Don’t curse Plato

September 18, 2013

From time to time I had heard about this story from the desert fathers, but it is only today that I came across the actual passage. It is found in a work by St. Anastasius of Sinai, a seventh-century abbot of the Monastery of St. Catherine, titled Interrogationes et responsiones de diversis capitibus a diversis propositae, that is, Questions and answers on various topics, asked by various people (PG 89, 311A-824C); the passage cited is found at col. 764 B-D.

Note that St. Anastasius, at the end of the passage, explicitly rejects the view, still popular among many, that hell is only temporary, or that there is a possibility for repentance there; he says that the story about Plato shouldn’t be taken to imply this, as Christ went down to Hades only once.

Why the scholar cursed Plato exceedingly, the author doesn’t inform us.

ΕΡΩΤΗΣΙΣ ΡΙΑ´.

QUESTION 111.

Τί οὖν; καὶ τοῖς Ἕλλησι τοῖς τελευτήσασι πρὸ τῆς Χριστοῦ παρουσίας, δεῖ εὔχεσθαι, καὶ μὴ ἀναθεματίζειν;

What then? Must one pray also for the pagans who died before Christ’s coming, and not anathematize them?

ΑΠΟΚΡΙΣΙΣ.

ANSWER.

Μηδαμῶς ἀναθεματίσῃς ἄνθρωπον πρὸ τῆς ἐπιδημίας Χριστοῦ τελευτήσαντα· καὶ ἐν τῷ ᾅδῃ προσάπαξ καὶ μόνον ἐγένετο τὸ Χριστοῦ κήρυγμα. Προλαβὼν γὰρ Ἰωάννης ὁ πρόδρομος ἐκήρυξε κἀκεῖσε τὸν Χριστόν· καὶ ἄκουσον τοῦ ἁγίου Πέτρου λέγοντος περὶ Χριστοῦ, ὅτι «Πορευθεὶς, φησὶν, ἐκήρυξε καὶ τοῖς ἐν ᾅδῃ πνεύμασι τοῖς ποτε ἀπειθήσασι.» Καὶ νῦν φέρεται εἰς ἀρχαίας παραδόσεις, ὅτι τις σχολαστικὸς πολλὰ κατηράσατο τὸν Πλάτωνα τὸν φιλόσοφον. Φαίνεται οὖν αὐτῷ καθ’ ὕπνους ὁ Πλάτων λέγων· Ἄνθρωπε, παῦσαι τοῦ καταρᾶσθαί με, σεαυτὸν γὰρ βλάπτεις, ὅτι μὲν ἄνθρωπος ἁμαρτωλὸς γέγονα· οὐκ ἀρνοῦμαι. Πλὴν κατελθόντος τοῦ Χριστοῦ ἐν τῷ ᾅδῃ, ὄντως οὐδεὶς ἐπίστευσε πρὸ ἐμοῦ εἰς αὐτόν. Ταῦτα δὲ ἀκούων, μὴ νομίσῃς εἶναι πάντοτε ἐν τῷ ᾅδῃ μετάνοιαν· ἅπαξ γὰρ καὶ μόνον τοῦτο γέγονεν, ὅτι Χριστὸς ἐν τοῖς καταχθονίοις κατελήλυθε, τοὺς ἀπ’ αἰῶνος κεκοιμημένους ἐπισκέψασθαι. By no means should you anathematize someone who died before the coming of Christ. Even in Hades the preaching of Christ came, one single time. For John the Forerunner, going there beforehand, preached Christ. And hear what St. Peter has to say about Christ: “Going forth,” he says, “he preached even to those in Hades, who were sometime disobedient” (cf. 1 Peter 3:19-20). Now then, it is found in old tradition that there was a scholar who cursed the philosopher Plato exceedingly. So, during his sleep, Plato appeared to him and said, “Man, stop cursing me, you are only harming yourself. That I was a sinful man, I do not deny. But when Christ came down to Hades, there was in fact no one who believed in him before I did.” But when you hear these things, do not assume that there always exists [a possibility for] repentance in Hades; for this happened only once, because Christ had descended to those beneath the earth, so that he might visit those who had fallen asleep from all ages.
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One Response to “Don’t curse Plato”

  1. Edward Says:

    I wonder if the above passage is authentic. Patristics scholar, Ilaria Ramelli, in her book, “The Christian Doctrine of Apokatastasis” writes the following about St. Anastasius of Sinai:

    “Anastasius came from Alexandria, where the Origenian tradition was strong, and was the abbot of the monastery of St. Catherine at Mt. Sinai in the VII century. Origen and Gregory Nyssen were his main inspirers, along with Nazianzen and Ps. Dionysius. It is telling that his “Sermo I in constituionem hominis secundum imaginem Dei” was ascribed to Gregory of Nyssa for centuries. He countered miaphysitism, especially in “Hodegos.” The most relevant work to the present investigation is his “Contemplatio anagogica in Hexaemeron,” heavily influenced by Gregory Nyssen; it allegorizes the Biblical narrative of creation as the new creation in Christ, the new Adam. One part of the “Quaestiones et responsiones” is authentic, another is spurious. In Q. 19,11, which is authentic, Anastasius takes over Gregory Nyssen’s equation of anastasis with apokatastasis: ‘our holy Fathers define resurrection as the restoration to the original condition of the first human being,’ ten pros to arkaion tou protou anthropou apokatastasin. This is also the idea of Maximus the Confessor, and is a strong presupposition of apokatastasis. Anastasius’s concern about the possible divulgation of doctrines that only the initiated should learn (in Hex praef. 3, precisely in connection with the purification of souls) reminds one of Origen’s identical concern for the secrecy of the doctrine of apokatastasis, which should not be divulged among those who are spiritually immature and would be harmed by it.”

    If Ramelli is correct that he was inspired by both Origen and Gregory of Nyssa, both strong believers in the final apokatastasis, it would be odd for him to say what your snippet above has him say. But I’m certainly no scholar of these matters, so I’m not sure what to make of it.

    Ed


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