The Pope That Rejected Christ: Pope Marcellinus

According to legend, Saint Marcellinus was like Saint Peter in three ways:

  1. He was a Pope
  2. He denied Christ publicly
  3. He repented and died a martyr’s death
Pope Marcellinus offering incense with Saint Peter behind him.

Pope Marcellinus offering incense with Saint Peter behind him.

Lets take a look at his life:

  • The Liber Pontificalis records that during Diocletian’s persecution (AD 303) Marcellinus was captured and commanded to offer incense to the Roman idols.
  • Fearful of death, he scattered incense to the false gods.
  • Remorseful after a few days, he confessed his faith of Christ.
  • He was captured again, stayed true to Christ and received martyrdom.
  • Marcellinus was buried on 26 April 304 in the cemetery of Priscilla, on the Via Salaria, 25 days after his martyrdom.

These details are hotly debated. For example, Saint Augustine of Hippo (died AD 430) denies that Pope Marcellinus offered incense to idols – although he knows of the story and the accusation (see St Augustine, Against Petilian 2.202). The Church Historian Eusebius does not mention it at all.

However, scholars have noted that the pontificate of “Marcellinus” is notably omitted in the Roman “Chronograph” of AD 336. He had undoubtedly been the bishop of Rome, so this absence on the list reveals some doubt about his status as Bishop of Rome.

I wish that we had a way to know the truth of the matter.

I incorporated Pope Marcellinus into my best-selling historical fiction novel: Sword and Serpent: A Historical Retelling of Saint George and the Dragon. The novel features Saint George visiting Pope Marcellinus hiding in a cavern-like catacomb and receiving a sword from him (which will eventually become the sword of King Arthur). The novel has received great reviews and a shining endorsement from Father Dwight Longenecker. I hope you enjoy it. You can get a copy on amazon.com (or check out the 340 reviews) by clicking here.

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