The Life and Words of Monsieur Philippe
In 1899 Alfred Haehl of Strasbourg read in l’Initiation an article by Papus called Le Père des Pauvres (The Father of the Poor), a moving panegyric of M. Philippe yet without naming him. Feeling a compelling urge to get to know this apparently superhuman being, he went to see Papus in Paris, who received him cordially and promised to take him to Lyons to visit M. Philippe.
The meeting took place in M. Philippe’s laboratory at 6, rue du Boeuf, from which M. Philippe emerged, a middle aged man of quite ordinary appearance apart from a luxuriant moustache, who radiated a feeling of welcome, along with the surprising words, expressed as between old friends, “Ah, there you are! And about time!”
Papus had arranged lunch with four other guests at a restaurant in town at which a canapé of thrushes was served as a speciality, but which M. Philippe politely declined to eat, saying quietly that men were not meant to eat birds. On being challenged by a woman guest, that it did not seem to stop him from eating beef, he replied that if he ate it, it was because it was permitted. So no vegetarian, but with definite rules as to what was appropriate or not.
At two o’clock they went to his house at 35 rue Tête d’Or where he held a public meeting each day in a hall on the first floor. It was furnished with long wooden seats with room for about eighty people, the light filtered by pale yellow curtains at the large windows.
The place was full of people from all levels of society, including the sick and infirm. A respectful silence fell when M. Philippe entered, who closed the door so that they would not be disturbed by latecomers. He now addressed in turn all who were present, who told him their problems or those of friends or relations whom they represented.
He was heard to say to one old lady “Is your cat better?” who replied, “Yes, and I have come to thank you.” At which M. Philippe addressed all present, “Do you know what this lady did yesterday at ten o’clock? She prayed for her cat and now it is better.” The old lady nodded and everyone laughed. Nobody knew what she could have done at home the evening before but it seemed that M. Philippe did!
Continuing his consultations he stopped before a man of a certain age and before he could open his mouth told him “Heaven grants what you wish.” Then turning to all, added, “Do you want to know how this gentleman obtained what he desired so quickly? It was because he made such a brave effort to correct his failings.”
Going from one to another, he had a word to say for each. To questions about their suffering or difficulties he replied kindly with an imposing authority and encouraged the sick to offer their hands to him to be comforted or cured.
To one person he said: “You husband is going to be better, so give thanks to Heaven.” To another, “Your child is cured, but you need to pay. Not in money but by saying nothing bad about your neighbour for a day.”
Then stopping before a crippled man, “Will you all pray for this person and promise to say nothing bad about anyone for the next two hours?” All replied: “Yes!” and after a moment of recollection he told the invalid to walk round the room, who stood up and to the amazement of all walked round without help or crutches, with cries of joy and gratitude from many as the tears ran down their faces.
That evening Alfred Haehl decided not to accompany Papus back to Paris but resolved to make his home in Lyons.
Next day, at two o’clock, he hastened to witness more cures by the “Father of the Poor”, who invited him upstairs after the meeting as he dealt with his mail. This was by the surprising method of throwing the letters unopened into the fire place. But as if to prove that he already knew their contents, he suddenly quoted, word for word, a conversation Haehl had had three years before with a colleague in the precincts of a factory of which he was a director.
“How could you know what was said three years ago and 500 km away, before we had even met?” Haehl wanted to know.
M. Philippe replied quite calmly “Because I was there.” He did indeed seem to have the possibility of awareness over space and time when he chose to use it.
Many desired to conserve as many words as possible of M. Philippe which Alfred Haehl decided to collect and put into a book. The result was Vie et Paroles du Maitre Philippe published by Dervy-Livres of 6, rue de Savoie, Paris containing hundreds of classified entries ranging from 1889 to 1905.
Although it is arguable that was not so much what M. Philippe said, as what he did, in his remarkable life, that was important. In the various remarks attributed to him he was at pains to point out that many applied only to particular cases, and indeed specifically warned that at any meeting “one may only hear what one needs to hear.” Thus quoted extracts from private conversations could be incomplete or distorted, including a few questionable general prophecies, such as a reversal of the poles of the Earth being likely to cause major climate changes, or the likelihood of a Chinese invasion of the West via the newly opened Trans-Siberian railway.
Thus there can be no claim that his fragmentary statements constitute “the teaching of M. Philippe” for he never expressed an elaborate intellectual doctrine. He often said that our knowledge consists only of images and our mentality a mirror, adding “Whoever could love his neighbour as himself, would know all.”
What one finds in his words time and again with luminous simplicity is the need to try to express in daily life the great evangelical precepts of prayer, humility and faith. Not that he was a particularly dedicated church man, any more than most of his neighbours. What seemed to make him stand apart was the immense good will that he radiated, and the ability to put certainty into hearts that was stronger than all reasoning.
This can perhaps be summed up in one statement of his among many, with a warning to those who might become too adulatory – which included some of Papus’ fellow magicians:
“Some of you think that I am Jesus, or like him. Do not deceive yourselves. I am merely the Shepherd’s dog and the least among you. If someone asks why I keep saying that, it is because in fact I am very small, and because of that God answers my prayers. As for you who are far too big – that is why God may not hear you.”