The Catholic Church's Teaching on Dreams
According to the Catholic Doctrine of Faith and Morals, believing in dreams is superstition. It is one of the sins against the First Commandment - onyrocritica, if dreams are consulted.
Although the Church has confirmed as fact dreams described in Holy Scripture and Holy Tradition, nevertheless, briefly speaking, Catholics are forbidden to believe in dreams and to be guided by them in their own lives, or to advise other people to do so.
The rigorous attitude of the Church on this issue is based on the canonical prohibition of believing in new revelations and the preaching of these without the approval and permission of the Church.
Since a dream is a kind of new private revelation, one needs the Church's testing of this revelation before believing in it.
All the revelations described in the Holy Bible and Holy Tradition, including those revealed to many Saints by means of dreams, have already been approved by the Church. Catholics, therefore, may safely believe in them, and that is enough for salvation.
If anyone, however, feels himself morally unsatisfied and puts his own dreams on the same par as the revelations already approved by the Church, he thus commits a sin. It is not lawful to conjecture future things from dreams. Depending on what the dream was, if you believe in it, you could commit sins of superstition down to heresy.
Believing in one's own dreams is especially not a safe practice during this very long period of the Vacancy of the Holy See, because it is impossible to know the current judgment of the Pope or a Diocesan Bishop about your dreams.
Of course you may ask a Traditional Catholic Bishop or a Priest to check your dream for its conformity or inconsistency with Church Doctrine, the most truthful and safe path; however, it is the path that has already been laid down by Christ the Lord, His Apostles and His Church.
To follow this path means to follow the path of salvation, observing the Commandments of God and the Precepts of the Church; not wasting time studying dreams.
Here quotations from some books follow:
THE COMMANDMENTS EXPLAINED
By Rev Arthur Devine:
“THE FIRST COMMANDMENT (continued).
ON WHAT IS FORBIDDEN BY THIS COMMANDMENT: DIVINATION.
1. Divination. - Of sins contrary to the virtue of religion, after idolatry, we have to speak of divination.
Divination is a seeking to know hidden things, either past, present, or future, by diabolical means, or through the agency or influence of evil spirits.
It may be either express, by direct invocation, or an express compact with the devil. This would be the case were a person, by express words or signs, to invoke the co-operation of the devil for the purpose of knowing some secret or hidden thing. Or it may be tacit; that is, by an indirect or implied invocation or agreement, as when a person endeavours to find out hidden things by improportionate and unlawful means - that is, by means which cannot naturally indicate the thing, or which have no power of doing so either from Nature or from God. Both these kinds of divination have various species.” p. 94-95
"4. What we say of the unlawfulness and absurdity of judiciary astrology applies to all other kinds of divination, by whatever name they may be designated. Amongst others we may mention the following superstitious means of predicting future contingent things: (1) Augury from the chattering of birds. (2) Auspice, or sign, or token of success from the flight of birds. (3) Aurispicium, from the entrails of animals, especially the liver. (4) Palmistry from the lines on the hand. (5) The observance of times, such as, to-day it is an auspicious time to set out, to-morrow to make merchandise; those observing times and appointing seasons. (6) Necromancy, or consulting the dead. (7) Omens. (8) Observing dreams and believing in them. (9) Consulting oracles. (10) Cutting cards. (11) Consulting false prophets and fortune-tellers. (See St. Alphon., N. 5 and 6.)" p. 97
“5. Divination has been practised in all ages, and in all nations, alike civilized and savage. Numerous forms of divination are mentioned in the Old Testament, such as divination by rods, divination by cups, consultation of idols, divination by fire, divination by dreams. Moses forbade every species of divination, because a prying into the future clouds filled the mind with superstition, and because it would have been an incentive to idolatry; indeed, the frequent denunciations of the sin in the prophets tend to prove that these forbidden arts presented peculiar temptations to apostate Israel.” p. 98
"6. What kind of sin is divination?
