Better Know A Saint: Philip Neri

Published April 10, 2015
Updated March 15, 2019
Published April 10, 2015
Updated March 15, 2019

Blessed are the Peacemakers

Saint Philip Tomb

Source: eBay

If you’re getting the impression that working for Philip really sucked, that was nothing compared to being his boss. In 1564, Pope Pius IV asked Philip to take over a church for Florentine pilgrims in Rome. Philip wasn’t really into that, so he took the job and built a house for himself midway between the church and his order. Apparently this was a hilarious thing for him to do, because public ridicule forced Pius to assign Philip to his order permanently.

Philip outlived Pius IV, and continued to serve God and humanity and whatever into old age. At age 78, Philip took an interest in European politics for the first time in his life, and dabbled in resolving a pending schism between the Catholic Church and the French monarchy, thus preventing more religious civil war between Catholics and Huguenots.

This he did in his trademark offbeat style: by having the pope’s confessor—a member of Philip’s order—deny the pope absolution until he lifted the anathema on King Henry of Navarre. A pope who cannot be granted absolution is technically unfit for his job, so a panicky Clement VIII complied at once. Bear in mind that Philip, who had nothing resembling foreign policy experience, had just singlehandedly prevented something like the Thirty Years’ War from breaking out in France, basically as a goof in his spare time.

Father Ridiculously Perfect died in 1595, after a long day spent hearing confessions and forgiving people for things. Around midnight, he called for Caesar Baronius, the former pope’s confessor, to administer the last rites. He lived exactly as long as it took to finish, gave everyone a final blessing of his own, then went straight to heaven and probably put God to shame by fixing the place up a bit and streamlining the answering of prayers.

Even Philip’s canonization went perfectly. The required two miracles happened right after he died, Pope Paul V venerated him in 1615—the earliest he legally could—and Gregory XV declared him a saint in 1622, with a feast day of May 26. Getting two sequential popes to agree on a point of church politics; Philip truly was a miracle worker.

Richard Stockton
Richard Stockton is a freelance science and technology writer from Sacramento, California.