Claudius Apollinaris, bishop of Hierapolis, in Phrygia, was one of the most illustrious prelates of the second age. Notwithstanding the great encomiums bestowed on him by Eusebius, Saint Jerome, Theodoret, and others, we know but very little of his actions; and his writings which then were held in great esteem, seem now to be all lost. Photius, who had read them, and who was a very good judge, commends them both for their style and matter. He wrote against the Encratites and other heretics, and pointed out, as Saint Jerome testifies, from what philosophical sect each heresy derived its errors. The last of these works was against the Montanists and their pretended prophets, who began to appear in Phrygia about the year 171. But nothing rendered his name so illustrious, as his noble apology for the Christian religion, which he addressed to the Emperor Marcus Aurelius, about 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, to lead a powerful army against them. He was beyond the Danube, for Germany was extended much further 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 subsist 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 on 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 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; 3 but the Christians unanimously recount it as a miracle obtained by the prayers of this legion, as Saint Apollinaris in his apology 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, Saint Jerome, and Saint 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 to 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 over-awed 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 Saint Apollonius and 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.
Saint Apollinaris, who could not see his flock torn in pieces and be silent, penned his apology to the emperor, about the year 172, 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 effects on us? Although 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! 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 on us! The reason is plain, because we meditate not sufficiently on these great truths. Our notions of them are dim and imperfect; our thoughts pass so slightly over them, that they scarce retain any print or traces of them. Otherwise it is impossible that things so great and terrible should excite in us no fear, or that things in their own nature infinitely amiable, should enkindle in us no desire. Slight and faint images of things move our minds very weakly, and affect them very coldly; especially in such matters as are not subject to our senses. We therefore grossly deceive ourselves in not allotting more time to the study of divine 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 remain slight, weak, and superficial. By serious and frequent meditation it must be concocted, 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.
- Father Alban Butler. “Saint Apollinaris, the Apologist, Bishop”. , 1866. Saints.SQPN.com. 7 January 2013. Web. 13 March 2014. <>