Rev. Alban Butler (171173). Volume IV: April. The Lives of the Saints. 1866.
St. Plato, Abbot
HE was born about the year 734. A pestilence that raged at Constantinople depriving him of his parents when he was no more than thirteen years of age, the care of his education devolved upon an uncle, who was high treasurer. Plato, while yet young, despatched the business of that high office for his uncle with surprising readiness and assiduity. His remarkable dexterity in writing short hand, may be reckoned among his inferior accomplishments, seeing by the daily progress he made in the more sublime parts of knowledge and religion, he far outstript all his equals in age, and went beyond the greatest expectation of his masters. These eminent qualifications, joined to his elevated birth, extensive wealth, and unblemished probity, introduced him to the notice of the great, and opened to him the highest preferments in the state. Persons in the highest stations at court wished to make him their son-in-law: but his whole heart being attached to heavenly things, he looked with contempt on the pomps and vanities of this world. Prayer and retirement were the chief objects of his delight, nor was he fond of paying any visits except to churches and monasteries. He prevailed on his three brothers to devote themselves to God and live in a state of celibacy: he made all his slaves free, and having sold his large estates, he portioned his two sisters, who, marrying, became the mothers of saints: the remainder of the purchase-money he distributed among the poor. Being thus disengaged, he bid adieu to his friends and country at twenty-four years of age. He took with him one servant as far as Bithynia, but there sent him also back, having given him all his clothes, except one coarse black suit; and in this manner he walked alone to the monastery of Symboleon, upon mount Olympus, in that country. From the moment he was admitted into that house, no one was more humble, more devout, more exact in every duty, or more obedient and mortified. The holy abbot Theoctistus, to furnish him with opportunities of heroic acts of virtue, often reproved and punished him for faults of which he was not guilty: which treatment St. Plato received with silence and joy, in patience and humility. Prayer and pious reading were the delight of his soul. In the hours allotted to labour he rejoiced to see the meanest employments assigned to him, as to make bread, water the ground, and carry dung, though his most usual province was to copy books of piety. Theoctistus dying in 770, St. Plato was chosen abbot of Symboleon, being only thirty-six years old. He had opposed his exaltation to the utmost of his power, but seeing himself compelled to take upon him that burden, he became the more humble and the more austere penitent. He never drank any thing but water; and this sometimes only once in two days: his diet was bread, beans, or herbs without oil: and this refection he never took even on Sundays before noon. He would never eat or wear anything which was not purchased by the labour of his own hands; by which he also maintained several poor. His retreat protected him from the persecution of Constantine Copronymus. The year after the death of that tyrant, in 775, St. Plato took a journey to Constantinople on business, where it is incredible with what esteem he was received, and how much he promoted piety in all ranks, states, and conditions; how successful he was in banishing habits of swearing and other vices, and inspiring both the rich and poor with the love of virtue. The patriarch, not Tarasius, as Fleury mistakes, but his predecessor, Paul, endeavoured to make him bishop of Nicomedia; but such was the saints humility, that he made all haste back to his desert of Symboleon. He would never take holy orders; and indeed at that time the generality of monks were laymen. The whole family of his sister Theoctista, embracing a religious state, and founding the monastery of Saccudion, near Constantinople, St. Plato was with difficulty prevailed upon to leave Symboleon, and to take upon himself the direction of this new abbey, in 782; but when he had governed it twelve years, he resigned the same to his nephew, St. Theodorus. The Emperor Constantine repudiated his empress, Mary, and took to his bed Theodota, a relation of St. Plato. The patriarch, St. Tarasius, endeavoured to reclaim him by exhortations and threats; but SS. Plato and Theodorus proceeded to publish among the monks a kind of sentence of excommunication against him. Joseph, the treasurer of the church, and several other mercenary priests and monks, endeavoured to draw over St. Plato to approve the emperors divorce; but he resisted their solicitations, and the emperor himself to his face, and courageously suffered imprisonment and other hardships till the death of that unhappy prince in 797. The Saracens making excursions as far as the walls of Constantinople, the monks of Saccudion abandoned their settlement, and chose that of Studius, which abbey had been almost destroyed by the persecution of Constantine Copronymus. There St. Plato vowed obedience to his nephew Theodorus, living himself a recluse in a narrow cell, in perpetual prayer and manual labour, having one foot fastened to the ground with a heavy iron chain, which he carefully hid with his cloak when any one came to see him. In 806, St. Nicephorus, a layman, though a person of great virtue, was preferred to the patriarchal dignity by the emperor of the same name. St. Plato judged the election of a neophyte irregular, and on that account opposed it. In 807 he fell under a new persecution. Joseph, the priest who had married the adulteress to the Emperor Constantine, was restored to his functions and dignity of treasurer of the church, by an order of the Emperor Nicephorus. St. Plato considered this indulgence as a scandalous enervation of the discipline of the church, and a seeming connivance at his past crimes; and loudly condemned it. The emperor, provoked at his zeal, caused him to be guarded a whole year by a troop of insolent soldiers and false monks; after which he obliged him to appear before a council of court bishops, by which he was unjustly condemned, and treated with many indignities, and at length, with the most flagrant injustice, pronounced guilty of the fictitious crimes laid to his charge; in consequence of which sentence the emperor banished him, and commanded that he should be ignominiously conducted from place to place in the isles of Bosphorus for the space of four years. Notwithstanding he was at the same time afflicted with many distempers, the saint endured the fatigues of his exile with an extraordinary degree of constancy and courage, which had such an effect on Nicephorus, that he had resolved to recal him with honour, and pay him the respect such distinguished piety merited; but, unhappily, the emperors being surprised and murdered by the Bulgarians, in 811, frustrated those good intentions. But his successor, Michael I., a lover of justice and virtue, immediately gave orders that St. Plato should be honourably discharged. The saint was received at Constantinople with all possible marks of respect and distinction: but privately retired to his cell. After some time, perceiving himself near his end, he directed his grave to be dug, and himself to be carried to it and laid down by it. Here he was visited by the chief persons of the city, especially by the holy patriarch, St. Nicephorus, who had satisfied him as to his conduct in receiving the priest Joseph, and who came to recommend himself to his prayers. St. Plato happily expired on the 19th of March, in 813, near the close of the seventy-ninth year of his age. His funeral obsequies were performed by the patriarch St. Nicephorus. His memory is honoured both by the Latins and Greeks on the 4th of April. Fortitude in suffering for the sake of justice, is the true test of virtue and courage; and the persecution of the saints is the glorious triumph of the cross of Christ. Humility, patience, and constancy shine principally on such occasions. Their distresses are like the shades in a fine picture, which throw a graceful light on the brighter parts of the piece, and heighten its beauties. See the life of St. Plato, by his nephew St. Theodorus the Studite. Also the Commentary and Notes of Papebroke, t. 1. Apr. p. 364. Fleury 1. 45.