A sainted conscientious objector

On October 30, 298, Saint Marcellus, a former Roman centurion was beheaded.

Earlier that year he had abandoned his sword, seeing that he could not serve in the imperial army.

Perhaps he had heard of the phrase in the Apostolic Traditions of Pope St. Hippolytus:

“A soldier under authority shall not kill a man. If he is ordered to, he shall not carry out the order, nor shall he take the oath. If he is unwilling, let him be rejected. He who has the power of the sword or is a magistrate of a city who wears the purple, let him cease or be rejected. Catechumens or believers, who want to become soldiers, should be rejected, because they have despised God.”

Brought before the legion prefect, Marcellus was asked if he had “hurled down his weapons.”

His remark was straight-forward:

“I did. It is not proper for a Christian man, one who fears the Lord Christ, to engage in earthly military service.”

For him, and for many early Christians, the shedding of blood was incompatible with their faith in Jesus who had not taken up the sword in his own defense but had shed his blood for the salvation of the world. There are a number of cases of young men refusing to serve in the Roman army or refusing to kill. One of the most famous is St. Martin of Tours.

Today, the feast of St. Marcellus will be celebrated in the Basilica of the Sacred Heart at the University of Notre Dame where his relics rest under the main altar. The Catholic Peace Fellowship is organizing the celebration.

Let us pray today for an end to war and for the courage to resist nonviolently all threats to human life and dignity.


Read more about St. Marcellus in these articles by Jim Forest and Tobias Winright.


One response to “A sainted conscientious objector

  1. Nicely done, John. Food for thought.

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