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|Genres:||A: Official Letter of Inquiry &
B: Letter of Imperial Instructions
|Correspondents:||Pliny the Younger,
governor of Bithynia & Pontus
Trajan, emperor of Rome
(lived 53117; ruled 98117)
|Approximate Date:||100 CE|
|Manuscripts:||no manuscripts survive
|Earliest printed editions:||Avantius (1502)
|Epistle Numbers:||Ep.10.96 & Ep. 10.97
(based on Stout 1962:35457)
by K. C. Hanson
Sollemne est mihi, domine, omnia de quibus dubito
ad te referre. Quis enim potest melius vel cunctationem meam regere vel
It is my custom, O lord, to refer
all questionable issues to you. For who is more capable of resolving my
doubts and instructing my ignorance?|
Cognitionibus de Christianis interfui numquam:
ideo nescio quid et quatenus aut puniri soleat aut quaeri. Nec mediocriter
haesitavi, sitne aliquod discrimen aetatum, an quamlibet teneri nihil
a robustioribus differant, detur paenitentiae venia, an ei qui omnino christianus
fuit desisse non prosit, nomen ipsum, si flagitiis careat, an flagitia
cohaerentia nomini puniantur.
I have never been present at a formal inquiry of Christ-niks.
Consequently, I do not know the nature or the extent of the sanctions usually
administered against them, nor the grounds for opening a formal inquiry and
how far it should be pressed. Nor am I at all sure whether any distinction should
be made between them on the basis of age, or whether young people and
adults should be treated identically, whether a pardon ought to be granted to
anyone retracting his beliefs, or if he has once professed being a Christ-nik
he shall gain nothing by renouncing it; and whether it is the mere label that
is actionable, even if not guilty of a crime, or rather the crimes associated with the
Interim in iis qui ad me tamquam Christiani
deferebantur hunc sum secutus modum. Interrogavi ipsos an essent Christiani.
Confitentes iterum ac tertio interrogavi, supplicium minatus; perseverantes
duci iussi. Neque enim dubitabam, qualecumque esset quod faterentur, pertinaciam
certe et inflexibilem obstinationem debere puniri. Fuerunt alii similis
amentiae quos, quia cives Romani erant, adnotavi in urbem remittendos.
Mox ipso tractatu, ut fieri solet, diffundente se crimine plures species
In the meantime, this is the
approach I have taken with everyone brought before me on the charge of
being Christ-niks: I have asked them in person if they are Christ-niks;
and if they admit it, I repeat the question a second and third time with
a warning of the sanction awaiting them. If they persist, I order them
to be led away for execution. For, whatever the nature of their admission,
I am convinced that their stubbornness and unshakeable obstinacy should
not go unpunished. Others as fanatical who are citizens of Rome I have
listed to be remanded to "the City" for trial.|
Propositus est libellus sine auctore multorum
nomina continens. Qui negabant esse se Christianos aut fuisse, cum praeeunte
me deos appellarent et imagini tuae, quam propter hoc iusseram cum simulacris
numinum adferri, ture et vino supplicaarent, praeterea maledicerent Christo,
quorum nihil posse cogi dicuntur qui sunt re vera Christiani, dimittendos
putavi. Alii ab indice nominati esse se Christianos dixerunt et mox negaverunt;
fuisse quidem, sed desisse, quidam ante triennium, quidam ante plures
annos, non nemo etiam ante viginti. Hi quoque omnes et imaginem tuam deorumque
simulacra venerati sunt et Christo male dixerunt.
Now that I have begun to deal
with this problem, as so often happens, the charges are becoming more
widespread and increasing in variety. An anonymous writing has circulated
that contains the names of several accused individuals. From these, I
considered dismissing any who denied that they were or ever had been Christ-niks
when they had recited after me an invocation of the gods and made offerings
of wine and incense to your statue—which I ordered brought into court
for this purpose along with the images of the gods—and further reviled
the name of Christ: none of which, I understand, any true Christ-niks
can be induced to do. Others, whose names were given to me by an informant,
first admitted the charge and then denied it; they said that they had ceased
to be Christ-niks two or more years before, and some of them even twenty years ago. They all venerated your statue and the images of the gods in
the same way as the others, and cursed the name of Christ.|
Adfirmabant autem hanc fuisse summam vel
culpae suae vel erroris, quod essent soliti stato die ante lucem convenire
carmenque Christo quasi deo dicere secum in vicem seque sacramento non
in scelus aliquod obstringere, sed ne furta, ne latrocinia, ne adulteria,
committerent, ne fidem fallerent, ne depositum appellati abnegarent: quibus
peractis morem sibi discedendi fuisse rursusque coeundi ad capiendum cibum,
promiscuum tamen et innoxium; quod ipsum facere desisse post edictum meum,
quo secundum mandata tua hetaerias esse vetueram. Quo magis necessarium
credidi ex duabus ancillis, quae ministrae dicebantur, quid esset veri et
per tormenta quaerere. Nihil aliud inveni quam superstitionem pravam, immodicam.
