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E00266: Eusebius of Caesarea, in his Ecclesiastical History, reports that, in 238, *Fabianus (bishop and martyr of Rome, S00147) was elected to the episcopate in a miraculous way. Written in Greek in Palestine, 311/325.

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posted on 2015-01-27, 00:00 authored by pnowakowski
Eusebius of Caesarea, Ecclesiastical History 6.29

(1.) Γορδιανοῦ δὲ μετὰ Μαξιμῖνον τὴν Ῥωμαίων ἡγεμονίαν διαδεξαμένου, τῆς κατὰ Ῥώμην ἐκκλησίας Ποντιανὸν ἔτεσιν ἓξ ἐπισκοπεύσαντα διαδέχεται Ἀντέρως καὶ τοῦτον Φαβιανός, ἐπὶ μῆνα τῇ λειτουργίᾳ διακονησάμενον. (2.) ἐξ ἀγροῦ φασιν τὸν Φαβιανὸν μετὰ τὴν Ἀντέρωτος τελευτὴν ἅμ’ ἑτέροις συνελθόντα ἐπιχωριάζειν τῇ Ῥώμῃ, ἔνθα παραδοξότατα πρὸς τῆς θείας καὶ οὐρανίου χάριτος ἐπὶ τὸν κλῆρον παρεληλυθέναι. (3.) τῶν γὰρ ἀδελφῶν ἁπάντων χειροτονίας ἕνεκεν τῆς τοῦ μέλλοντος διαδέξασθαι τὴν ἐπισκοπὴν συγκεκροτημένων πλείστων τε ἐπιφανῶν καὶ ἐνδόξων ἀνδρῶν τοῖς πολλοῖς ἐν ὑπονοίᾳ ὑπαρχόντων, ὁ Φαβιανὸς παρὼν οὐδενὸς μὲν ἀνθρώπων εἰς διάνοιαν ᾔει, ὅμως δ’ οὖν ἀθρόως ἐκ μετεώρου περιστερὰν καταπτᾶσαν ἐπικαθεσθῆναι τῇ αὐτοῦ κεφαλῇ μνημονεύουσιν, μίμημα ἐνδεικνυμένην τῆς ἐπὶ τὸν σωτῆρα τοῦ ἁγίου πνεύματος ἐν εἴδει περιστερᾶς καθόδου· (4.) ἐφ’ ᾧ τὸν πάντα λαόν, ὥσπερ ὑφ’ ἑνὸς πνεύματος θείου κινηθέντα, προθυμίᾳ, πάσῃ καὶ μιᾷ ψυχῇ ἄξιον ἐπιβοῆσαι καὶ ἀμελλήτως ἐπὶ τὸν θρόνον τῆς ἐπισκοπῆς λαβόντας αὐτὸν ἐπιθεῖναι.

‘(1.) When Gordian succeeded Maximinus in the government of the Romans [AD 238], Anteros succeeded Pontianus, who had been bishop of the Church of Rome for six years; he served in his ministry for one month and was succeeded by Fabianus. (2.) They say that Fabianus came and settled in Rome from the countryside along with others, after the death of Anteros, and there he came to office in the most extraordinary way, by the intervention of the divine and heavenly grace. (3.) For, as the brethren were all assembled for the purpose of electing him that would succeed to the episcopate, and several notable and distinguished men were in the thought of many, no one thought of Fabianus who was present. But they relate that, all of a sudden, a dove flew down from above and sat on his head, in clear imitation of the descent of the Holy Ghost in the form of a dove upon the Saviour. (4.) Thereupon, all the people, as if moved by one common divine inspiration, acclaimed him as worthy, with all eagerness and with one soul, and, without delay, they took and placed him on the episcopal throne.’

Text: Schwartz et al. 1999. Translation: Oulton 1926, modified.


