The Catholic Defender: The Amazing Story and Truth of St. Philip, Bishop of Heraclea
Saint Philip was Bishop of Heraclea, and suffered martyrdom with Saints Severus, Memnon, and thirty-seven others in Thrace during the third century. They all suffered in Philippopolis, Thrace under the emperor Diocletian (284-305).
Heraclea was an ancient Greek city in Macedon, ruled later by the Romans. Its ruins are situated 2 km south of Bitola. The city was named in honour of the mythological Greek hero Heracles. The name Lyncestis originates from the name of the ancient kingdom, conquered by Philip, where the city was built.
When the governor learned that the Saint Severus had converted the centurion Memnon to Christ, he ordered that Memnon be tortured. They cut three strips of skin from Saint Memnon’s back.
Saint Severus was raked with iron hooks. Then they put red-hot rings on his fingers and girded him with a red-hot iron belt. After these tortures, he was blinded.
Bishop Philip and the others had their hands and feet cut off and were thrown into a fiery oven. Their names are Orion, Antilinus, Molias, Eudemon, Silvanus, Sabinus, Eustathius, Straton, Bosua of Byzantium, Timothy, Palmatus, Mestus, Nikon, Difilus, Dometian, Maximus, Neophytus, Victor, Rinus, Satorninus, Epaphroditus, Cercanus, Gaius, Zoticus, Cronion, Anthony, Horus, Zoilus, Tyrannus, Agathon, Panstenus [Parthenias], Achilles, Panthyrias, Chrysanthus, Athenodorus, Pantoleon, Theosebius, Genephlius of Philippopolis.
Bishop of Heraclea and martyr. During the persecution of the Church under Emperor Diocletian, Philip was arrested along with his deacon Severus and two other clergy, Hermes and Eusebius. Taken before the magistrate, Blassus, they were ordered to hand over the Sacred Scripture, but refused. Moved to Adrianople, they were burned at the stake. All four share the same feast day.
Philip, the bishop of Heraclea in Thrace, became a martyr of Christ during the persecution of Diocletian. He was a diligent, courageous shepherd who confirmed the faith of his people, and when induced to flee the persecution, chose to remain.
Severus and Hermes were a priest and deacon who endured tribulation, prison and martyrdom with him. At first, Bassus, the governor, ordered the door of the church sealed, to which Philip retorted: “Do you imagine that God dwells within walls, and not rather in the hearts of men?” and continued to hold assembly outside.
Finally the sacred vessels and books were confiscated, the sacred books burned publicly, and the roof of the church incinerated.
Under torture, Philip was invincible. Pointing to a large statue of Hercules, Bassus bid him to only touch it, but the martyr refused saying that graven images had value only to stone-carvers but were helpless to worshipers. Then the deacon Hermes was asked if he would offer sacrifice, he refused.
Bassus’ term as governor being up, another, Justin, a ruthless man, stepped in. Under Justin, Philip was beaten till his flesh was pulp.
Imprisoned with Hermes and another, the priest Severus, Philip faced martyrdom alongside Hermes by fire. Buried up to their knees, the martyrs were burned. But when the flames died and the smoke cleared, although the martyrs were dead, their bodies were found whole. Justin ordered the bodies to be thrown into the river, but pious citizens fished them out with nets and gave them proper burial.
In prison, the priest Severus rejoicing on hearing of their victory, begged God to think him not unworthy of following in the footsteps of his bishop and Hermes, and suffered martyrdom the next day.
PHILIP, a venerable old man, bishop of Heraclea, the metropolis of Thrace, was an illustrious martyr of Christ in the persecution of Dioclesian. Having discharged every duty of a faithful minister in the characters of deacon and priest in that city, he was raised to the episcopal dignity, and governed that church with great virtue and prudence when it was shaken by violent storms.
To extend and perpetuate the work of God, he was careful to train up many disciples in the study of sacred learning, and in the practice of solid piety. Two of the most eminent among them had the happiness to be made companions of his martyrdom; namely, Severus, a priest, whose laborious and penitential life proved him to be a true disciple of the cross; and Hermes, a deacon, who was formerly the first magistrate of the city, and in that office, by his charity and universal benevolence, had gained the esteem and affection of all the citizens;
but after he was engaged in the ministry, gained his livelihood with his own hands, and brought up his son to do the same. Dioclesian’s first edicts against the Christians being issued out, many advised the holy bishop to leave the city; but he would not even stir out of the church, continuing to exhort the brethren to constancy and patience, and preparing them for the celebration of the feast of the Epiphany. Whilst he preached to them, Aristomachus, the stationary, (that is, an officer of the town,) came, by the governor’s order, to seal up the door of the church. The bishop said to him:
“Do you imagine that God dwells within walls, and not rather in the hearts of men?” He continued to hold his assemblies before the doors of the church. The next day certain officers came, and set their seal upon the sacred vessels and books. The faithful, who beheld this, were much grieved: but the bishop who stood leaning against the door of the church, encouraged them with his discourses.
