Cause of Death:

296.06.30 to 304.10.25
Pope #29
St. Caius (283-296)
St. Marcellus I (308-309)

Marcellinus, son of Projectus
in Rome

Pope Marcellinus


He was a Roman. The son of Projectus.


Marcellinus is listed as a pope in the Liber Pontificalis (~885 AD); however, there is no record of him in the Martyrologium hieronymianum, the Depositio episcoporum, or in the Despositio martyrum. The Liber Pontificalis' record itself is copied from a lost text called the Acts of St. Marcellinus.


Marcellinus' reign began during the long period of tolerance Rome had towards Christianity. The Roman Emperor Diocletian (r.284-305) upheld this tolerance, in part due to the influence of his wife Prisca, and his daughter Valeria, who both favoured certain Roman Christians. Christianity grew, while pagan leaders felt increasingly threatened.

Oracle of Apollo in Delphi, Greece
Oracle of Apollo
According to the historian, Lactantius, in 302 AD the pagan fortune tellers claimed that they were unable to forsee the outcome of battles due to the influence of the Christian soldiers. This angered Diocletian, who ordered that all soldiers were to offer sacrifice.

Christian Persecution
Diocletian Persecutions
Priests of the Oracle of Apollo told Diocletian that Christian influence prevented them from clear divination. Persuaded also by Caesar Galerius, husband of Diocletain's daughter Valeria, Emperor Diocletian issued an edict on 24 February 303, that all Christian assembly places were to be razed to the ground, the property confiscated, their Scriptures destroyed by fire, those who held positions of honour degraded, and their servants deprived of their liberty unless they apostatize. The edict was carried out by co-Emperor Maximianus Herculius, and marked the beginning of the third Christian persecution.

Ancient Roman Libellus certifying that the owner has sacrificed to idols
Further edicts would follow, that church leaders should be imprisoned and compelled by every device to offer sacrifice. In February 303, two separate fires in the Royal Palace in Nicomedia occured. Diocletus blamed the Christians and ordered that they all sacrifice to idols or be sentenced to death. A signed Libellus was issued when a person offered sacrifices. Those without one were arrested. Eusebius writes of many arrests and "countless martyrs". This was the last and greatest Roman persecution, ending in 313 under Emperor Constantine with the edict of Milan.

Falling to Paganism

According to the same Acts of St. Marcellinus text, the Liber Pontificalis reports that Marcellinus weakened, and offered sacrifices to the pagan idols. It adds however, that after a few days, he repented of his actions, and was then beheaded. Other documents speak of his defection.

The Donatist Bishop Petilianus of Constantine in modern-day Algeria, wrote in a letter in 400 and 410, that Marcellinus and three of his priests (who all became his successors), Marcellus (308-309), Melchiades (311-314), and Sylvester (314-335) gave up the holy scriptures to be destroyed, and had offered incense to false gods. No proof was provided however, and the 4th century bishop St. Augustine of Hippo, denies the whole account, even that Marcellinus had offered to idols.

In 498 however, several forged documents began to appear during the rivalry between Pope Symmachus (498-514) and Antipope Laurence (498-505). One of them was a record of an alleged synod in 303 at Sinuessa (near Rome), which delt with the Marcellinus' sacrifices. The document reports that Marcellinus confessed of his offering to idols, and repented before the synod. However, the synod refused to judge him, stating that "The first See is judged by none." The document also states that when Diocletian heard of the synod, he had Marcellinus and several of the bishops executed.

Other Works

From an epitaph of the deacon Severus, found in the Catacomb of Callistus, it writes that new burial chambers were added in the cemetary, crediting Marcellinus.


Martyrdom of Pope Marcellinus
Martyrdom of Marcellinus
According the Liber Pontificalis, Marcellinus was beheaded in 304. His body was left in the street for 26 days as a warning to other Christians. A priest finally buried the pope in the cemetery of Priscilla on 26 April 304, which is now his feast day. The Liberian catalogue lists the 25th of October. After a three year lull, he was succeeded by Pope Marcellus I (307-309).

There is no other evidence that he was martyred however. Even the only source used in the Liber Ponitificalis no longer exists. The chronological books included the popes of previous years, so most historians believe that his named was probably stripped from the ancient catalogues intentionally, due to his weakening. The Catholic Encyclopedia concludes:
Marcellinus died in the second year of the persecution and, in all probability, a natural death. No trustworthy sources of the fourth of fifth century mention him as a martyr.

Rulers & Events:

286-305: Eastern Roman Emperor, Diocletian
Western Roman Emperor, Maximian
296: Britain divided into 4 Roman Provinces
303-311: The Third Persecution, by Emperor Diocletian