St. Fabian - Elected By A Dove

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 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.

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