, and they would still relate to me and my thoughts. St Augustine is suggesting that these constructs are similar to what the prophets have beheld: that they are dreams basically.
I do not agree that the prophetic vision is a dream. If you’ve ever had a prophetic dream, you know that it is very different from the ‘run-of-the-mill’ dream. And while I haven’t had a vision, I’m told that the vision is quite different from any kind of dream. I suspect that what makes them different is that they really don’t ‘relate to me’; in other words, even if a person were in a vision, like John was in his vision, the vision itself has nothing to do with him or his thoughts. It’s from totally somewhere else, which we understand to be from God, and the person either interacts with it or just observes it.
Augustine makes a really interesting point: “You make mistakes about these, not because they are in themselves, deceptive, but because you do not accept them as they ought to be taken.” This is very profound, though I worry that I might be reading it differently than he meant it. I read it that what God is presenting in the vision is not mistaken or wrong, it’s our interpretation of it that goes wrong. And this is the problem with any prophetic vision or dream. The person who receives it may have no idea what it means, and may have to describe what’s seen in terms that the person understands, which can result in a description that sounds crazy and impossible. This is especially true when the prophesy is many centuries in advance of the event.
But the last sentence of the quote is misleading: “If therefore we understand all these things wisely, although we say they are true apparitions, yet we do not call them real bodies.” He is back to the dream idea, labeling the prophetic visions as “apparitions”, suggesting that they indicate something other than what they appear to be.
Yet we can’t blame him for seeing it this way; there are many today who still see it this way. Personally, I think there is more to Revelation than symbology, though there is some of that. Interestingly, I’m noticing my favorite pastors online starting to talk as if it’s a given that we are currently heading into the tribulation, and that Revelation will be coming to pass shortly. I don’t disagree, yet I know that down through the ages, many people have believed this about their respective ages. The best evidence I’ve heard that it is coming now is that the technology that is implied in Revelation is currently available….and that if it waits another 20 years, the technology will be beyond what is implied in Revelation. A very interesting idea, and we’ll discuss more like this as we come to parts of Revelation that suggest them. But like our ancestors, it is good for us to be prepared for Revelation to occur, whether it does now or not.
That’s all I’ve got for today. I’m moving into the early middle ages at this point, but I’m not expecting to get much for the Introduction section from them. I will read a bit more, and if my assumption is true, then we will start with the 16th century intros, which I’ve already done.
Talk to you soon, in the meantime I’ll be praying for you to have good dreams. k