Church History Series 1, Post 6: The Acts Of Phileas

St. Phileas of Thmuis

Phileas was the bishop of Thmuis, a city east-northeast of Alexandria, who was arrested and martyred during the winter of 306-7.  We have two early Greek manuscripts that are almost certainly are very early (one maybe even “official”) copies of the actual court proceedings themselves.  Phileas was also the author of a letter to the Thmuitians and one to Meletius, who began a schismatic church.  There is much that could be send about this martyr-bishop, but what concerns me here is simply providing a snippet from the court proceedings.  The trial included an intriguing exchange concerning Christian teaching, part of which I have included here.  The trial ends with Phileas being led away to be executed.  There is no embellishment of the miraculous–just a presentation of the discussion and exchanges, the attempts by supporters to get Phileas out of the situation, and the factual statements concerning the sentencing itself.

The Acts of Phileas

…Though insulted and beaten, he did not flinch.  Similarly at his third and fourth appearances, after many insults and blows, Phileas was told, “You have killed many men by not sacrificing.  Pierius saved many by submitting.”

Summoned for a fifth time, together with the clergy who were with him to the number of twenty,

Prefect: “Can you now be reasonable?”

Phileas: “I am always reasonable, and I exercise myself in good sense.”

Prefect: “Sacrifice to the gods”.

Phileas: “I will not.”

Phileas: “A pure heart, a spotless soul, and spiritual perceptions …the deeds of piety and justice …”

Culcianus: “Do we have concern here for the soul?”

Phileas: “Yes, both for the soul and the body.”

Culcianus: “Why?”

Phileas: “I have said (that we do), that you may receive there the recompense for the good deeds it has done for God.”

Culcianus: “The soul alone, or the body as well?”

Phileas: “The soul and the body.”

Culcianus: “The body?”

Phileas: “Yes.”

Culcianus: “This flesh will rise again?”  In his amazement he asked once again, “This flesh will rise again?”

Phileas: “This flesh will rise again …”

Culcianus: “Was Jesus God?”

Phileas: “Yes.”

Culcianus: “And how is it that he did not say of himself that he was God?”

Phileas: “Because he had no need of this testimony, performing the works of God in power and actuality.”

Culcianus: “What did he do?”

Phileas: “He cleansed lepers, made the blind see, the deaf hear, the lame walk, the mute speak, the withered to be well again.  He drove demons from his creatures at a command.  He cured paralytics, raised the dead to life, and performed many other signs and wonders.”

Culcianus: “But if he was God, how could he have been crucified?”

Phileas: “He knew that …, that he would be scourged and beaten and …he wears a crown made of thorns and suffers death, offering to us in this too a model of salvation.  And even though he knew, he delivered himself up to this for our sake and …The Scriptures on which the Jew rely foretold his coming down and his death …”

This text was taken (and adapted) from Herbert Musurillo, The Acts of the Christian Martyrs (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1972).