The merry-making was at its height that July, 298. The troops in North Africa celebrated Emperor Maximian's birthday with feasting and drinking. As usual, there were sacrifices to the emperor, who was ranked with the gods.
But not everyone was in a party mood. Marcellus, a centurion (officer over a hundred men) surveyed the scene with disgust. He had reached a crisis. As a convert to Christianity, he knew that Maximian, however powerful, was a mere man. Christ alone could be ruler of his heart.
Abruptly, he stood. In front of all the men, he removed his military belt and threw it down. "I serve Jesus Christ the Eternal King," he said loudly. He also flung down his vine-switch, the insignia of his rank. "Henceforward I cease to serve your Emperors, and I scorn to worship your gods of wood and stone, which are deaf and dumb idols. If such be the terms of service that men are forced to offer sacrifice to gods and Emperors, behold I cast away my vine-switch and belt, I renounce the standards, and refuse to serve."
Astonished, his fellow soldiers seized him. To their ears, Marcellus' words were not only blasphemy but insubordination and treachery. They dragged him before the local governor, Anastasius Fortunatus. "Throw him into prison," said Fortunatus.
After the feast was over, he called Marcellus out. "What did you mean by removing your military gear in violation of military discipline and throwing away your belt and vine-switch?"
Marcellus replied boldly. "...I made answer openly and in a loud voice that I was a Christian and that I could not serve under this allegiance, but only under the allegiance of Jesus Christ the Son of God the Father Almighty."
Fortunatus said he could not pass over this insubordinate conduct. He would report the matter to higher authorities. That is how Marcellus found himself in Tangier (now a city of Morocco), on October 30th, standing before Aurelius Agricolan. Agricolan heard the evidence. "What madness possessed you to cast away the signs of your allegiance, and to speak as you did?" asked Agricolan.
Marcellus answered: "There is no madness in those who fear the Lord."
After more arguments and threats, Agricolan dictated this sentence: "Marcellus, who held the rank of centurion of the first class, having admitted that he has degraded himself by openly throwing off his allegiance, and having besides put on record, as appears in the official report of the governor, other insane expressions, it is our pleasure that he be put to death by the sword."
According to ancient tradition, based on an appendix attached to Marcellus' court records, the man taking the dictation was the stenographer, Cassian. The verdict seemed so unfair to him, that he threw down his pen with an exclamation and refused to write another word. Agricolan ordered him thrown into prison, too. On this day, December 3, 298, Cassian followed Marcellus to death, beheaded for his bold stand.
- Fremantle, Anne, ed. A Treasury of Early Christianity. New York: Viking Press, 1953.
- "Marcellus and Cassian." http://www.cin.org/marcentu.html
- "Marcellus of Tangier." http://users.erols.com/saintpat/ss/1030.htm
- Petrides, S. "Tingis." Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton, 1914.
Last updated June, 2007