Thursday, March 7, 2013

Perpetua and Felicity

Today is the feast day of two great woman martyrs from the early Church. A record of their martyrdom exists, part of which may have actually been written by Perpetua. The story is as amazing as it is poorly written: a clear argument against those who have claimed it to have been written by Tertullian (one of the greatest Latin Christian writers of all time!)

I have taken the liberty of improving its readability. I have taken liberties with the text to make it so. Some interpreting has been done. I was operating from a translation, and the text is itself obscure. It is a great account though, so please enjoy:

1. The young catechumens, Revocatus and his fellow-servant Felicity, Saturninus and Secundulus, were arrested. And among them also was Vivia Perpetua, respectably born, liberally educated, a married woman, having a father and mother and two brothers, one of whom, like herself, was a catechumen, and a son, an infant at the breast. She herself was about twenty-two years of age. From this point onward she shall herself narrate the whole course of her martyrdom, as she left it described by her own hand and with her own mind.
2. While says she, we were still with the persecutors, and my father, for the sake of his affection for me, was persisting in seeking to turn me away, and to cast me down from the faith—'Father,' said I, 'do you see, let us say, this vessel lying here to be a little pitcher, or something else?' And he said, 'I see it to be so.' And I replied to him, 'Can it be called by any other name than what it is?' And he said, 'No.' 'Neither can I call myself anything else than what I am, a Christian.' Then my father, provoked at this saying, threw himself upon me, as if he would tear my eyes out. But he only distressed me, and went away overcome by the devil's arguments. Then, in a few days after I had been without my father, I gave thanks to the Lord; and his absence became a source of consolation to me. At that time we were baptized, and to me the Spirit told that in the water of baptism I was only to ask for strength to endure martyrdom.
After a few days we were taken into the dungeon, and I was very much afraid, because I had never felt such darkness. O terrible day! I was greatly distressed by worry for my baby. Tertius and Pomponius were there, the blessed deacons who helped us. They bribed the gaurds so that we might spend some time in a better part of the prison. I nursed my child, who was now weak from hunger. In my worry for the baby, I addressed my mother and comforted my brother, and commended to their care my son. I was upset because they were upset for me. I was then allows to keep my baby with me in the dungeon; immediately I grew strong and was relieved from distress and anxiety about my infant; the dungeon became like a palace to me; I preferred being there to being elsewhere.
3. Then my brother said to me, 'My dear sister, you are already in a position of great dignity, and are such that you may ask for a vision, which will tell you whether this will result in martyrdom or in escape.' And I, who knew that I was privileged to talk to the Lord, whose kindnesses I had found to be so great, boldly promised him, and said, 'Tomorrow I will tell you.' And I asked, and this was what was shown me:
I saw a golden ladder of marvellous height, reaching up even to heaven, and very narrow, so that persons could only ascend it one by one; and on the sides of the ladder was fixed every kind of iron weapon. There were there swords, lances, hooks, daggers; so that if any one went up carelessly, or not looking upwards, he would be torn to pieces and his flesh would stick to the iron weapons. Under the ladder itself was crouching a dragon of great size, who lay in wait for those who climbed the ladder, and scared them off from trying. And Saturus went up first, who had handed himself over to the Roman authorities after we were arrested, not having been present when we were arrested. He reached the top of the ladder, and turned towards me, and said to me, 'Perpetua, I am waiting for you; but be careful that the dragon doesn’t bite you.' And I said, 'In the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, he shall not hurt me.' And from under the ladder itself, as if in fear of me, the dragon slowly lifted up his head; and as I climbed up the first rung of the ladder, I stepped on his head. So I went up the ladder, and then saw a vast garden. In the midst of the garden there was a white-haired man sitting in the dress of a shepherd, of a large stature, milking sheep; and standing around were many thousand white-robed ones. And he raised his head, and looked upon me, and said to me, 'You are welcome here, daughter.' And he called me, and gave me a little cake, and I received it with folded hands; and I ate it, and all who stood around said Amen. At the sound of their voices I was awakened, still tasting a sweetness which I cannot describe. I immediately related this to my brother, and we understood that I was to suffer martyrdom, and we stopped hoping for anything else.
