Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Perpetua and Felicity – Martyrs


Today is the Feast day of the Perpetua and Felicity and Companions. They were martyred in Carthage in 203. The account of there passion is widely anthologized. When I first read it in a public library (pre-internet) I had to fight back the tears. Widely popular in the early Church, so much so that Augustine had to remind his congregation it was not part of Scripture. Of note is that part of the account is in Perpetua’s own words, one of the very few examples of a feminine voice in the early Church or from that era of history.

Most often the martyrs death in the arena is excerpted, instead I am excerpting Perpetua’s account of the trial. Note that at any point she could have offered a token sacrifice to the Emperor and walked away free.

If the current trends of trying to force medical persons to engage in abortion and handle contraceptives against their will, requiring religious institutions to support gay marriage contrary to thier faith as a condition to operate, and generally praticing religious intolerance in the name of tolerance, this sort of scene may be reenacted all to often.

[W]e were still under legal surveillance and my father was liked to vex me with his words and continually strove to hurt my faith because of his love: Father, said I, Do you see (for examples) this vessel lying, a pitcher or whatsoever it may be? And he said, I see it. And I said to him, Can it be called by any other name than that which it is? And he answered, No. So can I call myself nought other than that which I am, a Christian.


A few days after, the report went abroad that we were to be tried. Also my father returned from the city spent with weariness; and he came up to me to cast down my faith saying: Have pity, daughter, on my grey hairs; have pity on your father, if I am worthy to be, called father by you; if with these hands I have brought you unto this flower of youth- and I-have preferred you before all your brothers; give me not over to the reproach of men. Look upon your brothers; look upon your mother and mother's sister; look upon your son, who will not endure to live after you. Give up your resolution; do not destroy us all together; for none of us will speak openly against men again if you suffer aught.

This he said fatherly in his love, kissing my hands and grovelling at my feet; and with tears he named me, not daughter, but lady. And I was grieved for my father's case because he would not rejoice at my passion out of all my kin; and I comforted him, saying: That shall be done at this tribunal, whatsoever God shall please; for know that we are not established in our own power, but in God's. And he went from me very sorrowful.

Another day as we were at meal we were suddenly snatched away to be tried; and we came to the forum. Therewith a report spread abroad through the parts near to the forum, and a very great multitude gathered together. We went up to the tribunal. The others being asked, confessed. So they came to me. And my father appeared there also, with my son, and would draw me from the step, saying: Perform the Sacrifice; have mercy on the child. And Hilarian the procurator - he that after the death of Minucius Timinian the proconsul had received in his room the right and power of the sword - said: Spare your father's grey hairs; spare the infancy of the boy. Make sacrifice for the Emperors' prosperity. And I answered: I am a Christian. And when my father stood by me yet to cast down my faith, he was bidden by Hilarian to be cast down and was smitten with a rod. And I sorrowed for my father's harm as though I had been smitten myself; so sorrowed I for his unhappy old age. Then Hilarian passed sentence upon us all and condemned us to the beasts; and cheerfully we went down to the dungeon.

HT: Amy Welborn’s Open Book

Update (09/19/2009):

Catholic Hero’s of the Faith has produced a video on St Perpetua. Avaliable at Amazon

Intended for younger people 8 and up, but it seems suitable for all ages. There is also a documentary and a Fun Page

Checkout the trailers

HT: Fathers of the Faith

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