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From The Lives of the Popes from the Time of our Saviour Jesus Christ to the Accession of Gregory VII. Written Originally in Latin by B. Platina, Native of Cremona, and translated into English (from an anonymous translation, first printed in 1685 by Sir Paul Rycaut), Edited by William Benham, Volume I, London: Griffith, Farran, Okeden & Welsh, [1888, undated in text]; pp. 60-63.

The Lives of the Popes,
B. Platina

Volume I.

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A.D. 296-304.

MARCELLINUS, a Roman, the son of Projectus, was, in the times of Diocletian, a Dalmatian of obscure birth, and Maximian.

Diocletian being elected Emperor by the army in A.D. 284, slew that Aper who had murdered Numerian. But a commotion arising in Gallia, which was a sedition rather than a war, thither Diocletian sent Maximianus Herculeus, by whom the peasants were soon quelled. But wars breaking out on every side, Diocletian not being able singly to bear the shock of so many dangers, associated Maximian as his colleague by the name of Augustus, and Constantius and Galerius under them by the name of Cæsars. Maximian, after that Carausius was killed by the treachery of Alectus, in ten years’ time made himself master of Britain. And Constantius, after one unsuccessful engagement in Gallia, renewing the fight a second time, slew several thousand Germans who were mercenaries there, and thereby restored peace to that province. In the meantime Diocletian took Alexandria, which, being bravely defended by Achilleus, held out a siege of eight months, and gratified his soldiers with the plunder of it. But Galerius having behaved himself gallantly in two fights against Narseus, was at length routed between Galietium and Carræ; and his forces being scattered and lost in that unfortunate battle, he was forced to fly to Diocletian, who received him with such disdain, that it is said he suffered him in his imperial habit to run on foot several miles before his chariot. Maximian, being nettled at so foul a disgrace, undertook the war afresh, and in the end became victorious.


Affairs being thus settled, Diocletian in the east, and Maximian Hercules in the west, commanded that the churches should be destroyed, and the Christians tortured and put to death; and so raised the tenth persecution, which lasted longer, and was more vehement and bloody than any before. For now Bibles were publicly burnt; all Christians who were in any office ignominiously cashiered; servants who continued constant to their profession cut off of all hopes of being ever made free, and the Christian soldiers compelled either to offer up sacrifice to idols, or else to lay down their arms and their lives together, by an imperial edict publicly affixed in the forum. This edict, a certain person being so hardy as to pull down and tear in pieces, he was thereupon ordered to be flayed and to have vinegar mixed with salt poured upon his raw flesh till he died; which he patiently endured, being confirmed and encouraged in his sufferings by Dorotheus and Gorgonius, two very eminent men. At the same time the royal palace at Nicomedia happening to be on fire, the emperor groundlessly suspecting it to be caused by the Christians, commanded multitudes of them to be put to the sword, and several others to be thrown alive into the flames. The same severity was exercised against them in Mitylene, Syria, Africa, Thebais, and Egypt, by the several governors of those provinces; and in Palestine and Tyre great numbers of them were exposed to be devoured by wild beasts. Indeed, there was no kind of torment could be invented which the Christians did not undergo. Some had their flesh scraped and torn off with potsherds; to others, sharp reeds were thrust under their nails, and to the women run into their bodies. A certain city in Phrygia was set on fire and burnt to the ground, because the citizens, who were kept constant to the faith by Adauctus, a pious Roman, refused to offer sacrifice to idols. In the end their inhuman tormentors came to such a height of cruelty, that they would first burn out their eyes with searing-irons, and then wreak the remainder of their fury and rage against them. At this time were also put to death for the profession of Christianity, Anthimus, Bishop of Nicomedia; and Lucianus, the learned presbyter of Antioch; and Pamphilus of Cesarea; and Philæas, an Egyptian, and Bishop of Thmyis — this last being beheaded because he had written a book in praise of the martyrs, and had courage enough to tell his unjust judges their sin. I need not enumerate more 62 instances, since Damasus affirms that there were no less then seventeen thousand persons of both sexes who suffered martyrdom through the several provinces in the space of thirty days. I shall not mention those who were banished to the islands, or condemned to work in the mines or melting-houses, or to dig sand, or to hew stones, or to other the like kinds of servitude, whose numbers were almost infinite.

