CHURCH FATHERS (15) – Saint Apollinaris Claudius


When we investigate the first centuries of Christian history, we are often faced with the problem of lack of information. This is not strange, if you think about it, because a very long time separates us from those times and certainly they did not have all the technological tools that allow us today to store information. So, about certain people, we have to rely on reconstructions from other sources to have at least an idea about their achievements.

This is the case, for example, with Apollinaris Claudius, a Bishop of Hierapolis and an apologist in the second century who is now considered a Saint by the Catholic Church. All of his works are lost but we can grasp something of what he did from the works of other authors that report portion of his writings, as Eusebius of Caesarea (in his case).

He devoted his life to write books against heresies and his most famous work was an apology to Marcus Aurelius, the Emperor of Rome in his time (see Campbell, T.  “St Apollinaris Claudius.” In The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company).

We have some fragments of his writings, as for example these two (found in the website, a good reference for the early Christian writers):  “There are, then, some who through ignorance raise disputes about these things (though their conduct is pardonable: for ignorance is no subject for blame — it rather needs further instruction), and say that on the fourteenth day the Lord ate the lamb with the disciples, and that on the great day of the feast of unleavened bread He Himself suffered; and they quote Matthew as speaking in accordance with their view. Wherefore their opinion is contrary to the law, and the Gospels seem to be at variance with them. (…) The fourteenth day, the true Passover of the Lord; the great sacrifice, the Son of God instead of the lamb, who was bound, who bound the strong, and who was judged, though Judge of living and dead, and who was delivered into the hands of sinners to be crucified, who was lifted up on the horns of the unicorn, and who was pierced in His holy side, who poured forth from His side the two purifying elements, water and blood, word and spirit, and who was buried on the day of the passover, the stone being placed upon the tomb (Concerning the Passover).

What I think is important and modern (if we may use this word) about Apollinaris, is this urge to defend the faith in a world that is going against the law of the Lord. Apology should be taught in catechism classes everywhere, because today more and more we are faced with other people who are not concerned with Christianity or even openly oppose it. We need to be careful to be able to distinguish the criticism that may be also well founded about certain aspects of today’s Christianity, certain shortcomings of the clergy or the hierarchy or the Catholic faithful. We know we are sinners and imperfect and in constant need of conversion. Another thing is the attack on the foundational elements of the faith, its historicity and reliability, the existence of God, the Sacraments, the liturgy, the saints and so on. In this case we need to be  able to answer properly, to be apologists of what is a the core of our existence.

Indeed the times we are living are not very different from the one of Apollinaris, but with an important difference. Yes, we live in a world where the people that are not believers in Christ are now in huge numbers, as in the second century. But at that time the Catholic faith, among many difficulties and challenges, was still rising as a major force of change. Today it is undoubtedly declining, declining not only in force but also as a moral influence. There is a crisis that is not just showing from the outside but that is certainly also acting in the inside, in the confusion about what we believe, our relationship with the world, the way we need to be present and be salt of the earth. Our Church, today struggling in many regards, needs to find again the way of her roots, considering doing apology not as something of the past but a fundamental step to establish her presence among the Catholic faithful and among those who are now abiding in the (for the moment) lost peripheries.   

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