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The conclave bird: a distinctively Roman omen

I never thought I'd have the chance to say this, but we need to bring back the official Roman augurs. A dramatic bird omen has just occurred: the conclave seagull atop the chimney.

Better informed than any journalist in the Roman world, the flight of birds has always been pregnant with meaning. As somewhat of an expert in ancient Roman divination myself (as scholar, not practitioner), here's my best take. The white bird signals white smoke later today. We are probably meant to associate this with the most famous bird omen in papal history, the election of Pope Fabian (236-250). According to Eusebius (Ecclesiastical History 6.29), Fabianus was not among the likely papabili, but the Holy Spirit moved:

... Fabianus, although present, was in the mind of none. But they relate that suddenly a dove flying down lighted on his head, resembling the descent of the Holy Spirit on the Savior in the form of a dove. Thereupon all the people, as if moved by one Divine Spirit, with all eagerness and unanimity cried out that he was worthy, and without delay they took him and placed him upon the episcopal seat.

Our seagull could not get into the building, but came as close as it could. Its species and connection to Fabian likely indicate the election inside of an unexpected candidate from a maritime region. Among other deeds, Fabian was said to have improved the organization of the church in Rome: a curial reformer!Remembered fondly by those who knew him, Pope Fabian was martyred under the first general persecution in 250.

About the Author

Michael Peppard is associate professor of theology at Fordham University, author of The World's Oldest Church and The Son of God in the Roman World, and on Twitter @MichaelPeppard.



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A powerful symbol. Agree that it's time to bring back haruspicy.I tried a bit of divination last night with my Inner Child Tarot Cards. My questions was: Does Dolan have a chance?"I drew a card. PETER PAN!! There, in the picture, was PETER at the helm of his barque.

Gerelyn, does this mean you have transferred your affections to Peter Turkson?

This is pretty thin stuff: A pigeon on the chimney??? I guess Peppard is trying to communicate that he has "nothing" about the conclave goings-on?If there is no papal election today, I'm speculating that tomorrow's the day. I can't imagine all those egos shut-up in the Sistine Chapel will be able to stand each other much longer than that.

Rita, I'm hoping for Dolan. Pope Patrick I. Here's a picture of his grade school in Ballwin. (Notice the stuff on the board. Reminds me of days of yore.)

It means Mike Score from Flock of Seagulls will be our next Pope.

Sorry, but this story just won't fly.

Have we all been gulled?

Is steadily pouring rain an omen?

Would carville say, "It's the smoke, stupid!" Would the world be quite so transfixed if there were simply a press conference each night... I doubt it... Catholic historical quaintness is well dislpayed throughout this arcane and choreographed process... kinda reminds me of Buckingham Palace for Kate's wedding - or, God forbid, a new coronation when Elizabeth passes (can SHE resign??? abdicate???) -- but with a somewhat different audience.

White smoke being reported...

William beat me to it by seconds

Pope Jonathan Livingston I?

Dr. Peppard: I have to thank you for the single best papal prediction of the conclave (or should I thank the bird, or the Holy Spirit?) Kudos and thanks!

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