PHILIP, MISSIONARY APOSTOLIC
Although a number of the earlier writers, both Friars Preacher and others, often mention the subject of this narrative, they do not give us the date or the country of his birth, or any details of his young life. Perhaps they thought that his extraordinary missionary labors in Palestine and adjacent countries, of which they speak in terms of the highest praise, were sufficient to make him well enough known, no less than to immortalize his name. Wherever he is mentioned by these authors, he is simply called "Father Philip." However, the general supposition, which no one seems to doubt, is that he entered the Order in the days of Saint Dominic.(1)
The editors of the Cartulaire de Saint Dominique identify him with the Father Philip whom Dominic sent from Paris, in 1219, to establish a convent in Reims. In that case, the future noted harvester of souls was most likely received into the Order by Matthew of France at Paris, and was probably a native of France, a country which has given the Church many of her best missionaries. The writer of the sketch of Blessed Jordan for the Année Dominicaine says that he was sent to the Holy Land, with Henry of Marsberg, in 1228. But the editors of the Cartulaire think that he was still at Paris in 1230 and 1231, and prior of Saint James' Convent; in which capacity he, or another Father Philip, preached some historic sermons to the students of the university. Other later authors seek to identify him with Philip Carisi of Vercelli, whom Father Bonaventure (or Ventura), then prior in Verona, appointed procurator in the cause of Saint Dominic's canonization to obtain witnesses. To this contention the editors mentioned above strongly object.(2)
Touron does not touch these mootable points. With Echard (and this seems to be the more commonly accepted opinion), he says that Philip was appointed provincial of the Province of the Holy Land by the general -chapter held at Paris in 1234, to succeed Henry of Marsberg, who had resigned because of ill health. The editors of the Cartulaire de Saint Dominique believe that Henry, the first to hold the position, resigned the provincialship for Palestine at the general chapter of Bologna in 1231, and that Philip then became his immediate successor.(3) While this opinion, as regards the time of Henry's resignation and Philip's appointment, is possibly erroneous, it very likely approximates the date of the latter's arrival in the near east. At least, a few years later, we find him quite conversant with the various countries in that part of the world--a circumstance which presupposes a fairly long abode.
Doubtless the early Friar Preacher's zeal, thorough religious life, eloquence, good judgment and capacity for dealing with men, whether in the Order or without (of all of which, we take it for granted, he had previously given no uncertain proof), led to the choice of him as provincial in Palestine. The position was not at all a sinecure. On the contrary, it involved no end of labor, anxiety, hardship, self-sacrifice, and privation -- even great danger. The faithful in those parts were in constant need of aid, encouragement, and consolation; for they were frequently victims of attacks by their enemies, whether schismatics or infidels. Not a few of them sealed their fidelity with the martyr's blood.
Through courage and deft management, Philip not only retained the houses of the Order erected in the east prior to his appointment as provincial, but also added to their number. He was in office at the time of the drowning of Blessed Jordan off the coast of the Holy Land. So to him fell the sad duty of acquainting Gregory IX and the Order of the catastrophe. It is principally from his pen that we learn the marvellous occurrences with which God honored the memory of the saintly General at the place of the accident and in the church of Ptolemais.
The province over which Philip presided went under various names. By the writers of the Order we find it called "the Province of the Holy Land," "the Province of Jerusalem," "the Province beyond the Sea," and even "the Province of Syria." Still its official title was Province of the Holy Land. Its houses or convents were centers of a broad activity -- recruiting stations, so to express it, whence the fathers carried the light of the true faith near and far. From them they journeyed to the strongholds of schism and into the very hearts of heathendom, preaching and instructing wherever they found an audience. These convents were, furthermore, houses of study, in which the oriental languages were learned before missionary labors began in earnest. In cases of persecution and necessary flight, they served the fathers as places of refuge. Later these missionaries became known as "the Travelling Fathers" (Fratres Peregrinantes).
