St Philemon and Appia
HE was a native of Leinster, one of PHILEMON, a citizen of Colossae in Phrygia, a
man of quality and very, rich, had been converted either by St. Paul, when he
preached at Ephesus or by his disciple Epaphras, who first announced the gospel at
Colossal. So great was the progress he had made in virtue in a short time, that his
house was become like a church, by the devotion and piety of those who composed
it, and the religious exercises which were constantly performed in it: the assemblies
of the faithful seem also to have been kept there. Onesimus, a slave, far from
profiting by the good example before his eyes became even the more wicked. He
robbed his master, and fled to Rome where God permitted him to find out St. Paul,
who was then prisoner the first time in that city, in the year 62. That apostle, who
was all to all to gain the whole world to Jesus Christ, received this slave with the
tenderness of a father, showing so much the greater compassion as his wounds were
the deeper. Habits of theft are most difficult to be cured: Onesimus was probably
engaged in other evil courses, such crimes seldom go alone. Perhaps only distress
had brought him to St. Paul. Yet the spirit of sincere charity and piety, with which
the apostle treated him, wrought an entire change of his heart, so that its whole
frame was renewed, and the stream of all his appetites so turned, that of a
passionate, false, self-interested man, he was now humble, meek, patient, devout,
and full of charity. True conversions are very rare, because nothing under a total and
thorough change will suffice. Neither tears, nor good desires, nor intentions, nor the
relinquishment of some sins, nor the performance of some good works, will avail any
thing, but a new creature; a word that comprehends more in it than words can
express, and which can only be understood by those who feel it within themselves.
Such was the conversion of Onesimus, when he was instructed in the faith, and
baptized by St. Paul. The apostle desired to detain him that he might do him those
services which the convert could have wished himself to have rendered to his
spiritual master. But he would not do it without the consent of him to whom he
belonged; nor deprive Philemon of the merit of a good work, to which he was
persuaded it would be his great pleasure to concur in justice the slave owed a
satisfaction and restitution to his master. S Paul, therefore, sent Onesimus back
With an excellent epistle to Philemon. in which he writes with an inimitable
tenderness and power of persuasion, yet with authority and dignity. He styles
himself prisoner of Jesus Christ, the more feelingly to touch the heart of Philemon,
and to move him to regard his prayer. He joins Timothy, well known to Philemon,
with himself, and calls Philemon his beloved, and his assistant, who shared with him
the fruit and labor of the apostleship, to which the other contributed all the succors
in his power. Appia, his pious and worthy wife, the apostle calls his dear sister, on
the account of her faith and virtue. He would also interest in his petition the whole
church of Colossal Archippus who governed it for Epaphras, then in chains at Rome,
and the domestic church or faithful house of Philemon. He wishes them grace and
peace. This was his ordinary salutation. And what could he ask of God greater for
them than grace, which is the source and principle of Christian virtue, and peace,
which is its fruit and recompense? To praise a man to his face is a most delicate and
difficult task this he does by thanking God for Philemon, which is the only manner of
praising another worthy of a Christian, who knows that all good is the gift of God.
Thus, the apostle commence his faith, charity. and liberality to all as a member of
Christ, and declares his own affection by the strongest token, that of always
remembering him, and commending him to God in all his prayers, than which no one
can give a more certain mark of his sincere friendship. He uses the tender epithet of
brother; and says, that the saints have found comfort by him in the assistance he
afforded to all the afflicted brethren whose interests were common among them. At
last he comer to the point but proposes it with authority, modestly putting Philemon
in mind that, as an apostle, he could command him in Christ; but is content to pray
him, mentioning whatever could render his entreaties more tender; as his name
which expressed a great deal, his age and his chains: he intercedes for one whom he
calls his own bowels, and his son begotten in his chains: he speaks of his theft and
flight in soft terms, and mentions how serviceable he had himself found him. He
entreats and begs for his own sake, and prays that the obligations which Philemon
had to him, for the eternal salvation of his own soul, and his all, might acquit
Onesimus of his debt and injustice. He concludes, conjuring him by their strict union
and brotherhood in Christ. Philemon, upon such a recommendation, with joy granted
Onesimus his liberty, forgave him his crimes, and all satisfaction, and shortly after
sent him back to St. Paul, to serve him at Rome; but the apostle wanted not his
corporal services, and made him a worthy fellow-laborer in the gospel. Both Latins
and Greeks honor SS. Philemon and Appia on this or the following day. Some Greeks
say Philemon died a martyr.
[1] Bulter's Lives of the Saints – November 22.
Lives of the Saints