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SIRE! It is customary with me to consult you upon every doubtful occasion; for where my own judgment hesitates, who is more competent to direct me than yourself, or to instruct me where uninformed? I never had occasion to be present at any examination of the Christians before I came into this province; I am therefore ignorant to what extent it is usual to inflict punishment or urge prosecution. I have also hesitated whether there should not be some distinction made between the young and the old, the tender and the robust; whether pardon should not be offered to penitence, or whether the guilt of an avowed profession of Christianity can be expiated by the most unequivocal retraction-whether the profession itself is to be regarded as a crime, however innocent in other respects the professor may be; or whether the crimes attached to name, must be proved before they are made liable to punishment.

In the mean time, the method I have hitherto observed with the Christians, who have been accused as such, has been as follows. I interrogated them-Are you Christians? If they avowed it, I put the same question a second, and a third time, threatening them with the punishment decreed by the law: if they still persisted, I ordered them to be immediately executed; for of this I had no doubt, whatever was the nature of their religion, that such perverseness and inflexible obstinacy certainly deserved punishment. Some that were infected with this madness, on account of their privilege as Roman citizens, I reserved to be sent to Rome, to be referred to your tribunal.

In the discussion of this matter, accusations multiplying, a diversity of cases occurred. A schedule of names was sent me by an unknown accuser, but when I cited the persons before me, many denied the fact that they were or ever had been Christians; and they repeated

after me an invocation of the gods, and of your image, which for this purpose I had ordered to be brought with the statues of the other deities. They performed sacred rites with wine and frankincense, and execrated Christ, none of which things, I am assured, a real Christian can ever be compelled to do. These, therefore, I thought proper to discharge. Othets, named by an informer, at first acknowledged themselves Christians, and then denied it, declaring that though they had been Christians, they had renounced their profession, some three years ago, others still longer, and some even twenty years ago. All these worshipped your image and the statues of the gods, and at the same time execrated Christ.

“And this was the account which they gave me of the nature of the religion they once had professed, whether it deserves the name of crime or error; namely, that they were accustomed on a stated day to assemble before sun-rise, and to join together in singing hymns to Christ as to a deity; binding themselves as with a solemn oath not to commit any hind of wickedness; to be guilty neither of theft, robbery, nor adultery; never to break a promise, or to keep back a deposit when called upon. Their worship being concluded, it was their custom to separate, and meet together again for a repast, promiscuous indeed, and without any distinction of rank or sex, but perfectly harmless; and even from this they desisted, since the publication of my edict, in which agreeably to your orders, I forbade any societies of that sort.

“ For further information, I thought it necessary, in order to come at the truth, to put to the torture two females who were called deaconesses. But I could extort from them nothing except the acknowledgment of an excessive and depraved superstition; and, therefore, VOL. I.

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desisting from further investigation, I determined to consult you, for the number of culprits is so great as to call for the most serious deliberation. Informations are pouring in against multitudes of every age, of all orders, and of both sexes; and more will be impeached; for the contagion of this superstition hath spread Dot only through cities, but villages also, and even reacbed the farm houses. I am of opinion, nevertheless, that it may be checked, and the success of my endeavours hitherto forbids despondency; for the temples, once almost desolate, begin to be again frequented—the sacred solemnities which had for some time been intermitted, are now attended afresh; and the sacrificial victims, which once could scarcely find a purchaser, now obtain a brisk sale. Whence I infer, that many might be reclaimed, were the hope of pardon, on their repentance, absolutely confirmed.”

TRAJAN TO PLINY.

“ My dear Pliny,

“ You have done perfectly right, in managing as you have, the matters which relate to the impeachment of the Christians. No one general rule can be laid down which will apply to all cases. These people are not to be hunted up by informers; but if accused and convicted, let them be executed; yet with this restriction, that if any renounce the profession of Christianity, and give proof of it by offering supplications to our gods, however suspicious their past conduct may have been, they shall be pardoned on their repentance. But anonymous accusations should never be attended to, since it would be establishing a precedent of the worst

ind, and altogether inconsistent with the maxims of my vvernment."

It is an obvious reflection from these letters, that at this early period, Christianity had made an extraordinary progress in the empire; for Pliny acknowledges that the pagan temples had become “almost desolate." Xor should we overlook the remarkable proof which they afford us of the state of the Christian profession, and the dreadful persecutions to which the disciples of Carist were then exposed. It is evident from them, that by the existing laws, it was a capital offence, punishable with death, for any one to arow himself a Christian. lor did the humane Trajan and the philosophic Pliny eaiertain a doubt of the propriety of the law, or the wisdom and justice of executing it in the fullest extent. Prins confesses that he had commanded such capital punishments to be inflicted on many, chargeable with no crime, but their profession of Christianity; and Trajan not only confirms the equity of the sentence, but enjoins the continuance of such executions, without any exceptoas, unless it be of those who apostatized from their profession, denied their Lord and Saviour, and did bomage to the idols of paganism.

These letters also give us a pleasing view of the holy and exemplary lives of the first Christians. For it appears by the confession of apostates themselves, that Do man could continue a member of their communion whose deportment in the world did not correspond with his holy profession. Even delicate women are put to the torture, to try if their weakness would not betray them into accusations of their brethren; but not a word Dor a charge can be extorted from them, capable of bearing the semblance of deceit or crime. To meet for prayer, praise, and mutual instruction; to worship Christ their God; to exhort one another to abstain from every evil word and work; to unite in commemorating the death of their Lord, by partaking of the symbols of his

desisting from further investigation, I determined to consult you, for the number of culprits is so great as to call for the most serious deliberation. Informations are pouring in against multitudes of every age, of all orders, and of both sexes; and more will be impeached; for the contagion of this superstition hath spread not only through cities, but villages also, and even reached the farm houses. I am of opinion, nevertheless, that it may be checked, and the success of my endeavours hitherto forbids despondency; for the temples, once almost desolate, begin to be again frequented—the sacred solemnities which had for some time been intermitted, are now attended afresh; and the sacrificial victims, which once could scarcely find a purchaser, now obtain a brisk sale. Whence I infer, that many might be reclaimed, were the hope of pardon, on their repentance, absolutely confirmed.”

TRAJAN TO PLINY.

My dear Pliny,

“ You have done perfectly right, in managing as you have, the matters which relate to the impeachment of the Christians. No one general rule can be laid down which will apply to all cases. These people are not to be hunted up by informers; but if accused and convicted, let them be executed; yet with this restriction, that if any renounce the profession of Christianity, and give proof of it by offering supplications to our gods, however suspicious their past conduct may have been, they shall be pardoned on their repentance. But anonymous accusations should never be attended to, since it would be establishing a precedent of the worst kind, and altogether inconsistent with the maxims of my government."

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