Last week, August 23, was the feast day of Saint Rose of Lima, one of five saints from that illustrious city in Peru. It is also the feast day of a lesser known saint, Philip Benizi.
There were two saints who attended the Second General Council of Lyons in 1274, Saints Philip Benizi and Bonaventure. Saint Thomas Aquinas died on his way to the synod.
Saint Philip was born on the feast of the Assumption in 1233, the same exact day the Servite Order, which he would join, was founded by seven young Florentine patricians who were each visited and so instructed by the Mother of God. One should say more accurately therefore that Our Lady founded the Servites. It is related in one biography that Philip, as a suckling infant, miraculously spoke upon a visit of some beggars to his family home telling his mother to feed them.
Philip’s father prevailed upon him to become a doctor after his education in medicine and philosophy at the universities of Padua and Paris, however, after some short time of practise, and at the request of Our Lady herself, he joined the Servites in 1253. Serving as a brother for six years, in 1259 his superiors obliged him to become a priest. He was renowned as a great preacher in Italy, headed several friaries, and in 1262 he was elected superior general of the Order. As such he employed his energy in the work of reforming the Order. When it was rumored that he was being considered by the cardinals to succeed Urban IV as pope, he fled and hid himself away until after the election of Clement IV in 1265. The following years found Philip going about Italy reconciling factions in the provinces and keeping the rival dukes and counts from waging war against each other.
Blessed Pope Gregory X, anxious to restore union with the Greeks and to reform the discipline of the Latin Church, called an ecumenical council which was attended by five hundred bishops, sixty abbots, and a thousand prelates. It was one of the largest assemblies of the universal Church ever. Philip was invited by the pope to attend. King James I of Aragon attended as did many ambassadors of other kings (including those of the Khan of the Tartars, who were baptized at the council) and of the Greek Emperor Michael Palaeologus.
Although I found no information on how Philip served at the synod — no doubt he had much to do with the work of reform for the orders — he did address the full assembly and was understood by those who did not know Latin. In other words he was given the gift of tongues. No interpreter was needed. Thus, we can assume he had something to do with the reunion achieved with the schismatic Greeks at the council. Saint Bonaventure was also heavily employed in this great work. Twenty-six propositions, which had been problematic for the Greeks, were corrected with their profession of union with Rome and submission to the Vicar of Christ. Pope Gregory intoned the Te Deum at a solemn Mass on the feast of Saints Peter and Paul and the whole Church, East and West, sang the Creed in Latin and Greek, with special emphasis on the Holy Ghost’s proceeding from the Father and the Son, the until then controverted “Filioque.”
Although the emperor, Michael Palaeologus, and his son, Andronicus, were much enthused about the reunion (both having sent letters of submission to papal authority to Gregory) the union was later revoked by individual Greek bishops and metropolitans only to be restored again at the Council of Florence in 1443, and, sadly, once again later dissolved by individual bishops and by the Greek monks who never acquiesced to the union.
After Lyons, Saint Philip continued his work as a peacemaker and reformer, even achieving some success with the ever fueding Guelphs and Ghibellines in 1279. In 1284 he dispatched the first Servite missionaries to the Far East, almost three hundred years before the mission of Saint Francis Xavier and the Jesuits. The Franciscans also were active in the East in some places (John of Montecorvino in China. 1289) at the same time as the early Servites as were some Dominicans sent by Pope John XXII.
Before he died, Saint Philip was assaulted by the devil who tried to tempt him to despair, this even though he had never committed a mortal sin. He suffered much during this time. Our Lady, however, came to his rescue and resored his peace and confidence. She was at his side while he lived his last hours in ecstatic joy, sighing until his final breath. He died on the vigil of the Assumption of his Blessed Lady on August 22, 1284. He was canonized in 1671 by Clement X.