A Real Mother Martyr
We're back in Africa; this time in 3rd century Carthage (located near modern day Tunis in Tunisia). And we're going to dig into the life and heroic example of a 22 year old martyr who died on March 7 in the year 203 A.D. Her name was Perpetua.
Let's briefly examine her story.
Perpetua was a well-born, educated and respectfully married Roman woman who had just given birth and was breast-feeding her infant son. She is targeted by the authorities who know she's a catechumen. *I note that at the time of Perpetua's arrest she was not yet baptized.
Perpetua refuses to denounce her Christianity. Her influential father throws himself at her feet. "Perform the sacrifice," he pleads. "Have pity on your child!" Perpetua can't do it. And so she is condemned to death. After several weeks in prison, Perpetua is finally sent into the arena where she is tortured, trampled by animals, and eventually has her throat cut to end her life.
Perpetua recorded the experience of her imprisonment, along with her powerful visions, in an autobiography known as the Passion of Saints Perpetua and Felicitas. Who is Felicitas? While in prison Perpetua met a pregnant slave who was also a condemned Christian. They became united in their suffering and their faith; thus the inclusion of Felicitas in the account of Perpetua's story. A redactor (an editor of sorts) finished Perpetua's journal after her death.
So...why meditate on the life of Perpetua?
I want to understand why someone so young and with so much ahead of them decides to give it up for God.
Now, we all know what a martyr is and we're familiar with the persecution of Christians in the Roman Empire which began in the 1st century AD and continued, on and off, until the year 380 when Christianity was made the state religion. I note that modern day martyrs abound; 2019 was one of the bloodiest years for Christian martyrdom thus far.
Back then as is true today, martyrs were, and continue to be, a curiosity. It's difficult to imagine the sacrifice that these people made (and continue to make)…and for what? What is so important that one is willing to suffer? Why don't these principled people just do what their oppressors want of them and live to fight for their cause?
Those who want the martyrs to just "go along to get along" don't understand the resistance, the wholehearted conviction that cannot be ignored...or denied. You know what they say, "once you know the truth, you can't unknow the truth."
When you read Perpetua's journal you feel her conviction. Her strength. Her faith. Her trust in God. Perpetua is not just another Christian woman who was arrested and then dragged into the arena to be tortured to death as a strong warning to anyone considering a conversion to Christianity. She was a woman who understood the Truth.
We know the "hill" that Perpetua chose to die on. It was Truth - with a capital "T".
And I ask myself...could I do what Perpetua did?