1. After a few days came a report that we should be heard by the authorities. My father came to me from the city, worn out with anxiety. He came up to me that he might get me to change my mind, saying, 'Have pity my daughter, on my grey hairs. Have pity on your father, if I am worthy to be called your father. With these hands I have brought you up to womanhood. You were my favourite child. Do not deliver me up to the scorn of men. Have regard for your brothers, have regard for your mother and your aunt, have regard to your son, who will not be able to live after you. Lay aside your courage, and do not bring us all to destruction; for none of us will speak in freedom if you should suffer anything.' These things said my father in his love for me, kissing my hands, and throwing himself at my feet; and with tears he called me not Daughter, but Lady. And I grieved over the grey hairs of my father, that he alone of all my family would not be happy about my martyrdom. I comforted him, saying, 'On that scaffold whatever God wills shall happen. For know that we are not placed in our own power, but in that of God.' He departed from me in sorrow.
2. Another day, while we were at dinner, we were suddenly brought before the authorities to the town-hall. Word got out and an immense number of people were gathered together. We mounted the platform. Everyone else was interrogated and confessed. Then they came to me, and my father immediately appeared with my boy, and begged me: 'Have pity on your baby.'
And Hilarianus the procurator, who had just taken over from the proconsul Minucius Timinianus, who had died, said, 'Spare the grey hairs of your father; spare the infancy of your boy, offer sacrifice for the well-being of the emperors.'
I replied, 'I will not do so.'
Hilarianus said, 'Are you a Christian?'
I replied, 'I am a Christian.' And as my father stood there to turn me from the faith, he was ordered by Hilarianus to be beaten with rods. And my father's misfortune upset me as if I myself had been beaten, so upsetting was it to see this happening to an old man. The procurator then condemned us all to death to the wild beasts. We went back cheerfully to the dungeon. Then, because my child had been nursed by me in the prison, I sent Pomponius the deacon to my father to ask for the infant, but my father would not give him the baby. However, God willed that the baby no longer desired to nurse, nor did I feel any pain from stopping nursing!
3. After a few days, while we were all praying, all of a sudden, in the middle of our prayer, a vision came to me. I saw my brother Dinocrates. I am amazed that I hadn’t thought of him and of his horrible death until that point. I knew that I was supposed to pray for him. I earnestly began to pray for him to the Lord. Immediately I was shown a vision:
I saw Dinocrates going out from a gloomy place, where also there were several others. He was very thirsty, with a dirty face and pallid colour. The horrible wound he had had on his face when he had when he died was still there. He had died at seven years of age, miserably with disease— his face being so eaten out with cancer, that his death was horrible to all. I prayed for him. Between him and me there was a great distance, so that neither of us could approach to the other. By him there was a pool full of water. But the top of it was high above him. Dinocrates stretched up to try and drink from it. It made to sad to see that he couldn’t reach it and drink. I knew that my brother was suffering, and so I trusted that my prayer would help him in this suffering. I prayed for him every day we were in prison, waiting for our day to fight in the amphitheatre. We were to fight on the birthday of Geta Cæsar. I prayed for my brother day and night, groaning and weeping that he might be sent to heaven with me.
4. Then this was shown to me:
I saw that the place which formerly gloomy was now bright; and Dinocrates, with a clean body, well dressed, was being refreshed. Where there had been a wound on his face I now saw a scar. The pool which I had before seen was now lowered down to his waste. One could drink from it incessantly. On its edge was a cup filled with water. Dinocrates drew near and began to drink from it, and the goblet would not run out. When he had had enough to drink, he went away from the water to play joyously, after the manner of children. Then I awoke. I realized that he had left the place of punishment!
1. After a few days, Pudens, a soldier, an assistant overseer of the prison, who was beginning to like us a great deal, because he realized that God was with us, allowed many of our Christian brothers in to visit us, so that we would all be encouraged. When the day of the exhibition drew near, my father, worn with suffering, came in to me, and began to tear out his beard, and to throw himself on the earth, to reproach his years, and to utter such words as might move all creation. I grieved for his unhappy old age.
