Christians Visit Prisoners in Antiquity

face of a prisoner

Christians had a reputation for visiting and caring for imprisoned fellow Christians. Lucian describes Christians providing personal fellowship, food, and money for the imprisoned Peregrinus Proteus. Tertullian (c. 160 – 220 CE), writing in support of the Christian practice of fasting, criticized his Christian debate counterparts thus: “your habit is to furnish cookshops in the prisons for untrustworthy martyrs, for fear they should miss their accustomed usages.” Tertullian then tells the story of the “well-known Pristinus — your martyr, no Christian martyr.” According to that story, Pristinus died under judicial torture while happily hiccuping and belching from all the food and wine that Christians had brought to him in prison. See Tertullian, On Fasting (De Ieiunio), Ch. 12. For more primary sources on Christians care for prisoners in antiquity, see Wansink (1996).

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