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

heir 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).