Popes in a Year
#30 - Pope St. Marcellus I
Pope from 308-309 A.D.
Died: 309 A.D.
Give me the scoop on Marcellus.
A surprising four years passed between the death of St. Marcellinus and the election of St. Marcellus I, due to the incredible intensity of the Diocletian Persecution. The persecution itself had subsided by 306, yet it still took nearly two years for a new Bishop of Rome to be elected. This fact alone indicates how incredibly decimated and scattered the Church was by that time.
Still, Marcellus I did a bang-up job re-organizing the Church (more on that in a minute), dividing Rome into 25 districts, or “titular” churches since their existing churches remained confiscated by the Roman government. Marcellus assigned a priest as head of each one with the duties of preparing catechumens for baptism (aka 4th-Century RCIA), directing public penances, burying the dead, and commemorating the martyrs. Marcellus did all this in a short time, having died after just seven(ish) months in office. Elected in May or June 308, he died January 16, the same day on which his feast is still celebrated.
What was he known for?
St. Marcellus seems to have resembled a drill sergeant. The recently-ended persecution had brought back the more lax believers who had renounced their faith in an effort to stay alive. They naturally wanted re-entry into the Church, but Marcellus wasn’t keen on letting them back in before they graduated from “Papa Marcellus’ Penitential Boot Camp”. The fight over his harsh penances must have been pretty over-the-top, because when penitents staged an uprising as a result, the tyrannical emperor (Maxentius) had Marcellus seized and exiled. The pope died soon thereafter.
At the time, Marcellus I was runner-up for shortest reign as pope, coming second only to St. Anterus (Pope No. 19) who was in office 43 days.
What else was going on in the world at the time?
The Spanish provinces of the Roman Empire revolted against Maxentius, instead recognizing Constantine the Great (yes, THAT Constantine) as their emperor. And the Empire was never the same...
Coming Monday....Pope St. Eusebius
SOURCES (and further reading)
John, E. (1964). The Popes: A concise biographical history. New York: Hawthorn Books.
Pope St. Marcellus I -
Pope Marcellus I -
Pope St. Anterus -
Missed a day? Click here.
Click to share with friends!
About Popes in a Year
- We send these Monday-Friday (NOT on weekends)
- Know someone who wants to sign up? Send them to
Sent by Matthew Sewell on Friday, February 10 at 2:00AM