that he had never previously taken part in investigation ofChristians, and that he did not know the nature of the crime usually attributed to them, Pliny had had no hesitation in ordering the execution of those who persisted in affirming their Christianity in the face of a thrice repeated question.25 And he felt no doubt, since in any case their 'obstinacy and unbending perversity deserved to be punished'. This, as Sherwin-White maintained, was now an additional ground for condemning Christians to death,26 as the Scillitan confessors were to discover when brought before the proconsul Saturninus at Carthage in July 180. In the case of Roman citizens, Pliny sent them off to Rome for trial and punishment.
Then, there was a complication. An anonymous pamphlet listed individuals whom it denounced as Christian. Pliny, an honest administrator, began to investigate further. Those who denied ever having been Christians, he released once they had recited a prayer to the gods, 'made supplication with wine and incense', and, finally, 'cursed Christ' - a striking illustration of the maleficent nature ofthe Christian faith as understood even in the upper echelons of Roman society. Ofthe remainder, some said that they had ceased to be Christians three or more and some as many as twenty years before. They explained part of the liturgy,27 probably the recitation of the Ten Commandments and the eating of a communal agape after the eucharist, and emphasised that this consisted of ordinary food, an indication that Christians were suspected of consuming vile concoctions for the purpose of black magic or, even, of engaging in cannibalism. After taking further evidence from two maidservants (deaconesses?), Pliny concluded that Christianity was nihil aliud... quam superstitionem pravam et immodicam ('nothing more . . . than a perverse and extravagant superstition'), and, now that the temples were being frequented once more, 'a place for repentance should be granted'.28
Trajan agreed. His replies to Pliny's letters were almost invariably terse and to the point. He commended his legate's actions and instructed that, while 'nothing can be laid down as a general ruling involving something like a set procedure', Christians were 'not to be sought out', that is, not to be treated as common malefactors, sacrilegious or brigands. But theirs was still not a legal religion, and, if accused and convicted, they were to be punished. Every
25 Sherwin-White, Letters of Pliny, 693-700. See also, de Ste Croix, 'Why were the early Christians persecuted?'
26 Sherwin-White, Letters ofPliny, 599.
27 Sherwin-White, Letters of Pliny, 700-9. For a still useful discussion ofthe Christian liturgy at this time, see Lietzmann, Messe und Herrenmahl, 257-60.
28 I.e. Pliny understood Christianity as simply a noxious foreign cult. See Wilken, Christians as the Romans saw them, 21-5.
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