St Philip The Deacon
SO much was the number of the faithful increased after the first sermons of St Peter,
that the apostles being entirely taken up in the ministry of the word, it was judged
proper to choose seven men, full of the Spirit of God and wisdom, to have care of
the poor, under the name of deacons or ministers. St. Philip is named the second in
this cataloge, who, according to St. Isidore of Pelusium, was a native of Caesarea in
Palestine. The deacons were not confined to what seemed to give birth to the
institution; for at that time the divine mysteries were sometimes administered to
the faithful at a supper, as appears from St. Paul, though afterwards the apostles
ordered that the blessed eucharist should only be received by persons fasting, as St.
Austin observes, and is clear from Tertullian and others. Only the priests could
consecrate the holy mysteries; but deacons often delivered the cup. That the
deacons were appointed to minister in the holy mysteries (and this probably by an
express order of Christ) is manifest from the holy scriptures and from the writings of
the disciples of the apostles. In their first institution they were ordained by an
imposition of hands with prayer. St. Paul requires almost the same conditions in the
deacons as in bishops or priests, and that they be tried before they be admitted into
the ministry. St. Ignatius, writing to the Trallians, calls the deacons "the ministers of
the mysteries of Jesus Christ." And to the Smyrnaeans he says, "Reverence the
deacons as the precept of the Lord." In his other epistles, he usually joins the
deacons with the priests and bishops as sacred ministers in the church. St. Cyprian
calls deacons the ministers of the episcopacy and of the church. The sacred functions
in which deacons were employed were, first, to minister to the priest at the sacrifice
of the Eucharist, as St. Laurence testifies in his famous words to pope Sixtus,
recorded by St. Ambrose; secondly, to baptize in the absence of the priest; thirdly,
to preach the divine word. The holy deacon St. Philip excelled so much in preaching
the gospel that he acquired the name of Evangelist, by which he is distinguished in
the Acts of the Apostles. After the martyrdom of St. Stephen, the disciples being
dispersed into several places, St. Philip first carried the light of the gospel into
Samaria. The people of that country listened with one accord to his discourses, and
by seeing the miracles which he wrought in confirmation of the doctrine he delivered,
great numbers were converted to the faith. For many who were possessed by unclean
spirits were delivered, and others afflicted with palsies or lameness were healed.
At that time one Simon, surnamed the Magician, made a great figure in Samaria. He
was a native of Gitton in that country, and before the arrival of St. Philip, had
acquired a great reputation in the city of Samaria, seducing the people, whom he
had for a long time bewitched with his magical practices, as St. Luke testifies, who
adds: That they all gave ear to him from the least to the greatest, saying, "This man
is the power of God, which is called great." The infernal spirit sought to oppose
these illusions and artifices to the true miracles of Christ, as he was suffered to
assist the magicians of Pharaoh against Moses. But God, when he permits the devil
to exert in such an extraordinary manner his natural strength and powers, always
furnishes his servants with means of discerning and confounding the imposture.
Accordingly the clear miracles wrought by Philip put the magician quite out of
countenance. Being himself witness to them and seeing the people run to Philip to
be baptized by him, he also believed or pretended to believe and, being baptized,
stuck close to Philip, hoping to attain to the power of effecting miracles like those
which he saw him perform. The apostles at Jerusalem, hearing of the conversion of
Samaria, sent thither SS. Peter and John to confirm the converts by the imposition of
hands, which sacrament only bishops could confer. With the grace of this sacrament,
at that time were usually conferred certain external gifts of the miraculous powers.
Simon seeing these communicated to the laity by the imposition of the hands of the
apostles, offered them money, saying, "Give me also this power, that on
whomsoever I shall lay my hands he may receive the Holy Ghost." But St. Peter said
to him: "Keep thy money to thyself to perish with thee, because thou hast thought
that the gift of God may be purchased with money. Do penance for this thy
wickedness and pray to God, if perhaps this thought of thy heart may be forgiven
thee. For I see thou art in the gall of bitterness and engaged in the bonds of
iniquity." Simon, being in that evil disposition, was incapable of receiving the gifts of
the Holy Ghost, at least interior sanctifying grace. Nor did he sincerely seek this.
