Saint Philip the Apostle

Feast Day: May 11th

Early manuscripts of the Martyrology of Saint Jerome place the feast of Philip on May 1. The feast of James may have been joined to that of Philip after the joint dedication of the basilica in Rome to their honor. The traditional date was moved because May Day was dedicated to Saint Joseph the Worker in 1955 and the following day honors Saint Athanasius. In 1955, the Feast of Philip and James was transferred to May 11.

[painting of Saint Philip]

Saint Philip the Apostle


    He is mentioned as one of the Apostles in the lists of Matthew (10:3), Mark (3:18), Luke (6:14), and in Acts (1:13). Aside from the lists, he is mentioned only in John in the New Testament, where he has the gift of raising the questions everyone else is afraid to ask, and appears to be a careful, level-headed man.

    Philip was called by Jesus Himself (John 1:43-48) on the day after Saint Peter and Andrew and began his evangelizing efforts by bringing Nathaniel (a.k.a. Bartholomew) to Jesus. Philip also shows us a bit about how to evangelize: When Nathaniel ask, "Can anything good come from Nazareth?" He appeals for a personal inquiry: "Come and see."

    Philip was present at the miracle of the loaves and fishes (John 6:1-15), when he engaged in a brief dialogue with the Lord (John 6:5-7), and was the Apostle approached by the Hellenistic Jews from Bethsaida to introduce them to Jesus (John 12:21ff). Just before the Passion, Jesus answered Philip's query to show them the Father (John 14:8ff), but no further mention of Philip is made in the New Testament beyond his listing among the apostles awaiting the Holy Spirit in the Upper Room (Acts 1:13).

    According to tradition, he preached in Greece and was crucified upside down at Hierapolis in Phrygia under Emperor Domitian, c. 80 AD. Philip's alleged relics were translated to Rome and placed in the Basilica of the Twelve Apostles, where an ancient inscription records that it was originally dedicated to Saints Philip and James. The Golden Legend says that Philip drove away a dragon of the Temple of Mars with the Cross. Some later traditions develop the role of Philip's supposed daughters in the early Church, but many of these confuse today's saint with Philip the Deacon (cf. Acts 8; 21:8).

    James, the son of Alphaeus and Mary, is named in the same lists of Apostles in Matthew, Mark, and Luke, and in Acts 1:13 is one of the other apostles in the Upper Room in Jerusalem after Christ's Ascension. James is mentioned as one of the "brothers" (parthenos) of the Lord (Matt. 13:55; Mark 6:3) with Joseph, Simon, and Jude and is called the "brother of the Lord" (meaning a first cousin) in Galatians 1:19. It was to James that Peter wanted the news of his miraculous escape transmitted (Acts 12:17), and James seems to have been regarded as the head of the primitive Church of Jerusalem. He was the one who suggested that only four Jewish practices be imposed on Gentile Christians (Acts 15:13-21), beginning this statement with the words, "It seems good to the Holy Spirit and to us. . . ." Paul reported to him and sought his approval several times.

    This James seems to be the James of the Epistle of James who opens the letter by calling himself "servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ," which may indicate it was an official Church title; James uses the tone of authority of one well known in the Church and accustomed to wielding authority.

    The name "James the Less" is usually applied to James the son of Alphaeus, because of the reference in Mark 15:40, where he is called "James the Less" or "James the Younger." According to the converted Jew Heggesippus, a 2nd-century ecclesiastical historian, James was thrown from the pinnacle of the Temple in Jerusalem by the Pharisees and then stoned to death about the year 62 AD. The contemporary Jewish historian Josephus records that the bishop James was stoned to death. Ancient legendary sources recorded in the Golden Legend say that he was killed by the blow of a fuller's club after his fall from the temple. He lived just long enough to forgive his killers. This James is also known as "the Just." Eusebius contended that the catastrophes that later struck Jerusalem were a punishment for their treatment of one "who was the most righteous of men" (Appleton, Attwater, Benedictines, Bentley, Delaney, Farmer, Tabor, Walsh, White).

Born: at Bethsaida, Palestine

Died: martyred c.80 at Hierapolis, Phrygia

Canonized: Pre-Congregation

Patronage: hatters; Luxembourg; pastry chefs; Uruguay

Representation: In art since the 15th century, Saint Philip is portrayed as an apostle holding a long cross, or a staff with a small cross on it (Appleton, Tabor), which resembles a ceremonial object rather than the instrument of his crucifixion. It is like the staves used by Saint Michael and Saint Margaret in overcoming dragon-like demons, and likely refers to the incident in the Temple of Mars. The cross may be seen in images of Philip as (1) a weapon against the dragon (paganism); (2) his instrument of martyrdom; or (3) a sign that he was a missionary preacher who stressed the victory of the Cross (Appleton).

Philip might also be shown (1) crucified on a tall cross; (2) with loaves and fishes; (3) with a loaf and book; (4) with a snake or dragon; (5) with descendit ad inferna on a book or scroll; (6) baptizing the Ethiopian eunuch; (7) casting a devil from the idol of Mars; or (8) with his brother Andrew. Like Andrew, he is often, though not invariably, of venerable appearance.

Prayer to Saint Philip

O Saint Philip, chosen disciple of the Lord, who brought Nathaniel to Christ, who most zealously preached thy Lord, Jesus Christ, and out of love to Him willingly gave thyself to be nailed to the cross, and put to death, obtain, I beseech thee, for me, and for all men, grace with zeal to bring others to the practice of good works, to have a great desire after God and His truths, and, in hope of the eternal blissful contemplation of God, to bear patiently the adversities and miseries of this life. Amen.