I've run across claims (although I'm having trouble digging them up again; I might be thinking of the implications in this reddit thread) that Augustine and Cassian were almost the only early Christian writers (before the medieval period, anyway) to deal with the problem of nocturnal emissions, and that both defended the phenomenon as being basically not sinful. Unfortunately, I can't seem to find their exact writings; translations usually seem to leave out Book VI (fornication/impurity/lust) of Cassian's Institutes (and for that matter, his Conference 22 about Nocturnal Illusions), and shuffling through Augustine's writings on the general topic doesn't seem to turn up anything obvious. Perhaps I'm just looking for the wrong terms or at the wrong writings?

In particular, I'd like to analyze the reasons they gave for considering wet dreams to be non-sinful; did they focus solely on the involuntary aspect, or were there other considerations? Later it seems there was an occasional mention of nocturnal emissions without corresponding lustful dreams (and how this marked spiritual progress); how early was this distinction made?

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    Welcome to Christianity.SE, and thanks for taking the site tour. Contrary to the title, it sounds like you're asking what arguments the Church Fathers made about nocturnal emissions not being a sin. If that is indeed what you want to know, please edit your title accordingly. Site guidelines generally don't accept questions asking for both sides of an issue, preferring them to be put in separate questions. See: What topics can I ask about here? Meanwhile, I do hope you'll stick around and browse some of the other questions here. Commented Feb 28, 2016 at 12:33
  • @EngrStudent: This question is a lot more narrowly focused than your comment assumes; it's about early Christian perspectives on the issue, not trying to construct a complete current theology. So I'd really just like to know (here) whether Augustine, Cassian, Cecil, Irenaeus, or some other Church Father taught any of the things you mentioned (and some idea of the shape of their arguments).
    – BCC
    Commented Mar 1, 2016 at 2:56
  • Words of Jesus are hard to argue against for theology. Augustine in his confessions speaks of deep remorse of his "oceans of sea foam", a euphemism for emission, and a reference to the words of St. Paul. Commented Mar 1, 2016 at 13:21
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    I would argue that Augustin's "oceans" refer more to his sexual promiscuity (which is clearly prohibited by the Bible) than to an involuntary bodily function (which is not clearly prohibited by the Bible).
    – mHurley
    Commented Mar 1, 2016 at 16:46

1 Answer 1


Augustine addresses this question in his commentary On the Literal Meaning of Genesis: Book XII, section 31 (or 15 depending on your version). He ascribes the lack of sin to the involuntariness. He notes that well-disposed, chaste souls have some merits which "shine out even in dreams," although even chaste people may have nocturnal emissions.

John Cassian takes this up in Conference 22 of his Conferences, but it is hard to find a version that does not omit that conference.

  • Do you happen to have an idea where I can dig this up? It appears to be distressingly hard to get a hold of, at least in English.
    – BCC
    Commented Apr 4, 2016 at 2:23

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