Lesser Known Christian Apoligist: Claudius Apollinaris of Hierapolis

Claudius Apollinaris (fl. ca. AD 170–180), the bishop of Hierapolis in Asia and successor to Papias (ca. 60–130), was a late second-century apologist whose writings survive in only one extant fragment.[1] According to Eusebius (ca. 265–339), Apollinaris wrote an apology addressed to the Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius (161–180). However, both Eusebius and Jerome mentioned that he produced multiple other works, including five books against the Greeks, two books on truth, potentially two books against the Jews, a book on piety, a book against the Phrygian heresy, and a book on the Passover (cf. Eusebius Hist. eccl. 4.26.1; 4.27.1; Jerome Vir. ill. 26). The earliest reference to Apollinaris’s work appears in a private letter by Serapion (192–209), bishop of Antioch, in reference to the late Apollinaris’s refutation of the Phrygians (Eusebius Hist. eccl. 15.19.1). Though already deceased by 180, Serapion regarded Apollinaris as a formidable opponent of Montanism while Theodoret (ca. 393–460) mentioned Apollinaris’s apologetic work against the Severians (Haer. fab. 1.21). Jerome (ca. 347–419) mentioned that Apollinaris flourished during the reign of Roman Emperor Marcus Antoninus Verus (Vir. ill. 26).

According to Socrates Scholasticus (ca. 380–450), Apollinaris believed the incarnate Christ possessed a human soul (Socr. Hist. eccl. 3.7). For Eusebius, Apollinaris was a resilient and unconquerable weapon against heresy (Hist. eccl. 5.16.1). In one legend, Apollinaris documented the tale of a Roman military group under Marcus Aurelius’s army, the “Thundering Legion,” that was in danger of extreme thirst during a battle with Germans and Sarmatians. The Christian soldiers in this legion successfully prayed for rain but also unexpectedly received frightening thunder that caused their enemy to flee the battlefield (Hist. eccl. 5.5.1–4).[2] It is likely, however, that Apollinaris merely Christianized a pagan miracle story as an apologetic to describe Christianity’s loyalty to the Emperor, especially in response to Celsus’s criticisms against Christian pacifism and lack of military service.[3] In Catholic tradition, the bishop of Hierapolis attacked the Encratites and Montanists. Believing that Marcus Aurelius’s twelfth legion was mainly Christian, Apollinaris’s apology resulted in an imperial edict prohibiting the condemnation of Christians solely for their religion. Thus, church tradition celebrates his sainthood on 8 January of every year.[4]

Apollinaris was also heavily involved in the Paschal controversies of the second-century, opposing the Quartodeciman sect that argued for a Passover date when celebrating Easter. His contemporary, Melito of Sardis (160–190), on the other hand, endorsed the Quartodecimans.[5] Joseph Lightfoot challenged this assertion, arguing that historians could hardly expect Apollinaris to deviate from the unanimous practice of Asia in celebrating Easter on 14 Nisan regardless of the day of the week (see Hist. eccl. 5.23.1).[6] Apollinaris was one among five ancient apologists to address Marcus Aurelius during the Emperor’s visit to the eastern portion of the empire in 175–176. Both the visit of Marcus Aurelius and Apollinaris’s apologetic works appeared shortly after the uprising of Avidius Cassius in 175.[7]

According to James Rives, the later apologetic tradition of accusing Montanists of ritually killing children, which appeared in the fourth- and fifth-centuries, originated first with Apollinaris, though this is currently unverifiable.[8] Significantly, Apollinaris’s apologetic writings did not discuss solely the episcopate in Asia Minor. Rather, he addressed issues pertaining to both heretical innovations in Christian doctrine and extreme asceticism. He was not only well versed in Scripture, but he was also well acquainted with pagan literature, as well (Jerome, Epist. 70.3–4). His presence and writings in Hierapolis indicate that adherence to orthodox doctrine was prevalent in Asia Minor during and after the apostolic age.[9]


Delaney, John J., ed. Dictionary of Saints. New York: Doubleday, 1980.

Grant, Robert M. “Five Apologists and Marcus Aurelius.” Vigiliae Christianae 42, no. 1 (1988): 1–17.

———. Greek Apologists of the Second Century. Philadelphia, PA: Westminster Press, 1988.

Lightfoot, Joseph B. Saint Paul's Epistle to the Colossians and to Philemon. 8th ed. Classic Commentaries on the Greek New Testament. New York: Macmillan and Company, 1886.

Rives, James B. “The Blood Libel against the Montanists.” Vigiliae Christianae 50, no. 2 (1996): 117–24.

Schaff, Philip. History of the Christian Church. 1910. Vol. 2, Ante-Nicene Christianity: A.D. 100–325. Reprint, Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1992.

Schaff, Philip, and Henry Wace, eds. Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers. 1890. 14 vols. Second Series. Reprint, Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 2004.

  1. Readers should not confuse Apollinaris, bishop of Hierapolis, with Apolinarius, bishop of Laodicea (fourth-century), mentioned in Jerome (Vir. ill. 26) as an advocate of chiliasm (Arthur Cushman McGiffert, “The Church History of Eusebius,” in Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, ed. Philip Schaff and Henry Wace, Second Series [1890; repr., Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 2004], 1:206n1). Also, the spelling of “Apollinaris” or “Apollinarius” is the Latin form of his name, while the Greek writers spelled his name “Apolinarius” (Philip Schaff, History of the Christian Church, vol. 2, Ante-Nicene Christianity: A.D. 100–325 [1910; repr., Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1992], 740n1).

  2. For an in-depth presentation of the different fragments and textual problems with Apollinaris’s work, see McGiffert, “The Church History of Eusebius,” 1:206n1.

  3. See Robert M. Grant, Greek Apologists of the Second Century (Philadelphia, PA: Westminster Press, 1988), 83–85.

  4. John J. Delaney, ed., Dictionary of Saints (New York: Doubleday, 1980), s.v. “Apollinaris (d. c. 179).”

  5. Schaff, History of the Christian Church, 2:740.

  6. Joseph B. Lightfoot, Saint Paul's Epistle to the Colossians and to Philemon, 8th ed., Classic Commentaries on the Greek New Testament (New York: Macmillan and Company, 1886), 56.

  7. Robert M. Grant, “Five Apologists and Marcus Aurelius,” Vigiliae Christianae 42, no. 1 (1988): 1–17.

  8. James B. Rives, “The Blood Libel against the Montanists,” Vigiliae Christianae 50, no. 2 (1996): 117–24.

  9. Lightfoot, Saint Paul's Epistle, 58–60.

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