They also declared
that the totality of their guilt or error amounted to no more than this:
they had met regularly before dawn on a certain day to chant verses antiphonally
amongst themselves in honor of Christ as if to a god, and also to bind
themselves with an oath, not in a criminal conspiracy, but to abstain from
fraud, banditry, and adulteration, to commit no breach of trust, and not to
renege on a deposit. After completing this foolishness, it was their
custom to disperse and reassemble later to take food of an common and innocuous
type; but they had in fact given up this practice since my edict, issued
on your instructions, which banned all associations. This made me decide
it was all the more necessary to extract the truth from two female slaves—whom
they call "ministers"—by means of torture. I found nothing but a degenerate
sort of superstition carried to immoderate lengths.|
|Ideo dilata cognitione ad consulendum te decurri. Visa est enim mihi res digna consultatione, maxime propter periclitantium numerum; multi enim omnis aetatis, omnis ordinis, utriusque sexus etiam, vocantur in periculum et vocabuntur Neque civitates tantum, sed vicos etiam atque agros superstitionis istius contagio pervagata est; quae videtur sisti et corrigi posse. Certe satis constat prope iam desolata templa coepisse celebrari et sacra sollemnia diu intermissa repeti pastumque venire victimarum, cuius adhuc rarissimus emptor inveniebatur. Ex quo facile est opinari, quae turba hominum emendari possit, si sit paenitentiae locus.||I have, therefore, put off any further consideration awaiting your counsel. The matter seems worthy of your consideration, especially in light of the number of persons at risk. For numerous persons of every age and every class, both genders, are being brought to trial, and this is likely to continue. It is not only the town, but villages and countryside as well that are infected through contact with this perverse superstition. I think that it is still possible for it to be checked and directed to better ends, for there is no doubt that people have begun to throng the temples, which had been almost entirely abandoned for a long time. And the sacred rites that had been allowed to lapse are again being performed, and the flesh of sacrificial meat is on sale everywhere, though until recently hardly anyone was buying it. It is easy to infer from this that a great many people could be rehabilitated if they were given an opportunity to recant.|
Actum quem debuisti, mi Secunde, in excutiendis causis eorum qui Christiani ad te delati fuerant secutus es. Neque enim in universum aliquid quod quasi certam formam habeat constitui potest. Conquirendi non sunt; si deferantur et arguantur, puniendi sunt, ita tamen ut qui negaverit se Christianum esse idque re ipsa manifestum fecerit, id est supplicando dis nostris, quamvis suspectus in praeteritum, veniam ex paenitentia impetret. Sine auctore vero propositi libelli in nullo crimine locum habere debent. Nam et pessimi exempli nec nostri saeculi est.
You have followed the correct course, my favored one, in your investigation of the cases of persons charged with being Christ-niks; for it is impossible to construct a universal principle applied as a fixed standard. These people should not be hunted down; if they are brought before you and the charge against them is proven, they must be punished. But in the case of anyone who denies that he is a Christ-niks and makes it clear that he is not by offering supplications to our gods, he shall be acquitted as a result of his recanting, however suspect his former conduct may be. But anonymous accusations shall not be introduced into the proceedings. They set a bad precedent and are not in the spirit of our age.
Adulteria can have several different meanings in Latin. While it usually means "adultery," referring to illicit sex, it can also mean "counterfeiting," "mixing," or "corrupting" in various contexts. Set amidst the hypothetical offenses listed here ("fraud, banditry, adulteria, to commit no breach of trust, and not to renege on a deposit"), it would seem that this refers to counterfeiting, forgery, illicit commingling of funds, or some other financial crime. I am grateful to Prof. Rick Strelan (University of Queensland, Australia) for pointing this out to me.
Christianoi is a designation used here and in the New Testament by outsiders about the followers of Christ (see Acts 11:25; 26:28; 1 Peter 4:16). As Elliott explains, the term has a definite "negative odor" (Elliott 2000:791). The earliest occurrences of the term used by followers of Christ are in the Didache 12:4 and in the letters of Ignatius of Antioch (e.g., To the Ephesians 11:2); for a longer list, see Elliott 2000:791 n. 611).
1. Regarding Plinys use of the term Christiani:
2. Do Plinys comments provide clues as to why he finds these Christ-niks a problem?
3. What did Pliny learn about what the early followers of Christ were up to? How does this description compare to that of a second-century Christ-nik, Justin Martyr? (Read Justin Martyr, First Apology 6567)
4. What role does torture play in Plinys investigations? Was this common in the Roman Empire, or an exceptional case? (See Brunt 1980)
5. What was Plinys reason for shipping some of the accused off to Rome for trial? How does this compare to Paul's situation mentioned in Acts 25:912 and 26:3032?
6. Why do you think most translators render ministrae as deaconesses? In what ways is that translation misleading for a modern reader?
| Brunt, P. A. Evidence Given under Torture in the Principate. Zeitschrift der Savigny-Stiftung
für Rechtsgeschichte 97 (1980) 25665.
Elliott, John H. 1 Peter. Anchor Bible 37B. New York: Doubleday, 2000.
Elliott, John H. Jesus the Israelite was Neither a Jew Nor a Christian: On Correcting the Nomenclature. Journal for the Study of the Historical Jesus 5.2 (2007) 119-54.
Jones, Brian W. Pliny the Younger. In Anchor Bible Dictionary, edited by David Noel Freedman, 5:38182. New York: Doubleday, 1992.
Seland, Torrey. Establishment Violence in Philo and Luke: A Study of the Torah and Jewish Vigilante Reactions. Biblical Interpretation Supplements 15. Leiden: Brill, 1995.
Sherwin-White, A. N. The Letters of Pliny: A Social and Historical Commentary. Oxford: Clarendon, 1966.
Stout, Selatie Edgar. Plinius, Epistulae: A Critical Edition. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1962.