Foreshadowings of Christ’s Victimhood in Plato’s Republic

extreme-humility[Editor’s Note: As is our annual custom, Monomakhos takes the occasion of Holy Tuesday to go dark. It is truly meet for us to contemplate on our sinful natures and I can think of no better way to ponder the enormity of man’s condition than to realize that even the pagans were aware of it. This post was originally published three years ago. I have dusted it off for your perusal.]

Though we have had the pleasure of Revelation and experienced the attendant liturgical theurgy, some of us have often wondered whether others before the time of Christ could have foreseen Him.

It just so happens that the answer is “yes.” In Plato’s Republic, Book II.360-61, there occurs a dialogue between Glaucon and Socrates in which Glaucon predicts that there would be a wholly righteous man who would be deemed unrighteous and suffer most horribly. (The following translation of Plato comes from Jaroslav Pelikan, Jesus Through the Centuries, pp 44-45.)

“In the course of listing various pagan prophecies about creation, the Sabbath, and other biblical themes, Clement [of Alexandria] came to one prophecy in which, he said, ‘Plato all but predicts the history of salvation.’ This remarkable passage is from a dialogue between Socrates and Glaucon in book 2 of Plato’s Republic. Drawing a distinction between righteousness and unrighteousness, Glaucon postulates that, instead of beings who are both righteous and unrighteous as most of us are most of the time, there would arise one unrighteous man who is entirely unrighteous and one righteous man who is entirely righteough. Let this one ‘righteous man in his nobleness and simplicity, one who desires, in the words of Aeschylus, to be a good man and not merely to give the impression of being a good man,’ now be accused of being in fact the worst of men. Let him, moreover, ‘remain steadfast to the hour of death, seeming to be unrighteous and yet being righteous.’ What will be the outcome? The answer, for whose gruesomeness Glaucon apologizes in advance to Socrates, must be…nothing other than the following: ‘He shall be scourged, tortured, bound, his eyes burnt out, and at last, after suffering every evil, shall be impaled or crucified.'”

May the Triumph of Pascha be with us all as we go forth from this day.


  1. Michael Kinsey says

    Christ is Risen. These Greek folk definately have something to be proud of. That’s quite a feather in your cap. I just smile, as Truth always pleases.

  2. He is truly risen!

  3. Indeed, He is Risen!

  4. Paschal Kudos says

    One of the contributors on Monomakhos has just won an award. Get yourself a fun Pascha present from a great Byzantine scholar. Got mine. Faxcinating read so far:

    Joel Kalvesmaki, Editor in Byzantine Studies, oversaw the development of Athena Ruby, the OpenType font for Byzantine inscriptions that has recently received a Typeface Design award. Athena Ruby, the OpenType font developed by Dumbarton Oaks for the scholarly publication of Byzantine inscriptions, has received a Typeface Design award from the Type Directors’ Club. Athena Ruby was ranked first, as a judges’ choice, from a pool of more than 200 entries.

    Joel’s new book, The Theology of Arithmetic – Number Symbolism in Platonism and Early Christianity, has been published by Harvard University Press and is available:

    In the second century, Valentinians and other gnosticizing Christians used numerical structures and symbols to describe God, interpret the Bible, and frame the universe. In this study of the controversy that resulted, Joel Kalvesmaki shows how earlier neo-Pythagorean and Platonist number symbolism provided the impetus for this theology of arithmetic, and describes the ways in which gnosticizing groups attempted to engage both the Platonist and Christian traditions. He explores the rich variety of number symbolism then in use, among both gnosticizing groups and their orthodox critics, demonstrating how those critics developed an alternative approach to number symbolism that would set the pattern for centuries to come. Arguing that the early dispute influenced the very tradition that inspired it, Kalvesmaki explains how, in the late third and early fourth centuries, numbers became increasingly important to Platonists, who engaged in arithmological constructions and disputes that mirrored the earlier Christian ones.

  5. Seraphim98 says

    Christ is Risen! Kalo Pascha to all

    For those of you who have not seen this before, enjoy, for those who have, enjoy again.

  6. The problem with the quotation is this: If a righteous man simply “arose” and was tortured to death, it would accomplish nothing whatsoever. A man who attained righteousness of his own accord who then would be tortured because unjust men could not bear the light, such an occurrence redeems nothing, saves nothing, does not conquer sin or death. “Like a newborn baby, it just happens everyday.” Think Socrates. “Fr. McKenzie, wiping the dirt from his hands as he walks from the grave, no one was saved.”

    It cannot be stated and restated enough: Pagan thought can save no one and it is dangerous to rely on it in understanding Christianity since it was produced by man, not by God. God’s revelation is what saves. Now, if a pagan Greek had postulated that the only way that mankind could be saved would be if God the Word became a perfect man, suffered and died and was raised from the dead, thus abolishing death – that would be an interesting passage. But even the background necessary to understand why that might be so is missing from pagan thought. Plato’s writings neglect the necessity of a deus ex machina, thus all we are left with is the meaningless death of a righteous man.

    • George Michalopulos says


      That is why I entitled this essay “Foreshadowings…” rather than “revelations…” The point is that pagans –even wise ones–could not come to understand the Gospel. This had to come from revelation and from a despised race (the Jews), who were a semi-savage Asiatic race of demi-nomads.

      • Yes, exactly right, George. Foreshadowings. Wouldn’t dream of taking that from them. God has shared Himself as if through a glass, darkly and from time to time. That is why we get pieces of truth from other religions or philosophies, though sometimes convoluted.

  7. Michael Bauman says

    Does anyone else have trouble with “victimhood”? Christ was /is not a victim.

    • Pdn. Brian Patrick Mitchell says

      I understand your point, but English translations of Orthodox hymns do sometimes refer to Christ as a “victim” in the original sense of the word, meaning a living sacrifice, albeit by His own will.