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<
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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, ยงยง 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.