However, fearing the threat of temporal evils, he answered: "Pray you for me to the
Lord, that none of these things may come upon me." From this crime of Simon, the
sin of selling any spiritual thing for a temporal price, which both the law of nature
and the positive divine law most severely condemn, is called simony; and to
maintain that practice lawful is usually termed in the canon law the heresy of Simon
Magus. We have no further account of this impostor in the holy scriptures, except
that he and his disciples seemed marked out by St. Paul and St. Jude; and St. James
proved against them "the necessity of good works to salvation. St. Peter also draws
their portrait in the most frightful colors." The fathers generally look upon the
conversion of Simon to the faith as an act of hypocrisy, founded only in ambition and
temporal views, and in the hope of purchasing the gifts of the Holy Ghost, which he
ascribed to a superior art, magic. We learn from St. Epiphanius, St. Irenaeus,
Tertullian, Theodoret, and other fathers that he afterwards pretended to be the
Messiah and called himself the power of God, who was descended on earth to save
men and to reestablish the order of the universe, which he affirmed had been
disturbed by the ambition of the angels striving which should be the first, and
enslaving men under their government of the world. He said that, to hold man in
their captivity, they had invented the law of good works, whereas he taught that
faith alone sufficeth to salvation. He pretended that the world was created by
angels, who afterwards revolted from God and usurped an undue power in it. Yet he
ordered them to be honored and sacrifices to be offered to the Father by the
mediation of these powers, not to beg their succor, but to appease them that they
might not obstruct our designs on earth, nor hurt us after our death. This
superstitious worship of the angels was a downright idolatry and was condemned by
St. Paul. See on it Tertullian, St. Epiphanius, and Theodoret. Simon rejected the Old
Testament, saying it was framed by the angels, and that he was come to abolish it.
Having purchased a beautiful prostitute at Tyre, he called her Helena and said she
was the first intelligence, that the Father through her had created the angels. He
often called himself the Holy Ghost, which name he sometimes gave also to Helena.
He required divine honors to be paid to himself under the figure of Jupiter, and to
Helena under that of Minerva. He denied free-will and sowed the seeds of the
abominations afterwards propagated by the Gnostics. His extravagant system was a
medley formed from paganism and the Christian, Jewish, and Samaritan doctrines.
He strove in all things to rival Christ. His journey to Rome will be mentioned in the
life of St. Peter. St. Philip had the affliction, amidst the spiritual success of his
ministry, to see the hypocrisy of this monster, and the havoc of souls made by his
impiety and blasphemies. Christ himself was pleased to suffer much contradiction in
his doctrine, to teach his disciples patience and meekness under the like trials from
the obstinacy of impenitent sinners. If their labors were always successful, where
would be the crown of their patience?
St. Philip was probably still at Samaria when an angel appearing to him, ordered him
to go southward to a road that led from Jerusalem to Gaza. There he found an
Ethiopian eunuch, one of the principal officers in the court of queen Candace, and her
high treasurer, who, being a Jew, had made a religious visit to the temple, and was
then on his road homeward. Such was his affection to the sacred writings that he
was reading the prophecy of Isaiah as he was traveling in his chariot. The passage
on which he was meditating happened to be that in which the prophet, speaking of
the passion of Christ, says he was led like a sheep to the slaughter; that his
humiliation was crowned, his ignominious condemnation being taken away by the
glory of his resurrection; for who can explain his eternal generation, or the glorious
resurrection of his humanity, which is as it were a second miraculous birth? St. Philip
expounded to him this text, which the eunuch did not understand, instructed him
perfectly in the faith, and baptized him. After which, the eunuch returning home full
of joy, became the apostle and catechist of Ethiopia his country, as St. Jerome
assures us, from Eusebius. The Abyssinians to this day regard him as their apostle.
As for St. Philip, when he had baptized his illustrious convert, he was conveyed by
God to Azotus, where he published the gospel, and in all the other towns in his way
to Caesarea, the place of his ordinary residence. Twenty-four years afterwards, St.
Paul, when he came thither in 58, lodged in his house. His four daughters were
virgins and prophetesses. St. Jerome says they preserved their virginity by vow, or at
least out of devotion. The same father thinks their gift of prophecy was the
recompense of their chastity. St. Philip probably died at Caesarea. It was the apostle
St. Philip who died at Hierapolis, whose death and daughters some have confounded
with the deacons.
[1] Bulter's Lives of the Saints.
Lives of the Saints