“ If, therefore, the provincials can clearly show their charges against these Christians, so as to answer before the tribunal, let them pursue this course only, but not just petitions, and mere outcries against Christians. For it is more fitting, if any one brings an accusation, that you should examine it.”
Hadrian was a senator and officer before being adopted by Trajan and becoming emperor. Hadrian followed Trajan’s established rules about punishing Christians for not worshiping other gods and not accepting Roman rule as supreme above God. However, Hadrian did not enforce these rules as strongly as other leaders around his time. He felt that Christians should not be punished unless they did something illegal.
Christians were empowered by their relationship with Jesus, and the gospel was spreading fast from believers to non-believers. Thus, Christians were leading people to Jesus and discouraging their participation in pagan worship (worship of other gods, which was common in ancient Rome). This resulted in economic trouble for tradesman and Christians being taken to court for opposing pagan worship.
In a letter to the Asian proconsul, Minucius Fundanus, Hadrian instructed, “If, therefore, the provinces can clearly evince their charges against the Christians, so as to answer before the tribunal, let them pursue this course only, but not by mere petitions, and mere outcries against the Christians. For it is far more proper, if any one would bring an accusation, that you should examine it.” In this letter, Emperor Hadrian acknowledges Christians as people experiencing conflict with the law, but again, he allows for a bit of leniency if they are not guilty.
Hadrian's Arch, Athens
Hadrian's Arch in central Athens, Greece Image: Joanbanjo, CC by SA 3.0
A Denarius of Hadrian
Coins of Emperor Hadrian issued in 119AD Image: Irton33, CC by SA 3.0
Bust of Emperor Hadrian Image: Livioandronico2013, CC by SA 4.0