The Scriptorium

Speaking in Dreams

Dreams and visions are a form of general revelation.

Patrick's Confession (10)

That very night, when I was asleep, Satan tested me most severely: the memory of it will remain with me as long as I am in this body. It was as if a huge rock fell on top of me and I had no use of my limbs. But from what quarter came the inspiration to my ignorant spirit to call on Helias? In the midst of all this I saw the sun rise in the heavens, and when I shouted "Helias! Helias!"with all my strength - see, the brilliance of the sun came down on me and removed all the weighty pressure. I believe that the Lord Christ came to my help, and that it was the Spirit Who was crying out in me; and I pray that it will be so on the day of my troubles, as it says in the Gospel: "On that day" - the Lord testifies - "it is not you who speaks, but the Spirit of the Father Who speaks within you."

(And on another occasion many years later I was taken captive. And I spent the first night with my captors. However I heard a divine announcement to me: "You will be two months in their hands." This is what happened. On the sixteenth night the Lord freed me from them).

Translation: Liam De Paor, St. Patrick's World

It makes sense that Patrick would believe God spoke to him through dreams. It was, after all, in a dream or vision that he had first heard the voice of the Lord telling him to flee for his freedom. The episode recorded above, following as it does on the heels of Patrick's remarkable witness to the starving crew members, seems to have served as a warning and a reminder for him. The warning was that Satan could easily overwhelm and keep him from being of any use to anyone. Was this a warning against pride? Or testing the Lord? Patrick didn't understand all the details of the dream. He cried out for Elijah as the Sun of Christ rose to his aid (the Latin for "sun" sounds very much like "Helias," so Patrick, who was not good at Latin, especially at that time, may have simply been confused). Patrick was reminded in this dream that Christ was his deliverance and would always be. The Lord Christ came to his help in the face of temptation and trial, and Patrick prayed that this would always be the case. (Later appearances of the sun on Celtic crosses, used as a symbol of Christ, may have been inspired by this reference from Patrick.)

He could not explain the words that came to his lips in the dream; he believed they must have come from the Spirit crying out within him. This led him to trust that the Lord would give him the words he would need whenever he was tried or tempted in his witness for Christ. If there is a "moral" to this dream it seems to be something like this: Don't let pride or testing the Lord make you prey to Satan's wiles; but don't hold back whenever you have an opportunity to witness for Christ: He will give you the help, even the words you need. This lesson seems to have had a formative effect on Patrick's subsequent history and ministry.

It is important to note that Patrick tried to sort out the meaning of this dream in the light of what he knew of Scripture at the time. God is continually upholding and sustaining us, and He is at all times declaring His glory through created things. We have every reason to believe this is as true while we are sleeping, when our subconscious brain takes over, as when we are awake. But we can only understand such insights as may come to us from God's general revelation by looking to His Word for the interpretive framework and guidelines to make sense of what we think we hear God saying through created things.

Patrick inserts a subsequent dream parenthetically at this point, perhaps just because it was on his mind and he may have felt that it somehow validated his interpretation of the Satan/Christ dream. Patrick believed the Lord is able to speak to His people in dreams and visions; however, he also believed that we can only make sense and derive meaning from such encounters by turning to the Word of God to guide our thinking. Dreams and visions are a form of general revelation, which must always be kept subordinated to the revelation of God in Scripture.


T.M. Moore

T. M. Moore is principal of The Fellowship of Ailbe, a spiritual fellowship in the Celtic Christian tradition. He and his wife, Susie, make their home in Essex Junction, VT.
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