Novak (novak) wrote,

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Theological Notebook: Pope Fabian Martyr

Today is the Feast Day of Pope Fabian. I have had a fond spot for this guy in my heart ever since first finding his story in Eusebius' History of the Church. Imagine a guy, a Christian, visiting friends in Rome during the third century, when the persecutions could still flare up. (The Decian persecution, which wiped out so many believers and would give rise to the art motif of St. George and the Dragon--with Emperor Decius being the Dragon--would happen in Fabian's papacy.) The Bishop of Rome dies, and Fabian, escorting his Christian friends, goes to the public gathering of Christians on Vatican Hill where the members of the Roman Church would elect a new Bishop.

So there's Fabian, little more than a tourist, listening in as the locals debate the merits of various believers among them as to who would make their best new leader. All of a sudden, a dove--a pigeon, likely an ancestor of those flocks of pigeons that still make their home around the Vatican--swoops out of the air and lands on Fabian's head. Knowing the symbolism of the New Testament, where the Holy Spirit "like a dove" was said to have descended upon Jesus during his baptism by John the Baptist, the crowd, seeing Fabian with this bird suddenly landing on his head, promptly on the spot hails him as the new Bishop of Rome.

So there you are: a visitor, a tourist, suddenly finds himself Pope because a bird lands on his head. Stupid Romans? A sign from God? Who can say? All I know is that Fabian ended up being a pretty good Pope, ending as a martyr himself to the rage of Decius on this day in the year 250. I like to think of him as the Patron Saint of You Never Know What's Gonna Happen.
Tags: art, historical, papacy, theological notebook

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