Marcellus the Centurion

(d. 298)

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St Maximilian (d. 295)


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(d. 298),

martyr. The authentic Acts of this martyr survive in two recensions which disagree about the place of his death; one places it at Leon (Spain), the other more convincingly at Tingis (Tangier). During the celebration of the birthday of the emperors Diocletian and Maximian, Marcellus the centurion threw off his soldier's belt in front of the legion's standards and said publicly: ‘I am a soldier of Jesus Christ, the eternal king. From now on I cease to serve your emperors and I despise the worship of your gods of wood and stone, for they are deaf and dumb images.’ The soldiers who heard this outburst were dumbfounded; they arrested and imprisoned him and reported the matter to the governor, Fortunatus. When called upon to give an account of his actions, Marcellus replied: ‘On 21 July, when you were celebrating the emperor's feast day, I declared publicly and openly that I was a Christian and said that I could not serve under this military oath, but only for Christ Jesus, the son of God the Father Almighty.’ Fortunatus said that he could not conceal this rash action, but would have to report it to the emperors and Caesar: Marcellus would be handed over to Agricolanus, deputy for the praetorian prefects.

On 30 October the official report was read. Marcellus was asked if in fact he said what was reported, was he serving as a regular centurion, first class, and did he throw away the badges of allegiance, and indeed his arms. To all these questions he replied in the affirmative. The explanation he added was that it is not fitting for a Christian, who fights for Christ his lord, to fight for the armies of this world. 

Agricolanus said that Marcellus' actions deserved punishment according to military rules. ‘And so, whereas Marcellus, who held the rank of centurion, first class, has confessed that he has disgraced himself by publicly renouncing his military oath and has further used expressions lacking in self-control as recorded in the report of the prefect, I hereby sentence him to death by the sword.’ As he was being led out to execution, he said: ‘Agricolanus, may God reward you.’ Like Maximilian, he judged that military service was incompatible with the practice of the Christian religion. This seems to have been a minority view, overlooked by the many who admired their religious motivation. Feast: 30 October.

A.C.M., xxxvii–xxxix, 250–9;H. Delehaye, ‘Les Actes de S. Marcel le Centurion’, Anal. Boll., xli (1923), 257–87;B. de Gaiffier, ‘S. Marcel de Tanger ou de Léon?, Anal. Boll., lxi (1943), 116–39;Propylaeum, pp. 484–5;B.T.A., iv. 220–1.

Subjects: Christianity.

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