2. The day before our last day, I saw in a vision that Pomponius the deacon came to the gate of the prison and knocked vehemently. I went out and opened the gate for him. He was clothed in a richly ornamented white robe. He said to me, 'Perpetua, we are waiting for you; come!' He held his hand to me and we began to go through rough and winding places. We quickly arrived breathless at the amphitheatre, and he led me into the middle of the arena, saying, 'Do not fear, I am here with you, and I am labouring with you;' and he departed. I gazed upon an immense crowd in astonishment. And because I knew that I was to be attacked by the wild beasts, I was surprised that they were not let loose upon me. Then there came forth against me a certain Egyptian, horrible in appearance, with his backers, to fight with me. And there came to me, as my helpers and encouragers, handsome youths; I was stripped, and became a man. Then my helpers began to rub me with oil, as is done with fighters; and I beheld that Egyptian on the other side rolling in the dust. Then a certain man came forth, of wondrous height, so that he even surpassed eve, the height of the amphitheatre; and he wore a loose tunic and a purple robe between two bands over the middle of the breast; and he had on ornaments of varied form, made of gold and silver; and he carried a rod, as if he were a trainer of gladiators, and a green branch upon which were apples of gold. He called for silence, and said, 'This Egyptian, if he should overcome this woman, shall kill her with the sword; and if she shall conquer him, she shall receive this branch.' Then he departed. Then the Egyptian and I drew near to one another and began to deal out blows. He tried to grab my feet while I struck at his face with my heels; and I was lifted up in the air, and began to kick at him as if spurning the earth. When I saw that there was some delay I joined my hands so as to entwine my fingers with one another; and I took hold of his head, he fell on his face and I stepped on his head. The people began to shout, and my supporters exulted. I drew near to the trainer and took the branch; and he kissed me, said to me, 'Daughter, peace be with you.' I began to go gloriously to the Sanavivarian gate. Then I awoke and realized that my fight was not with beasts, but with the devil. Still I knew that the victory was awaiting me. This is all that happened leading up to the day of the exhibition. Someone else will have to write about that day.
Chapter 4. 1. The blessed Saturus relates this vision of his, which he himself committed to writing:
We had suffered, he said, and we had gone forth from the flesh, and we were beginning to be carried by four angels into the east; but their hands didn’t touch us. We floated, not as if we were laying down, but as if we were going up a gentle slope. And being set free from this life, we saw the first boundless light; and I said, 'Perpetua' (for she was at my side), 'this is what the Lord promised to us; we have received the promise.' And while we are borne by those same four angels, there appeared to us a vast space which was like a pleasure-garden, having rose-trees and every kind of flower. The trees were as high as cypresses, and their leaves were falling incessantly. There in that pleasure-garden four other angels appeared, brighter than the previous ones, who, when they saw us, gave us honour, and said to the rest of the angels, 'Here they are! Here they are!' with admiration. And those four angels who bore us, being greatly afraid, put us down. We walked over a short distance on a wide path. There we found Jocundus and Saturninus and Artaxius, who had been martyred by being burnt alive; Quintus was also there, who was also a martyr, having died in the prison. We asked them where the rest of the martyrs were. The angels said to us, 'Come first, enter and greet your Lord.'
2. We came to a near-by place, whose walls seemed to be built of light. Before its gate stood four angels, who clothed those who entered with white robes. Being thus clothed, we entered and saw the boundless light, and heard the united voice of some who proclaimed without ceasing, 'Holy! Holy! Holy!' In the midst of that place we saw an old man sitting, whose hair was snow-white and yet whose face was youthful; we could not see his feet. On his right hand and on his left were twenty-four elders, and behind them a great many others were standing. We entered with great wonder, and stood before the throne; and the four angels raised us up, and we kissed Him, and He passed His hand over our face. The elders said to us, 'Let us stand!' We stood and gave the kiss of peace. And the elders said to us, 'Go and enjoy.' And I said, 'Perpetua, you have what you wish.' And she said to me, 'Thanks be to God, that joyous as I was in the flesh, I am now more joyous here.'
3. And we went forth, and saw Optatus the bishop before the entrance on the right hand side, and Aspasius the presbyter, a teacher, at the left hand, separate and sad. They cast themselves at our feet, and said to us, 'Restore peace between us, because you have gone forth and have left us thus.' And we said to them, 'Are you not our father, and you our presbyter, that you should cast yourselves at our feet?' And we prostrated ourselves, and we embraced them. Perpetua began to speak with them, and we drew them apart in the pleasure-garden under a rose-tree. While we were speaking with them, the angels said to them, 'Let them alone, that they may refresh themselves; and if you have any disagreements between you, forgive one another.' And they drove them away. And they said to Optatus, 'Rebuke your people, because they gather with you as if returning from the circus, and argue about spurious things.' And then it seemed to us as if they would shut the doors. And in that place we began to recognise many brethren, and even martyrs. We were all nourished with an indescribable odour, which satisfied us. Then I awoke with joy.
