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A fierce opponent of Arius and his party, Marcellus of Ancyra has become a figure shrouded in mystery and embroiled in controversy.
Bishop of Ancyra in Galatia, Marcellus presided over the Council of Ancyra in 314, a council that dealt with the problem of the lapsi, Christians who had fallen away under the threat of religious persecution. Since Marcellus was already bishop at that time, and thus was most likely at least thirty, and since he lived until c. 375, his birth must have occurred between 280-285.
Marcellus attended the Council of Nicaea in 325 as an adversary to the Arian party, though his role and importance remains a point of disagreement. Some suggest that Marcellus was very influential in the formation of Nicene doctrine, while others counter that his theological ideas went largely unnoticed.
At the anti-Nicene Council of Tyre (AD 335), Marcellus refused to accept its ruling against Athanasius. Marcellus’ subsequent work Against Asterius, a sophist and proponent of the Arian party, led to his own removal from the bishopric at the Council of Constantinople in 336. Fiercely opposed to the Christology of Arius, Marcellus developed a system of belief that allowed his adversaries to bring the charge of Modalism against him. In agreement with the orthodox, Marcellus argued that the Godhead consisted of one essence (ousia), but his opponents insisted that he went too far and taught that the Son became a distinct person only at his incarnation. In addition, some accused Marcellus of using his interpretation of 1 Cor 15.28 to teach that in the end, Christ would relinquish his reign to the Father. Eusebius of Caesarea authored two works in opposition to Marcellus’ theology, Against Marcellus and On the Theology of the Church. Indeed, with few sources and little information, an objective judgment of Marcellus’ theology proves difficult. Perhaps Athanasius’ alleged evaluation of Marcellus may serve best; he is reported to have commented that Marcellus was “not far from error, but that he was to be excused” (Epiphanius, Panarion 72.4.4)
In 340 Marcellus made his way to Rome where he defended his teaching to Julius, the bishop of Rome. In his letter, Marcellus confessed his faith with what was essentially Rome’s rule of faith (regula fidei), which became the basis for the Apostles’ Creed (and in the process provided us with our earliest version of it). A Roman council, therefore, declared Marcellus orthodox in 341, although he faced continued opposition from the East as well as from the anti-Nicene Emperor Constantius II.
In his remaining years, Marcellus faced repeated condemnation at the hands of eastern councils–at Antioch in 341, Serdica in 343 (though the western bishops gave him their support, leading to his return to office in Ancyra for a short time), and again at Antioch in 345. Constantius II deposed him one last time in 347 and sent him into exile. Where Marcellus spent his time in exile is unknown. According to Epiphanius, he died c. 375. In 381, the Council of Constantinople confirmed the condemnation of Marcellus.
Since he was viewed as a heretic, few of Marcellus’ works have survived. Eusebius of Caesarea preserved extensive quotations of Against Asterius in his two anti-Marcellan works (mentioned above). Beyond these fragments, only Marcellus’ letter to Julius can be confidently attributed to him. Various scholars have suggested attributing eight additional writings to Marcellus, six of which come from the pseudo-Athanasian corpus. These attributions remain questionable. The table below lists these works.
|c. 336||Against Asterius
|340||Letter to Pope Julius
|340s||On the Holy Church*
|a||Homily on Song of Songs*
|a||Homily on the Seed*||a|
|358||The Major Sermon on Faith (Letter to the Antiochians)*||2803|
|a||An Exposition of Faith*||2804|
|a||Against Theopaschitas (ps. Athanasius, Letter to Liberius)*||2805|
|c. 360?||On the Incarnation and against the Arians*||2806|
|PPalau Rib. inv. 68*|
J. Lienhard, Contra Marcellum: Marcellus of Ancyra and Fourth-Century Theology, (Washington: Catholic University of America Press, 1999).
A. Logan, “Marcellus of Ancyra and the Councils of AD 325: Antioch, Ancyra, and Nicaea,” Journal of Theological Studies 43 no. 2 (1992): 428-446.
A. Logan, “Marcellus of Ancyra (Pseudo-Anthimus), ‘On the Holy Church’: Text, Translation, and Commentary,” Journal of Theological Studies 43 no. 2 (2000): 81-112.
R.P.C Hanson, The Search for the Christian Doctrine of God, (New York: T&T Clark, 1988).
S. Parvis, Marcellus of Ancyra and the Lost Years of the Arian Controversy 325-345, (New York: Oxford University Press, 2006).
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