Plinius the Younger to Emperor Trajan on Christians
Trajan’s Response

Ca. A.D. 111

{ 1 }
Letter XCVI (96)
Pliny to Trajan
[This letter is esteemed as almost the only genuine monument of ecclesiastical antiquity relating to the times immediately succeeding the Apostles, having been written at most not more than a half-century after the death of St. Paul in A.D. 62.  It was preserved by the Christians themselves as clear and unsuspicious evidence of the purity of their doctrines, and is frequently appealed to by the early writers of the Church against the calumnies of their adversaries.  Note that the Latin (not Greek) adjectival suffix -ian- was often used at the time not only in personal names such as Vespasianus, but also to refer to political factions such as the Othoniani “Otho’s men,” or Vitelliani “followers of Vitellius,” as found in Tacitus’ Histories.  Pliny’s worry here is that this new group of Christiani might be some new hetæria (ἑταιρείᾱ “brotherhood;  political club”) which was not just a religious but covertly a political party which could threaten Roman sovereignty.]
  1. Sollemne est mihi, domine, omnia de quibus dubito, ad te referre.

  2. Quis enim potest melius vel cunctationem meam regere, vel ignorantiam instruere ?

  3. Cognitionibus de Christianis interfui numquam.  Ideo nescio, quid et quatenus aut puniri soleat, aut quæri.

  1. It is my practice, my lord, to refer to you all matters concerning which I am in doubt.

  2. For who is better able to give guidance to my hesitation or inform my ignorance?

  3. I have never participated in trials of Christians.  I therefore do not know what offenses it is the practice to punish or investigate, or to what extent.

  1. Nec mediocriter hæsitavi,

    • sitne aliquod discrimen ætatum, an quamlibet teneri nihil a robustioribus differant,

    • detur pænitentiæ venia, an ei, qui omnino Christianus fuit, desisse non prosit,

    • nomen ipsum, etiamsi flagitiis careat, an flagitia cohærentia nomini puniantur.

  2. Interim in eis qui ad me tanquam Christiani deferebantur, hunc sum secutus modum :

  1. And I have been not a little hesitant as to

    • whether there should be any distinction on account of age or no difference between the very young and the more mature;

    • whether pardon is to be granted for repentance, or, if a man has once been a Christian, it does him no good to have ceased to be one;

    • whether the name itself, even without offenses, or only the offenses associated with the name are to be punished.

  2. Meanwhile, in the case of those who were denounced to me as Christians, I have observed the following procedure:

  1. Interrogavi ipsos, an essent Christiani.  Confitentes iterum ac tertio interrogavi, supplicium minatus.  Perseverantes duci jussi.

  2. Neque enim dubitabam, qualecunque esset quod faterentur, pertinaciam certe et inflexibilem obstinationem debere puniri.

  1. I interrogated these as to whether they were Christians; those who confessed I interrogated a second and a third time, threatening them with punishment;  those who persisted I ordered executed.

  2. For I had no doubt that, whatever the nature of their creed, stubbornness and inflexible obstinacy surely deserve to be punished.

  1. Fuerunt alii similis amentiæ quos, quia cives Romani erant, annotavi in Urbem remittendos.

  2. Mox ipso tractatu, ut fieri solet, diffundente se crimine, plures species inciderunt.

  1. There were others possessed of the same folly;  but because they were Roman citizens, I signed an order for them to be transferred to Rome.

  2. Soon accusations spread, as usually happens, because of the proceedings going on, and several incidents occurred.

[It was one of the privileges of a Roman citizen, secured by the Sempronian law, that he could not be capitally convicted except by a vote of the people;  which seems to have been still so far in force as to make it necessary to send the persons here mentioned to Rome.]
  1. Propositus est libellus, sine auctore, multorum nomina continens.

  2. Qui negabant se esse Christianos aut fuisse, quum, præeunte me, deos appellarent et imagini tuæ quam propter hoc jusseram cum simulacris numinum afferri, ture ac vino supplicarent, præterea maledicerent Christo, quorum nihil posse cogi dicuntur, qui sunt re vera Christiani, dimittendos esse putavi.

  1. An anonymous document was published, without any signature, accusing a large number of persons by name.

  2. Those who denied that they were or had been Christians, when they invoked the gods in words dictated by me, offered prayer with incense and wine to your image, which I had ordered to be brought for this purpose together with statues of the gods, and moreover cursed Christ — none of which those who are really Christians, it is said, can be forced to do — these I thought should be discharged.

  1. Alii ab indice nominati esse se Christianos dixerunt et mox negaverunt ;  fuisse quidem, sed desiisse, quidam ante triennium, quidam ante plures annos, non nemo etiam ante viginti.

  2. Omnes et imaginem tuam deorumque simulacra venerati sunt, et Christo maledixerunt.

  1. Others named by the informer declared that they were Christians, but then denied it, asserting that they had been but had ceased to be, some three years before, others many years, some as much as twenty years.

  2. They all worshipped your image and the statues of the gods, and cursed Christ.

  1. Affirmabant autem hanc fuisse summam vel culpæ suæ vel erroris, quod essent soliti stato die ante lucem convenire carmenque Christo quasi deo dicere secum invicem seque sacramento non in scelus aliquod obstringere, sed ne furta, ne latrocinia, ne adulteria committerent, ne fidem fallerent, ne depositum appellati abnegarent.

