Was Apolloinia's Martyrdom Suicide?

Dan Graves, MSL

Was Apolloinia's Martyrdom Suicide?

How much do you love Christ? Enough to die rather than to speak evil against him?

Apollonia of Alexandria loved Christ. According to legend she was born to a mother who was barren as long as she prayed to her heathen gods, but conceived when she resorted to Christian intercession. Apollonia became a Christian as a teen and eventually a deaconess in the church of Alexandria. These details cannot be verified from contemporary records, but the facts of her martyrdom can. Dionysius, bishop of Alexandria wrote Bishop Fabian of Rome a lengthy letter telling him what had happened. Eusebius of Caesaria quotes from it in his history.

Around ad 249, during the reign of Emperor Philip "The Arabian," Roman citizens throughout the empire celebrated the first 1,000 years of the existence of the city-state. (Tradition says Rome was founded around 750 BC.) As part of the big bash, the people offered sacrifices to their pagan gods.

In Alexandria, the scene turned ugly. One of the poets claimed that disaster would come because of the presence of "atheistic" Christians who did not sacrifice to the popular gods. The mob went wild. Three well-known Christians--Metras, Quinta and Serapion--were killed after cruel tortures. Government officials did nothing to stop these outrages.

Apollonia risked her life to comfort other Christians who were in prison, reminding them that suffering here is temporary, but the joy of living with Christ is eternal. Her courage cost her her bodily life. According to tradition, Apollonia was seized by the mob on this day, February 9, 249.

Wicked men beat her on the jaw, breaking out all of her teeth. Then they built a large bonfire and threatened to burn her alive unless she renounced Christ and repeated blasphemous words after them. Perhaps Apollonia pretended to think it over. She asked them to loose her for a moment and they did. Rather than risk betraying Christ, she immediately sprang into the fire of her own accord.

Those who saw this were astonished. How could faith give her such courage in the face of so cruel a death? Some became Christians. The early church respected her faith and courage, but a few wondered if her action were not a form of suicide. Eventually, Augustine of Hippo decided that her death was no more to be questioned than Samson's when he pulled down a pagan temple on himself to kill his enemies with strength God had restored to him in answer to prayer.

Bibliography:

  1. Kirsch, J. P. "St. Apollonia." The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton, 1914.
  2. "Saint Apollonia." http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Saint_Apollonia.
  3. Various encyclopedia and internet articles.

Last updated May, 2007.

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