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Pliny the Younger

by John Wijngaards

Pliny the Younger was a distinguished senator whom the Roman Emperor Trajan had appointed to be governor of Bithynia, a province [in present-day north Turkey] suffering from corruption under previous administrations. In this letter Pliny reports on the presence of ‘Christians’, among them two women who, he says, were called ‘ministrae’, which must be a Latin translation of the Greek ‘diakonoi’.

[The Christians who were interrogated] asserted that the sum total of their fault or error had been that they were accustomed to meet on a fixed day before dawn and sing in choir a hymn to Christ as to a god. They bind themselves, they said, by oath, not to commit some crime, but rather to abstain from fraud, theft, or adultery, and not to default on their trust, nor to refuse to return a loan when called upon to do so. When this [function] 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 forbidden political associations. Accordingly, I judged it all the more necessary to find out what the truth was by torturing two female slaves who were called ‘deacons’. But I discovered nothing more than depraved and excessive superstition.


H. Clark Kee, The Origins of Christianity, London 1973, pp.51-2.