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The Epistle of Adrian

HomeAncient DocumentsThe Epistle of Adrian

Adrian or, more famously, Hadrian was the emperor of Rome from 117 to 138. He ruled after Trajan and was succeeded by Antoninus Pius. He’s also known today for building “Hadrian’s Wall,” which marked the northern boundary of Roman Britannia. This letter, apparently written to Roman senator Gaius Minicius Fundanus, expresses Hadrian’s view on legal proceedings involving Christians.

We know of the letter only because it was preserved by Justin Martyr. In it Hadrian tells the senator to personally preside over complaints about Christians in order to maintain justice, and to punish severely those who would bring false accusations. This wasn’t to defend Christians, but to preserve peace and the rule of law.

EPISTLE OF ADRIAN IN BEHALF OF THE CHRISTIANS

I have received the letter addressed to me by your predecessor Serenius Granianus, a most illustrious man; and this communication I am unwilling to pass over in silence, lest innocent persons be disturbed, and occasion be given to the informers for practising villany. Accordingly, if the inhabitants of your province will so far sustain this petition of theirs as to accuse the Christians in some court of law, I do not prohibit them from doing so. But I will not suffer them to make use of mere entreaties and outcries. For it is far more just, if any one desires to make an accusation, that you give judgment upon it. If, therefore, any one makes the accusation, and furnishes proof that the said men do anything contrary to the laws, you shall adjudge punishments in proportion to the offences. And this, by Hercules; you shall give special heed to, that if any man shall, through mere calumny, bring an accusation against any of these persons, you shall award to him more severe punishments in proportion to his wickedness.


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One response to “The Epistle of Adrian”

  1. Ron says:

    From my understanding it appears that Adrian was not a Christian, but he believes in justice for all.

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