Pliny the Younger, or Caius Caec P Secundus

Pliny The Younger, Or Caius Caec. P. Secundus the nephew and adopted son of the elder Pliny, was born at Como in A.D. 61 or 62; was a pupil of Quintilian; and pleaded successfully as an advocate in his nineteenth year. He was successively tribune of the people, prefect of the treasury, consul, proconsul in Pontus and Bithynia, and augur; and died, universally esteemed, in 115. The name of Pliny the Younger has, from the days of Tertullian, been mentioned with peculiar interest by Christian writers on account of the testimony which he bore concerning the Christians of his day in Bithynia. They form the subject of a rather long letter (10, 97) to Trajan, written about forty years after the death of St. Paul, and followed by a short answer from Trajan. With all his advantages of education, Pliny was superstitious and credulous. Though a kindhearted man even to slaves (8:1,16, 19), he was intolerant and cruel to the Christians; and, according to his own account, he put to death the Christians of Bithynia who would not abjure their religion, though he considered it only an innocent superstition. The materials for Pliny's life may be collected from his Epistles, from which a brief notice has been drawn up by Cellarius, and one more elaborate by Masson; there is also a very complete Life of Pliny, with abundant references to his letters, prefixed to E. Thierfeld's German translation of the "Epistles and Panegyric" (Munich, 1828). But the reader is referred to the Epistles themselves for the most gratifying notice of Pliny the Younger, every epistle being, as Melmoth observes, "a kind of historical sketch, wherein we have a view of him in some striking attitude either of active or contemplative life." Pliny's Epistles have been translated into English by Lord Orrery and Mr. Melmoth. The best edition of Pliny's Epistles is that of Cortius and Longolius (Amst. 1734, 4to). Of the editions of the Epistles and Panegyric together may be recommended those of Christopher Cellarius (Leips. 1693,12mo); Hearne, with Life by Masson prefixed (Oxfortd, 1703, 8vo); Gierig (Leips. 1806, 2 vols. 8vo), and Gesuetan and Schaefer (ibid. 1805). Of his writings, the letter addressed to the emperor Trajan in the year 107 is considered one of the most important documents remaining of early Christian history, and we therefore transcribe here some portion of it. After mentioning the difficulty of his own situation, and his perplexity in what manner to proceed against men charged with no other crime than the name of Christian, the writer proceeds as follows:

"Others were named by an informer, who at first confessed themselves Christians, and afterwards denied it; the rest said they had been Christians, but had left them some three years ago, some longer, and one or more above twenty years. They all worshipped your image and the statues of the gods; these also reviled Christ. They affirmed that the whole of their fault or error lay in this— that they were wont to meet together on a stated day before it was light, and sing among themselves alternately a hymn— to Christ, as to God, and bind themselves by an oath, not to the commission of any wickedness, but not to be guilty of theft, or robbery, or adultery, never to falsify their word, nor to deny a pledge committed to them when called upon to return it. When these things we performed, it was their custom to separate, and then to come together again to a meal, which they ate in common without any disorder; but this they had forborne since the publication of my edict, by which, according to your commands, I prohibited assemblies. After receiving this account, I judged it the more necessary to examine, and that by torture, two maidservants, which were called ministers; but I have discovered nothing besides a bad and excessive superstition. Suspending, therefore, all judicial proceedings, 1 have recourse to you for advice, for it has appeared to me matter highly deserving consideration, especially upon account of the great number of persons who are in danger of suffering, for many of all ages and every rank, of both sexes likewise, are accused, and will be accused. Nor has the contagion of this superstition seized cities only, but the lesser towns also, and the open country; nevertheless, it seems to me that it may be restrained and corrected. It is certain that the temples which were almost forsaken begun to be more frequented; and the sacred solemnities, after a long intermission, are revived. Victims likewise are everywhere bought up, whereas for a time there were few purchasers. Whence it is easy to imagine what numbers of men might be reclaimed if pardon were granted to those who repent." So few and uncertain are the records left to guide our inquiries through the obscure period which immediately followed the conclusion of the labors of the apostles, that the above testimony to the numbers and virtues of our forefathers in faith becomes indeed invaluable. See Milman, Hist. of Christianity; Liddon, Divinity of Christ; Mosheim, Commentary of Christian History; Schaff, Hist. of the Christian Church, 1, 164 sq.; Smith, Dict. of Class. Biog. s.v.; Bähr, Gesch. der romischen Literatur; Hagenbach, Kirchengesch. der ersten drei Jahrh. ch. 8; Alzog, Kirchengesch. 1, 112, 136; Riddle, Christian Atiquities, p. 176 sq.; Bender, Derjuingere Plinius (Tub. 1873); Cudworth, Intellectual Universe; Jules Janin, Pline lejeune et Quintilien (1838); Church, Pliny's Letters (Lond. 1872).

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