The Apologist, Bishop
Claudius Apollinaris, Bishop of Hierapolis, in Phrygia, was one of the most illustrious prelates of his time. Notwithstanding the great praise bestowed on him by Eusebius, St. Jerome, Theodoret, and others, we know but very little of his actions; and his writings, which then were held in great esteem, now seem to be all lost. But nothing rendered his name so illustrious as his noble defense for the Christian religion, which he addressed to the emperor Marcus Aurelius around the year 175, soon after the miraculous victory that prince had obtained over the Quadi by the prayers of the Christians, of which the saint made mention.
Marcus Aurelius having long attempted, without success, to subdue the Germans by his generals, resolved in the thirteenth year of his reign, and of Christ 171 A.D., to lead a powerful army against them. He was beyond the Danube, for Germany was extended much farther eastward than it is at present, when the Quadi, a people inhabiting that tract now called Moravia, surrounded him in a very disadvantageous situation; so that there was no possibility that either he or his army could escape out of their hands, or hold out for long where they were for want of water. The twelfth legion, called the Melitine, from a town of that name in Armenia, where it had been quartered a long time, was chiefly composed of Christians. These, when the army was drawn up, but languid and perishing with thirst, fell upon their knees, “as we are accustomed to do at prayer,” says Eusebius, and poured forth earnest supplications to God in this public extremity of their state and emperor, though hitherto he had been a persecutor of their religion.
The strangeness of the sight surprised the enemies, who had more reason to be astonished at the event; for all of a sudden the sky was darkened with clouds, and a thick rain showered down with impetuosity just as the Barbarians had assailed the Roman camp. The Romans fought and drank at the same time, catching the rain, as it fell, in their helmets, and often swallowing it mingled with blood. Though by this means exceedingly refreshed, the Germans were still much too strong for them; but the storm being driven by a violent wind upon their faces, and accompanied with dreadful flashes of lightning and loud thunder, the Germans were deprived of their sight, beaten down to the ground, and terrified to such a degree, that they were entirely routed and put to flight. Both heathen and Christian writers give this account of the victory.
The heathens ascribe it, some to the power of magic, others to their gods, as Dio Cassius; but the Christians unanimously recount it as a miracle obtained by the prayers of this legion, as St. Apollinaris in his public defense and explanation to this very emperor; who adds, that as an acknowledgment, the emperor immediately gave it the name of the Thundering Legion, and from him it is so called by Eusebius, Tertullian, St. Jerome, and St. Gregory of Nyssa.
The Quadi and Sarmatians brought back thirteen thousand prisoners, whom they had taken, and begged for peace on whatever conditions it should please the emperor to grant it them. Marcus Aurelius hereupon took the title of the seventh-time emperor, contrary to custom, and without the consent of the senate, regarding it as given him by Heaven. Out of gratitude to his Christian soldiers he published an edict, in which he confessed himself indebted for his delivery to the shower obtained, perhaps, by the prayers of the Christians, and more he could not say without danger of exasperating the pagans.
In it he forbad, under pain of death, any one to accuse a Christian on account of his religion; yet by a strange inconsistency, especially in so wise a prince, being overawed by the opposition of the senate, he had not the courage to abolish the laws already made and in force against Christians. Hence, even after this, in the same reign, many suffered martyrdom, though their accusers were also put to death; as in the case of St. Apollonius and of the martyrs of Lyons. Trajan had in like manner forbid Christians to be accused, yet commanded them to be punished with death if accused, as may be seen declared by him in his famous letter to Pliny the Younger; the glaring injustice of which law Tertullian demonstrates by an unanswerable dilemma.
St Apollinaris, who could not see his flock torn in pieces and be silent, penned his defense of the Catholic Faith and religion to the emperor, around the year 175, to remind him of the benefit he had received from God by the prayers of the Christians, and to implore his protection. We have no account of the time of this holy man’s death, which probably happened before that of Marcus Aurelius. The Roman Martyrology mentions him on the 8th of January.
We believe the same great truths and divine mysteries, we profess the same faith which produced such wonderful fruits in the souls of the saints. Whence comes it that it has not the like effect in us? That though we acknowledge virtue to be the richest treasure of the soul of man, we take little pains about it; passionately seek the things of this world, are cast down and broken under every adversity, and curb and restrain our passions only by halves? That the most glorious objects, God and Heaven, and the amazing and dreadful truths, a judgment to come, hell and eternity, strike us so feebly, and operate so little in us?
The reason is plain, because we meditate not sufficiently on these great truths. It is not enough barely to believe them, and let our thoughts now and then glance upon them; that knowledge which shows us Heaven will not bring us to the possession of it, and will deserve punishments, not rewards, if it remains slight, weak, and superficial. By serious and frequent meditation it must be digested, and turned into the nourishment of our affections before it can be powerful and operative enough to change them, and produce the necessary fruit in our lives. For this all the saints sought solitude and retreats from the noise and hurry of the world, as much as their circumstances allowed them.