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“Pliny Letter to Trajan about Christians - Latin Text with English translation”
Click here to read at earlychurchtexts.com in the original Latin (with dictionary lookup links). The English translation below is from from Pliny the Younger, Letters (The Harvard Classics. 1909–14).
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Geoffrey de Ste Croix
G. W. Bowersock
Robin Lane Fox
It is my invariable rule, Sir, to refer to you in all matters where I feel doubtful; for who is more capable of removing my scruples, or informing my ignorance? Having never been present at any trials concerning those who profess Christianity, I am unacquainted not only with the nature of their crimes, or the measure of their punishment, but how far it is proper to enter into an examination concerning them. Whether, therefore, any difference is usually made with respect to ages, or no distinction is to be observed between the young and the adult; whether repentance entitles them to a pardon, or, if a man has been once a Christian, it avails nothing to desist from his error; whether the very profession of Christianity, unattended with any criminal act, or only the crimes themselves inherent in the profession are punishable; on all these points I am in great doubt.
In the meanwhile, the method I have observed towards those who have been brought before me as Christians is this: I asked them whether they were Christians; if they admitted it, I repeated the question twice, and threatened them with punishment; if they persisted, I ordered them to be at once punished: for I was persuaded, whatever the nature of their opinions might be, a contumacious and inflexible obstinacy certainly deserved correction. There were others also brought before me possessed with the same infatuation, but being Roman citizens, I directed them to be sent to Rome.
But this crime spreading (as is usually the case) while it was actually under prosecution, several instances of the same nature occurred. An anonymous information was laid before me containing a charge against several persons, who upon examination denied they were Christians, or had ever been so. They repeated after me an invocation to the gods, and offered religious rites with wine and incense before your statue (which for that purpose I had ordered to be brought, together with those of the gods), 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: I thought it proper, therefore, to discharge them. Some among those who were accused by a witness in person at first confessed themselves Christians, but immediately after denied it; the rest owned indeed that 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 all worshipped your statue and the images of the gods, uttering imprecations at the same time against the name of Christ.
They affirmed the whole of their guilt, or their error, was, that they met on a
stated day before it was light, and addressed a form of prayer to Christ, as to
a divinity, 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. From this custom, however, they desisted after the
publication of my edict, by which, according to your commands, I forbade the
meeting of any assemblies. After receiving this account, I judged it so much the
more necessary to endeavour to extort the real truth, by putting two female
slaves to the torture, who were said to officiate in their religious rites: but
all I could discover was evidence of an absurd and extravagant superstition.
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Letter to the Emperor Trajan about the treatment of Christians
Latin from the Loeb 1915 edition of Pliny's Letters (letter 10.96).
Translation from Pliny the Younger. Letters. The Harvard Classics. 1909–14.
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