June 7, 2010

The Curious Case of Pope Marcellinus

St. Marcellinus, Pope of Rome (Feast Day - June 7)
Elected in 296, Marcellinus presided without incident over the Church of Rome for seven years. Then he allegedly defected and took part in sacrificing to idols under Diocletian. The story of his defection has been challenged, but the evidence for it is convincing. Reliable documents treat the story as an established fact — even as they try to present it favorably by saying he immediately repented, recanted and died a martyr.

A question which persists till this day is whether or not Pope Marcellinus, after offering incense to pagan idols during the reign of Emperor Diocletian, indeed repented and was later martyred, or died naturally.

Two sources, Wikipedia and the Catholic Encyclopedia, examine the issue and explain why the history of this Pope is indeed curious. The earliest sources seem to hide his sin, while later sources seek to exonerate him. St. Nikolai Velimirovich, in his Prologue for June 7, relates the following version of the life of Pope Marcellinus, which is the exonerated version of the tale:


By St. Nikolai Velimirovich

Marcellinus was the predecessor of Pope Marcellus on the Roman throne. When Emperor Diocletian summoned him and threatened him with torture, Marcellinus offered sacrifice to the idols for which the emperor presented him with a precious garment. But Marcellinus bitterly repented and began to lament day and night because of his denial of Christ as Peter the Apostle once did. At that time, an assembly of bishops was held in Campania. The pope dressed in sackcloth poured ashes over his head and entered the assembly and, before all, confessed his sin begging them (the bishops) to judge him. The fathers said that he should judge himself. Then Marcellinus said: "I deprive myself of my priestly rank, for which I am not worthy, and even more, do not allow my body to be buried after death but let it be thrown to the dogs!" Having said this, he pronounced a curse on the one who would dare bury him. After that, Marcellinus went to the Emperor Diocletian, threw down the precious garment before him and confessed his faith in Jesus Christ and scorned the idols. The enraged emperor ordered Marcellinus to be tortured and afterwards they killed him outside the city together with three good men: Claudius, Cyrinus and Antoninus. The bodies of these three men were buried immediately but the body of the pope lay there for thirty-six days. Then, St. Peter appeared to the new pope Marcellus and ordered that the body of Marcellinus be buried saying: "He who humbles himself shall be exalted" (Luke 18:14).