This was the sort of work for which Saint Dominic himself bad longed-tbe fulfillment of the plan which he had outlined. No doubt a few of the holy man's confrères were engaged in that field of arduous toil even before his death. From his early disciple sketched here we get a first-hand idea or picture, incomplete though it is, of the way in which the saint's design was carried out, together with the vast territory covered by the fathers so employed, and the labors, privations, hardships, and dangers which they encountered. How many of them thus won the crown of glory, and rest in unknown graves, will not be revealed until the day of judgment. The work was certainly well under way before the close of Philip's provincialship. He wrote to Gregory IX, in 1237, to acquaint the Holy Father with its success and prospects.
The document says, in substance, that early in the year a patriarch of the Jacobites or Monophysites of the east came to Jerusalem that he might pray at the holy places. He is a man venerable not only for his years, but also for his knowledge and moral integrity. Chaldea, Persia, Media, and Armenia, countries which have been largely overrun by the Tartars, are under his jurisdiction. His authority also extends into many places ruled by the Saracens, in which there are a number of Christians. The Holy Father may form an idea of the vast area covered by this patriarch's influence, when it is remembered that his spiritual rule embraces seventy-two provinces.(4)
In the retinue of the patriarch, when he came to Jerusalem, were a great many oriental archbishops, bishops, and monks. The Friars Preacher in the Holy City did not neglect to preach to them on the true Catholic faith and the supremacy of the Pope of Rome. After the sermon delivered by Philip himself on Palm Sunday (March 28, 1237), for the accustomed procession from Mount Olivet to Jerusalem, this patriarch not merely forswore all schismatical doctrine and promised obedience to Christ's Vicar on earth; he even gave the missionary a testimonial, written in Chaldee as well as in Arabic, of his abjuration of heresy and union with the Holy See. This signed testimony will stand as a perpetual memorial of the act. Futhermore, the patriarch asked and received the habit of the Order before he left Palestine. Two archbishops, the one an Egyptian Jacobite, the other an oriental Nestorian, whose jurisdictions are in Syria and Phoenicia, did the same as the patriarch.
At the urgent request of the king and nobles, four fathers have been sent into Armenia to learn the language of that country. Through several letters Father Philip has heard that another Nestorian prelate wishes to enter the true Church. All the Nestorians in Greater India, the kingdom of Priest John (or Tartar territory), and adjacent countries are under his jurisdiction. He has promised Father William di Monferrato, who, with two other confrères, has been near him for some time, and learned the language of the country, that he will become united with the Holy See and recognize its authority.
Some fathers have likewise been sent to the patriarch of the Jacobites in Egypt. Their errors are both graver and more numerous than those of the other oriental Jacobites. They practise circumcision after the custom of the Saracens. This prelate has also made known to us his desire to embrace the one true Church. He has already rejected some of the errors of his sect, and prohibited circumcision. Under him are the Jacobites of Lesser India, Ethiopia, Libya, and Egypt. The Ethiopians and Libyans are not subjects of the Saracens.
The Maronites, who live in the district of Mount Lebanon, returned to the faith some time ago; and they still remain true to their obedience. Since the aforementioned peoples accept the Trinity and the other doctrines we preach, only the Greeks retain their obstinacy. Those of that nation are in bad faith, and they everywhere oppose the Church both openly and secretly. The fathers in all the houses in Palestine apply themselves diligently to the study of the languages of these several countries. They already speak and preach in various tongues, especially the Arabic, which is the more commonly used here in the east. Finally, Philip tells Gregory IX of the death of Blessed Jordan and his two companions, and of the miracles wrought at the time. Three of his fathers have just left to preach among the Saracens. The confrères, who take his letter to Rome, will give the Holy Father fuller particulars.(5)
Gregory IX was overjoyed by this promising report. On July 28, 1237, he wrote a letter to the influential Jacobite patriarch, congratulated him on his reunion with the Holy See, and exhorted him to remain faithful to the promises he had made. Matthew Paris, who reproduces Philip's communication to Gregory, says that the conversion of the patriarch was fictitious and induced by fear of the Saracens; and that, when this dread was removed, he returned to his schism. Echard thinks that the noted convert might have died in the Church soon afterwards, and that another heresiarch nullified his good intentions. However, the latter author admits that the labors of these Friars Preacher produced but little fruit.(6)
Possibly Paris, which is not rare in his Annals, is somewhat over cavillous; and Echard too critical. There can be no doubt that the efforts of the missionaries failed to meet with the success which Gregory and Philip hoped they would have. The hatred, fanaticism, pride, prejudices of the cast, whether on the part of the schismatics or pagans, were too strong and deep-rooted to be overcome. Yet we must not, in measuring the work of these early Friars Preacher, overlook the many individuals whom they must have brought to a knowledge and acceptance of the true faith. History tells us of some of these; among whom we may mention Philip, son of the Indian king, "Glareacas," and "Thaelavaretb," a nephew of an Abyssinian monarch. Both of them entered the Order of Saint Dominic, and died martyrs. Persecutions and social upheavals often proved insurmountable obstacles to the zeal of those fathers. Generations upon generations of harvesters of souls have since toiled in the same fields with no better results.
