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On Pliny's Letter To The Emperor Trajan

[Pliny the younger was Governor of Pontus and Bithynia during some of
the early years of the 2nd century. Trajan was Emperor from A.D. 98 to
117. The letter, from which we give some extracts, has been dated (Bp
Lightfoot) A.D. 112. It shows that the marvellous spreading of the
Faith took place in the face of laws which made it a crime to be a
Christian: and that the closest enquiry on Pliny's part made him aware
of their high moral standard, and of the stedfastness of their

"* * * The method I have observed towards those who have been brought
before me as Christians is this; I interrogated them whether they were
Christians; {175} if they confessed, I repeated the question twice,
adding threats at the same time; and if they still persevered, I
ordered them to be immediately punished. For, I was persuaded,
whatever the nature of their opinions might be, a contumacious and
inflexible obstinacy certainly deserves correction. * * * An
information was presented to me without any name subscribed, containing
a charge against several persons; these, upon examination, denied they
were, or ever had been, Christians. They repeated after me an
invocation to the gods, and offered religious rites with wine and
frankincense before your statue * * * and even reviled the name of
Christ; whereas there is no forcing, it is said, those who are really
Christians, into any of these compliances. * * * The rest owned indeed
they had been of that number formerly, but had now (some above three,
others more, and a few above twenty years ago) renounced that error. *
* * They affirmed the whole of their guilt, or their error, was, that
they met on a certain stated day before it was light, and addressed
themselves in a form of prayer to Christ, as to some god, binding
themselves by a solemn oath, not for the purposes of any wicked design,
but never to commit any fraud, theft, or adultery; never to falsify
their word, nor deny a trust when they should be called upon to deliver
it up: after which, it was their custom to separate, and then
reassemble to eat in common a harmless meal. * * * Great numbers must
be involved in the danger of these prosecutions which have already
extended and are still likely to extend, to persons of all ranks and
ages, and even of both sexes. In fact, this contagious superstition is
not confined to the cities only, but has spread its infection among the
neighbouring villages and country. * * *"

Melmoth's Translation (1747).

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