Afterwards the governor Bassus finding Philip and many of his flock assembled before the church door, gave orders that they should be apprehended, and brought before him. Being seated on his tribunal, he said to them:
“Which of you is the teacher of the Christians?” Philip replied: “I am the person you seek.” Bassus said: “You know that the emperor has forbidden your assemblies. Surrender into my hands the vessels of gold and silver which you make use of, and the books which you read.” The bishop answered: “The vessels and treasure we will give you; for it is not by precious metal but by charity that God is honoured. But the sacred books it neither becomes you to demand nor me to surrender.” The governor ordered executioners to be called into court, and commanded Muccapor, the most noted among them for his inhumanity, to torture the holy prelate. Philip bore his torments with invincible courage. Hermes told the governor that it was not in his power to destroy the word of God, even though he should take away all the writings in which the true doctrine is contained.
The judge commanded him to be scourged. After this he went with Publius, the governor’s successor, to the place where the sacred writings and plate were hid. Publius would have conveyed away some of the vessels, but being hindered by Hermes, he gave him such a blow on the face that the blood followed. The governor Bassus was provoked at Publius for this action, and ordered the deacon’s wound to be dressed. He distributed the vessels and books among his officers; and, to please the infidels and terrify the Christians, caused Philip and the other prisoners to be brought to the market-place, surrounded with guards, and the church to be uncovered by taking off the tiles.
In the mean time, by his orders, the soldiers burned the sacred writings, the flames mounting so high as to frighten the standers by. This being told to Philip in the market-place, he took occasion from this fire to discourse of the vengeance with which God threatens the wicked, and represented to the people how their gods and temples had been often burned, beginning with Hercules, protector of their city, from whom it derived its name.
By this time Caliphronius, a Pagan priest, appeared in the market-place with his ministers, who brought with them the necessary preparations for a sacrifice and a profane feast. Immediately after, the governor Bassus came, followed by a great multitude, some of whom pitied the suffering Christians; others, especially the Jews, clamoured loudly against them. Bassus pressed the bishop to sacrifice to the gods, to the emperors, and to the fortune of the city. Then pointing to a large and beautiful statue of Hercules he bid him consider what veneration was due to that piece. Philip showed the absurdity of adoring a base metal, and the work of a drunken statuary.
Bassus asked Hermes if he at least would sacrifice. “I will not,” replied Hermes, “I am a Christian.” Bassus said: “If we can persuade Philip to offer sacrifice, will you follow his example?” Hermes answered he would not; neither could they persuade Philip. After many useless threats, and pressing them to sacrifice at least to the emperors, he ordered them to be carried to prison. As they went along, some of the rabble insolently pushed Philip, and often threw him down; but he rose with a joyful countenance, without the least indignation or grief. All admired his patience, and the martyrs entered the prison joyfully, singing a psalm of thanksgiving to God. A few days after they were allowed to stay at the house of one Pancras, near the prison, where many Christians and some new converts resorted to them to be instructed in the mysteries of faith. After some time they were remanded to a prison, contiguous to the theatre, which had a door into that building with a secret entry. They there received the crowds that came to visit them in the night. 1 In the mean time, Bassus going out of office at the expiration of his term, one Justin succeeded him.
The Christians were much afflicted at this change, for Bassus often yielded to reason, his wife having for some time worshipped the true God herself: but Justin was a violent man.
Zoilus, the magistrate of the city, brought Philip before him, who declared to the saint the emperor’s order, and pressed him to sacrifice. Philip answered: “I am a Christian, and cannot do what you require. Your commission is to punish our refusal, not to force our compliance.” Justin said: “You know not the torments which shall be your portion.” Philip replied: “You may torment, but will not conquer me: no power can induce me to sacrifice.”
Justin told him, he should be dragged by the feet through the streets of the city, and if he survived that punishment, should be thrown into prison again to suffer new torments. Philip answered: “God grant it may be so:” Justin commanded the soldiers to tie his feet and drag him along. They dashed him against so many stones, that he was torn and bruised all over his body. The Christians carried him in their arms, when he was brought back to his dungeon.
The enraged idolaters had long been in quest of Severus, the priest, who had hid himself, when inspired by the Holy Ghost, he at length surrendered himself, and was carried before the governor, and committed to prison. Hermes was likewise steady in his examination before Justin, and was treated in the same manner.