(1) Express divination is always and of its own nature a mortal sin, and does not admit of light matter. It is a formal contempt of God, and familiar treating with God's greatest enemy. This may be proved from various places of the Holy Scriptures: Neither let there be found among you any one that shall expiate his son or daughter; making him to pass through the fire; or that consulteth soothsayers, or observeth dreams or omens, neither let there be any wizard, nor charmer, nor anyone that consulteth pythonic spirits, or fortune-tellers, or that seeketh the truth from the dead. For the Lord abhorreth all these things, and for these abominations He will destroy them at thy coming. (Deut. xviii. 10 et seq.) And it was announced by God: The soul that shall go aside after magicians and soothsayers, and shall commit fornication with them, I will set My face against that soul, and destroy it out of the midst of its people. (Lev. xx. 6) One can scarcely plead ignorance in extenuation of the guilt of this express divination, as everyone must be fully aware of the malice of such a crime.
(2) Tacit divination is also of its own nature a mortal sin.
It is useless to say, by way of excuse, that in these divinations we have no intention of holding communication with the devil, as that would be like putting our hand into the fire and not intending it to be burnt. The reason of the unlawfulness and the guilt of all divination is not difficult to understand. 'In its very nature it implies distrust in the providence of God, and a desire to obtain knowledge unsuited to one's circumstances in life. Knowledge which might partly enable some to get undue advantages over others, and partly divert the movements of Providence out of their proper channels - such knowledge is wisely withheld; it cannot be obtained by legitimate means; and, as a necessary consequence, the attempt to impart it must always proceed on false grounds; it is a pretension based on hypocrisy and deceit. Diviners, therefore, is but another word for deceivers, and dupes of fraud and imposture must be all who listen to their divinations. Hence the art so readily allied itself to idolatry. Rejected by the true religion, it became a fitting accompaniment and handmaid of the false, and has always shown the same tendency to hang on the progress of a corrupt Christianity that it did to associate itself with the corruptions of Judaism.' (Imp. Bible Dictionary - 'Divination')" p. 99-100
"(6) Is it lawful to conjecture future things from dreams?
It is not lawful to judge from them future free and contingent things, or things that depend on the free will of men. As to what is told us in Sacred Scripture, that dreams sometimes come from God - e.g., the dreams of Joseph and Samuel - we must understand that such dreams are certainly to be believed; but when God sends them, they will be accompanied by such evident signs that they may be easily distinguished from either natural or diabolical dreams." p. 102
(THE COMMANDMENTS EXPLAINED By Rev Arthur Devine. FOURTH EDITION, R. & T. WASHBOURNE, LTD. 1, 2 & 4 PATERNOSTER ROW, LONDON And 248 BUCHANAN STREET, GLASGOW. BENZIGER BROS.: NEW YORK, CINCINNATI, AND CHICAGO, 1906. Nihil Obstat: GULIELMUS L. GILDEA, S.T.D., Imprimatur: HERBERTUS CARD. VAUGHAN, Archiep. Westmonast, Die 7 Martii, 1897, p. 94-95, 97, 98, 99-100, 102)
THE CATHOLIC DOCTRINE OF FAITH AND MORALS
By Very Rev. WILLIAM BYRNE, D.D.:
35. It is forbidden to give credit to dreams and fortune-tellers. All charms and spells and superstitious interpretation of omens are very sinful. It is foolish and dangerous to regard dreams as trustworthy signs of coming events. In general they are mere figments of the brain arising in sleep from natural causes, and have no bearing on the future. If in any case they come from the devil, the father of lies, they cannot be safe signs to follow. As he is ever on the watch to fill the mind with idle thoughts, vain hopes and superstitions, we may believe that he is sometimes the author of deceptive dreams. Dreams have sometimes come from God. This we learn from Holy Scripture; but what has happened in exceptional cases cannot authorize us to give credit to dreams, for God Himself has said expressly, "Neither let there be found among you any one that useth divination or observeth dreams." (Deut. xviii. 10.)
36. Fortune-telling is forbidden, because it is a sin against the virtue of religion. False prophets profess to tell the future, whereas God alone knows the future and will not reveal it to such people. Fortune-tellers are generally idle strollers who go about living on the credulity of the people. If in any case they seem to know hidden things, they must have received their knowledge from others, or from the devil. If from the latter, those who seek knowledge from them seek it indirectly from the devil. Incantations are superstitious practices intended to produce preternatural effects, generally hurtful.
