Wednesday, March 07, 2007

March 7

Vibia Perpetua, a 22-year-old widow and mother born to a noble family in Carthage, is believed to have been martyred on this date in the year 203 along with her slave Felicitas and three other Revocatus, Saturus, and Saturninus. The five martyrs were catechumens -- Christian believers who had yet to receive baptism -- and were arrested during the rule of Emperor Septimus Severus, whose reign was no more or less hostile to Christians than his predecessors.

The martyrs were imprisoned for several days, during which time Perpetua’s father -- a pagan -- repeatedly visited his daughter and begged her to renounce her faith and spare her own life. According to Perpetua’s own account,
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.
The catechumens were able to receive their baptism after two deacons, Tertullian and Pomponious, bribed the guards to admit them to see the prisoners. Perpetua was able to nurse her son; Felicitas, herself eight months pregnant, soon gave birth to a child of her own.

After their trial and inevitable sentence of death, Pertetua, Felicitas and their comrades were paraded before a hostile stadium crowd during the military games honoring the birthday of the Emperor’s son, Publius Septimus Geta. Subjected to beatings and taunts -- which, according to the only surviving account, they endured saintfully -- the five martyrs were attacked in succession by a leopard, a bear, a boar, and a “wild cow.” Wounded by the animals, Perpetua, Felicitas, and the rest shared a final embrace before their heads were lopped from their necks by swordsmen.