Philémon de Colosses, Appia et Archippe
Saint Philémon de Colosses
Disciple de saint Paul
Fête le 22 novembre
† Colosses, Phrygie, v. 70
Groupe « Philémon et Appia »
Philémon de Colosse (Colossæ en Phrygie) et Appia, sa femme, sont vénérés par les Églises d’Orient comme martyrs. Chrétien de Colosses à qui saint Paul adressa une courte épître, ce riche citoyen de Colosse fut converti au christianisme par son ami saint Paul. Appia était vraisemblablement sa femme, et il en est question dans l’Épître de saint Paul à Philémon. Ils auraient été martyrisés tous deux et lapidés à mort dans leur maison de Colosses.
Philemon and Apphia (Appia) MM (RM)
Died c. 70; feast day in the East is February 14 or July 6. Saint Philemon, a wealthy citizen of Colossae, Phrygia, was converted either by Saint Paul when he preached at Ephesus, or by Paul's disciple Saint Epaphras, who evangelized Colossae. He was the recipient of the Epistle to Philemon, a private personal letter in which Paul tells him that he is sending back to him his runaway slave Onesimus so that he could have him back "not as a slave anymore, but . . . [as] a dear brother." According to tradition, Philemon freed Onesimus and was later stoned to death with his wife Apphia, whom Paul called "my dear sister," at Colossae for their Christianity (Benedictines, Coulson, Delaney, Encyclopedia, Farmer, Husenbeth).
A citizen of Colossæ, to whom St. Paul addressed a private letter, unique in the New Testament, which bears his name. As appears from this epistle, Philemon was his dear and intimate friend (verses 1, 13, 17, 22), and had been converted most probably by him (verse 19) during his long residence at Ephesus (Acts 19:26; cf. 18:19), as St. Paul himself had not visited Colossæ (Colossians 2:1). Rich and noble, he possessed slaves; his house was a place of meeting and worship for the Colossian converts (verse 2); he was kind, helpful, and charitable (verses 5,7), providing hospitality for his fellow Christians (verse 22). St. Paul calls him his fellow labourer (synergos, verse 1), so that he must have been earnest in his work for the Gospel, perhaps first at Ephesus and afterwards at Colossæ. It is not plain whether he was ordained or not. Tradition represents him as Bishop of Colossæ (Const. Apost., VI, 46), and the Menaia of 22 November speak of him as a holy apostle who, in company with Appia, Archippus, and Onesimus had been martyred at Colossæ during the first general persecution in the reign of Nero. In the address of the letter two other Christian converts, Appia and Archippus (Colossians 4:17) are mentioned; it is generally believed that Appia was Philemon's wife and Archippus their son. St. Paul, dealing exclusively in his letter with the domestic matter of a fugitive slave, Onesimus, regarded them both as deeply interested. Archippus, according to Colossians 4:17, was a minister in the Lord, and held a sacred office in the Church of Colossæ or in the neighbouring Church of Laodicaea.
The Epistle to Philemon
External testimony to the Pauline authorship is considerable and evident, although the brevity and private character of the Epistle did not favour its use and public recognition. The heretic Marcion accepted it in his "Apostolicon" (Tertullian, "Adv. Marcion", V, xxi); Origen quotes it expressly as Pauline ("Hom.", XIX; "In Jerem.", II, 1; "Comment in Matt.", Tract. 33, 34); and it is named in the Muratorian Fragment as well as contained in the Syriac and old Latin Versions. Eusebius includes Philemon among the homologoumena, or books universally undisputed and received as sacred. St. Chrysostom and St. Jerome, in the prefaces to their commentaries on the Epistle, defend it against some objections which have neither historical nor critical value. The vocabulary (epignosis, paraklesis tacha), the phraseology, and the style are unmistakably and thoroughly Pauline, and the whole Epistle claims to have been written by St. Paul. It has been objected, however, that it contains some words nowhere else used by Paul (anapempein, apotinein, achrmstos, epitassein, xenia, oninasthai, prosopheilein). But every epistle of St. Paul contains a number of apax legomena employed nowhere else, and the vocabulary of all authors changes more or less with time, place, and especially subject matter. Are we not allowed to expect the same from St. Paul, an author of exceptional spiritual vitality and mental vigour? Renan voiced the common opinion of the critics when he wrote: "St. Paul alone, it would seem, could have written this little masterpiece" (St. Paul, p. xi).
