FABIAN, fê'bi-an: Pope Jan. 10, 236 Jan. 20, 250, martyr in the Decian persecution. In the Chronicon Paschale he is called Flavian, while the Coptic Synaxarium terms him Palatian. According to Eusebius (Hist. eccl., vi. 29), he was chosen to succeed Anterus because a dove descended from heaven and lighted on the head of Fabian, a bishop who had been summoned to Rome with others to elect a new pope. Fabian was pope during the reign of Philip the Arab. Origen addressed to him a treatise defending his teachings, while Cyprian mentions a letter written by Fabian with regard to Privatus, a heretic (and probably bishop) of Colonia Lambesitana in Numidia. Macarius Magnes speaks of Fabian as a worker of miracles, and names him together with Polycarp, Irenæus, and Cyprian. Cyprian occasionally mentions this pope with respect, but the ordinances of Fabian in the three letters of the pseudo-Isidore and the twenty-one decrees of Gratian are forgeries.
Though few details are actually known concerning Fabian, it is clear that he was one of the most important popes. His reign was in a period of extraordinarily rapid development of the Church, for it was the time in which the Gnostic heresies, the Christological controversies, and the schism of Hippolytus were crushed, when penance increased rapidly, when the city of Rome was divided into seven or fourteen parishes, when the minor clergy was formed into five grades, and when the temporal power of the Church was greatly augmented. In all these measures Fabian must have been the leading spirit. It was due to him, moreover, that the Decian persecution found a far more sturdy power of resistance in Rome than in Carthage, and that the Roman Church was able to maintain so honorable a position in the year which elapsed between the martyrdom of Fabian and the election of his successor, Cornelius.