Martyrs in the History of Christianity by Franklyn J. Balasundaram (ed.)
Rev. Dr. Franklyn J. Balasundaram was Professor in the Department of the History of Christianity , United Theological College, Bangalore, India. Published by the Indian Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, Delhi, India 1997, for The United Theological College. This material was prepared for Religion Online by Ted and Winnie Brock.
Chapter 4: The Martyrdom of Appollonius, by Hudson Christopher
Persecution of Christians, as we know, started immediately after the death and the resurrection of Jesus Christ. The followers of Jesus Christ began to increase rapidly. The Christians were scattered due to the severe persecutions; wherever these Christians went, they started preaching the gospel about the Kingdom of God. The early Christians were martyred frequently. But there was a speedy growth of these Christians. The Roman government was threatened by the increase of this new movement.
The Roman government wanted to put an end to this movement. The Emperors ordered punishment and persecuted the Christians. Each emperor had different kinds of decree. Those Christians who disobeyed were massacred. Many became martyrs because of their new faith. Here we are going to see one of those periods, when one Blessed martyr APPOLLONIUS was martyred because of his faith.
THE HISTORICAL BACKGROUND:
Place : Rome
Period :185 AD
Emperor :Commodus (Luctus Aelius Aurelius)
Commodus was born in Italy. He was the son of the emperor Marcus Aurelius . He was born on August 31,161 AD. In 176 AD Marcus Aurelius proclaimed that Commodus as a co-ruler with him will be a joint emperor. Marcus Aurelius died in 180 AD. Commodus became the sole emperor, and he put Crispina his wife to death on suspicion. He removed all the ministers who came to prominence during his father’s rule. The emperor appointed one Tigidius Perennis as the proconsul. Although there were political disturbances, the emperor was very particular in keeping all under his control. The persecution was ordered and was carried out without any exception. Christians were tortured, massacred and were persecuted. In contrast, Commodus died as an insane, killed by Marcia, a concubine of a Christian believer.
REASONS FOR PERSECUTION : Although the Christians there continued to be persecuted and martyred under different emperors due to different kinds of reasons, the reason for the persecution during this period was this, that the decree of the Emperor had to be adhered to by all throughout the Roman world. The decree was: "Sacrifices should be made to the gods and to the statue of the emperor Commodus". All these who failed to follow the decree were brought to the senate and were tried. This decree was a forceful attempt to put down Christians completely. But the followers who believed in Jesus Christ refused to accept this and many were ready to face the trial out of which we have an account of one St. Appollonius who was martyred for refusing to accept the decree proclaimed by the emperor.
We have very little information about Appollonius. Appollonius was from Alexandria. He was a pious follower, he feared the Lord. He was a champion of Christ. He was a philosopher and he was also a bold and courageous man. He led a good ascetic life. Apart from this we do not know much about Appollonius. Appollonius was arrested and was brought before the senate for the trial.
The trial began with the question by the Proconsul Perennis:
PERRENNIS: ‘APPOLLONIUS, are you a Christian?’
APPOLLONIUS: ‘Yes, I am a Christian. I worship and fear the God who made heaven, earth, the sea and all that is in them.’
P: Take my advice, Appollonius abjure, take an oath by the fortune of our Lord, the emperor Commodus.’
A: ‘Listen carefully to me, Perennis. I shall plead my cause with seriousness and respect for the law. Anyone who forsakes the commandment of God which are full of truth, justice, and greatness is a criminal, and impious person, in short one who denies God. Anyone who renounces justice, disorder, idolatry and evil thoughts, who far from giving way to the slightest temptation, finally withdraws from their dominion is a just person. Believe me, Perennis, and yield to my reason. These commandments are good and great. We hold them to be the word of God which searches out all the thoughts of man. Among other things it is ordained that we should never swear and always speak the truth. A simple yes commits us just as much as a formal oath.’
P: ‘Appollonius retract and sacrifice to the Gods and to the nature of the Emperor Commodus.’
A: ‘I have given you my opinion on abjuring and sacrifice. All Christians and I offer a bloodless and pure sacrifice to Almighty God, Lord of heaven, earth and all that breathes: we offer this Sacrifice of prayer, above all, for those endowed with reason and intelligence made in the image of God. Moreover faithful to his just Commandment, we pray every day to the God of heaven for the emperor Commodus. But I repeat, we know that it is not by human will that the Emperor rules here below, but solely by the invincible decree of our God who governs all things.’
