Martyrdom OF Marcellus

On the birthday of the Roman emperor, in the year AD 298, in the country we today call Morocco, a certain Roman centurion found himself torn by a test of loyalty. It was customary in the 3rd century for citizens of the Roman Empire to swear an oath of allegiance to the emperor and to worship his image on his birthday. This especially was required of men in the military, where allegiance was highly valued.

We donít know who shared the gospel with Marcellus, but we do know that he was not the first centurion to encounter the gospel. Jesus once healed the servant of a Roman centurion (Luke 7; Matt 8); the first Gentile to whom Peter carried the Christian gospel was a Roman centurion (Acts 10). With Centurion Marcellus in AD 298, we know the end of the story. During a banquet to honor and worship the emperor in July of 298, Marcellus threw down his soldierís belt in front of the "legionary standards" (the closest thing the Romans had to a flag) and spoke in a loud voice: "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." Ancient documents report that Marcellusí fellow soldiers were "amazed" and promptly arrested him, put him into prison, and reported him to the governor Anastasius Fortunatus, who demanded, "What was your intention in violating military discipline in this way?" Marcellus responded: "I declared clearly and publicly before the standards of this legion 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." On October 30, 298, the case came to trial in front of Aurelius Agricolanus, who demanded of Marcellus: "What madness possessed you to throw down the symbols of your military oath and say the things you did?" Marcellus replied: "No madness possesses those who fear the Lord."

Agricolanus: "You threw down your weapons?"

Marcellus: "Yes, I did. For it is not fitting that a Christian, who fights for Christ his Lord, should fight for the armies of this world."

Agricolanus then reads the sentence: "What Marcellus has done merits 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… I hereby sentence him to death by the sword."

So Marcellus died by the sword, laying down his life in witness to Jesus Christ.