 Chapter 5. 1. The above were the greater visions of the blessed martyrs Saturus and Perpetua, which they themselves wrote down. But God called Secundulus, while he was still in the prison, to a quicker exit from the world, a great grace, so as to give the beasts a break. Even if his soul did not acknowledge this great grace, surely his flesh did.
 2. Regarding Felicity (for the Lord also favoured her with martyrdom), when she had already gone eight months with child (for she had been pregnant when she was arested), as the day of the exhibition was drawing near, she was worried that her martyrdom would be delayed, because pregnant women are not allowed to be publicly punished. She was also worried that she would suffer alongside those who had apostasized. Her fellow martyrs were also sad at the prospect of leaving behind so excellent a friend to face her suffering alone. Therefore, uniting their cries, they poured forth their prayers to the Lord over those three days before the exhibition. Because of this her labour pains came upon her quickly, and in the intense pain natural to an eight months' delivery, one of the servants of the Cataractarii said to her, ‘You who are in such suffering now, what will you do when you are thrown to the beasts, which you despised when you refused to sacrifice?’ And she replied, ‘Now it is I that suffer; but then there will be another in me, who will suffer for me, because I am about to suffer for Him.’ She brought forth a little girl, which a certain sister brought up as her daughter.
3. The Holy Spirit permitted and willed that the proceedings of that exhibition should be written down. Although we are unworthy to complete the description of such a glorious thing, yet we do so because this was commanded by the most blessed Perpetua. We add one more proof of her constancy and her loftiness of mind:
They were treated with more cruelty by the tribune, because, by the lies of certain deceitful men, he was afraid that they would escape from the prison by some sort of magical spell. Perpetua said to him, ‘Why do you not at least permit us to eat, being as we are objectionable to the most noble Cæsar, and having to fight on his birth-day? Or is it not to your credit if we are brought forward fatter on that occasion?’ The tribune shuddered and blushed, and commanded that they should be treated better. Permission was given to their friends to visit them and be refreshed with them. The prison commander himself even began to trust them.
4. On the day before their martyrdom, at their last meal, which they call the free meal, they were partaking as far as they could, not of a free supper, but of a sacred dinner. They continued to denounce the evil of the people, proclaiming the judgment of the Lord that was to come, bearing witness to the joy of suffering for the Lord, and laughing at the curiosity of the people who came together to gawk at them. Saturus said, ‘Tomorrow is not enough for you, for you to behold with pleasure that which you hate. Friends today, enemies tomorrow. Yet note our faces diligently, that you may recognise them on that day of judgment.’ Thus all departed astonished, and from the strength of their holy witness, many people came to believe the Gospel.
Chapter 6. 1. The day of their victory came. They proceeded from the prison into the amphitheatre, as if to an assembly, joyous and with shining faces. If they withdrew into themselves, it was from joy, not fear. Perpetua followed with a peaceful look and with the step and bearing of a matron of Christ, beloved of God; she cast down her shining eyes from the gaze of all. Felicity also rejoiced that she had safely given birth to the baby, so that she might fight with the wild beasts; from the blood and from the midwife to the gladiator. She would wash after childbirth with the water of a second baptism. When they were brought to the gate, and were constrained to put on the clothing— the men, that of the priests of Saturn, and the women, that of those who were consecrated to Ceres— that noble-minded woman resisted to the very end with constancy. For she said, ‘We have come this far of our own accord, for this reason, that our liberty might not be constrained. For this reason we have yielded our minds, that we might not do any such thing as this: we have agreed on this with you.’ Injustice acknowledged the justice; the tribune yielded to their being brought as simply as they were. Perpetua sang psalms, already treading under foot the head of the Egyptian; Revocatus, and Saturninus, and Saturus uttered warnings against the gazing people about their guilt in this martyrdom. When they came within sight of Hilarianus, by gesture and nod, they began to say to Hilarianus, ‘You judge us, say they, but God will judge you.’ At this the people, exasperated, demanded that they should be tormented with scourges as they passed along the rank of the venatores. And they indeed rejoiced that they should have incurred even one of their Lord's sufferings.
