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Fish, Symbolism of

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The fish is one of the commonest and earliest Christian symbols, in use by the second century to signify *Baptism, *Christ, and Christians. Tertullian (c.160–230), in his writings on baptism, referred to converts as pisciculi (“little fish”) and the baptismal font as piscina (“fish pond”). Fish may have been spared *God’s wrath in the *Deluge; baptized Christians may be seen as similarly saved. Fish require water to survive; Christians require Page 88  baptism. Saint Clement of Alexandria (c.150–215) advised Christians to use the fish symbol on their seals, rather than pagan motifs. The Greek letters for the word fish: IXOYC ( ichthos ) form an acrostic for “Jesus Christ, Son of God, Savior,” although whether the fish symbol derives from this, or vice versa, is unclear.


The fish appears in early Christian art, on lamps, sarcophagi, and in catacomb paintings. Fish may be accompanied by bread and wine as a symbol of the Eucharist or to symbolize the *miracle of the *Multiplication of the Loaves and Fishes.


Christ, in the *Calling of Peter and Andrew and in the episode of the *Miraculous Draught of Fishes, spoke of the *apostles as “fishers of men.” The fish is also the special attribute of Saint *Peter (a former fisherman), Saint *Anthony of Padua (who preached to the fish), Saint *Zeno (who enjoyed fishing), and *Tobias (who restored his father’s eyesight with the gall of a fish). In early Christian depictions of *Jonah, the whale often appears as a dragonlike fish. Fish also appear in medieval bestiaries and as the *zodiac sign of Pisces.

Fishburne, Laurence (1961–) [next] [back] Fischer, Hans

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