#20 - Pope St. Fabian
Pope from 236-250 A.D.
Died: 250 A.D.
How do we know he was pope?
(“Book of Popes”) lists Pope St. Fabian as the immediate successor of Anterus. Church historian Eusebius, writing around 325 AD, confirms the same and lists him as the 19th successor of St. Peter.
Give me the scoop on Fabian.
Fabian’s elevation to the papacy was nothing short of miraculous (more on that in a minute), and he was blessed to rule in peace for the majority of his time in the Chair. This allowed him, with the help of Roman officials, to return the bodies of Pope St. Pontian (Pope #18) and St. Hippolytus to Rome for a proper Christian burial.
Fabian was also responsible for assigning St. Cyprian as bishop of Carthage and leader of the Church in Africa. Incidentally, St. Cyprian is the reason we know St. Fabian was such a holy guy, having written to Fabian’s successor saying so. At the end of his papacy, a renewed Roman vitriol was ushered in by new emperor Decius (not a holy guy), resulting in another persecution of the Church and, ultimately, Fabian’s martyrdom by beheading. Fabian is commonly depicted with St. Sebastian because of their shared feast day (January 20), and his remains lie in the church of St. Sebastian Outside the Walls in Rome.
What was he known for?
We can thank St. Fabian for informing us of the origin of Sacred Chrism, that sweet-smelling oil used at priestly ordination, baptism, the sacrament of Confirmation, and the consecration of altars. Fabian wrote in his
Second Epistle to the Bishops of the East
, “Our predecessors received from the Apostles and delivered to us that our Savior Jesus Christ, after having made the Last Supper with his Apostles and washed their feet, taught them how to prepare the Holy Chrism.” Those words indicate that the Chrism originated from none other than Christ himself (hence the name).
According to Church historian Eusebius, Fabian was practically a stranger to papal electors when a successor to Anterus was being chosen, having come in from the countryside for the festivities, and being a layman to boot. Eusebius writes that Fabian “was on the mind of none” as a possible choice for pope. Nevertheless, a dove flew in the room and settled on his head, causing the electors to take it as a divine choice and unanimously pick Fabian on the spot. Good thing Fabian wasn’t afraid of birds.
What else was going on in the world at the time?
Fabian’s third year in office (238) was particularly tumultuous for the Roman Empire, becoming known as the
Year of Six Emperors
Coming Monday....Pope St. Cornelius
- John, E. (1964). The Popes: A concise biographical history. New York: Hawthorn Books.
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on Friday, January 29, 2016 at 2:00AM