Other Early Graeco-Roman Sources.

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Pliny the Younger

Ten volumes of correspondence by Pliny the Younger, dating from the early second century, have survived to the present. In about 112 AD, Pliny, then governor of Bythinia, wrote to the Emperor Trajan, requesting advice on whether or not he should pardon confessed Christians if they recanted their faith. The following are a few extracts:

‘… I ask them whether they are Christians; if they say yes, then I repeat the question a second time and a third time, warning them of the penalties it entails, and if they still persist, I order them to be taken away … There were others who showed similar mad folly whom I reserved to be sent to Rome, as they were Roman citizens.’

‘… Those who denied they were or had been Christians and called upon the gods in the usual formula, reciting the words after me, those who offered incense and wine before your image … all such I considered should be discharged, especially as they cursed the name of Christ, which, it is said, those who are really Christians cannot be induced to do.’

‘But they declared that the sum of their guilt, or their error, only amounted to this, that on a stated day they had been accustomed to meet before daybreak, and to recite a hymn among themselves to Christ, as though he were a god, and that so far from binding themselves by oath to commit any crime, their oath was to abstain from theft, robbery, adultery, and from breach of faith, and not to deny trust-money placed in their keeping when called upon to deliver it … I thought it the more necessary, therefore, to find out what truth there was in these statements by submitting two women, who were called deaconesses, to the torture, but I found nothing but a debased superstition carried to great lengths.’

‘… Many persons of all ages, and of both sexes alike are being brought into peril of their lives by their accusers, and the process will go on. For the contagion of this superstition has spread not only through the free cities, but into the villages and the rural districts. …’ (‘Epistles’, 10.96)

Trajan replied:

“… You have acted with perfect correctness in deciding the causes of those who have been charged before you with being Christians. … They must not be ferreted out; if they are charged and convicted, they must be punished, provided that anyone who denies that he is a Christian and gives practical proof of that by invoking our gods is to be pardoned on the strength of this repudiation, …” (ibid. 10.97)

Lucian of Samosata

In about AD 170 Lucian of Samosata wrote “The Passing of Peregrinus.” This is a historically-based, yet highly satirical, commentary on the life and death of an attention-seeking con-man who at one stage professed conversion to Christianity and for a long time preyed on the trust and generosity of the supposedly ‘gullible’ Christians. After being finally rejected by them he made a name for himself as a Cynic philosopher. Then, as an old man, he sought eternal fame by jumping on his own funeral pyre at Olympia, just after the end of the Games.

The following extract is fairly typical of its general tone:

‘These deluded creatures, you see, have persuaded themselves that they are immortal and will live forever, which explains the contempt of death and willing self-sacrifice so common among them. It was impressed on them too by their lawgiver that from the moment they are converted, deny the gods of Greece, worship the crucified sage, and live after his laws, they are all brothers. They take his instructions completely on faith, with the result that they despise all worldly goods and hold them in common ownership. So any adroit, unscrupulous fellow, who knows the world, has only to get among these simple souls and his fortune is quickly made; he plays with them.’

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