(THE CATHOLIC DOCTRINE OF FAITH AND MORALS GATHERED FROM SACRED SCRIPTURE, DECREES OF COUNCILS AND APPROVED CATECHISMS, BY Very Rev. WILLIAM BYRNE, D.D., Vicar-General of the Archdiocese of Boston WITH THE SANCTION OF His Eminence the CARDINAL and other Church Authorities, Second Edition, Revised. BOSTON: FLYNN & MAHONY, PUBLISHERS, 1896. Nihil Obstat: Charles B. Rex, SS., S.T.D., Censor deputatus, Imprimatur: + Joannes Josephus, Archiepiscopus Bostoniensis, Die 3 Augusti, 1892. p. 104-105)
A COMMENTARY ON THE NEW CODE OF CANON LAW
By THE REV. P. CHAS. AUGUSTINE, O.S.B., D.D.:
SUPERSTITION AND SACRILEGE
Qui superstitionem exercuerit vel sacrilegium perpetraverit, pro gravitate culpae ab Ordinario puniatur, salvis poenis iure statutis contra aliquos actus superstitiosos vel sacrilegia.
Whoever practices superstition or perpetrates a sacrilege, shall be punished by the Ordinary in proportion to the gravity of the offense.
The penalties provided by law against certain superstitious acts and sacrileges are not touched by this canon.
I. Superstition is defined by St. Thomas [1. Summa TheoL, II-II, q. 92, art. I; S. C. P. F., Feb. 9, 1760 (Col n. 424).] as an excess of religious worship or a vicious, ignorant, and abnormal form of belief and practice. Our canon considers not so much the speculative or purely mental excess as its practical expression, i. e., superstitious observance. This may be defined as an inadequate means to produce certain effects in a more or less preternatural way, generally by invoking the assistance of creatures or the powers of darkness. In the Decretals [2. Lib. V, tit. 21; see the commentators on the same, especially Reiffenstuel and Schmalzgrueber] a special title was devoted to this subject under the name of sortilegia. This is subsumed under divination or manifestation of secret and hidden things by means of signs and with the help of demons. A long list of various species, divided according to the signs or means employed, is given by the commentators: geomantia, if the earth was consulted, aeromantia, if the air; hydromantia, if water; pyromantia, if fire; haruspicium, if the entrails of animals; auspicium, if the flight of birds; augurium, if the twittering and chirping of birds; pedomantia, if the feet, and chiromantia, if the hands were inspected; omina, if the voices of men; onyrocritica, if dreams; physiognomia, if the whole body was inspected; spatulamantia if the spatula [3. The term is not quite clear; "in spatula divinare" (Du Cange, Giossarium, VI, 632) seems to signify to divine from the shoulder or hips or brawn of a pig]; metoposcopia, if the forehead; pythonia, if the demon tells something through living men who are his tools; necromantia, if dead bodies are consulted; astrologia, if heavenly bodies are observed, not in a scientific, but superstitious way.
(A COMMENTARY ON THE NEW CODE OF CANON LAW By THE REV. P. CHAS. AUGUSTINE, O.S.B., D.D., Professor of Canon Law. VOLUME VIII, BOOK V, Penal Code (Can. 2195-2414) with complete index. W. E. BLAKE & SON, LIMITED, CATHOLIC CHURCH SUPPLIES, 123 CHURCH ST. TORONTO, CANADA, 1922. CUM PERMISSU SUPERIORUM, NIHIL OBSTAT: Sti. Ludovici, die 25. Aug., 1922, F. G. Holweck, Censor Librorum. IMPRIMATUR: Sti. Ludovici, die 25. Aug., 1922, +Joannes J. Glennon, Archiepiscopus Sti. Ludovici, p. 312-313)
THE CATHOLIC ENCYCLOPEDIA,
The very few dream-interpreters spoken of in the Bible, as Joseph and Daniel, were especially commissioned by God in exceptional circumstances. Nor did they resort to natural skill or art; their interpretations were suggested to them by the Divine intellect enlightening their minds; "interpretation belongs to God", as Joseph declared to his fellow-prisoners. Undoubtedly there were among the people some soothsayers ever ready to profit by the curiosity of weaker and credulous minds; but as they possessed no authority and as they were condemned both by God and by the higher religious consciousness of the community, they practised their art in secret.