Date and place of writing
It is one of the four Captivity Epistles composed by St. Paul during his first imprisonment in Rome (see COLOSSIANS; EPHESIANS; EPISTLE TO THE PHILIPPIANS; Philem., 9, 23). Colossians, Ephesians, and Philippians are closely connected, so that the general opinion is that they were written and despatched at the same time, between A.D. 61-63. Some scholars assign the composition to Caesarea (Acts 23-26: A.D. 59-60), but both tradition and internal evidence are in favour of Rome.
Occasion and purpose
Onesimus, most likely only one of many slaves of Philemon, fled away and, apparently before his flight, defrauded his master, and ran away to Rome, finding his way to the hired lodging where Paul was suffered to dwell by himself and to receive all that came to him (Acts 28:16, 30). It is very possible he may have seen Paul, when he accompanied his master to Ephesus. Onesimus became the spiritual son of St. Paul (verses 9, 10), who would have retained him with himself, that in the new and higher sphere of Christian service he should render the service which his master could not personally perform. But Philemon had a prior claim; Onesimus, as a Christian, was obliged to make restitution. According to the law, the master of a runaway slave might treat him exactly as he pleased. When retaken, the slave was usually branded on the forehead, maimed, or forced to fight with wild beasts. Paul asks pardon for the offender, and with a rare tact and utmost delicacy requests his master to receive him kindly as himself. He does not ask expressly that Philemon should emancipate his slave-brother, but "the word emancipation seems to be trembling on his lips, and yet he does not once utter it" (Lightfoot, "Colossians and Philemon", London, 1892, 389). We do not know the result of St. Paul's request, but that it was granted seems to be implied in subsequent ecclesiastical tradition, which represents Onesimus as Bishop of Beraea (Constit. Apost., VII, 46).
This short letter, written to an individual friend, has the same divisions as the longer letters: (a) the introduction (verses 1-7); (b) the body of the Epistle or the request (verses 8-22); (c) the epilogue (verses 23-25).
1. Introduction (1-7)
The introduction contains (1) the salutation or address: Paul, "prisoner of Christ Jesus, and Timothy" greets Philemon (verse 1), Appia, Archippus, and the Church in their house (verse 2), wishing them grace and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ (verse 3); (2) the thanksgiving for Philemon's faith and love (verses 4-6), which gives great joy and consolation to the Apostle (verse 7).
2. Body of the Epistle
The request and appeal on behalf of the slave Onesimus. Though he could enjoin Philemon to do with Onesimus that which is convenient (verse 8), for Christian love's sake, Paul "an aged man and now also a prisoner of Jesus Christ" (verse 9) beseeches him for his son Onesimus whom he had begotten in his bonds (verse 10). Once he was not what his name implies (helpful); now, however, he is profitable to both (verse 11). Paul sends him again and asks Philemon to receive him as his own heart (verse 12). He was desirous of retaining Onesimus with himself that he might minister to him in his imprisonment, as Philemon himself would gladly have done (verse 13), but he was unwilling to do anything without Philemon's decision, desiring that his kindness should not be as it were "of necessity but voluntary" (verse 14). Perhaps, in the purpose of Providence, he was separated from thee for a time that thou mightest have him for ever (verse 15), no longer as a slave but more than a slave, as a better servant and a beloved Christian brother (verse 16). If, therefore, thou regardest me as a partner in faith, receive him as myself (verse 17). If he has wronged thee in any way, or is in they debt, place that to my account (verse 18). I have signed this promise of repayment with my own hand, not to say to thee that besides (thy remitting the debt) thou owest me thine own self (verse 19). Yea, brother, let me have profit from thee (sou onaimen) in the Lord, refresh my heart in the Lord (verse 20). Having confidence in thine obedience, I have written to thee, knowing that thou wilt do more than I say (verse 21). But at the same time, receive me also and prepare a lodging for me: for I hope that through your prayers I shall be given to you (verse 22).
