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This chapter discusses Pope Gregory the Great’s ideas about visions and the afterlife, and how they were received in the early middle ages. To provide a fuller picture of Gregory’s ideas about afterlife visions, the chapter discusses his thought more generally about visions and dreams, especially the two main themes of this thought: the nature of dreams and visions, as ways through which invisible realities might be perceived; and the nature of afterlife visions, especially whether they represented the afterlife allegorically or as it was. The reception of Gregory’s ideas was influenced by the existing tradition of narrating afterlife visions and the way his works were excerpted and abbreviated to suit new needs. This process made Gregory known both as a proponent of the reality of visions and the author of a teaching critical of dreams, and his Dialogues an influential source of imagery for afterlife visions.
Dreams and visions played important roles in the Christian cultures of the early Middle Ages. But not only did tradition and authoritative texts teach that some dreams were divine: some also pointed out that this was not always the case. Exploring a broad range of narrative sources and manuscripts, Jesse Keskiaho investigates how the teachings of Augustine of Hippo and Pope Gregory the Great on dreams and visions were read and used in different contexts. Keskiaho argues that the early medieval processes of reception in a sense created patristic opinion about dreams and visions, resulting in a set of authoritative ideas that could be used both to defend and to question reports of individual visionary experiences. This book is a major contribution to discussions about the intellectual place of dreams and visions in the early Middle Ages, and underlines the creative nature of early medieval engagement with authoritative texts.
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