Saint of the Day – 20 December – Saint Philogonius of Antioch (Died 324) Bishop, Widower, Lawyer, Patriarch of Antioch. Defender of the true Faith against Arianism, in fact, he was one of the first to publicly denouce the hereby, Defender of the people against persecution, Ascetic. Died in 324 of natural causes. Patronage – of Lawyers.
The Roman Martyrology states: “In Antioch in Syria, St Philogonius, Bishop, who, a Lawyer, called by God to govern this Church one day, started together with the Bishop St Alexander and other companions ,the fight for the Catholic faith against Arianism and full of merit, he rested in the Lord. St John Chrysostom celebrated him in a famous commendation.”
Philogonius was a successful Lawyer and Advocate, at the Bar of Antioch. He was known for his eloquence, moral integrity and Christian Faith. He married and had a daughter, but became a Monk and Ascetic after his wife died.
The celebrated and holy Philogonius lived in the reign of Constantine the Great. After having finished his studies, he practised law but in such a manner that he might serve as a model to all in a similar calling. He never undertook any lawsuit before he had thoroughly examined the case and, being entirely frank with those who desired his assistance, he never pleaded a cause which seemed unjust. Nothing could deter him from what he thought right, neither fear of those above him, nor promises nor gifts. The poor he served gratis, and he defended, both by word and writing, the widow and the orphan against the power of the great, never refusing his counsel to those whose means allowed but a small recompense or none at all. Love for his neighbour was to him a greater incentive to work than eagerness to gain temporal goods.
How high these noble qualities raised him in the estimation of the people was especially manifest, when after the death of the Bishop, they were choosing a worthy Successor to their late shepherd. The entire people insisted on having him as Bishop, who, until then, had with so much kindness and justice, assisted them in their temporal affairs. The voice of the people was regarded as the voice of God, and Philogonius was Consecrated Bishop of Antioch.
He administered his sacred functions in the most zealous manner. Saint John Chrysostom, who preached a magnificent sermon on Saint Philogonius, says himself, that to speak worthily in his praise surpassed all eloquence. Licinius, at that period, persecuted the Christians and Philogonius did his utmost to protect them. He animated them to constancy, and taught them not to allow either the loss of their temporal goods, nor other sufferings to separate them from Christ, or to leave the true Church, as they would deprive themselves of their eternal possessions, and would have nothing to expect but the pains of hell. By frequent representations of the unending joys of heaven and the torments of hell, he strengthened his flock so effectually in the true faith, that they were willing to suffer poverty and tortures and even death, rather than leave it. When it happened that one would apparently forsake the true faith through fear of martyrdom, the holy man, though deeply grieved, spoke neither harshly nor unkindly to him but, with a heartfelt compassion, represented the greatness of his sin, exhorted him to do penance and atone for his error and encouraged him to constancy. When he saw that his admonitions were heeded, he greatly rejoiced and always treated the penitent with kindness, without ever reproaching him for his fault, or even alluding to it.
When the persecution of Licinius had ceased, Arius began to disseminate his heresy. No shepherd could be more solicitous to protect his sheep from an attack of wolves than Saint Philogonius was to keep the heresy from his people and retain them in the faith of Christ. Arius confessed that Philogonius had been his strongest adversary and had opposed him most effectually. The holy Bishop explained the wickedness of the new heresy and refuted it as well in public sermons as in private discourses, by which he greatly benefited his flock. Besides this, he zealously endeavoured to uproot all abuses that had crept in and to plant in the hearts of all, a hatred of sin and a love of virtue. Towards this end he directed all his exhortations, which had great influence over the people, as he supported his precepts by the example of his virtue. His conduct was so blameless, that even his enemies could find no fault in it.
He was greatly devoted to prayer, and always sought refuge in it when he was in affliction. He allowed no comfort to his body, not even necessary rest. He guarded his sheep day and night and the result was, that it was said of the Church at Antioch, that true virtue and piety reigned among all classes of people. Saint Chrysostom compares it to a well cultivated and fruitful garden, cleansed from thorns and brambles and says. that it showed the indefatigable care of him who had governed it.
The Almighty wished, at last, to give the promised reward to His true and faithful servant. A sickness, apparently of no consequence, prepared his way. The thought of the labours he had undergone in his functions during his life, for the honour of God and the salvation of souls, gave him inexpressible comfort in his last hour and the hope of going to Heaven gave him the most ardent desire to die and rest in God. This wish the Almighty granted, to the great grief of the people of Antioch.
Saint John Chrysostom preached a beautiful eulogy on St Philogonius.