3. Epilogue (23-25)
The epilogue contains (1) salutations from all persons named in Colossians 4 (verses 23-24), and (2) a final benediction (verse 25). This short, tender, graceful, and kindly Epistle has often been compared to a beautiful letter of the Younger Pliny (Ep. IX, 21) asking his friend Sabinian to forgive an offending freedman. As Lightfoot (Colossians and Philemon, 383 sq.) says: "If purity of diction be excepted, there will hardly be any difference of opinion in awarding the palm to the Christian apostle".
Attitude of St. Paul towards slavery
Slavery was universal in all ancient nations and the very economic basis of the old civilization. Slaves were employed not only in all the forms of manual and industrial labour, but also in many functions which required artistic skill, intelligence, and culture; such as especially the case in both the Greek and the Roman society. Their number was much greater than that of the free citizens. In the Greek civilization the slave was in better conditions than in the Roman; but even according to Greek law and usage, the slave was in a complete subjection to the will of his master, possessing no rights, even that of marriage. (See Wallon, "Hist. de l'Esclavage dans l'Antiquité", Paris, 1845, 1879; SLAVERY.) St. Paul, as a Jew, had little of pagan conception of slavery; the Bible and the Jewish civilization led him already into a happier and more humane world. The bible mitigated slavery and enacted a humanitarian legislation respecting the manumission of slaves; but the Christian conscience of the Apostle alone explains his attitude towards Onesimus and slavery. One the one hand, St. Paul accepted slavery as an established fact, a deeply-rooted social institution which he did not attempt to abolish all at once and suddenly; moreover, if the Christian religion should have attempted violently to destroy pagan slavery, the assault would have exposed the Roman empire to a servile insurrection, the Church to the hostility of the imperial power, and the slaves to awful reprisals. On the other hand, if St. Paul does not denounce the abstract and inherent wrong of complete slavery (if that question presented itself to his mind, he did not express it), he knew and appreciated its actual abuses and evil possibilities and he addressed himself to the regulations and the betterment of existing conditions. He inculcated forbearance to slaves as well as obedience to masters (Ephesians 6:5-9; Colossians 3:22; 4:1; Philemon 8-12, 15, 17; 1 Timothy 6:1; Titus 2:9). He taught that the Christian slave is the Lord's freedman (1 Corinthians 7:22), and vigorously proclaimed the complete spiritual equality of slave and freeman, the universal, fatherly love of God, and the Christian brotherhood of men:
For you are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus. For as many of you as have been baptized in Christ, have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free: there is neither male nor female. For you are all one in Christ Jesus.
These fundamental Christian principles were the leaven which slowly and steadily spread throughout the whole empire. They curtailed the abuses of slavery and finally destroyed it (Vincent, "Philippians and Philemon", Cambridge, 1902, 167).
In addition to works referred to, consult Introductions to the New Testament. CATHOLIC: TOUSSAINT in VIGOUROUX, Dict. de la Bible, s. vv. Philemon; Philemon, Epître à; VAN STEENKISTE, Commentarius in Epistolas S. Pauli, XI (Bruges, 1896); ALLARD, Les esclaves chrétiens (Paris, 1900); PRAT, La Théologie de S. Paul (Paris, 1908), 384 sq.; NON-CATHOLIC: OLTRAMARE, Commentaire sur les Épitres de S. Paul aux Colossiens, aux Ephesiens et a Philémon (Paris, 1891); VON SODEN, Die Briefe an die Kolosser, Epheser, Philemon in Hand-Commentar zum N.T., ed. HOLTZMANN (Freiburg, 1893); SHAW, The Pauline Epistles (Edinburgh, 1904); WOULE, The Epistles to the Colossians and to Philemon (Cambridge, 1902).
Camerlynck, Achille. "Philemon." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 11. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1911. 22 Nov. 2015 <http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/11797b.htm>.
