Sunday, September 15, 2013

Sunday Martyr moment: Perpetua and Felicitas

Foxe's Book of Martyrs. According to this summary from Christian Book Summaries,

Writing in the mid-1500s, John Foxe was living in the midst of intense religious persecution at the hands of the dominant Roman Catholic Church. In graphic detail, he offers accounts of Christians being martyred for their belief in Jesus Christ, describing how God gave them extraordinary courage and stamina to endure unthinkable torture.

From the same link, the book's purpose was fourfold:

  • Showcase the courage of true believers who have willingly taken a stand for Jesus Christ throughout the ages, even if it meant death,
  • Demonstrate the grace of God in the lives of those martyred for their faith,
  • Expose the ruthlessness of religious and political leaders as they sought to suppress those with differing beliefs,
  • Celebrate the courage of those who risked their lives to translate the Bible into the common language of the people.
Text from Foxe's Book of Martyrs

The persecutions now extending to Northern Africa, which was a Roman province. Many were martyred in that quarter of the globe; here are but a few.

Perpetua, a married lady, of about twenty-two years who was still nursing a child. Those who suffered with her were, Felicitas, her slave, big with child at the time of her being apprehended, and Revocatus, a slave who was being taught the principles of Christianity. The names of the other prisoners, destined to suffer upon this occasion, were Saturninus, Secundulus, and Satur.

On the day appointed for their execution, they were led to the amphitheater. Satur, Saturninus, and Revocatus were ordered to run the gauntlet between the hunters, or such as had the care of the wild beasts. The hunters being drawn up in two ranks, they ran between, and were severely lashed as they passed.

Perpetua 

After an appearance before the proconsul Minutius in which she was offered freedom if she sacrificed to the idols, Perpetua had her still-nursing baby taken from her and was thrown into prison. Describing her faith and life in prison, she told her father, "The dungeon is to me a palace." Later she and the other prisoners appeared before Hilarianus, the judge. He, also, offered to set her free if she sacrificed. Her father was there with her baby and he begged her to do so. She replied "I will not sacrifice."

"Are you a Christian?" asked Hilarianus.
"I am a Christian," Perpetua answered.

All of the Christians with her stood fast for Christ, and they were ordered to be killed by wild beasts for the enjoyment of the crowd on the next pagan holiday. The men were to be torn apart by lions and the women set upon by bulls.

"It will all happen in the prisoner's dock as God wills, for you may be sure that we are not left to ourselves but are all in his power."
On the day of their execution, Perpetua and Felicitas were first stripped naked and hung in nets, but were removed and clothed when the crowd objected. Upon returning to the arena Perpetua was tossed about by a mad bull and was stunned but not seriously hurt. Felicitas, however, was badly gored. Perpetua hurried to her side and held her while they waited for the bull to charge them again, but it refused to do so.They were dragged from the arena much to the crowd's disappointment.

After a short time, they were brought back to be killed by gladiators. Felicitas was killed quickly, but the young, inexperienced gladiator assigned to kill Perpetua trembled violently and could only stab her weakly several times. Perpetua held his sword blade and guided it to a vital part of her body.

The fate of the men were similar. Satur and Revocatus were killed by the wild beasts, Saturninus was beheaded, and Secundulus died of his wounds in prison.

These executions were in 205, on the eighth day of March.
Painting showing the martyrdom of Perpetua,
Felicitas, Revocatus, Saturninus and Secundulus,
from the Menologion of Basil II (c. 1000 AD)
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Perpetua kept a diary of the time she was arrested and imprisoned. It ends prior to her being led to the arena. Thanks to her diary, and that of another prisoner's we have a picture of the persecuted life of early Christians. Perpetua was a disciple, new to the faith and un-baptized. However, her faith remained so strong during trial and persecution, and her eventual martyrdom so impressed Augustine that he preached four sermons about her.

From Perpetua's diary, we read

"Her father immediately came to her in prison. He was a pagan, and he saw an easy way for Perpetua to save herself. He entreated her simply to deny she was a Christian.

"Father do you see this vase here?" she replied. "Could it be called by any other name than what it is?"
"No," he replied.
"Well, neither can I be called anything other than what I am, a Christian."

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Are you a Christian? The name means something very powerful and important. It means we are ambassadors of His message, receptacles of His Spirit, children of the Most High.

In school we tell the fifth graders, "Act like somebody." Christians have an even higher calling- act like a Christian. We are "God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works' (Ephesians 2:10). Let us always declare His praises, (1 Peter 2:9) and live lives that are "holy and pleasing to God." (Romans 12:1). When or if we are called upon to death by martydom, let us die a death that is pleasing to God also.

2 comments:

  1. In Revelation 18:5, we read that God remembered the crimes of Mystery Babylon. I think it refers to the Dark Ages when many saints were martyred.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Anonymous,

      Revelation 18 is a great chapter, isn't it? The Dark Ages were definitely dark for true Christians, sprinkled around sparsely and undoubtedly lonely outside the Catholic Church, which dominated. However, "thinking so" isn't the standard by which we extract meaning from the text...do you have some biblical verses to show your thinking on why you believe this? Thanks.

      Delete

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