You may have seen the fish on a car or elsewhere; some of you may have wondered: what does this symbol mean?
On the bumpers, rear windows or trunk body, we sometimes see “stickers” whose meaning is not always obvious. Provincial crests, soccer team or a note of humor, the decorations, when they are not advertising, are often a mark of belonging.
Why not the ancient sign of recognition of Christians? Discreet and elegant, this small sticker rich in meaning is an affirmation of faith without provocation.
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What do the fish mean on cars?
The Christian symbol of the fish, the ichthus (fish in Latin), is one of the most present and symbolic symbols of Christianity. Apart from the cross, the fish symbol is probably the best known and most recognizable symbol of faith.
It is found on cars, Bible covers, tattoos, and more. However, the connection between Christ and a simple line drawing of a fish is not obvious and requires a little explanation.
Why was this fish (ichthus) invented?
During the early days of Christianity, Christians were often put to death for practicing their faith, so they prayed in secret places. A fish painted or carved on the outside door of a house let other Christians know they would be safe and welcome inside. The ancient catacombs of Rome are filled with images of fish, carved there by Christians hiding from persecution.
During the reign of Emperor Nero (54 A.D. – 68 A.D.), and during the reign of later evil emperors of the Roman Empire, Christians were often persecuted, tortured and put to death because of their faith in Jesus Christ.
Emperor Nero himself personally despised Christians. He blamed them for the great fire of 64 AD that burned down almost half of Rome. It was during Nero’s persecutions that Peter and Paul are said to have died. John the Baptist was persecuted and killed shortly before these sad events.
Spread throughout the empire, Roman soldiers were stationed everywhere to maintain order and act as police. This included keeping a watchful eye on the events of the population’s daily life.
Often, when a soldier spotted a Christian, he would report it to his superiors who, in turn, would be ordered to arrest the Christian and take him away for questioning. The Christian would then be harassed and tortured into recanting and submitting to the many polytheistic religions of Rome. In most cases, death would be the end.
Why do we see this fish on cars?
In the same way that we display flags of places we care about, this fish, the ichthus, represents an importance that someone places on the Christian religion, quite simply.
What does the fish represent when it is displayed publicly?
First of all, there is a reference to the miraculous catch that brought in many fish in Peter’s nets before Jesus invited him to become a “fisher of men”: the fish are the image of converted sinners.
It is also the fish that was multiplied by Jesus and distributed to the hungry crowds. The fish is given to those who listen to the voice of Christ.
It is also a fish, symbol of Christ, which sheltered the prophet Jonah for three days and three nights in its belly, protecting him and finally depositing him near Nineveh to accomplish his mission.
The fish needs the water to live just as man needs the water of baptism to be saved. Thus Tertulian writes: “We little fish, like our Fish, Christ-Jesus, are born in water and are saved only by remaining in water” (De Baptismo 1)
Finally, the fish always has its eyes open and is the only animal whose growth never stops, like the Christian’s faith.