2. But He who had said, Ask, and you shall receive, gave to them when they asked, that death which each one had wished for. For when at any time they had been discussing among themselves about their wish in respect of their martyrdom, Saturninus had professed that he wished that he might be thrown to all the beasts so that he might wear a more glorious crown. Therefore in the beginning of the exhibition he and Revocatus made trial of the leopard, and upon the scaffold they were harassed by the bear. Saturus, however, held nothing in greater abomination than a bear. He imagined that he would be put an end to with one bite of a leopard. Therefore, when a wild boar was supplied, it was the huntsman himself who had brought it that ended up being gored by it. He died the day after the shows. Saturus only was drawn out; and when he had been bound on the floor near to a bear, the bear would not come forth from his den. And so Saturus was brought back twice unhurt.
3. For the young women the devil prepared a very fierce cow, provided especially for that purpose contrary to custom, matching their sex to that of the beasts. And so, stripped and bound with nets, they were led forth. The populace shuddered as they saw one young woman of delicate frame, and another with breasts still dropping from her recent childbirth. They were brought out and unbound. Perpetua was led in first. She was tossed, and fell on her loins. When she saw her tunic torn from her side, she drew it over her as a veil, being mindful of her modesty more than of her suffering. Then she was brought forth again. She pinned up her dishevelled hair, for it was unbecoming a martyr to suffer with dishevelled hair, lest she should appear to be mourning in her glory. So she rose up; and when she saw Felicity crushed, she approached and gave her her hand, and lifted her up. And both of them stood together; and the brutality of the populace being appeased, they were recalled to the Sanavivarian gate. Then Perpetua was received by a certain one who was still a catechumen, Rusticus by name, who kept close to her; and she, as if aroused from sleep, so deeply had she been in the Spirit and in an ecstasy, began to look round her, and to say to the amazement of all, ‘I don’t know when we are going to be led out to that cow.’ When she had heard that it had already happened, she did not believe it until she had saw her injuries and her clothing, and had recognised the catechumen. Afterwards causing that catechumen and the brother to approach, she addressed them, saying, Stand fast in the faith, and love one another, all of you, and don’t be offended at my sufferings.
4. The same Saturus at the other entrance exhorted the soldier Pudens, saying, ‘Here I am, as I have promised and foretold, for up to this moment I have felt no beast. And now believe with your whole heart. See, I am going forth to that beast, and I shall be destroyed with one bite of the leopard.’ And immediately at the conclusion of the exhibition he was thrown to the leopard; and with one bite he was bathed with such a quantity of blood that the people shouted out to him as he was returning, the testimony of his second baptism: saved and washed, saved and washed. He who had been glorified in such a spectacle was saved.
Then to the soldier Pudens he said, ‘Farewell, and be mindful of my faith; and let not these things disturb, but confirm you.’ And at the same time he asked for a little ring from his finger, and returned it to him bathed in his wound, leaving to him an inherited token and the memory of his blood. And then lifeless he was cast down with the rest, to be slaughtered in the usual place. And when the populace called for them into the midst, that as the sword penetrated into their body they might make their eyes partners in the murder, they rose up of their own accord, and went over to where the people wanted them. First they kissed one another, that they might consummate their martyrdom with the kiss of peace. The rest indeed, immoveable and in silence, received the sword-thrust; Saturus too had been unmoved. He was the first to ascend the ladder, the first to give up his spirit. He had waited for Perpetua. But Perpetua, that she might taste some pain, being pierced between the ribs, cried out loudly. She then took the wavering right hand of the youthful gladiator to her throat. Possibly such a woman could not have been slain unless she herself had willed it, because she was feared by the impure spirit.
O most brave and blessed martyrs! O truly called and chosen fpr the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ! Whoever magnifies, honours, and adores Christ, assuredly ought to read these examples for the edification of the Church, not less than the ancient ones, so that new virtues also may testify that one and the same Holy Spirit is always operating even now, and God the Father Omnipotent, and His Son Jesus Christ our Lord, whose is the glory and infinite power forever and ever. Amen.

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