The three martyrs were kept imprisoned in a bad air seven months, and then removed to Adrianople, where they were confined in a private country house, till the arrival of the governor. The next day, holding his court at the Thermæ, he caused Philip to be brought before him, and to be beaten with rods till his bowels appeared bare. His courage astonished the executioners and Justin himself, who remanded him to prison. Hermes was next examined, and to him all the officers of the court were favourable, because having been formerly decurio or chief magistrate of the city of Heraclea, he had obliged them all on several occasions, though he declared in his examinations that he had been a Christian from his cradle.
He persisted in this profession, and was sent back to prison, where the holy martyrs joyfully gave thanks to Jesus Christ for this beginning of their victory. Philip, though of a weak and delicate constitution, did not feel the least inconvenience. Three days after this, Justin caused them to be brought again before his tribunal, and having in vain pressed Philip to obey the emperors, said to Hermes: “If the approach of death makes this man think life not worth preserving, do not you be insensible to its blessings, and offer sacrifice.” Hermes replied by showing the blindness and absurdity of idolatry: so that Justin being enraged, cried out: “Thou speakest as if thou wouldst fain make me a Christian.” Having then advised with his assessor and others, he pronounced sentence in these terms: “We order that Philip and Hermes, who, despising the commands of the emperor, have rendered themselves unworthy of the name of Romans, be burned, that others may learn to obey.” They went joyfully to the pile. Philip’s feet were so sore that he could not walk, and therefore he was carried to execution. Hermes followed him with much difficulty, being afflicted also in his feet; and he said to him: “Master, let us hasten to go to our Lord. Why should we be concerned about our feet, since we shall have no more occasion for them?” Then he said to the multitude that followed them: “The Lord revealed to me that I must suffer. While I was asleep, I saw a dove as white as snow, which, entering into the chamber, rested on my head, and descending upon my breast, presented me some meat which was very agreeable to the taste. I knew that it was the Lord that called me, and was pleased to honour me with martyrdom.” Fleury remarks, that this delicious meat seems to mean the eucharist, which the martyrs received before the combat.
When they came to the place of punishment, the executioners, according to custom, covered Philip’s feet and legs with earth up to the knees; and having tied his hands behind his back, nailed them to the pile. They likewise made Hermes go down into a ditch, who, supporting himself upon a club, because his feet trembled, said smiling: “O demon, thou canst not suffer me even here.” Immediately the executioners covered his feet with earth; but before they lighted the fire, he called upon Velogus, a Christian, and said to him: “I conjure you by our Saviour Jesus Christ, tell my son Philip from me, to restore whatever was committed to my charge, that I may incur no fault: even the laws of this world ordain it. Tell him also, that he is young, and must get his bread by labour, as he has seen me do; and behave himself well to every body.”
He spoke of the treasures of the church, or of deposits lodged in his hands. Hermes having spoken thus, his hands were tied behind his back, and fire was set to the pile. The martyrs praised, and gave thanks to God as long as they were able to speak. Their bodies were found entire; Philip having his hands stretched out as in prayer; Hermes with a clear countenance only his ear a little blue. Justin ordered their bodies to be thrown into the Hebrus: but certain citizens of Adrianople went in boats with nets, and fished them out whilst they were entire, and hid them for three days at a place called Ogestiron, twelve miles from the city.
Severus the priest, who had been left alone in prison, being informed of their martyrdom, rejoiced at their glory, and earnestly besought God not to think him unworthy to partake in it, since he had confessed his name with them.
He was heard, and suffered martyrdom the day after them. The order for burning the holy Scriptures and destroying the churches, points out the time of their suffering to have been after the first edicts of Dioclesian.
The 22nd of October is consecrated in the Martyrologies to their memory. A just and humble fear, the assiduous practice of penance, and all other virtues, the most fervent use of the sacraments, prayer, and meditation on eternal truths, a contempt of the world, and of the goods and evils of this life, and a constant attention to those to come, were the weapons with which the martyrs stood always prepared for the combat, and the source of the courage and strength which they obtained of God, and by which they triumphed.
The spiritual persecutions of the world are often more dangerous than those of the sword, and they corrupt far more souls. The allurements of pleasure and riches; the pomps of vanity, and the snares of pride and ambition, murder more souls than the Neros and Dioclesians murdered bodies.
We run into the arms of certain death if we expose ourselves to our enemies bereft of our weapons. Constant watchfulness, penance, prayer, and the like means above mentioned are the bucklers with which we must be always shielded, that we may be rendered invincible against the devil.