From a historical point of view, the greatest value of Father Philip's letter to Gregory IX is that it affords an idea of the large number of missionaries and convents his Order bad, or soon bad, scattered through the eastern countries. They were in Greece, Palestine, Syria, Armenia, Egypt, Chaldea, Mesopotamia, and other lands. This fact alone shows an exhaustless zeal and courage. The narrative of their efforts, could the details be gathered, would constitute a history well worth the writing. In Armenia the fruits of their labors are still to be seen. Certainly they were no ordinary linguists. Nor privations, nor hardships, nor even the greatest dangers could dampen their love of God.
From Palestine Philip attended the general chapter of Bologna at Pentecost, 1238. Here he resigned his provincialship. But he was chosen as one of the delegation sent to Bologna, Spain, to induce Saint Raymond of Pehafort to accept the office of Master General, for which he was unanimously elected by the meeting as successor to Blessed Jordan of Saxony.(7) The writers insist that this fact proves the subject of our sketch to have been one of the very prominent members of the assembly. Unfortunately, we now lose all trace of him. If he were the same as Philip Carisi of Vercelli, which we think hardly probable, he lived to be a decrepit old man, according to Father Taegio, and died in 1266.(8) If he were a different person, as the editors of the Cartulaire de Saint Dominique claim, and as seems more likely, he perhaps surrendered his soul to God a short time after the chapter of 1238. Possibly, however, the zealous ambassador of Christ returned to the missions of the cast and ended his days in labor there. The inspiration of Philip's example has ever been an influential factor in the foreign missionary work of the Friars Preacher.
1. ALBERIC of Trois Fontaines, Chronicon, A. D. 1237, p. 563; Année Dominicaine, II, 529, and V, 337-339; BALME-LELAIDIER, Cartulaire de Saint Dominique, II, 305-306; CHAPOTIN op. cit., pp. 28-29; FLEURY, op. cit., XVII, 157-159; MAMACHI, pp. 461, 504, 543, and col. 99; MORTIER, I, 35, 258, 381, 681; PARIS, Matthew, Chronica Majora, A. D. 1237, p. 301; RAYNALDI, Oderic, Annales Ecclesiastici, A. D. 1237, No. 88; QUETIF-ECHARD, I, 103-105; SPONDE, Henry de, Annales Ecclesiastici, A. D. 1237, p. 124; VITRY, James de, Historia Orientalis, Chaps. 76-77.
2. Année Dominicaine, II, 529; BALME-LELAIDIER, op. cit., II, 305306; MAMACHI, as in note 1; QUETIF-ECHARD, I, 103.
3. See the preceding note, and also Année Dominicaine II, 548-550.
4. Echard surmises that these seventy-two provinces were so many districts, or cities.
5. ALBERIC and MATTHEW PARIS, as in note 1; QUETIF-ECHARD, I, 104.
6. Bullarium Ordinis Praedicatorum, 1, 97; FLEURY, op. cit., XVII, 159; MATTHEW PARIS, as in note 1; QUETIF-ECHARD, I, 105; RAYNALDI and DE SPONDE, as in note 1.
7. Année Dominicaine, V (May), 337; QUETIF-ECHARD, I, 104.
8. MAMACHI, p. 543.