Evidence ID


Saint Name

Fabianus, martyred bishop of Rome, ob. 250 : S00147

Saint Name in Source


Type of Evidence

Literary - Other narrative texts (including Histories)


  • Greek

Evidence not before


Evidence not after


Activity not before


Activity not after


Place of Evidence - Region


Place of Evidence - City, village, etc

Caesarea Maritima

Place of evidence - City name in other Language(s)

Caesarea Maritima

Major author/Major anonymous work

Eusebius of Caesarea

Cult activities - Non Liturgical Practices and Customs

Oral transmission of saint-related stories

Cult Activities - Miracles

Miracle during lifetime Miraculous appointment to office

Cult Activities - Protagonists in Cult and Narratives

Ecclesiastics - bishops Crowds


Eusebius lived in Caesarea Maritima in Palestine between c. AD 260 and 340. He was a pupil and friend of the martyred Christian intellectual Pamphilus. Under Constantine, he emerged as one of the most influential Christian figures of the Roman Empire, and was ordained bishop of Caesarea. Written between 311 and 325, Eusebius’ Ecclesiastical History is the first literary work to employ the methodology and objectives of classical historiography – which, since Herodotus and Thucydides, had traditionally focused on military and political events – in a novel field, the history of the Christian community. The first paragraphs of the work outline its chronological framework and thematic range: it is a narrative of events in the life of the Christian community from the times of Christ and the Apostles to the times of Eusebius (c. AD 260-340); it records the leaders of the most important communities (i.e. successions of bishops in Alexandria, Antioch, Rome and Jerusalem); it records the most notable exponents of Christian doctrine and their works, and also the main heresies and their proponents; it finally records persecutions and people that suffered and were martyred during them. The Ecclesiastical History is mostly a synthesis of quotations and summaries from other sources, for which Eusebius often gives concrete references. Thus his work preserves excerpts from early Christian texts which do not survive in their full form. Eusebius’ source material consists mostly of Greek texts, originating from Christian communities in Anatolia, Syria, Palestine, and Egypt. These areas constitute the main geographical range of his narrative, while his information about Christianity in the western provinces of the Roman Empire (except Rome) is very limited. The text survives in several Greek manuscripts, in a Latin translation by Rufinus, and in Syriac and Armenian translations.


The story of Fabianus of Rome is of major interest as an early example of the preserving the memory of bishops as holy men. One of the main themes discussed by Eusebius in the Ecclesiastical History is the successions of bishops at the main catholic communities of the Roman world, which he follows systematically for Jerusalem, Caesarea Maritima, Alexandria, Antioch and Rome, and less systematically for Ephesus, Corinth and other cities. His focus on episcopal successions parallels his interest in martyrdoms, which Eusebius understood as the two axes of the existence and development of the Church through history. Eusebius recognises the working of God through the life and acts of bishops no less than through the feats of martyrs. Fabianus, bishop of Rome 236-250, died as a martyr (E00276), but, interestingly, it is the story of his miraculous election to the episcopate that marks this reference of Eusebius to him. Alongside the election of *Alexandros as bishop of Jerusalem, also recorded by Eusebius (E00273), this is the earliest instance of the hagiographical topos of miraculous elections of bishops. Special devotion to the memory of holy bishops is attested at both Jerusalem and Rome in the early 4th century (see E00272, E00273), and one may plausibly assume that they were indeed early centres of the development of the cult of this particular category of saints. Stories like that of Fabianus, however, are not common in the Ecclesiastical History and it is unknown whether they evolved into more than oral legends. Eusebius seems to have obtained this through oral transmission. The earliest extensive biography of a holy bishop is probably the 3rd or 4th century Life of Polycarp of Smyrna, which describes the life and miracles of *Polycarp before his martyrdom. The themes known from Eusebius’ passages about holy bishops (*Narkissos and *Alexander of Jerusalem, and Fabianus of Rome) feature centrally in the narrative of the Life of Polycarp, setting a model for this particular hagiographical category (E00453).


Edition: Schwartz, E., Mommsen, T., and Winkelmann, F., Eusebius Werke II: Die Kirchengeschichte. 3 vols. (Die Griechischen Christlichen Schriftsteller der ersten drei Jahrhunderte NF 6/1-3; Berlin: Akademie Verlag, 1999). Translations: Lake, K., Oulton, J.E.L., and Lawlor, H.J., Eusebius of Caesarea: The Ecclesiastical History. 2 vols. (Loeb Classical Library; London and Cambridge, MA: Heinemann and Harvard University Press, 1926). Williamson, G.A., and Louth, A., Eusebius: The History of the Church from Christ to Constantine (London: Penguin, 1989). Further reading: Chesnut, G. The First Christian Histories: Eusebius, Socrates, Sozomen, Theodoret, and Evagrius. Atlanta: Mercer University, 1986.

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    Evidence -  The Cult of Saints in Late Antiquity



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