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Pope Saint Marcellinus
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Date of birth unknown; elected 30 June, 296; died 304. According to the "Liber Pontificalis" he was a Roman, son of a certain Projectus. The Liberian Catalogue of popes (ed. Duchesne, "Lib. Pont." I, 6-7) gives 30 June as the day of his election, and the years 296-304 as the time of his pontificate. These dates, accepted by the author of the "Liber Pontificalis", are verified by that ancient source. Nothing has been handed down concerning the activities of this pope in his reign of eight years. We learn from the Roman deacon Severus's epitaph in the Catacomb of Callistus ( De Rossi, "Roma Sotterranea", III, 46 tav. V) that at that time new burial chambers were made in the chief cemetery of the Roman Church. Severus says that he had laid out a double cubiculum with luminare and arcosolium, "jussu papæ sui Marcellini". This happened before the outbreak of the great Diocletian persecution ; for in this the Callistus Catacomb was confiscated, like the other public meeting-places of the Roman community. De Rossi assumes that the Christians blocked up the principal galleries of the catacomb at this time, to protect from desecration the tombs of the numerous martyrs buried there. The Diocletian persecution, whose severe edicts against the Christians were executed by Maximianus Herculeus, caused the greatest confusion in the Roman Church after 303. Marcellinus died in the second year of the persecution and, in all probability, a natural death. No trustworthy sources of the fourth or fifth century mention him as a martyr. His name does not occur either in the list of martyrs or the bishops in the Roman "Chronograph" of the year 354. Neither is he mentioned in the "Martyrologium Hieronymianum". The "Marcellinus episcopus" on 4 Oct. in "Codex Bernensis" (ed. De Rossi-Duchesne, 129) is probably not identical with the pope. In mentioning Marcellinus, Eusebius uses an obscure expression; he merely says: "the persecution also affected him" ( ‘òn kaì a’utòn kateílephon ‘o diogmòs "Hist. Eccl.", VII, 32). From this one must obviously conclude that the pope did not suffer martyrdom, otherwise Eusebius would have distinctly stated it. There were even later reports in circulation that accused him of having given up the sacred books after the first edict, or even of having offered incense to the gods, to protect himself from the persecution. But the sources in which this reproach is clearly stated are very questionable.
The Donatist Bishop Petilianus of Constantine in Africa asserted, in the letter he wrote in 400 and 410, that Marcellinus and the Roman priests Melchiades, Marcellus, and Sylvester (his three successors) had given up the sacred books, and had offered incense. But he could not adduce any proof. In the Acts of confiscation of the church buildings at Rome, which at the great Carthaginian conference between Catholics and Donatists, were brought forward by the latter, only two Roman deacons, Straton and Cassius, were named as traitors. St. Augustine, in his replies to Petilianus, disputes the truth of the latter's report ("Contra litteras Petiliani", II, 202: "De quibus et nos solum respondemus: aut non probatis et ad neminem pertinet, aut probatis et ad nos non pertinet"; "De unico baptismo contra Petilianum", cap. xvi: "Ipse scelestos et sacrilegos fuisse dicit; ego innocentes fuisse respondeo"). One can only conclude from Petilianus's accusation that such rumours against Marcellinus and Roman priests were circulated in Africa ; but that they could not be proved, otherwise St. Augustine would not have been able to assert the innocence of the accused so decidedly, or safely to have referred to the matter at the Carthaginian conference. But even in Rome similar stories were told of Marcellinus in certain circles, so that in two later legendary reports a formal apostasy was attributed to this pope, of course followed by repentance and penance. The biography of Marcellinus in the "Liber Pontificalis", which probably alludes to a lost "passio" of his, relates that he was led to the sacrifice that he might scatter incense, which he did. But after a few days he was seized with remorse, and was condemned to death by Diocletian with three other Christians, and beheaded. It is clear that this report attempts to combine a rumour that the pope had offered incense to the gods, with the fact that, in other circles he was regarded as a martyr and his tomb venerated.
At the beginning of the sixth century, rather later than this "passio Marcellini", a collection of forged documents appeared, which were manufactured in the dispute between Pope Symmachus and Laurentius. Among them are also found apocryphal Acts of an alleged synod of 300 bishops, which took place in 303 at Sinuessa (between Rome and Capua ) in order to inquire into the accusation against Marcellinus that he had sacrificed at Diocletian's order. On the first two days Marcellinus had denied everything, but on the third day he admitted his lapse and repented; however the synod passed no sentence on him "quia prima sedes non judicatur a quoquam". When Diocletian learnt of the occurrence, he had the pope and several bishops of this synod executed ( Hefele, "Konziliengeschichte", I, 2 Aufl. 143-45). The spuriousness of these acts is almost certain. The forger has made the most of the rumour of Marcellinus's lapse for his own purposes in a different way from the author of the "passio", which crept into the "Liber Pontificalis" . These apocryphal fragments cannot by themselves be considered as historical proofs, any more than the rumours in Donatist circles in Africa. It is accepted as certain that the pope did not comply with the imperial edict by any overt act, such as the surrender of the sacred writings, or even the offering of incense before the statue of a god. Such an apostasy of a Roman bishop would without a doubt have been given the greatest prominence by contemporary authors. Eusebius has not made use of the above mentioned idea. And later, Theodoret was still less in a position to state in his "Church History", that Marcellinus had been prominent in the persecution ton ’en tô diogmô diaprépsanta (Hist. Eccl., I, 2). And Augustine also would not have been able to assert so curtly in answer to Petilian, that Marcellinus and the priests accused with him as traitors and "lapsi" were innocent.
