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Marcia – how one adulteress saved Christians

This post is also available in: Polish (polski)

Paulina Bieś, painting Commodus, 2023

A rescript issued by Emperor Marcus Aurelius in 176, prohibiting the practice of foreign religions, confirmed the persecution of Christians. The greatest intensity of persecution in that period occurred in 177 in Lugdunum, where Bishop Poteinos, who was over 90 years old, was killed. Saint Justin was martyred in Rome itself.

However, thanks to Marcia, the lover of Marcus Aurelius’s son, they were not continued later – during the reign of Commodus.

From the Life of St. Apollonius Martyr:

Marcus Aurelius had persecuted the Christians, but his son Commodus, who in 180 succeeded him, showed himself favorable to them out of regard to his Empress Marcia, 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, among them Apollonius, a Roman senator, enlisted themselves under the banner of the cross. 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.

Her tutor was the eunuch Hyacinth, who was a priest in the Roman Christian community and a member of the priestly council of the “pope” Eleutherius and his successor Victor I.

Under the influence of priest Jacinta, Marcja developed a very favourable attitude towards Christians, although sources indicate that she was not baptized. She convinced the ruler to stop persecuting Christians. She then summoned Victor (the current pope) to appear at the imperial palace to present her with a list of Christians who had been sentenced to hard labor in the mines in Sardinia. After speaking with Commodus, she sent a messenger to Sardinia with an imperial order to release the Christians and return them to their freedom.

The situation of Christians became so good that they were allowed to work in the state apparatus. According to Irenaeus of Lyons, several Christians were employed as clerks in the imperial court. Even after the death of Commodus, under Emperor Septimius Severus, Christians did not suffer oppression, and Saint Victor was probably the first pope to die a natural death.

Author: Paulina Bieś (translated from Polish: Jakub Jasiński)
  • Ks. Piotr Skarga, o. Prokop Leszczyński, Żywot św. Apolloniusza Męczennika, Warszawa, 1910
  • Aleksander Krawczuk, Poczet cesarzy rzymskich, Warszawa 1986

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