The Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius had persecuted the Christians, but his son Commodus, who in 180 succeeded to the throne, was favorable to them, out of regard to his Empress Marcia, an admirer of the Faith. During this calm the number of the faithful greatly increased, and many persons of first rank, among them Apollonius, a Roman senator, enlisted themselves under the banner of the cross. He was already very well versed both in philosophy and Holy Scripture, as we learn from Saint Jerome, who had read and admired his discourse in the Senate of Rome on behalf of the Christian religion. The loss of this document is much regretted.
In the midst of the peace which the Church enjoyed, Saint Apollonius was publicly accused of Christianity by one of his own slaves. What followed evokes our surprise. Marcus Aurelius, during his reign, had published an edict ordering that the accusers of Christians be put to death, but he had done so without repealing the former laws against convicted Christians. Thus the slave was immediately condemned to have his legs broken and be put to death; but immediately afterwards, to ascertain whether the accusation was true, the same judge sent an order to Saint Apollonius to renounce his religion if he valued his life and fortune. The Saint courageously rejected such ignominious terms of safety, whereupon the judge referred him to the Roman senate, to give an account of his faith to that body, very hostile to Christians. Persisting in his refusal to comply with the condition, Saint Apollonius was condemned by their decree and beheaded.
Reflection. Every Christian by his way of life should bear witness to the sanctity of his faith. Such would then be the force of universal good example, that no libertine or infidel could resist it.
Little Pictorial Lives of the Saints, a compilation based on Butler's Lives of the Saints and other sources by John Gilmary Shea (Benziger Brothers: New York, 1894); Les Petits Bollandistes: Vies des Saints, by Msgr. Paul Guérin (Bloud et Barral: Paris, 1882), Vol. 4