8 So, although I have quite a lot of confidence in Christ and could command you to do what is proper, 9 I would rather appeal to you on the basis of love—I, Paul, an old man and even now a prisoner for the sake of Christ Jesus— 10 I am appealing to you concerning my child, whose spiritual father I have become during my imprisonment, that is, Onesimus, 11 who was formerly useless to you, but is now useful to you and me. 12 I have sent him (who is my very heart) back to you. 13 I wanted to keep him with me so that he could serve me in your place during my imprisonment for the sake of the gospel. 14 However, without your consent I did not want to do anything so that your good deed would not be out of compulsion, but from your own willingness. 15 For perhaps it was for this reason that he was separated from you for a little while so that you would have him back eternally, 16 no longer as a slave, but more than a slave, as a dear brother. He is especially so to me, and even more so to you now, both humanly speaking and in the Lord. 17 Therefore if you regard me as a partner, accept him as you would me. 18 Now if he has defrauded you of anything or owes you anything, charge what he owes to me.
Pliny Letter to Sabinianus 9The Epistulae
Your freedman, whom you lately mentioned to me with displeasure, has been with me, and threw himself at my feet with as much submission as he could have fallen at yours. He earnestly requested me with many tears, and even with all the eloquence of silent sorrow, to intercede for him; in short, he convinced me by his whole behaviour that he sincerely repents of his fault. I am persuaded he is thoroughly reformed, because he seems deeply sensible of his guilt. I know you are angry with him, and I know, too, it is not without reason; but clemency can never exert itself more laudably than when there is the most cause for resentment. You once had an affection for this man, and, I hope, will have again; meanwhile, let me only prevail with you to pardon him. If he should incur your displeasure hereafter, you will have so much the stronger plea in excuse for your anger as you shew yourself more merciful to him now. Concede something to his youth, to his tears, and to your own natural mildness of temper: do not make him uneasy any longer, and I will add, too, do not make yourself so; for a man of your kindness of heart cannot be angry without feeling great uneasiness. I am afraid, were I to join my entreaties with his, I should seem rather to compel than request you to forgive him. Yet I will not scruple even to write mine with his; and in so much the stronger terms as I have very sharply and severely reproved him, positively threatening never to interpose again in his behalf. But though it was proper to say this to him, in order to make him more fearful of offending, I do not say so to you. I may perhaps, again have occasion to entreat you upon his account, and again obtain your forgiveness; supposing, I mean, his fault should be such as may become me to intercede for, and you to pardon. Farewell.
Notes and References
"... The present letter is remarkable in several ways. We know nothing more about the friend in question, one Sabinianus, except that he granted the request and earned himself a further letter from the great man, congratulat ing him on 'accepting my authority - or, if you like, indulging my prayers", and urging him to be ready for further acts of mercy even if there is nobody to make the case. But we know enough to see what's going on. The freed man (in other words, a slave whom Sabinianus has freed but who is still clearly dependent on him) has got himself into trouble. Knowing Pliny to be a friend of his master, he has gone to him for help ... Paul's letter to Philemon, of which this extract forms verses 8-22, has some interesting similarities to that of Pliny to Sabinianus. The most obvious is the standard rhetorical ploy: Far be it from me to force your hand - I wouldn't tell you what to do, now would I? No, no, of course not, think Sabinianus and Philemon with a wry smile; you merely put me in an impossible position! The frequent references to friendship, at various levels, is a standard theme right across the world of ancient letter-writing. Then again Paul, like Pliny, speaks simply of 'obedience'. He is in fact (or so it seems) appealing ..."
Wright, N.T. Paul and the Faithfulness of God (pp. 1-22) Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 2013
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