A pretty story of Fabian's election to the papacy is told by Eusebius
in his "Ecclesiastical History":
"It is said that Fabian, after the death of Anteros, came from
the country along with others and stayed at Rome, where he came to the
office in a most miraculous manner, thanks to the divine and heavenly grace.
For when the brethren were all assembled for the purpose of appointing
him who should succeed to the episcopate, and very many notable and distinguished
persons were in the thoughts of many, Fabian, who was there, came into
nobody's mind. But all of a sudden, they relate, a dove flew down from
above and settled on his head as clear imitation of the descent of the
Holy Ghost in the form of a dove upon the Savior; whereupon the whole people,
as if moved by one divine inspiration, with all eagerness and with one
soul cried out "worthy," and without more ado took him and placed
him on the Episcopal throne."
According to the prosaic "Liber Pontificalis," Fabian was
a Roman, the son of Fabius. He appointed seven deacons to the seven districts
of Rome. He ordered subdeacons to cooperate with the notaries in gathering
the acts of the martyrs. He brought back the body of St. Pontian from Sardinia
and buried it in the Cemetery of Calixtus. This cemetery was enlarged and
beautified. Vaults were adorned with paintings. A church rose above the
cemetery. Later writers attributed all kinds of regulations to the busy
time of Pope Fabian. Gregory of Tours, the famous historian of the Franks,
even credits Fabian with starting the evangelization of Gaul. This is manifestly
false because the Church existed in Gaul before the time of Fabian, but
it is probable enough that he did something for the Gallic Church.
All this activity was made possible by the peace which the Church enjoyed
at this time. The first half of the third century was in general a period
of peace. Septimius Severus, at the beginning of the century, and Maximinus,
just before Fabian's reign, had been persecutors, but they were exceptions.
After the death of the ex-wrestler Maximinus, his successors Papienus, Balbinus, and Gordianu had let the Christians pretty much alone. And Philip
who murdered and succeeded Gordian was himself a Christian-- of sorts.
Philip, though he presided at pagan games, was quite friendly to the Christians,
and during his reign Christianity flourished. Fabian's activity has been
noted; and at the same time Gregory, the wonder-worker, bishop of Neo-Caesarea,
Cyprian, bishop of Carthage, the great Origen, and others were writing
to create Christian literature. It looked as if the Church were going to
burst out of the catacombs to flourish in the light of day.
But the pagans were angry. Even before the death of Emperor Philip
in 249 there had been isolated outbreaks against the Christians. The pagans
bitterly resented Christian growth, and when Decius succeeded Philip as
emperor, that resentment mounted the throne. Decius was on principle a
determined and ruthless enemy of the Christian name. Septimius Severus
had tried to stop conversions; Maximinus had gone after the leaders. Decius
issued an edict ordering all Christians to deny Christ by some tangible
sign such as offering incense to idols. The storm hit a church softened
by peace. On all sides many hastened to deny Christ, but there were many
too who stood up and faced the worst tortures and death for Him. Among
these was St. Fabian. The details of his martyrdom are lacking, but it
is historically certain. He is buried in the Cemetery of Calixtus. His
feast is kept on January 20.
Excerpted from "Popes
Through the Ages" by Joseph Brusher, S.J.