St. Philip the Approachable Apostle

“St. Philip the Apostle” by Fr. George Leonard Shultz (1896-1971)

A reflection on St. Philip the Apostle inspired by the oil painting of Fr. George Leonard Shultz (1896 – 1971). This same reflection was published in the Times-Standard on the Feast Day of St. Philip May 1, 2021 as “The Story of Two Philips.”

When I look at Fr. George Shultz’s painting of St. Philip, I see an undeniable resemblance to the late Prince Philip. Whether or not Prince Philip was an inspiration for the painting, I can’t help but notice other similarities between the Duke of Edinburgh and his biblical namesake. Not only did the two share the same Greek name Philip (which means “Friend of Horses”), they also both proved to be masters of “dontopedalogy,” a term that Prince Philip coined and defined as “the science of opening your mouth and putting your foot in it.” Endearingly, the prince admitted that it was a science he had practiced for many years.

When it comes to the apostle, we also see him often saying the wrong thing at the wrong time. When Jesus invited Philip to trust in abundance, he responded with a sad statement of scarcity (John 6:7). After years of hearing Jesus identify as the embodiment of God’s love, Philip says to Jesus, “Show us God’s love and we’ll be happy” (14:8), causing Jesus to essentially do a facepalm. And after Jesus found Philip in Galilee, Philip turned around and told his friend Nathaniel that it was in fact he who found Jesus (1:43-45).

As an amateur dontopedalogist myself, I personally find comfort in the fact that Jesus continued to entrust and empower Philip in spite of his gaffes. According to tradition, he was commissioned to preach the Gospel with Nathaniel in Greece, Phrygia, and Syria. Although some traditions claim that Philip was crucified on a sideways cross or a tau cross (which Fr. Shag carved into the apostle’s frame), other traditions suggest that he died peacefully of natural causes, much like Prince Philip.

I’m also comforted by the fact that the philanthropic legacies of the two Philips far outweigh the embarrassment of their verbal blunders. Prince Philip invested in the protection of the environment and encouraged youth to serve the wider community, and Philip the Apostle spread the love of God throughout the Mediterranean world, while facing ferocious leopards and even dragons. Both of the Philips teach us that our faithful commitment to service, generosity, and justice can cover a multitude of gaffes.

According to Herbert Lockyer, “Approachableness might well have been one of St. Philip’s characteristic features” and I imagine the same could be said of the Duke of Edinburgh. Although there’s no justification for offensive remarks, I wonder if the occasional lack of eloquence may have even contributed to the approachableness of the two Philips. It is this characteristic that led a group of Greeks to approach Philip when they wanted to see Jesus (John 12:20-21); and it is this characteristic that I see most clearly portrayed in Fr. Shag’s painting, in which Philip reaches out his hand, invitingly, as if saying to us what he said to the incredulous Nathaniel: “Come and see (John 1:46), come and see the One who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life (John 14:6), the One who leads us to the Source of all Love by loving us, even when we mess up and put our foot in our mouths.”

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