Plato’s Purgatory

How much does the traditional understanding of purgatory owe to Plato? Consider this selection quoted by Eusebius in Praeparatio Evangelica (ch. 38):

For [Plato] speaks as follows in the dialogue Concerning the Soul:

‘…As soon as the dead have arrived at the place to which each is conveyed by his genius, first of all they undergo a trial, both those who have lived good and holy and just lives, and those who have not. And those who are found to have led tolerable lives proceed to Acheron, and embarking on such vessels as there are for them, they arrive on board these at the lake; and there they dwell, and by undergoing purification and suffering punishment for their evil deeds they are absolved from any wrongs they have committed, or receive rewards for their good deeds, each according to his deserts. But any who are found to be incurable by reason of the greatness of their sins, having either perpetrated many great acts of sacrilege, or many nefarious and lawless murders, or any other crimes of this kind—-these are hurled by their appropriate doom into Tartarus, whence they never come forth.

‘But those who are found to have committed sins which are great though not incurable, as for instance if in anger they have done any violence to father or mother, and passed the rest of their life in penitence, or have committed homicide in any other similar way, these must also be thrown into Tartarus, but after they have been thrown in and have continued there a year, they are cast out by the wave, the homicides by way of Cocytus, and the parricides by way of Pyriphlegethon: and when they arrive all on fire at the Acherusian lake, there with loud cries they call upon those whom they either slew or outraged; and having summoned them they intreat and beseech them to let them come out into the lake, and to receive them kindly: and if they persuade them, they come out, and cease from their troubles; but if not, they are carried again into Tartarus, and thence back into the rivers, and never have rest from these sufferings, until they have won over those whom they wronged; for this was the sentence appointed for them by the judges.

‘But any who are found to have been pre-eminent in holiness of life—-these are they who are set free and delivered from these regions here on earth, as, from prison-houses, and attain to the pure dwelling place above, and make their abode upon the upper earth. And of this same class those who have fully purified themselves by philosophy live entirely free from troubles for all time to come, and attain to habitations still fairer than these, which it is neither easy to describe, nor does the time suffice at present. But for the sake of these things which I have described we ought, Simmias, to make every effort to gain a share of virtue and of wisdom in our lifetime: for fair is the prize, and great the hope.’

3 thoughts on “Plato’s Purgatory

  1. Wow. How imaginative and detailed is this description from a pagan’s pen.

    Regardless, purgatory is there and it seems to appeal to common sense that it is there. Who among us is so conformed to God at our death that we are “immediately” ready for the serene gaze upon His countenance?

    My own vision of purgatory, for which I claim no doctrinal validity, has some interesting echoes in the platonic version (which I have never seen till now.) It is that we are shown for the first time the true evil of our sins, and especially the wide ripples of harm our sins caused to others. We thus endure an excruciating revelation of the evil we have perpetrated, and are invited to full repentance, which probably includes going to each person we wronged and obtaining pardon.

    Plato’s version may be better. Probably both of us are very wide of the mark!

  2. Traditional Theology teaches us that many of the stories,such as those in Fr. Shouppe’s book, are unreliable; that there may not even be fire in Purgatory; that Purgatory is a state of transistion; that “time” in Purgatory is indeed very speculative etc etc.

    It is my opinion both the Traditionalist Johannes Paulus Magnus and the Traditionalist Pope Benedict know this perfectly well and their Ressourcement Theology leads them to omit place, time etc from their writings and audiences about Purgatory while retaining ALL that is truthful and vital for we Christians to know.

    Here is a link to an excellent Traditional Source where one can read for themselves what Traditional Theology teaches about Purgatory.

  3. Thanks for the link, and the comments, which are perfectly in line with what I earlier posted from Ratzinger’s Eschatology. And both are perfectly in keeping with Trent, which rejected all the questionable speculation and made some rather simple statements.

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