P: ‘I will give you a day to reflect on your fate’.
Three days later the session resumed. A crowd of Senators, members of the Council and philosophers managed the Tribunal. The acts of Appollonius was read and asked Appollonius about his decision.
P ‘I advise you to abjure, honor and worship our Gods like all of us here and you will continue to live among us.
A: I serve my God, not idols made of human hands.... I resolutely reject these impieties.’
P: ‘Appollonius the decree of the Senate prohibits people from being Christians.’
A : ‘The decree of man does not prevail over the decree of God. The more you kill these innocent faithful, making justice and the laws, the more God will increase their number.
God destines all Kings, Senators, the powerful of the earth, rich, poor, free men, slaves, great and small, wise and foolish to death and after death to Judgment. Among us there is no pleasure. However slight, we avert our eyes from any doubtful spectacle and our ears from any sycophancy. In this way we keep a pure heart. We are ready to suffer all to escape an end without honor.’
P: ‘Does death give you Pleasure?’
A: ‘It is life that I love; Life that does not make me fear death, For the life which I prefer to all else is Eternal life, Which awaits those who have lived faithfully in this World.’ Appollonius continued to explain incarnation, the Word becoming flesh and the revelation of God through Jesus Christ and his passion, victory over sin and went on to say that, " He has taught us to rein in our anger, to direct our desires, to restrain our instincts, to dissipate our sorrows. He has taught us to show solidarity to one another, to love increasingly, to reject vanity and not to take vengeance on those who have offended us. He has given the law to obey it and to respect the Emperor but to reserve our worship for the eternal God. To await our judgment after death, to hope that our efforts and our courage will be rewarded by God at the resurrection?
P: ‘I thought that you would bid farewell to your whims and worship the Gods with us.’
A: ‘I hoped that these few words which I have spoken about my faith would help you and that my plea would open the eyes of your soul. I hoped that your heart would bear fruit, that you would worship all your days the God who created the world, that you would lift up your prayer only to him without forgetting alms or charity and that this would be the pure and bloodless sacrifice that you would offer to God.’
P: ‘I would like to release you but the decree of the Emperor Commodus forbids me. At least I would want your death to be gentle. And he commanded him to be beheaded with a sword.
A: "I GIVE THANKS TO MY GOD,PERENNIS, FOR THY SENTENCE"
1. APPOLLONIUS : Confessed that he is a Christian and that he feared the creator.
2. He believed the commandments of God as the word of God.
3. He believed in respecting and honoring the Emperor as the Scriptures taught him.
4. His understanding of sacrifice was the bloodless sacrifice of prayer.
5. He attains his faithfulness to God that he will not worship the idols or images made by human hands and that he will not worship the saints of nature nor animals nor human being for all are created by God.
6. He believed in the doctrine of Predestination which I personally do not agree with Appollonius, specially the concept of poor and rich, freemen and slaves, etc. All these are man-made. The evil structures prevail because of selfish power mongers.
7. He believed in asceticism -- disciples died everyday to please God. God did not intend that human beings should be out of the world. Then why did he create the human beings? why did he call the people to be united? -- why family of the society is instituted so that we would be involved in the world. It is a part of our life. I do not agree with Appollonius when he says in this way: "we keep a pure heart ." This is totally against the principle of Jesus Christ.
He believed in the Award of eternal life, which awaits those who have tried faithfully in this world. If this was the motive of Appollonius, I feel it was a selfish motive, In what way was he helpful to his neighbor who was in need.
The incarnate word of God is well explained.
He speaks about the Judgment after death. Perhaps this is one of the factors that is instilled in the minds of the people about the concept of the eternal punishment. We need to throw more light on this in the present day context. Here I would like to mention that no one can claim that. " I am righteous and hence I would enjoy eternal life." We need to identify ourselves among people and do something about the present reality and work together to achieve the goal.
The event of the trial of Appollonius was interesting to read and to reflect upon although the context was that the persecution was at the highest peak where Appollonius was martyred may be justifiable at that time. But in today’s context, in our land, it is difficult for us to think of martyrdom of the 20th century. With all the Biblical basis what we arrive at is a conclusion that the present day caters to the martyrdom is not for the cause of our contention of faith, but for our action in fulfilling God’s Commandment given by our Lord Jesus Christ. "Love your neighbor as yourself." If you are giving your life for the cause of the good of your fellow beings in the society where you live and that is martyrdom, a true Christian martyrdom.