Marcus Aurelius had persecuted the Christians from principle, being a bigoted pagan: but his son Commodus, who, in 180, succeeded him in the empire, after some time, though a vicious man, showed himself favorable to them out of regard to Marcia, a lady whom he had honored with the title empress, and who was an admirer of the faith.
During this calm, the number of the faithful was exceedingly increased, and many persons of the first rank enlisted themselves under the banner of the cross, of which number was Apollonius, a Roman senator. He was a person very well versed both in philosophy and the holy scripture. In the midst of the peace which the church enjoyed, he was publicly accused of Christianity by one of his own slaves, named Severus, before Perennis, prefect of the Praetorium. The slave was immediately condemned by the prefect to have his legs broke, and to be put to death, in consequence of an edict of Marcus Aurelius, who, without repealing the former laws against convicted Christians, ordered by it that their accusers should be put to death.
The slave being executed, pursuant to the sentence already mentioned, the same judge sent an order to his master, St. Apollonius, to renounce his religion as he valued his life and fortune. The saint courageously rejected such ignominious terms of safety, wherefore Perennis referred him to the judgment of the Roman senate, commanding him to give an account of his faith to that body. The martyr hereupon composed an excellent discourse, but which has not reached our times, in vindication of the Christian religion, and spoke it in a full senate. St. Jerome who had perused it, did not know whether more to admire the eloquence, or the profound learning, both sacred and profane, of its illustrious author: who, persisting in his refusal to comply with the condition, was condemned by a decree of the senate, and beheaded, about the year 186 of Commodus the sixth.
It is the prerogative of the Christian religion to inspire men with such resolution, and form them to such heroism, that they rejoice to sacrifice their life to truth. This is not the bare force and exertion of nature, but the undoubted power of the Almighty, whose strength is thus made perfect in weakness. Every Christian ought to be an apologist for his religion by the sanctity of his manners. Such would be the force of universal good example, that no libertine or infidel could withstand it. But by the scandal and irregularity of our manners, we fight against Christ, and draw a reproach upon his most holy religion. Thus, through us, are his name and faith blasphemed among the Gentiles. The primitive Christians converted the world by the sanctity of their example; and, by the spirit of every heroic and divine virtue which their actions breathed, spread the good odor of Christ on all sides: but we, by a monstrous inconsistency between our lives and our faith, scandalize the weak among the faithful, strengthen the obstinacy of infidels, and furnish them with arms against that very religion which we profess. Either change thy faith