The Emperor Trajan sent Pliny the Younger to Bithynia about the year 111 to settle a troubled situation. They corresponded regularly during Pliny's mission.
C. Plinius Traiano Imperatori
C. Pliny to Emperor Trajan
|Pliny is unsure how to handle the Christians
|Sollemne est mihi, domine, omnia, de quibus dubito, ad te referre. Quis enim potest melius vel cunctationem meum regere vel ignorantiam instruere? 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 Christianibus fuit, desisse non prosit; nomen ipsum, si flagitiis careat, an flagitia cohaerentia nomini puniantur.
|It is customary for me, sir, to refer to you in all matters wherein I have a doubt. Who truly is better able to rule my hesitancy, or to instruct my ignorance? I was never present at examinations of Christians, therefore I do not know what is customarily punished, nor to what extent, nor how far to take the investigation. I was quite undecided; should there be any consideration given to age; are those who are however delicate no different from the stronger? Should penitence obtain pardon; or, as has been the case particularly with Christians, to desist makes no difference? Should the name itself be punished (even if crimes are absent), or the crimes that go with the name?
|How he conducted his examinations, and reaction to his policy
|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 inciderunt. Propositus est libellus sine auctore multorum nomina continens.
|Meanwhile, this is the method I have followed with those who were brought before me as Christians. I asked them directly if they were Christians. The ones who answered affirmatively I questioned again with a warning, and yet a third time: those who persisted I ordered led [away]. For I have no doubt, whatever else they confessed to, certainly [this] pertinacity and inflexible obstinacy ought to be punished. There were others alike of madness, whom I noted down to be sent to the City, because they were Roman citizens. Soon in consequence of this policy itself, as it was made standard, many kinds of criminal charges occurred and spread themselves abroad. A pamphlet was published anonymously, containing the names of many.
|The examinations turned up a number of lapsed Christians
|Qui negabant esse se Christianos aut fuisse, cum praeeunte me deos appellarent et imagini tuae, quam propter hoc iusseram cum simulacris numinum adferri, ture ac vino supplicarent, praeterea male dicerent Christo, quorum nihil posse cogi dicuntur, qui sunt re vera Christiani, dimittendos esse putavi. Alii ab indice nominati esse se Christianos dixerunt et mox negaverunt; fuisse quidem, sed desisse, quidem ante triennium, quidam ante plures annos; non nemo etiam ante viginti. Hi quoque omnes et imaginem tuam deorumque simulacra venerati sunt et Christo maledixerunt.
|Those who denied that they were or ever had been Christians, when they swore before me, called on the gods and offered incense and wine to your image (which I had ordered brought in for this [purpose], along with images of the gods), and also cursed Christ (which, it is said, it is impossible to force those who are real Christians to do) I thought worthy to be acquitted. Others named by an informer, said they had been Christians, but now denied [it]; certainly they had been, but had lapsed, some three years ago, some more; and more than one [lit. not nobody] over twenty years ago. These all worshiped both your image and the images of the gods and cursed Christ.
|The former Christians told him about the group's customs
|Adfirmabant autem hanc fuisse summam vel culpae suae 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; 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.
|They stated that the sum of their guilt or error amounted to this, that they used to gather on a stated day before dawn and sing to Christ as if he were a god, and that they took an oath not to involve themselves in villainy, but rather to commit no theft, no fraud, no adultery; not to break faith, nor to deny money placed with them in trust. Once these things were done, it was their custom to part and return later to eat a meal together, innocently, although they stopped this after my edict, in which I, following your mandate, forbade all secret societies.
|Pliny was unsatisfied, and sought further information by torture
|Quo magis necessarium credidi ex duabus ancillis, quae ministrae dicebantur, quid esset veri, et per tormenta quaerere. Nihil aliud inveni quam superstitionem pravam, immodicam.
|All the more I believed it necessary to find out what was the truth from two servant maids, which were called deaconesses, by means of torture. Nothing more did I find than a disgusting, fanatical superstition.
|Pliny hoped to squelch this dangerous superstition
|Ideo dilata cognitione, ad consulendum te decucurri. 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, qui turba hominum emendari possit, si sit paenitentiae locus.
Therefore I stopped the examination, and hastened to consult you.
For it appears to me a proper matter for counsel, most greatly on account of
the number of people endangered.
For many of all ages, all classes, and both sexes already are brought
into danger, and shall be [in future].
And not only the cities; the contagion of this superstition is spread
throughout the villages and the countryside; but it appears to me possible
to stop it and put it right.
Certainly the temples which were once deserted are beginning to be crowded,
and the long interrupted sacred rites are being revived, while
food from the sacrifices is selling, for which up to now a buyer was
hardly to be found.
From which it may easily be supposed, that what disturbs men can be mended,
if a place is allowed for repentance.