St Philip Benizi (August 23)
Philip Benizi (123385) played a vital role in the early development of the Servites.
He was born on the Feast of the Assumption, August 15. On that very day, the Virgin appeared to seven young Florentine noblemen, counselling them to withdraw from the world and dedicate their lives to God. In consequence they established the Order of the Servants of Mary on Monte Senario, 11 miles north of Florence.
Philip Benizi. though, at first studied medicine, in Paris and Padua, qualifying at 19 as Doctor of medicine and philosophy. For a year he practised in Florence. until a vision of the Virgin directed him to Monte Senario.
At first he was a lay brother, working in the garden. "I wish," he declared, "to be the servant of the Servants of Mary." On a journey to the Servite House in Siena, however, he unwittingly astonished his companions with his theological erudition. In 1259,011 the insistence of his superiors, he was ordained.
His abilities were soon clear to all, and in 1267, after some yeais as assistant to the prior-general, he himself was elected to that post. His first ant was to codify the rules and constitutions of the Servites By this time Philip's reputation was such that, after the death of Clement IV in 1268, there seemed to be a real chance that he might be elected pope. The prospect horrified him so much that he fled to a mountain cave. As it happened, the electors took nearly three years to choose Theobald Visconti, Gregory X.
Abandoning his cave, Philip undertook a mission in France, preaching with great success in Avignon. Toulouse and Paris. He then established the Servites in Germany.
Philip made a powerful impression at the Council of Lyon (1274). In spite of his high reputation, however, the Servites were in a parlous situation during these years. The fourth Lateran Council (1215)) had forbidden new religious orders, and it was not until 1304 that the danger of suppression was lifted.
In Italy Philip had some success in calming the murderous rivalries between Guelph and Ghibelline. On one of his missions he was punched in the face. His assailant, Peregrine Laziosi, felt so mortified by Philip's meekness and sanctity that he begged forgiveness. became a Servite, and was eventually canonised himself.
Under Philip's rule the Servites sent missionaries into Tartary, east of the Caspian Sea. Through his influence Juliana Falconieri founded the third Servite Order, consisting of nuns dedicated to active good works.
Philip Benizi died while staying at the smallest and poorest house of the Servites, at Todi, in Umbria. "Love one another, reverence one another, bear with one another," he counselled.
In 2000 there were approximately 15.000 Servites, spread throughout the world.