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St Marcellinus


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(30 June 296–?304; d. 25 Oct. 304)

While nothing is known of his background, much the greater part of his reign fell in a period when the church enjoyed external peace. His sole recorded action in these years was, according to an inscription, to authorize one of his deacons, Severus, to carry out certain structural modifications in the cemetery of Callistus. On 23 Feb. 303, however, Emperor Diocletian (284–305) issued his first persecuting edict ordering the destruction of churches, the surrender of sacred books, and the offering of sacrifice by those attending law-courts. Marcellinus complied and, probably in May 303, handed over copies of the Scriptures; he also, apparently, offered incense to the gods. Several of his clergy, including the presbyters Marcellus, Miltiades, and Silvester, all three to become popes, were later said to have acted with him. The Donatists used these facts, of which they had documentary evidence, in their controversy early in the 5th century with St Augustine, who, while denying the allegations, did so in a perfunctory and embarrassed manner. Marcellinus' guilt is borne out by the facts that his name was omitted from the official list of popes and that Damasus I completely ignored him when composing verse tributes to previous popes. By the end of the 5th and the beginning of the 6th centuries it is evident that his apostasy was frankly acknowledged, and efforts were being made to present it in a favourable light. Thus LP, basing itself on a now lost Passion of St Marcellinus, relates how he was ordered to sacrifice and proceeded to do so, but a few days later was filled with remorse for his weakness; he was then beheaded with three others on Diocletian's orders. An independent account of his apostasy, and supposed avowal of it at the pseudo-council of Sinuessa (west of Capua), appears in the apocryphal acts (early 6th century). There is in fact no evidence of his martyrdom; no one in the 4th century seems to have had any inkling of it, and St Augustine made no reference to it when dealing with the Donatists' charges. On the other hand, his surrender of sacred books disqualified him from the priesthood, and if he was not actually deposed (as some scholars argue) he must have left the Roman church without an acknowledged head. The date of his abdication or deposition is not known. He died on 25 Oct. 304, and was buried in the cemetery of Sta Priscilla on the Via Salaria; this was presumably chosen because it was private property of the powerful family of the Acilii Glabriones, the church's official cemeteries having been confiscated by the government at the beginning of the persecution. Because of the story of his execution at the emperor's behest he came to be venerated as a martyr. Feast 26 Apr. (suppressed 1969).

Further Reading

Eusebius, Hist. eccl. 7. 32. 1Augustine, C. litt. Petil. 2. 202, 2. 208id., De unic. bapt. 16. 27id., Brevic. coll. cum Donat. 3. 34LP i, pp. lxxi–lxxiv, xcix, 72 f., 162 f. (Davis 1: 12–13, 100)PL vi. 20 (Sinuessa)E. H. Röttges, ‘Marcellinus-Marcellus’, ZKTh78 (1956), 385–420A. Amore, ‘Il preteso “lapsus” di papa Marcellino’, Antonianum, 32 (1955), 411–26W. H. Frend, Martyrdom and Persecution in the Early Church (London, 1965), 503 f.T. D. Barnes, Constantine and Eusebius (Cambridge, Mass., 1981), 38, 303 f.Caspar i. 97–9DCB iii. 804–6 (J. Barmby)EC viii. 10 f. (V. Monachino)DACL x. 1762–73 (H. Leclercq)Levillain ii. 966 f. (M. Christol)EThC 94 (A. di Berardino)NCE ix. 135 (E. G. Weltin)Seppelt i. 65–7


Subjects: Religion

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