Tuesday, March 07, 2006

The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church

On this day in the year 203 AD, Perpetua, a Christian about 22 years old, her slave, Felicitas, and several others were martyred at the arena in Carthage. They were flogged, attacked by hungry leopards, and finally beheaded. Perpetua remains one of early Christianity's most famous martyrs. The following account records the story. Before you read it, ask yourself: “And what am I complaining about today?” And feel shame!

"The next day, the 7th of March AD 203, Perpetua, Felicitas, and the three young men, Saturus, Saturninus and Revocatus were led out into the arena—the public amphitheatre where the games and chariot races were held. They felt relief that their ordeal would soon be over, and gladness at the thought of the welcome they would soon receive in their heavenly home. They were beaten as they passed between the lines of the soldiers, and then the soldiers attempted to robe them in the ceremonial pagan garb—the men in scarlet and yellow gowns like priests of the god Saturn, and the women like those consecrated to the goddess Ceres. They protested, saying they were not idol worshippers but Christians, and eventually were allowed to go out in their own clothes. The vast crowd roared around them from the benches as they walked bravely into the open space in the middle of the amphitheatre. At last, the beasts, enraged by hunger and the goadings of their captors, were turned loose. The three men were savagely torn by leopards and bears. Perpetua and Felicitas were wrapped and tangled in nets and, as they sang psalms of joy and faith in God, they were thrown before a maddened cow which gored them and tossed them cruelly,
Perpetua fell awkwardly, and seeing her tunic torn from her side, she drew it around her, we are told, ‘more mindful of her modesty than her suffering.’ Then the attendants called her out again. She tied up her loose hair, and looked around for Felicitas. Her friend was lying on the ground. Helping her to her feet, Perpetua called out to her companions who were still struggling with the beasts in the arena, and tried to comfort and encourage them.
Already severely injured, they were taken to a small room leading off the arena. Perpetua seemed in a trance, despite her wounds, as though she had felt nothing, asking when the beasts were to come. In this moment of respite, as she regained her breath, P:erpetua’s brother and a friend called Rusticus came to see her. ‘Stay firm in the faith,’ she urged them, ‘and love one another, and may our martyrdom not be for you all a cause of shame!’ The she rose and went back into the arena. In another part of the stadium Saturna was talking to the soldier Pudens. ‘Now believe with your heart,’ he urged them. ‘Farewell, and be mindful of my faith, and let not these things disturb you but rather strengthen you.’
When the watching crowds had seen enough of the wild beasts, realizing that some of the mutilated victims were still alive, they called out for them to be dispatched. Perpetua and her friends embraced one another for the last time and limped with dignity and quiet joy to the centre of the stadium where men with swords fell upon them. The gladiator who had been appointed to kill Perpetua was little more than a youth. He fumbled nervously and stabbed her ineffectually. She took hold of his sword and steadied it against her breast with her own hand. Finally she too was set free."
This Holy Seed: Faith, Hope and Love in the Early Churches of North Africa
by Robin Daniel (Tamarisk, 1992), 34-35.

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