But our Marcellinus, being carried to the heathen sacrifices, and his tormentors, with menaces, urging him to offer, he being overcome with fear, submitted to their importunities, and joined with them in their idolatries. But not long after, a council of a hundred and eighty bishops being held at Sinuessa, a city of Campania, thither goes Marcellinus, clothed in sackcloth, with all the marks of a humble penitent, and beseeches them to inflict upon him the just punishment of his cowardice and inconstancy. Yet, in so numerous a council, there was not a man who would pass any sentence against him, they all agreeing that he had lapsed only after the same manner that St Peter himself did, and that by his tears and sorrows he had already sufficiently suffered for his fault. To Rome returns Marcellinus, full of zeal, hastens to Diocletian, and boldly reproves him for causing him to sacrifice to false gods. Hereupon, by Diocletian’s order, he was forthwith led to execution, together with Claudius, Cyrinus, and Antoninus, three other assertors of Christianity. As he went along, he admonished Marcellus his presbyter, not to submit to the command of Diocletian in matters appertaining to religion; and forbade him to suffer his body to be buried, saying that, since he had denied his Saviour, he was unworthy of the least acts of humanity — though, indeed, by Diocletian’s order, the bodies of all these four martyrs lay unburied in the highway the space of thirty-six days. Afterwards, at the command of St Peter the Apostle, who appeared to Marcellus in a dream, they were buried in the Via Salaria, in the cemetery of Priscilla, near the body of St Crescention, May the 27th. After so long a series of miseries, God at length, as Eusebius words it, opened his eyes, and, to free the Christians from such a plague, so wrought upon Diocletian’s mind that he voluntarily resigned the empire and retired to a private life. And he compelled Maximian, his partner in the government, to do the same. He was as violent a persecutor as himself, who, some years after, was afflicted with divers 63 diseases, and after incessant torment was smitten with distraction, and haunted with the reflections on his guilt. It is the judgment of Eusebius that this calamity befell the Christians by God’s permission, as a just punishment for the great corruption of manners which the liberty and indulgences which they before enjoyed had occasioned among them all in general, but especially among the clergy, to the hypocrisy of whose looks, the fraud of their words, and the deceit of their hearts, the Divine justice deigned to give a check by this persecution. Indeed, the envy, pride, animosity, and hatred with which they strove among themselves, was grown to such a height that it seemed rather a contention between haughty tyrants than humble churchmen; and having forgotten all true Christian piety, they did not so much perform as profane the Divine offices. But what calamity shall our presaging minds prompt us to expect in our age, in which our vices have increased to such a magnitude that they have scarce left us any room for God’s mercy? It would be to no purpose for me to mention the great covetousness of the clergy, especially of those who are in authority; their lust, their ambition, their pomp, their pride, their idleness, their ignorance of themselves and of the doctrine of Christianity, their little piety, and that rather feigned than true, and their great debauchery, so great that it would be abominable even in the profane (for so they superciliously call the laity); this I say, it would be to no purpose for me to tell, since they themselves do avow their sins so openly that one would think they judged vice to be a laudable quality, and expected to gain reputation by it. The Turk (believe me, though I wish I may prove a false prophet) — the Turk is coming whom we shall find a more violent enemy to Christianity than Diocletian or Maximian. He is already at the gates of Italy; while we idly and supinely wait the common ruin, every one consulting rather his own private pleasure than the public defence. I come now again to Marcellinus, whom I would to God we might at last imitate, and return to a better mind. For he, as I said before, finding his error in falling away from his profession, came to himself, and did with great constancy suffer martyrdom for the sake of Christ; after that, at two Decembrian ordinations, he had made four presbyters, two deacons, five bishops. He was in the chair nine years, two months, fifteen days; and by his death the see was vacant till 308.

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Previous Pope:  29. St. Caius. 30. St. Marcellinus. Next Pope: 24. St. Marcellus.

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