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The Catholic Defender: Saint Fabian


Fabian was born in 200 A.D.


“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.” (Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History)


Pope Saint Fabian was bishop of Rome from January 236 to January 20, 250 C.E., succeeding Anterus. He is famous for the miraculous nature of his election, in which a dove is said to have descended on his head to mark


Fabian came to Rome after Pope Anteros died in 236. A layperson, and not a very important one, he may have come for the same reason many still come to Rome today during a papal election: concern for the future of the faith, curiosity about the new pope, a desire to grieve for the pope who had passed. Seeing all the important people gathered to make this momentous decision must have been overwhelming. Which one would be the new pope? Someone known for power? Someone known for eloquence? Someone known for courage?


Fabian was a layman—a Roman soldier—but when he attended the synod that was meeting, in the year 236, to elect a new pope, a dove flew into the room and landed on his head, a miraculous sign that this otherwise unknown man should be elected the next pope.


Perhaps he had come to see who might be elected the next pontiff—or perhaps he was there to visit family in Rome. Regardless, while the clerics were in the process of electing the new pope, something amazing happened. According to Church historian Eusebius, a dove flew in and settled on the head of Fabian.


The dove "settled on [Fabian's] head as clear imitation of the descent of the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove upon the Savior" (Eusebius). To all who were there, this incredible sign united the votes of clergy and laity, and Fabian was chosen unanimously.


Fabian’s election to the papacy took place in a divinely inspired way. After the death of Pope Anterus, who served for only one year, Fabian, a layman, traveled from his farm to the city of Rome to attend the election of the new Bishop of Rome with the people and clergy. It is not known what status Fabian held in the Church as he traveled to Rome. Yet no one present even considered Fabian as a possible pope, since other far more noble churchmen were being considered. During the public discussions, however, all that changed.


The fourth century Church historian, Eusebius, explains what happened next. “All of a sudden…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” (Ecclesiastical History). Just as the Holy Spirit descended upon Jesus in the form of a dove at His Baptism, it appears that the Father chose an unsuspecting farmer as His Son’s new vicar on Earth.

On coming up out of the water he saw the heavens being torn open and the Spirit, like a dove, descending upon him. And a voice came from the heavens, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.” ~Mark 1:10–


Fabian was a Roman layman who came into the city from his farm one day as clergy and people were preparing to elect a new pope. Eusebius, a Church historian, says a dove flew in and settled on the head of Fabian. This sign united the votes of clergy and laity, and he was chosen unanimously.


Suddenly during the discussion, a dove descended from the ceiling. But it didn't settle on "someone known" for anything at all. The dove, according to Eusebius, "settled on [Fabian's] head as clear imitation of the descent of the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove upon the Savior." There must have been something of the Holy Spirit working because everyone suddenly proclaimed Fabian as "worthy" to be pope and this stranger was elected.


To us the dove signifies peace, and this dove was prophetic. Starting close to Fabian's election, the suffering and persecuted Church began a time of peace. The emperor, Philip, was friendly to Christians and not only was the persecution stopped but Christians experienced acceptance.


After succeeding St. Anterus, Fabian proved to be an outstanding administrator and one of the great popes of the early church. He supposedly divided Rome into seven districts assigned to the seven deacons and is said to have founded several churches in France.

Fabian's episcopacy was one of substantial importance in the history of the early church. Most of his papacy was characterized by amicable relations with the imperial government, and Fabian could thus bring back to Rome the bodies of Pope Pontian and the antipopeHippolytus, both of whom had died in exile in the Sardinian mines, for Christian burial. It was also probably during his reign that the schism between the two corresponding Roman congregations of these leaders was ended. He corresponded with Origen and was highly esteemed both by Cyprian, the bishop of Carthage, and by the antipope Novatian, who referred to Fabian's "noblest memory."


Fabian could thus bring back to Rome the bodies of Pope Pontian and the antipope Hippolytus, both of whom had died in exile in the Sardinian mines, for Christian burial. It was also probably during his reign that the schism between the two corresponding Roman congregations of these leaders was ended.


In this era of peace, Fabian was able to build up the structure of the Church of Rome, appointing seven deacons and helping to collect the acts of the martyrs.


He supposedly divided Rome into seven districts assigned to the seven deacons and is said to have founded several churches in France. His appointment of notaries to register the deeds of the martyrs reflected the increasing precision with which the Catholic Church began to keep records during his time.


But, in a timeless story, the people who had always been in power were not happy to see the newcomers growing and thriving. There were many incidents of pagans attacking Christians and when Philip died so died the time of peace. The new emperor, Decius, ordered all Christians to deny Christ by offering incense to idols or through some other pagan ritual.


The Roman Emperior Decius immediately unleashed a ferocious persecution against Christians, and Pope Fabian was one of the first to be arrested and imprisoned. He was treated with extreme cruelty during his confinement, and finally tortured and executed on January 20, 250. He was buried in the papal crypt in the catacombs of St


The Liber Pontificalis, a fourth-century document that survives in later copies, says that he divided Rome into diaconates and appointed secretaries to collect the records of the martyrs. He is also said, probably without basis, to have baptized the emperor Philip the Arab and his son. More plausible is the report in the Liberian Catalogue that he sent out seven "apostles to the Gauls" as missionaries.


He died a martyr at the beginning of the Decian persecution and is venerated as a saint by the Catholic Church. Fabian's feast day is commemorated on January 20, the same as Saint Sebastian, in whose church his sepulcher lies in Rome.

In the few years of peace, the Church had grown soft. Many didn't have the courage to stand up to martyrdom. But Fabian, singled out by symbol of peace, stood as a courageous example for everyone in his flock. He died a martyr in 250 and is buried in the Cemetery of Calixtus that he helped rebuild and beautify. A stone slab with his name can still be found there.


Fabian was a Roman layman who came into the city from his farm one day as clergy and people were preparing to elect a new pope. Eusebius, a Church historian, says a dove flew in and settled on the head of Fabian. This sign united the votes of clergy and laity, and he was chosen unanimously.


He led the Church for 14 years and died a martyr’s death during the persecution of Decius in 250 A.D. Saint Cyprian wrote to his successor that Fabian was an “incomparable” man whose glory in death matched the holiness and purity of his life.


Fabian was martyred during the persecution of Christians under Emperor Decius, one of the first to die during this period, on January 20, 250. He was buried in the catacomb of Callixtus, and the Greek inscription on his tomb has survived. Fabian's feast day is commemorated on January 20, the same as Saint Sebastian, in whose church his sepulcher lies in Rome.


In the catacombs of Saint Callistus, the stone that covered Fabian’s grave may still be seen, broken into four pieces, bearing the Greek words, “Fabian, bishop, martyr.” St. Fabian shares the celebration of his liturgical feast with St. Sebastian on January 20.


He was buried in the catacomb of St. Calixtus, but his body was later moved to St. Sebastian’s, where his tomb was found in 1915.


Saint Fabian, you were divinely chosen as the Vicar of Christ on earth. In your humility and obedience to the will of God, you not only bore this heavy responsibility but also died for it. Please pray for me, that I may have the same courage as you to face an un-Christian culture bravely and accept the consequences of such a choice, no matter the cost. Saint Fabian, pray for me. Jesus, I trust in You.

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