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In the second century AD, in Ancient Rome, there lived a distinguished a man whose deep study of philosophy drew him to the study of Jewish scripture. His name was Apollonius. He was a Roman Senator, whose curiosity, inspired by the study of scripture, eventually led him to examine the ideals of Christianity.
At that time in Rome, the mere suggestion of Christianity as a way of life was dangerous and subject to criminal prosecution. For a senator, it was worse than political suicide: It meant death. The authorities of Rome, at that time, saw Christians as nothing more than a group of radicals who were influenced by the teachings of a dead carpenter.
It was during the reign of Emperor Commodus, who ruled Rome from 180 to 192 AD, that the laws against Christianity had, for a short time, been relaxed. Some believed the relaxation of the law which outlawed Christianity had something to do with the wife of Commodus, the Empress Marcia, who had become an admirer of the faith. If this was so, she admired it only from a distance. But it was during this remission of the law that the number of Christian converts had increased to include a few Romans of high rank.
Among those converted to Christianity was the Senator Apollonius. It seems that one of Apollonius' slaves, in the hope of improving his own position and perhaps gain his freedom, had gone to the authorities to inform them that Apollonius had converted to Christianity. The slave was assured by the Roman authorities that justice would be carried out to the fullest extent of the law. What the slave did not know is that the laws against convicted Christians demanded that their accusers be put to death as well.
The death of the slave was not quick and easy. It was a process which began with the breaking of both his legs: The informing slave eventually died, but such a death was designed to be slow and agonizing.
The same judge who ordered the execution of the slave sent an order to Apollonius to renounce his religion if he valued his life and his fortune. Apollonius refused.
Apollonius was arrested by the Praetorian Prefect, and brought before the courts. The Praetorian Prefect wielded enormous power in Rome. He held the highest rank of the Praetorian Guard. The Praetorian Guards were the bodyguards of Roman emperors, similar to the Secret Service of today which guards the President of the United States. They also guarded the emperor's palace and served to keep the peace within the city. They were very much feared. The Praetorian Guards have been known to topple one emperor from his throne and replace him with another.
The Praetorian Prefect, whose name was Perennius, wished Apollonius no malice and pleaded with him to renounce his faith. Perennius tried to reason with Apollonius, suggesting that if Apollonius would just say the words renouncing his faith, even if he did not mean them, the senators and jurists, charged with the duty of judging him, would find him not guilty of the crime. Perennius reminded Apollonius that the punishment for being a Christian was death and insisted that the right course of action for a senator like Apollonius was to renounce his faith and maintain his influence and power in the world. Apollonius remained steadfast in his belief.
Apollonius was subjected to two investigations, the first by the Prefect, the second, three days later, by a group of senators and jurists. It was the Prefect Perennius against whom Apollonius would argue. Apollonius had clearly outlined the beauty and the value of Christianity. As a member of the Roman Senate, he knew the law forbidding the practice of Christianity.
However, he felt drawn to live a life rich in the grace and love of Christ, and was confident that the Roman rulers would not punish him for this.
Perennius, not wanting any harm to come to Apollonius, now demanded that he renounce his faith. When he again refused, the case was remanded to the Roman senate. In the senate, the hearings were conducted in a calm and courteous manner. Apollonius was permitted to speak with only rare interruptions, aimed at getting him to tone down his remarks, which were making him liable to punishment.
Apollonius was not afraid to die and in his own words declared: "There is waiting for me something better. It is eternal life, given to the person who has lived well on earth." And he argued for the superiority of Christianity's concepts of death and life.
Apollonius courageously rejected the terms of safety which were offered to him. Perennius had no alternative but to refer him to the judgment of the Roman senate. Persisting in his refusal to comply with the condition offered to him Apollonius was condemned by a decree of the Senate and beheaded.
There is a branch of theology devoted to the defense of Christianity called Apologetics. This word is derived from Greek which means to speak in defense of a position through the systematic use of information.
Early Christian writers who defended their faith against critics and recommended their faith to outsiders were called apologists. Saint Apollonius was one of these defenders.
The account in the Roman Martyrology is as follows: “At Rome, commemoration of Saint Apollonius, philosopher and martyr. Under the Emperor Commodus, he defended, before the Prefect Perennius and the Senate, the cause of the Christian faith in a finely argued address, and then, after being condemned to death, confirmed it by the witness of his blood.”
April 18 is the day we celebrate the feast of Saint Apollonius the Apologist, one of the first apologists of the Christian Church.