Fabius, father, and leadership


When Fabius Maximus saved Minucius' army from a cunning counterattack by Hannibal in the Second Punic War, a contrite and previously foolish Minucius bowed to his rescuer and called him "father." Would Americans call a prominent leader father today? Do we need a leader worthy of the title?

Under siege by the brilliant military strategist Hannibal, Roman leaders appointed the honorable Fabius Maximus as temporary dictator to save their country. Rather than confront Hannibal directly, Fabius used a delaying, or avoidance, strategy. If he could prolong the fight by avoiding crushing military losses, Fabius reasoned he would make the war unwinnable, expensive, and politically unpopular for the invading army.

History reveals that the "Fabian strategy" worked, but it had its critics-one of them being Fabius' assistant, Minucius. Insubordinate, impatient, and backstabbing, Minucius worked himself into a position equal with Fabius by calling for direct confrontation with Hannibal. He attacked Hannibal, but was outwitted by Hannibal's counterattack. Anticipating Minucius' impetuous move, Fabius led his army to Minucius' rescue. The historian Plutarch wrote, "After the battle, Fabius . . . retired to his camp, letting fall not a single boastful or offensive word about his colleague." Minucius entered Fabius' camp, "had the standards planted before him, and in a loud voice called him 'Father.'"

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"I call you by the good name of father, since I have no more honorable name to give you, though your kindness to me is greater than the kindness of the father who begot me," Minucius said. "From him I received merely existence; from you I and all these with me obtained deliverance."

Now close your eyes and think about American leadership today. What do you see? Your vision may be less than inspiring if you've been watching the news lately. Do you see a Fabius Maximus, a George Washington (known as the "American Fabius"), or some other leader worthy of the title "father"? If not, don't despair. We need to be careful in exalting our leaders to a status that belongs to God alone. Recall Jesus saying, "And call no man your father on earth, for you have one Father, who is in heaven."

For Christians, there's no need to despair over the state of American leadership. We have a Father in heaven who loves us and is worthy of our worship. How much more valuable is the deliverance He provided through his Son than that of a Fabius Maximus? Yet, while living here on earth we need to elect good leaders. Perhaps we should place a higher value on those candidates who have been good fathers-men like the fathers some of us have been blessed to have.

Lee Wishing
Lee Wishing

Lee is the administrative director of The Center for Vision & Values at Grove City College.


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