Anti-pelagian Writings by St. Augustine
Chapter 25 [XVII.]--The Disembodied Soul May Think of Itself Under a Bodily Form.
You must not, however, suppose that I say all this as if denying it to be possible that the soul of a dead man, like a person asleep, may think either good or evil thoughts in the similitude of his body. For, in dreams, when we suffer anything harsh and troublesome, we are, of course, still ourselves; and if the distress do not pass away when we awake, we experience very great suffering. But to suppose that they are veritable bodies in which we are hurried, or flit, about hither and thither in dreams, is the idea of a person who has thought only carelessly on such subjects; for it is in fact mainly by these imaginary sights that the soul is proved to be non-corporeal; unless you choose to call even the objects which we see so often in our dreams, besides ourselves, bodies, such as the sky, the earth, the sea, the sun, the moon, the stars, and rivers, mountains, trees, or animals. Whoever takes these phantoms to be bodies, is incredibly foolish; although they are certainly very like bodies. Of this character also are those phenomena which are demonstrably of divine significance, whether seen in dreams or in a trance. Who can possibly trace out or describe their origin, or the material of which they consist? It is, beyond question, spiritual, not corporeal. Now things of this kind, which look like bodies, but are not really corporeal, are formed in the thoughts of persons when they are awake, and are held in the depths of their memories, and then out of these secret recesses, by some wonderful and ineffable process, they come out to view in the operation of our memory, and present themselves as if palpably before our eyes. If, therefore, the soul were a material body, it could not possibly contain so many things and such large forms of bodily substances in its scope of thought, and in the spaces of its memory; for, according to your own definition, |it does not exceed this external body in its own corporeal substance.| Possessing, therefore, no magnitude of its own, what capacity has it to hold the images of vast bodies, spaces, and regions? What wonder is it, then, if it actually itself appears to itself in the likeness of its own body, even when it appears without a body? For it never appears to itself in dreams with its own body; and yet in the very similitude of its own body it runs hither and thither through known and unknown places, and beholds many sad and joyous sights. I suppose, however, that you really would not, yourself, be so bold as to maintain that there is true corporeity in that form of limb and body which the soul seems to itself to possess in dreams. For at that rate that will be a real mountain which it appears to ascend; and that a material house which it seems to enter; and that a veritable tree, with real wood and bulk, beneath which it apparently reclines; and that actual water which it imagines itself to drink. All the things with which it is conversant, as if they were corporeal, would be undoubted bodies, if the soul were itself corporeal, as it ranges about amongst them all in the likeness of a body.