St. Marcellus I - A Pontiff In Exile

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Diocletian's persecution had so badly disorganized the Church in Rome that not until 308 was a successor to Pope Marcellinus chosen. The new pope was Marcellus, a Roman from the Via Lata district.

By this time the persecution had died down in the West, but the new pope faced enormous difficulties. His first task was to reorganize the badly shaken Church, and this task Marcellus seems to have accomplished. His second task, however, was more difficult. It will be remembered that after the short but very severe persecution of Decius the Church had been troubled by the problem of what to do with the numerous weaker brethren who had fallen under the stress of persecution. Now this same problem once more arose, but this time the trouble came from a different source. In the aftermath of the old persecution the chief trouble had come from harsh rigorists, and it had been necessary for Pope St. Cornelius to insist that the poor weak ones should be readmitted to communion with the Church after due penance. Now Pope St. Marcellus found that the weaker brethren wished indeed to be readmitted to the Church, but that they had small stomach for penance. The Pope's attempts to enforce this Church discipline were fiercely resented. Under the leadership of one who had denied Christ, even in time of peace, the malcontents raised so much trouble that fights broke out and blood was shed. The Emperor Maxentius seems to have believed that Pope Marcellus was at the bottom of these broils, and sent him into exile.

There is a story, not well authenticated, that the Pope was forced to work in the stables of the imperial post. But at any rate it is certain that after a short time Pope Marcellus died in exile. He is honored as a martyr and a saint. His feast is kept on January 16. The exile of Pope Marcellus is one of the first examples of the secular government interfering with the Church apart from outright persecution.

Excerpted from "Popes Through the Ages" by Joseph Brusher, S.J.

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