That certain dreams may be caused by God seemed to be acknowledged without controversy by the early Fathers of the Church and the ecclesiastical writers. This opinion they based mainly on Biblical authority; occasionally they appealed to the authority of classical writers. Agreeably to this doctrine, it was admitted likewise that the interpretation of supernatural dreams belongs to God who sends them, and who must manifest it either to the dreamer or to an authorized interpreter. The divine intervention in man's dreams is an exceptional occurrence; dreaming, on the contrary, is a most common fact. We may inquire, therefore, how the official guardians of the Faith viewed ordinary and natural dreams. In general they repeated to the Christians the prohibitions and warnings of the Old Testament, and denounced in particular the superstitious tendency to consider dreams as omens. It may suffice in this connexion to recall the names of St. Cyril of Jerusalem, St. Gregory of Nyssa, and St. Gregory the Great, whose teaching on the question at issue is clear and emphatic. A few, however, held opinions somewhat at variance with the traditional view. Among them the most noteworthy is Synesius of Cyrene (about 370-413), who is the author of a very strange treatise on dreams. Starting from the Platonic anthropological trichotomy, and from certain psychological hypotheses of Plato and Plotinus, he attributed to the imagination a manifestly exaggerated role. Above all the arts of divination, the lawful use of which he did not seem to doubt, he extolled dreaming as the simplest and surest mode of prophesying. We know that he had accepted the episcopacy only on the condition that he might continue to hold certain favourite philosophic ideas; and it is reasonable to suppose that his theories on dreams were included in the compact.
Medieval theologians added to the reasonings of their predecessors a more careful, and to some extent more scientific, study of the phenomena of sleep; but they found no reason to depart from the moral principles contained in the writings of the Fathers. Suffice it here to quote St. Thomas Aquinas, who summarizes the best teaching of the Schoolmen. To the query: Is divination through dreams unlawful? - he replies: The whole question consists in determining the cause of dreams, and examining whether the same may be the cause of future events, or at least come to the actual knowledge of them. Dreams come sometimes from internal, and sometimes from external, causes. Two kinds of internal causes influence our dreams: one animal, inasmuch as such images remain in a sleeping man's fantasy as were dwelt upon by him while awake; the other found in the body: it is indeed a well-known fact that the actual disposition of the body causes a reaction on the fantasy. Now it is self-evident that neither of these causes has any influence on individual future events. Our dreams may likewise be the effects of a twofold external cause. This is corporeal when exterior agencies, such as the atmospheric conditions or others, act on the imagination of the sleeper. Finally dreams may be caused by spiritual agents, such as God, directly, or indirectly through his angels, and the devil. It is easy to conclude thence what chances there are to know the future from dreams, and when divination will be lawful or unlawful (II-II, Q. 95, a. 6). As to ordinary dreams, they readily grant that, because the imaginative faculties of man acquire sometimes a keenness which they do not possess otherwise, it is possible in such cases to conjecture with a certain degree of probability some future events; but in all other cases, by far the most common, it is useless and illogical to attempt any interpretation. As a matter of fact dreams are now - we speak of civilized peoples - seldom heeded; only very ignorant and superstitious persons ponder over the "dictionaries of dreams" and the "keys to the interpretation of dreams" once so much in favour. "As idle as a dream" has become a proverb expressive of the popular mind on the subject, and indicating sufficiently that there is little need nowadays to revive the laws and canons enacted in past ages against divination through dreams.
(THE CATHOLIC ENCYCLOPEDIA AN INTERNATIONAL WORK OF REFERENCE ON THE CONSTITUTION, DOCTRINE, DISCIPLINE AND HISTORY OF THE CATHOLIC CHURCH, EDITED BY CHARLES G. HERBERMANN, Ph.D., LL.D., EDWARD A. PACE, Ph.D., D.D., CONDE B. PALLEN, Ph.D., LL.D., THOMAS J. SHAHAN, D.D., JOHN J. WYNNE, S.J., ASSISTED BY NUMEROUS COLLABORATORS, IN FIFTEEN VOLUMES, VOLUME V, p. 155-156, New York ROBERT APPLETON COMPANY. Nihil Obstat: REMY LAFOET, CENSOR, May 1, 1909. Imprimatur: +JOHN M. FARLEY, ARCHBISHOP OF NEW YORK)