Dictionary of Christian Biography and Literature to the End of the Sixth Century/Commodus

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181111Dictionary of Christian Biography and Literature — CommodusEdward Hayes Plumptre

Commodus, A.D. 180‒193. The monstrous vices of this degenerate son of Marcus Aurelius brought at least one counterbalancing advantage. The persecutions of his father's reign ceased for a time in his. The popular feeling against the Christians, though it still continued, was no longer heightened and directed by the action of the Imperial government, and the result was a marked increase of numbers. Many rich and noble, with their households and kindred, professed themselves Christians (Eus. H. E. v. 21), even in the emperor's palace, but it is uncertain whether they were officers, freedmen, or slaves (Iren. adv. Haer. iv. 30). Marcia, the favourite mistress of the emperor, is said by Dio Cassius (Ixxii. 4) or Xiphilinus writing in his name, to have used her influence with Commodus in their favour and to have done them much good service. The strange history of Callistus in the Refutation of all Heresies attributed to Hippolytus (ix. 6) throws fresh light on Marcia's connexion with the Christian church at Rome. The epithet by which he describes her as a "God-loving woman" may be, as Dr. Wordsworth suggested, ironical; but it is clear that she was in frequent communication with the officers of the church. Callistus had been brought before Fuscianus, the city prefect, charged with disturbing a synagogue of the Jews, and was sentenced to hard labour in the mines of Sardinia. Marcia sent for Victor, a bishop of the church, asked what Christians were suffering for their faith in Sardinia, and obtained from Commodus an order of release. The order was given to an eunuch, Hyacinthus, who carried it to Sardinia, and obtained the liberation of Callistus and others, alleging his own influence with Marcia as his warrant, though the name of Callistus had not been included in the list. The narrative clearly implies that Hyacinthus was a Christian.

Thus some Christians had, as such, been condemned to exile; and persecutions, though less frequent, had not altogether ceased. One sufferer of the time takes his place in the list of martyrs. Apollonius, a Roman citizen of distinction, perhaps a senator, of high repute for philosophical culture, was accused before Perennius, the prefect of the city, by one of his own slaves. In accordance with an imperial edict sentencing informers, in such cases, to death even when the accused was found guilty, the slave had his legs broken. Apollonius delivered before the senate an elaborate Apologia for his faith. By what Eusebius speaks of as an ancient law (possibly the edict of Trajan) he was beheaded (H. E. v. 21).