Phillips was the great-nephew of William Joyner, a prominent Catholic convert, whose sister, Mary, married an attorney, Thomas Phillips; the couple had a daughter, and a son, Thomas, who converted to Roman Catholicism. He, in turn, married Elizabeth Crosse, daughter of Johnshall Crosse of
Bledlow, and they had nine children (eight sons and one daughter), including Thomas Phillips, the Jesuit priest and biographer.
Phillips's early schooling was Protestant, after which he was sent to the
College of St Omer. When he had completed his course of rhetoric he entered the novitiate of the
Society of Jesus at
Watten on 7 September 1726, and made the simple vows of the Society on 8 September 1728. He was then moved to the
English College, Liège for his three-year course of philosophy.
Soon after Phillip's admission to holy orders his father died, leaving him independently wealthy. He travelled through the Netherlands, Germany, France, and Italy, visiting universities, and forming friendships. During the third year of his philosophical course, on 17 July 1731, he made a voluntary renunciation of his property to the
college at Liège and the provincial, the Rev John Turberville. In the second year of his course of theology he sought permission to conduct a course of humanities at St Omer, against the requirement of the Society to accept assignments, and he was turned down. On 4 July 1733 he withdrew from the Society.
Other responses came from
Edward Stone and Richard Tillard.
William Cole's unpublished Observations on answers to Phillips's book, and correspondence with the author, went to the
British Museum. Phillips himself appended An Answer to the principal Objections to his Study of Sacred Literature (1765). He responded to the 1766 Animadversions by Neve, who had defended the characters of Protestant reformers, in later editions of the History.
To the Right Reverend and Religious Dame Elizabeth Phillips on her entering the Religious Order of St. Benet, in the Convent of English Dames of the same Order at Gant, privately printed, sine loco [1748?], and addressed to his sister. Reprinted in the European Magazine, September 1796, and in the Catholic Magazine and Review, Birmingham, March 1833.
A Letter to a Student at a Foreign University on the Study of Divinity, by "T. P. s. c. t." (i.e. senior canon of Tongres), London, 1756; 2nd edit. 1758; 3rd edit., London, 1765. The third edition is entitled The Study of Sacred Literature fully stated and considered, in a Discourse to a Student in Divinity.
Philemon, privately printed, sine loco, 1761—a pamphlet suppressed by the author containing incidents in his early life.
Censura Commentariorum Cornelii à Lapide, in Latin, on a single sheet.
A metrical translation of the Lauda Sion Salvatorem, beginning "Sion, rejoice in tuneful lays."
Augustin de Backer attributed to him Reasons for the Repeal of the Laws against the Papists, by Robert Berkeley of Spetchley.