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On the other hand it is remarkable, that in the Roman "Chronograph" whose first edition was in 336, the name of this pope alone is missing, while all other popes from Lucius I onwards are forthcoming. In the manuscript there is indeed under 16 Jan. (XVIII kal. Feb.) the name Marcellinus, but this is clearly a slip of the pen for "Marcellus"; for the feast of this pope is found both in the "Martyrologium Hieronymianum" and in the old liturgical Roman books under this date, while in the "Liber Pontificalis" and, in connection therewith, in the historical martyrologies of the ninth century, the feast of Marcellinus is transferred to 26 April (Acta SS., June, VII, 185). By certain investigators (Mommsen, de Smedt) the lack of Marcellinus's name was traced to the omission of a copyist, owing to the similarity of the names, and in the "Depositio Episcoporum" they claimed to supplement the "Chronograph": XVII kal. Febr. Marcelli in Priscillæ VI kal. Maii Marcellini in Priscillæ (de Smedt, "Introductio in hist. eccl. critice tractandam", 512-13). But this hypothesis is not accepted. The dates of the death of the popes, as far as Sylvester in the list of successions, are identical with the days of the month on which their feasts are celebrated. Thus Marcellinus must come first after Gaius, whose name is quoted under the date X kal. Maii. Then Marcellinus is lacking not only in the "Chronograph", but also in the "Martyrologium Hieronymianum", and in all fifth and sixth century lists of popes. This omission is therefore not accidental, but intentional.
In connection with the above mentioned rumours and the narratives of apocryphal fragments, it must indeed be admitted that in certain circles at Rome the conduct of the pope during the Diocletian persecution was not approved. In this persecution we know of only two Roman clerics who were martyred : the priest Marcellinus and the exorcist Petrus. The Roman bishop and the other members of the higher clergy, except the above clerics, were able to elude the persecutors. How this happened we do not know. It is possible that Pope Marcellinus was able to hide himself in a safe place of concealment in due time, as many other bishops did. But it is also possible that at the publication of the edict he secured his own immunity ; in Roman circles this would have been imputed to him as weakness, so that his memory suffered thereunder, and he was on that account omitted by the author of the "Depositio Episcoporum" from the "Chronograph", while he found a place in the "Catalogus Liberianus", which was almost contemporary. But his tomb was venerated by the Christians of Rome, and he was afterwards recognized as a martyr, as the "passio" shows. Marcellinus died in 304. The day of his death is not certain; in the "Liber Pontificalis" his burial is wrongly placed at 26 April, and this date is retained in the historical martyrologies of the ninth century, and from them, in the later martyrologies. But if we calculate the date of his death from the duration of his office given in the Liberian Catalogue, he would have died on 24 or 25 Oct., 304. His body was interred in the Catacomb of Priscilla on the Via Salaria, near the crypt where the martyr Crescentius found his resting-place. The Catacomb of Callistus, the official burial place of the Roman Church, where the predecessors of Marcellinus were buried during several decades, was evidently confiscated in the persecution, while the Catacomb of Priscilla, belonging to the Acilii Glabriones, was still at the disposal of the Christians.
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The tomb of Marcellinus was venerated at a very early date by the Christians of Rome. The precise statements about its position, in the "Liber Pontificalis" , indicate this. In one of the seventh century itineraries of the graves of the Roman martyrs, in the "Epitome de locis ss. martyrum", it is expressly mentioned among the sacred graves of the Catacomb of Priscilla ( De Rossi, "Roma sotteranea", I, 176). In the excavations at this catacomb the crypt of St. Crescentius, beside which was the burial chamber of Marcellinus, was satisfactorily identified. But no monument was discovered which had reference to this pope. The precise position of the burial chamber is therefore still uncertain. The lost "passio" of Marcellinus written towards the end of the fifth century, which was utilized by the author of the "Liber Pontificalis", shows that he was honoured as a martyr at that time ; nevertheless his name appears first in the "Martyrology" of Bede, who drew his account from the "Liber Pontificalis" (Quentin, "Les martyrologes historiques", 103, sq.). This feast is on 26 April. The earlier Breviaries, which follow the account of the "Liber Pontificalis" concerning his lapse and his repentance, were altered in 1883.