When Plato Met Jesus

A text known as “Questions and Answers on Various Theological matters” (Interrogationes et responsiones de diversis capitibus a diversis propositae) is attributed to Saint Anastasius of Sinai, a 7th-century CE Alexandrian ecclesiastic.

The work contains the following entry:

Now, it is recorded in antique traditions that a particular learned man often cursed the philosopher Plato. So, Plato appeared to him in sleep, and said:

“Man, stop cursing me. You hurt only yourself. I was a sinner; I don’t deny it. But the reality is this: when Christ came down to Hades no one believed in him sooner than I did.”

When you hear this, don’t think that repentance in Hades is a common occurrence. For only once did it happen that Christ descended beneath the earth to examine those who, having departed from life, were asleep.

The text is reproduced in Patrologiae Cursus Completus (1865). 174.
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.

Pre-modern religious painting with Jesus on the left near an arch and a crowd of people on the right responding to him. There is a devil at his feet, perhaps defeated.
Duccio. Descent into Hell. c.1308-1311.
Museo dell’Opera Metropolitana del Duomo.

Larry Benn has a B.A. in English Literature from Harvard College, an M.Phil in English Literature from Oxford University, and a J.D. from Yale Law School. Making amends for a working life misspent in finance, he’s now a hobbyist in ancient languages and blogs at featsofgreek.blogspot.com.

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