PHILOTHEUS OF ANTIOCH, SAINT, a boy who is martyred under DIOCLETIAN (feast day: 16 Tubah). Few Passions other than that of Philotheus better personify the fate of pagans who turned Christian in a time of persecution. According to legend, Philotheus, whose name means "he who loves God," is the ten-year-old son of the pagan priest Valentinian-us and his wife, Theodotia, in Antioch. The couple keep a grass-eating calf, called Smaragdos in Coptic, which they worship. The boy, however, cannot bring himself to believe that this animal is the creator of heaven and earth. So he questions the sun, who replies that he is not God either but a creature of God. The sun promises him fuller revelations. In fact, the boy, loving God, then has the vision of the Markabah, the chariot of Christ, borne by the cherubim, surrounded by all the heavenly hosts. Jesus announces to him that he will undergo martyrdom under Diocletian. The child begins to fast and pray on account of his misled parents. The calf gores the parents, who die and are buried. Three days later, Philotheus obtains their resurrection and baptizes them in church. The boy is then denounced to Diocletian by the demons, and he is summoned before the emperor. To the first arguments against Christ, Philotheus replies with unshakable faith. The idols brought by Diocletian are overthrown and destroyed when the boy prays. Then the emperor resorts to torture. The three soldiers who had fetched Philotheus are converted and also undergo martyrdom. Philotheus is cut in pieces but is healed. Finally, Diocletian orders him to be finished off with spear and fire, and the boy finally dies, not without a long prayer addressed to the Lord.
The legend just summarized is the one preserved in Georgian and published in 1960 by K. Kekelidze, then translated into French by M. van Esbroeck (1976, pp. 107-135). This account, relatively sober in Georgian, belongs to a series of texts lost among the Palestinian Greek originals.
The Coptic form of the legend is much longer. It seems difficult to maintain that the short text preserved in Georgian is dependent on a Greek model supposedly based on the Coptic version. Hence we have given the analysis of the Georgian Life first.
The Coptic legend, preserved in its entirety in the Pierpont Morgan Library (vol. 41 of the photographic edition, pp. 149-204), is attested by four other fragmentary codices. Some of them are also in the Pierpont Morgan collection but had previously been published by W. E. Crum in 1913. Others form part of the Munich Coptic Codex no. 3. A fragment in Vienna was published by W. Till in 1935. Finally, a Fayyumic fragment of a more condensed text was published in 1916 by H. Munier and in 1923 by L. Saint-Paul Girard. The references are given by J. Vergote (1935, pp. 281-82).
The Coptic Passion, still unpublished in the Pierpont Morgan codex, is related to the CYCLES of CLAUDIUS OF ANTIOCH and BASILIDES. It stresses to the utmost the epic features already in the Georgian version. The complete title of this Passion is "The Passion of the most holy Apa Philotheus, the holy martyr of Christ, who achieved his holy martyrdom on the sixteenth day of Tubah and of all those who were martyred with him, and who number five thousand, three hundred and thirty-nine men in the peace of God. Amen." The child is only nine years old. The calf receives three meals a day. The vision of Christ is strongly emphasized: The archangel MICHAEL comes down according to the sun's promise. Christ makes two speeches. The scene in which the child's parents force him to worship the calf is more dramatic. When the parents have been gored, Philotheus himself carves up the calf and burns it. The parents, once they are resuscitated after three days, give the account of what they saw down in Amente, where they had gone. The devils disguise themselves as angels to persuade the child, who resists. The three soldiers who come and look for Philotheus to take him to Diocletian become three generals, Christopher, Makellas, and Kaliopios. They are accompanied by nine hundred men. Diocletian accuses the child of magic. The martyr refuses to sacrifice to Apollo. Once Philotheus pretends to accept in order to confound Diocletian. The magus Pelementas calls up the angel of Tartarus and hell. The earth opens, and the abyss speaks. The torment follows. At the moment of the flagellation, Philotheus, instead of saying "Son of the devil" (Georgian version) says "Oh dragon in the abyss!"
This is illustrated very early in the imagery of the persecution: a jewel from the third to the fourth century, on which the saint is on horseback and transfixes the dragon, which bears Diocletian's head; in a Roman fibula of the fourth to the fifth century, where the spear ends in a cross; and in an Akhmimic Coptic fabric of the fourth century where the saint stands above a dragon (van Esbroeck, 1976, p. 121). A pen case, found in the cemetery at Antinoopolis, a town destroyed in 642, has a drawing of Saint Philotheus. He is standing and thrusting the spear into a dragon whose crowned head represents Diocletian. This scribe, Pamio, very probably transcribed the Passion in the fifth or sixth century (Omont, 1898, pp. 330-32). However, RAPHAEL comes down from heaven to heal Philotheus' wounds. The three generals and the nine hundred soldiers undergo martyrdom on 28 Kiyahk. Then Philotheus again pretends to accept, and Diocletian organizes a huge assembly in the theater at Antioch, summoning the other 69 idols and their 138 serving priests. But the idols kill their servants and are then swallowed up in the earth, which opens at their feet. Seeing this, the audience, numbering 936 people, are converted and executed in the martyrdom of 2 Tubah. Then Philotheus is cut up into small pieces and burned, his ashes being scattered over the sea. But Christ on the Markabah recalls him to life. The tyrant then makes a last attempt by offering the child the luxury and charms of palace life with his favorites Firmus and Andronicus. The saint resists and this time is executed with spear and fire on 16 Tubah.
The theme of the seventy idols is found again in the Coptic Passions of VICTOR, Theodorus, ARI, EPIMA, ANUB, Basilides, and Claudius. It seems to be inspired by a passage in the Historia Augusta about Diocletian.
There exists in Coptic a panegyric on Saint Philotheus attributed to Demetrianus, bishop of Antioch, of which only the first two columns have been preserved (published by J. Vergote, 1935, p. 288). Another panegyric, under the name of SEVERUS OF ANTIOCH, is preserved only in Arabic (MS 153, Clavis Patrum Graecorum 7055).
Whatever the symbolic character of the account may be, it had great success and the story certainly spread fairly early in Coptic literature. Georgian tradition has kept a whole kontakion (liturgical hymn) in memory of Saint Philotheus, on 11 January, in a context where the saint is confused with Philotheus of Samosata (van Esbroeck, 1976, pp. 125-30).
MICHEL VAN ESBROECK
Click tabs to swap between content that is broken into logical sections.