  2. Quibus peractis, morem sibi discedendi fuisse rursusque coëundi ad capiendum cibum, promiscuum tamen et innoxium ;  quod ipsum facere desiisse post edictum meum quo, secundum mandata tua, hetærias esse vetueram.

  1. They asserted, however, that the sum and substance of their fault or error had been that they were accustomed to meet on a fixed day before dawn and sing in alternation a hymn to Christ as to a god, and to bind themselves by oath, not to some crime, but not to commit fraud, theft, or adultery, not falsify their trust, nor to refuse to return a trust when called upon to do so.

  2. When this was over, it was their custom to depart and to assemble again to partake of food — but ordinary and innocent food.  Even this, they affirmed, they had ceased to do after my edict by which, in accordance with your instructions, I had forbidden political associations.

  1. Quo magis necessarium credidi e duabus ancillis quæ ministræ dicebantur, quid esset veri et per tormenta quærere.

  2. Sed nihil aliud inveni quam superstitionem pravam, immodicam.

  1. Accordingly, I judged it all the more necessary to find out what the truth was by torturing two female slaves who were called deaconesses.

  2. But I discovered nothing else but depraved, excessive superstition.

[These women, it is supposed, exercised the same office as Phoebe mentioned by St. Paul, whom he styles deaconess of the church of Cenchrea.  Their business was to tend the poor and sick, and other charitable offices, and also to assist at the ceremony of female baptism, for the more decent performance of that rite, as Vossius observes upon this passage.]
  1. Ideo, dilata cognitione, ad consulendum te decucurri.

  2. Visa est enim mihi res digna consultatione, maxime propter periclitantium numerum.

  3. Multi enim omnis ætatis, omnis ordinis, utriusque sexus etiam, vocantur in periculum et vocabuntur.

  4. Neque enim civitates tantum, sed vicos etiam atque agros superstitionis istius contagio pervagata est ;

  5. quæ videtur sisti et corrigi posse.

  1. I therefore postponed the investigation and hastened to consult you.

  2. For the matter seemed to me well worth referring to you, especially considering the number of those endangered.

  3. For many persons of every age, every rank, and also of both sexes are and will be endangered.

  4. For the contagion of this superstition has spread not only to the cities but also to the villages and farms.

  5. But it seems possible to check and cure it.

  1. Certe satis constat, prope jam desolata templa cœpisse celebrari, et sacra solemnia diu intermissa repeti :  passimque vēnire victimas, quarum adhuc rarissimus emptor inveniebatur.

  2. E quo facile est opinari, quæ turba hominum emendari possit, si fiat pænitentiæ locus.

  1. It is certainly quite clear that the temples, which had been almost deserted, have begun to be frequented, that the established religious rites, long neglected, are being resumed, and that from everywhere sacrificial animals are coming, for which until now very few purchasers could be found.

  2. Hence it is easy to imagine what a multitude of people can be reformed if an opportunity for repentance is afforded.

{ 2 }
Letter XCVII (97)
Trajan to Pliny
  1. Actum quem debuisti, mi Secunde, in excutiendis causis eorum qui Christiani ad te delati fuerant, secutus es.

  2. Neque enim in universum aliquid quod quasi certam formam habeat, constitui potest.

  3. Conquirendi non sunt ;  si deferantur et arguantur, puniendi sunt,

  4. ita tamen ut, qui negaverit se Christianum esse, idque re ipsa manifestum fecerit, id est, supplicando diis nostris,

  5. quamvis suspectus in præteritum fuerit, veniam e pænitentia impetret.

  1. You observed proper procedure, my dear Pliny, in sifting the cases of those who had been denounced to you as Christians.

  2. For it is not possible to lay down any general rule to serve as a kind of fixed standard.

  3. They are not to be sought out;  if they are denounced and proved guilty, they are to be punished,

  4. with this reservation, that whoever denies that he is a Christian and really proves it — that is, by worshiping our gods —

  5. even though he was under suspicion in the past, shall obtain pardon through repentance.

  1. Sine auctore vero propositi libelli nullo crimine locum habere debent.

  2. Nam et pessimi exempli, nec nostri sæculi est.

  1. But anonymously posted accusations ought to have no place in any prosecution.

  2. For this is both a dangerous kind of precedent and out of keeping with the spirit of our age.

[If we impartially examine this prosecution of the Christians, we shall find it to have been grounded on the ancient constitution of the state, and not to have proceeded from a cruel or arbitrary temper in Trajan.  The Roman legislature appears to have been early jealous of any innovation in point of public worship;  and we find the magistrates during the old republic frequently interposing in cases of that nature.  Valerius Maximus has collected some instances to that purpose (L. I. C. 3), and Livy mentions it as an established principle of the earlier ages of the commonwealth, to guard against the introduction of foreign ceremonies of religion.  It was an old and fixed maxim likewise of the Roman government not to suffer any unlicensed assemblies of the people.  Hence it seems evident that the Christians had rendered themselves obnoxious not so much to Trajan as to the ancient and settled laws of the state, by introducing a foreign worship and assembling themselves without authority.]

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