This is the essay for the 13th week of the 9th Grade Tom Woods Homeschool. In this blog post, I will be answering the question what was Christian life like between the famous letter of Pliny until the reign of Constantine?
Pliny the Younger was the royal magistrate of Ancient Rome when Trajan was emperor. He wrote a letter to the emperor Trajan about the persecution of Christians. Pliny noted that Christians didn’t seem to be committing any of the crimes they were accused of. What Pliny saw was that they got together and sang hymns, read the bible and praised God. Pliny didn’t see anything explicitly wrong with any of these things.
Pliny wrote about these things to the emperor in 112. Trajan replied saying that the laws regarding Christianity would be changed. The laws that replaced the old ones were known as don’t ask, don’t tell. Before this change, there were delegated people that would be persecuting Christians. With the new law, these people would still be persecuting Christians but in a different way. The first part of the law stated that the persecutors wouldn’t ask you outright if were a Christian. The catch was that if they found out you were a Christian, you would be persecuted. The second part of the law stated that you shouldn’t tell anybody if you’re a Christian in the first place.
For a few decades after the law was implemented, Christians could live in relative peacefulness. They didn’t need to worry about being hunted or about getting caught at any minute. Of course, Christians still needed to be careful about telling the wrong person who they believed in. There were still some exceptions to this law though. There were some sporadic persecutions on a local level, for example under Hadrian in 125. The more time passed after the law was implemented, the more persecuted the Christians became. In 250 there was an edict against nonconformists, which hit Christians pretty hard and in 257-258 there were persecutions by the emperor Valerian. He forced bishops to sacrifice to Roman gods and if they refused they would be executed. Christian worship in public was also made illegal. In 304, there was an edict, which said that Christians were no longer allowed to assemble and all Churches and Christian books would be destroyed.
In 313 the edict of Milan was made a law. The edict of Milan was an edict that would remove and change many laws against Christians. Christians were given back the property that was taken from them and it gave them a legal status. By this point, the public was tired of persecutions and they were stopped entirely for a while.