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Relation Of The Roman State To C

The procedure of the Roman Government against the Christians first took a
definite form with the rescript of Trajan addressed to Pliny circa A. D.
111-113, but there is no formal imperial edict extant before Decius on the
question of the Christian religion. In an addition to the rescript of
Trajan addressed to Pliny there is a letter of Hadrian on the Christians
(Ep. ad Servianum) which is of interest as giving the opinion of that
Emperor, but the rescript addressed to Minucius Fundanus is probably
spurious, as is also the Epistle of Antoninus Pius to the Common Assembly
of Asia.

Additional source material: The text of the rescripts may be found in
Preuschen, Analecta, I, 6, 7; translations, ANF, I, 186 f., and
Eusebius, Hist. Ec. (ed. McGiffert), IV, 9, and IV, 13.

Plinius Junior, Epistulae, X, 96, 97. Preuschen, Analecta, I, 12 ff.
Cf. Mirbt, nn. 14. 15.

Caius Caecilius Secundus is commonly known as Pliny the Younger, to
distinguish him from his uncle, Pliny the Naturalist, whose wealth
he inherited and whose name he seems to have borne. He was
propraetor of Bithynia under Trajan (98-117), with whom he stood on
terms of friendship and even intimacy. His letter to the Emperor
requesting advice as to the right mode of dealing with Christians
was written between 111 and 113.

This correspondence is of the first importance, as it is
unimpeachable evidence as to the spread of Christianity in the
province in which Pliny was placed, to the customs of the
Christians in their worship, and to the method of dealing with the
new religion, which was followed for a long time with little
change. It established the policy that Christianity, as such, was
not to be punished as a crime, that the State did not feel called
upon to seek out Christians, that it would not act upon anonymous
accusations, but that when proper accusations were brought, the
general laws, which Christians had violated on account of their
faith, should be executed. Christianity was not to be treated as a
crime. The mere renunciation of Christianity, coupled with the
proof of renunciation involved in offering sacrifice, enabled the
accused to escape punishment.

Ep. 96. It is my custom, my lord, to refer to you all questions about
which I have doubts. Who, indeed, can better direct me in hesitation, or
enlighten me in ignorance? In the examination of Christians I have never
taken part; therefore I do not know what crime is usually punished or
investigated or to what extent. So I have no little uncertainty whether
there is any distinction of age, or whether the weaker offenders fare in
no respect otherwise than the stronger; whether pardon is granted on
repentance, or whether when one has been a Christian there is no gain to
him in that he has ceased to be such; whether the mere name, if it is
without crimes, or crimes connected with the name are punished. Meanwhile
I have taken this course with those who were accused before me as
Christians: I have asked them whether they were Christians. Those who
confessed I asked a second and a third time, threatening punishment. Those
who persisted I ordered led away to execution. For I did not doubt that,
whatever it was they admitted, obstinacy and unbending perversity
certainly deserve to be punished. There were others of the like insanity,
but because they were Roman citizens I noted them down to be sent to Rome.
Soon after this, as it often happens, because the matter was taken notice
of, the crime became wide-spread and many cases arose. An unsigned paper
was presented containing the names of many. But these denied that they
were or had been Christians, and I thought it right to let them go, since
at my dictation they prayed to the gods and made supplication with incense
and wine to your statue, which I had ordered to be brought into the court
for the purpose, together with the images of the gods, and in addition to
this they cursed Christ, none of which things, it is said, those who are
really Christians can be made to do. Others who were named by an informer
said that they were Christians, and soon afterward denied it, saying,
indeed, that they had been, but had ceased to be Christians, some three
years ago, some many years, and one even twenty years ago. All these also
not only worshipped your statue and the images of the gods, but also
cursed Christ. They asserted, however, that the amount of their fault or
error was this: that they had been accustomed to assemble on a fixed day
before daylight and sing by turns [i.e., antiphonally] a hymn to Christ
as a god; and that they bound themselves with an oath, not for any crime,
but to commit neither theft, nor robbery, nor adultery, not to break their
word and not to deny a deposit when demanded; after these things were
done, it was their custom to depart and meet together again to take food,
but ordinary and harmless food; and they said that even this had ceased
after my edict was issued, by which, according to your commands, I had
forbidden the existence of clubs. On this account I believed it the more
necessary to find out from two maid-servants, who were called deaconesses
[ministrae], and that by torture, what was the truth. I found nothing
else than a perverse and excessive superstition. I therefore adjourned the
examination and hastened to consult you. The matter seemed to me to be
worth deliberation, especially on account of the number of those in
danger. For many of every age, every rank, and even of both sexes, are
brought into danger; and will be in the future. The contagion of that
superstition has penetrated not only the cities but also the villages and
country places; and yet it seems possible to stop it and set it right. At
any rate, it is certain enough that the temples, deserted until quite
recently, begin to be frequented, that the ceremonies of religion, long
disused, are restored, and that fodder for the victims comes to market,
whereas buyers of it were until now very few. From this it may easily be
supposed what a multitude of men can be reclaimed if there be a place of

Ep. 97 (Trajan to Pliny). You have followed, my dear Secundus, the
proper course of procedure in examining the cases of those who were
accused to you as Christians. For, indeed, nothing can be laid down as a
general law which contains anything like a definite rule of action. They
are not to be sought out. If they are accused and convicted, they are to
be punished, yet on this condition, that he who denies that he is a
Christian and makes the fact evident by an act, that is, by worshipping
our gods, shall obtain pardon on his repentance, however much suspected as
to the past. Papers, however, which are presented anonymously ought not to
be admitted in any accusation. For they are a very bad example and
unworthy of our times.

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