16 Jan Saint Marcellus I, Pope and Martyr
Today is the feast day of Saint Marcellus I. Ora pro nobis.
Saint Marcellus date of birth is unknown. He was elected pope in May or June, 308. He died in 309.
After the abdication of Diocletian in 305, and the accession in Rome of Maxentius to the throne of the Caesars in October of the following year, the Christians of the capital again enjoyed comparative peace. Nevertheless, nearly two years passed before a new Bishop of Rome was elected. Then in 308, according to the “Catalogus Liberianus”, Pope Marcellus first entered on his office: “Fuit temporibus Maxenti a cons. X et Maximiano usque post consulatum X et septimum” (“Liber Pontif.”, ed. Duchesne, I, 6-7). This abbreviated notice is to be read: “A cons. Maximiano Herculio X et Maximiano Galerio VII  usque post cons. Maxim. Herc. X et Maxim. Galer. VII ” (cf. de Rossi, “Inscriptiones christ. urbis Rom&ealig;”, I, 30).
Marcellus found the Church in the greatest confusion at Rome. The meeting-places and some of the burial-places of the faithful had been confiscated, and the ordinary life and activity of the Church was interrupted. According to the “Liber Pontificalis” Marcellus divided the territorial administration of the Church into twenty-five districts (tituli), appointing over each a presbyter, who saw to the preparation of the catechumens for baptism and directed the performance of public penances.
The pope also had a new burial-place, the Cœmeterium Novellœ on the Via Salaria (opposite the Catacomb of St. Priscilla), laid out.
The work of the pope was, however, quickly interrupted by the controversies to which the question of the readmittance of the lapsi into the Church gave rise. As to this, we gather some light from the poetic tribute composed by Damasus in memory of his predecessor and placed over his grave (De Rossi, “Inscr. christ. urbis Romæ”, II, 62, 103, 138; cf. Idem, “Roma sotterranea”, II, 204-5). Damasus relates that the truth-loving leader of the Roman Church was looked upon as a wicked enemy by all the lapsed, because he insisted that they should perform the prescribed penance for their guilt. As a result serious conflicts arose, some of which ended in bloodshed, and every bond of peace was broken. At the head of this band of the unfaithful and rebellious stood an apostate who had denied the Faith even before the outbreak of persecution. The tyrannical Maxentius had the pope seized and sent into exile. (2)
An account of Marcellus’ death, dating from the fifth century, relates that Maxentius, judging the pope responsible for the trouble between the Christian factions, condemned him to work as a slave on the public highway. After nine months of this hard labor, he was rescued by the clergy and taken to the home of a widow named Lucina; this woman welcomed him with every sign of respect and offered him her home for a church. When the emperor learned that Christian rites were being celebrated there, he profaned the church by turning it into a stable and forced the Holy Father to care for the animals quartered there. In these sad surroundings, Marcellus died on January 16, 310. He was buried in the catacombs of Priscilla, but later his remains were placed beneath the altar of the church in Rome which still bears his name. (1)
He was succeeded by Pope Eusebius. His relics are under the altar of San Marcello al Corso in Rome.
Image: This illustration is from The Lives and Times of the Popes by Chevalier Artaud de Montor, New York: The Catholic Publication Society of America, 1911. It was originally published in 1842. (4)
Research by Ed Masters, REGINA Staff