Matthew and Luke, in their accounts of the choice and mission of the twelve, named Philip immediately after John. John and Philip-two names, two men, two apostles, two worlds! On these pages shine the lights of eternity about which John wrote in his Gospel and in his Apocalypse. Our Lord had revealed a deeper knowledge of His divine secrets to John than He had to Philip. So deep was God's inspiration that the evangelist could begin his Gospel with the words: "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God; and the Word was God."
How appropriately the beloved disciple is symbolized with an eagle! This symbol would not be fitting for Philip, his neighbor and companion, for this apostle was a calm and sober person, a simple and practical man. He pondered the tangible and visible realities of life. He was neither poet nor mystic, was neither favorable to nor opposed to pomp and ceremony. Wisely had our Lord chosen His Twelve. They were not men of one age, but of all ages, though no two of the Twelve were the same. But they were still one in Christ. Nor did Christ want Philip to be another John. Only Divine Providence knows the ways that are not of men.
Literally, Philip means "friend of a horse." And indeed it seems logical that the kingdom of God on earth would need not only an eagle, but also a horse. In an old piece of writing passed down through the ages under the title "Concerning the Faithful"-which, it has been said, was composed by Hippolytus (d.235)-all the apostles are referred to as "steeds of God". "For these steeds have donned the secret of holiness, carrying the word for the riders and bringing them to the goal of truth." A horse of God! It is a rather blunt, almost uncouth, title, but a significant one, anyway, even for the apostles of today
Strange to say, the apocryphal Acts attributed to Philip certain traits that appertain only to John. For example, Philip supposedly called down fire upon the unbelieving inhabitants of Hierapolis; certainly the reserved Philip would not have done this. Such an act would seem more typical of John's sometimes violent witness to the Gospels. The struggle against the false teachers among the Ebionites at the end of the first Christian century was also attributed to Philip, but it is known that John led this attack. This confession probably took root from an old tradition that both John and Philip were apostles laboring in Asia Minor.
The first three evangelists gave no special account or detailed information about Philip. they merely recorded his name. In the four enumerations of the twelve apostles in Holy Scripture, Philip's name was placed each time in the fifth position. This fact has a meaning of its own. Philip did not belong to the first group, to the specially honored and privileged four. Yet after these, he was without a doubt the first one to be considered. The order in which our Lord chose and called His disciples already placed this good companion of John in the fifth place. This apostle became the leader of the second group of apostles: Philip, Bartholomew, Matthew, Thomas.
It has never been stated what special missions were assigned to the three distinct groups of apostles and their leaders during the public works of Christ. The Lord confided in the first group during the most trying hours of His life. Yet certainly the other two groups also had their own particular mark, and were given their own missions to perform.
Concerning the home affairs of the apostle Philip, there is information available in the letter of Polycrates of Ephesus written to Pope Victor around the year 190. The apostle was supposedly married and had three daughters. Two of them were said to have died virgins and martyrs. The third was buried in Ephesus. Papias, a bishop of Hierapolis around the year 130, also mentioned these three daughters, whom he knew personally. However, here there was probably an erroneous exchange made between Philip the apostle and Philip the deacon. The latter was often mentioned in the Acts of the Aposltes.
This deacon Philip was also call "the evangelist," which title, in early ecclesiastical usage, referred to a missionary preacher of the Gospels. St. Luke noted that Philip, one of the seven deacons, "had four daughters, virgins, who had the gift of prophecy." It can readily be seen how, at a later time, the daughters of the deacon Philip were regarded as those of the apostle. But it is certain that the daughters and labors of Philip recorded in the Acts by St Luke belonged to the deacon and not to the apostle.
The Gospels make only a single remark about the home of Philip: he was from Bethsaida, a fisherman's village, either on the north or on the west shore of the Sea of Galilee. Our Lord chose three apostles from this small, unimportant village. And yet, this mark of distinction did not save it from the flash of divine anger, but rather increased and intensified the heat of vindication.
Then he began to reproach the towns in which most of his miracles were worked, because they had not repented. "Woe to thee, Corozain! woe to thee, Bethsaida! For if in Tyre and Sidon had been worked the miracles that have been worked in you, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. But I tell you, it will be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon on the day of judgment than for you. And thou, Capharnaum, shalt thou be exalted to heaven? Thou shalt be trust down to hell!"
Even the unemotional Philip may have wept when he heard his Master's curse upon his own home. It is clear that God's favor does not justify those who are guilty of sin through their own fault.
This mention of Bethsaida is so worded as to have yet more meaning, for it indicates Philip's relation and close connection with Andrew. "Now Philip was from Bethsaida, the town of Andrew and Peter." One gets a glimpse of the close relationship between Philip and Andrew in John's Gospel. Yes, the assumption is justified; Andrew had brought to Philip, his companion, the first news of the Messias. Andrew's zeal had won over his brother, Peter, for Christ. Immediately after bringing his brother, he introduced Philip to the Lord. "The next day he was about to leave for Galilee, and he found Philip. And Jesus said to him, "Follow me."
The determined, even commanding, tone of this calling is surprising. Of all those called by the Lord, Philip was the first to be commanded so explicitly and emphatically. "'Follow me'" Even Andrew and John were not called like this; they were invited. Was this brief command completely oblivious of Philip's own thoughts and desires and plans? The ways of God are not the ways of man. Still Christ knew the character and personality and disposition of each of His disciples. Wisely, kindly, He considered them individually.
The account of the calling of the Twelve shows yet another bond of friendship between Philip and another apostle, Nathanael Bartholomew. It may seem strange that this shy apostle had two friends, one on his right and one on his left. But experience has shown that men with such a nature easily make affectionate friends. They feel in themselves the necessity to adjust their own natures and manners in a perfect friendship. The lists of the apostles in the Gospels and also that in the Canon of the Mass pay honor to this friendship, for Philip; and Bartholomew are in each named together. Even in apocryphal literature is this true: Bartholomew accompanied Philip on his missionary journeys; he stood by him in the face of martyrdom. As friends, these two apostles often spoke together ow what was dear to their hearts; certainly they must have confided in each other their secret desire to follow the Messias. And now the long awaited hour had come. One brought the joyful news to the other: the Messias had come! Truly this was a great hour for their friendship, for Christ the Lord is the great mountain to which every close and deep friendship leads.
Wedding guests were about to enter Cana. Bartholomew was standing before the gate of the city as Jesus came by with Philip. Then this new disciple of Christ spotted his friend ahead, and "Philip found Nathanael, and said to him, 'We have found him of whom Moses in the Law and the Prophets wrote, Jesus the son of Joseph of Nazareth.'" But this confession was not such a gushing fountain as was Andrew's exclamation of joy: "'We have found the Messias!'" Philip was more scholarly, sounded more like a book. Nathanael replied roguishly: "'Can anything good come out of Nazareth?'" Then one sees the real Philip, how he loved, how he lived. He did not not deliver a long discourse about Jesus. He spoke as a man of reality, a man of practical experience and of personal knowledge. Philip answered Nathanael, "'Come and see.'"