SS. Philemon and Appia
PHILEMON, a citizen of Colossæ in Phrygia, a man of quality and very rich, had been converted either by St. Paul, when he preached at Ephesus, or by his disciple Epaphras, who first announced the gospel at Colossæ. So great was the progress he had made in virtue in a short time, that his house was become like a church, by the devotion and piety of those who composed it, and the religious exercises which were constantly performed in it: the assemblies of the faithful seem also to have been kept there. Onesimus, a slave, far from profiting by the good example before his eyes, became even the more wicked. He robbed his master, and fled to Rome, where God permitted him to find out St. Paul, who was then prisoner the first time in that city, in the year 62. That apostle, who was all to all to gain the whole world to Jesus Christ, received this slave with the tenderness of a father, showing so much the greater compassion as his wounds were the deeper. Habits of theft are most difficult to be cured: Onesimus was probably engaged in other evil courses, such crimes seldom go alone. Perhaps only distress had brought him to St. Paul; yet the spirit of sincere charity and piety, with which the apostle treated him, wrought an entire change of his heart, so that its whole frame was renewed, and the stream of all his appetites so turned, that of a passionate, false, self-interested man, he was now humble, meek, patient, devout, and full of charity. True conversions are very rare, because nothing under a total and thorough change will suffice. Neither tears, nor good desires, nor intentions, nor the relinquishment of some sins, nor the performance of some good works will avail anything, but a new creature; a word that comprehends more in it than words can express, and which can only be understood by those who feel it within themselves. Such was the conversion of Onesimus, when he was instructed in the faith, and baptized by St. Paul. The apostle desired to detain him that he might do him those services which the convert could have wished himself to have rendered to his spiritual master. But he would not do it without the consent of him to whom he belonged; nor deprive Philemon of the merit of a good work, to which he was persuaded it would be his great pleasure to concur: in justice the slave owed a satisfaction and restitution to his master. St. Paul, therefore, sent Onesimus back with an excellent epistle to Philemon, in which he writes with an inimitable tenderness and power of persuasion, yet with authority and dignity. He styles himself prisoner of Jesus Christ, the more feelingly to touch the heart of Philemon, and to move him to regard his prayer. He joins Timothy, well known to Philemon, with himself, and calls Philemon his beloved, and his assistant, who shared with him the fruit and labour of the apostleship, to which the other contributed all the succours in his power. Appia, his pious and worthy wife, the apostle calls his dear sister, on the account of her faith and virtue. He would also interest in his petition the whole church of Colossæ; Archippus, who governed it for Epaphras, then in chains at Rome, and the domestic church or faithful house of Philemon. He wishes them grace and peace. This was his ordinary salutation. And what could he ask of God greater for them than grace, which is the source and principle of Christian virtue, and peace, which is its fruit and recompense? To praise a man to his face is a most delicate and difficult task: this he does by thanking God for Philemon, which is the only manner of praising another worthy of a Christian, who knows that all good is the gift of God. Thus the apostle commends his faith, charity, and liberality to all as a member of Christ, and declares his own affection by the strongest token, that of always remembering him, and commending him to God in all his prayers; than which no one can give a more certain mark of his sincere friendship. He uses the tender epithet of brother; and says, that the saints have found comfort by him in the assistance he afforded to all the afflicted brethren, whose interests were common among them. At last he comes to the point, but proposes it with authority, modestly putting Philemon in mind that, as an apostle, he could command him in Christ; but is content to pray him, mentioning whatever could render his entreaties more tender; as his name, which expressed a great deal, his age and his chains: he intercedes for one whom he calls his own bowels, and his son begotten in his chains: he speaks of his theft and flight in soft terms, and mentions how serviceable he had himself found him. He entreats and begs for his own sake, and prays that the obligations which Philemon had to him, for the eternal salvation of his own soul, and his all, might acquit Onesimus of his debt and injustice. He concludes, conjuring him by their strict union and brotherhood in Christ. Philemon, upon such a recommendation, with joy granted Onesimus his liberty, forgave him his crimes, and all satisfaction, and shortly after sent him back to St. Paul, to serve him at Rome; but the apostle wanted not his corporal services, and made him a worthy fellow-labourer in the gospel. Both Latins and Greeks honour SS. Philemon and Appia on this or the following day. Some Greeks say Philemon died a martyr.
Rev. Alban Butler (1711–73). Volume XI: November. The Lives of the Saints. 1866.