top of page

Sobering Words from the Past

Pliny the Younger was the Roman governor of Pontus/Bithynia from AD 111-113. His letter, here translated, describes the governor's treatment of Christians.

Pliny to the Emperor Trajan

It is my practice, my lord, to refer to you all matters concerning which I am in doubt. For who can better give guidance to my hesitation or inform my ignorance? I have never been trained for trials of Christians. I therefore do not know what offenses it is the practice to punish or investigate, and to what degree. And I have been very hesitant as to whether there should be any distinction made on account of age or should there be no difference between the very young and the more mature; should a pardon be granted for recanting, or, if a man has once been a Christian, it does him no good to recant; should just being called by the name Christian be punished, even without any crimes, or should only the offenses associated with the name be punished.

Meanwhile, in the case of those who were denounced to me as Christians, I have observed the following procedure: I interrogated these as to whether they were Christians; those who confessed I interrogated a second and a third time, threatening them with punishment; those who persisted I ordered executed. For I had no doubt that, whatever the nature of their creed, stubbornness and inflexible obstinacy surely deserve to be punished. There were others possessed of the same folly; but because they were Roman citizens, I signed an order for them to be transferred to Rome.

Soon accusations spread, as usually happens, because of the proceedings going on, and several incidents occurred. An anonymous document was published containing the names of many persons. I had specifically ordered statues of the gods to be brought to me. Those who denied that they were or had been Christians, once they invoked the gods in the words I gave them, and offered prayer with incense and wine to your image, and moreover cursed Christ, these I thought should be discharged. For I have been told truly that none of those who are really Christians can be forced to do those things. Others named by the informer declared that they had once been Christians but then quit it, asserting that they had been but had ceased to be, some three years before, others many years, some as much as twenty-five years. They all worshiped your image and the statues of the gods, and cursed Christ.

They asserted, however, that the sum and substance of their fault or error had been that they were accustomed to meet on a fixed day before dawn and sing with alternating verses a hymn to Christ as to a god, and to bind themselves by an oath, but not an oath to commit some crime, but rather an oath to not commit fraud, theft, or adultery, not to act untruly, nor to refuse to return a trust when called upon to do so. When this was over, it was their custom to depart and to assemble again to partake of food but ordinary and innocent food. Even this, they affirmed, they had ceased to do after my edict by which, in accordance with your instructions, I had for bidden political associations. Accordingly, I judged it all the more necessary to find out what the truth was by torturing two female slaves who were servants. But I discovered nothing else but depraved, excessive superstition.

I therefore postponed the investigation and hastened to consult you. For the matter seemed to me to warrant consulting you, especially because of the number involved. For many persons of every age, every rank, and also of both sexes are and will be endangered. For the contagion of this superstition has spread not only to the cities but also to the villages and farms. Pliny, Letters 10.96

Some observations are in order:

  • The fact of Christian persecution is well documented. Paul was on both sides of this unenviable experience. Jesus even predicted it to His disciples. "Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake." (Mat. 5: 1 1), "But he who received the seed on stony places, this is he who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy; "yet he has no root in himself, but endures only for a while. For when tribulation or persecution arises because of the word, immediately he stumbles." (Mat. 13:20-21).

  • Many, in the face of persecution, turned away from God, but some were faithful to the point of death. (Rev. 2:10)

  • Christians were at times apparently "pointed out" by those around them who knew them to be Christians.

  • Early Christianity spread through cities and regions with many converts from pagan religious practices.

  • The early Christians met for a simple worship and to "stir one another to love and good works." (Heb. 10:24-25)

- Tim Orbison


Recent Posts

See All


bottom of page