Saints and Theology of the Heart - Sts. Perpetua and Felicity

and Companion Martyrs in Carthage
Sts. Perpetua and Felicity
Feast: March 7

Perpetua was born as nobility and was a convert. She was a wife and mother. She was martyred with her friend and servant and other martyrs.

In the 4th century, the acts of these saints are read in the African churches. The people professed such a great esteem for them that St. Augustine felt obliged to publish a protest to avoid that they be considered at the same level as Sacred Scripture.

Five catechumens were arrested in Carthage during the persecution of the Emperor Severus in 205. They were Revocato, Felicity (her slave companion who was several months pregnant), Saturnino, Secundulo and Vibia Perpetua. Perpetua was 22 years old and was the mother of a little boy and had a good position. Saturo joined these five because he had instructed them in the faith and had refused to abandon them.

Perpetua wrote the acts: "I was still with my companions. My father, who loved me very much, tried to give me reasons to weaken my faith and to abandon my purpose. I responded to him: 'Father, do you not see that jug or pitcher, or whatever you want to call it?...Is it possible to call it by a name that does not express what it is?' 'No,' he replied. 'Then neither can I call myself by a name that does not signify what I am: Christian." At hearing the word "Christian", my father jumped on me and tried to take out my eyes, but he only beat me a bit, because my companions detained him…I gave thanks to God for the rest of not seeing my father for some time…in those days I received my baptism and the Spirit moved me not to ask any more for the grace to bear martyrdom. A little later, they moved us to a prison where I was very afraid, since I had never lived in such darkness. What a horrible day! The heat was unbearable, for the prison was full. The solders treated us brutally. And even worse, I had pains in my womb…"

Later, Perpetua had a dream that helped prepare her for martyrdom. Her father returned to beg her to renounce her faith to avoid death. He knelt, kissed her hands and said: "Think of your mother and her sister; think above all of your son, who cannot outlive you. Put aside your pride and do not ruin us, for never will we be able to speak again like free men, if something happens to you." She responded to him: "Things will happen as God disposes them, for we are in His hands and not in ours."

They led the prisoners to the market plaza to judge them before a crowd. Perpetua narrates: "All those who were judged before me confessed the faith. When my turn came, my father came close with my son in his arms, and making me come down from the platform, begged me: 'Take pity on your son'. The presider Hilarian joined the pleading of my father, telling me: Take pity on the age of your father and the tender infancy of your son. Offer sacrifices for the prosperity of the emperors." I responded: 'No!' 'Are you Christian?', Hiliarian asked me. I answered: "Yes, I am Christian." As my father persisted in trying to get me to abandon my resolution, Hilarian ordered that they throw him out and the soldiers beat him with a rod. That hurt me as if they had beaten me, for it was awful to see how they mistreated my elderly father. Then the judge condemned all of us to the beasts and we returned full of joy to the prison. Since my son was accustomed to nursing so I asked Pomponio to bring him to the prison, but my father refused to let him come. But God disposed things so that my son did not miss the breast and that I did not suffer from the milk."
It seems that Secundulo had died in prison before the judgment. Before giving the sentence, Hilarian had ordered Revocato and Saturnino to be scourged and Perpetua and Felicity to be hit in the face. He kept the martyrs for the shows that were to be offered to the soldiers during the feasts of Geta, whom his father, Severo, had named Ceasar four years before, as Augustus had named his son Caracala.

Saint Perpetua relates other of her visions: "A few days later, while I was praying, the name of Dinocrates escaped from my mouth (her blood brother who had died 7 years before). It greatly surprised me since I was not thinking of it. Then I understood that I should pray for him and so I did with great fervor and insistence…"

Felicity was afraid that she would be deprived of martyrdom, because generally pregnant women were not condemned to capital punishment. All the martyrs prayed for her and thus she gave birth to a daughter in prison. One of the Christians adopted the little girl.

According to the acts: "The day of martyrdom, the prisoners left the prison as if they were going to heaven…the crowd, furious at seeing the courage of the martyrs, shouted asking that they be scourged; Thus, each one received a lashing as they passed in front of the gladiators." Saturo was thrown to several beasts who did not harm him. In the end, "a leopard jumped on him and left him covered in blood in an instant. The crowd shouted: 'Now he is well baptized!' The martyr, still agonizing, said to Pudente: 'Goodbye! Keep the faith, remember me, and that this serves to confirm you and not confuse you.' And taking the ring of the jailer, wet it in his own blood, returned it to Pudente and died. Thus was the expectation of Perpetua, as had been predicted."

"Perpetua and Felicity were brave before a savage cow. The beast first attacked Perpetua, who fell on her back but immediately sat up. She covered herself with her shredded tunic and fixed her hair a little so the crowd would not think that she was afraid. Then she went to join Felicity who was also on the ground. Together they awaited the next attack of the beast, but the crowd shouted that that was enough. The guards made them leave through the Sanavivaria gate, through which the victorious gladiators left. After passing through it, Perpetua came to herself from a kind of ecstasis and asked if she would soon encounter the beasts. When they told her what had happened, the saint could not believe it, until she saw the signs of the battle on her clothes and her body. She then called to her brother and to Rustico the catechumen and told them: "Remain firm in the faith and maintain charity among you; do not let the sufferings become a stumbling block." In the meantime, the fickle crowd asked that the martyrs be brought out again; and so it was, with great joy for the two saints. After having given each other a kiss of peace, Felicity was decapitated by the gladiators. Perpetua's esecutioner, who was very nervous, erred on the first strike, making the martyr shout; She herself extended her neck for the second strike. "Perhaps because such a great woman….can only die voluntarily."

In 1907, Fr. Delattre discovered and restored an ancient inscription in the major basilica of Carthage. The bodies of the martyrs lay in this basilica, according to the express saying of Victor Vitese, an Afican bishop from the 5th century who had visited the tomb. The content of the inscription is the following: "Here lie the martyrs Saturo, Saturnino, Revocato, Secundulo, Felicity and Perpetua, who suffered on March 7." Nevertheless, it is not possible to affirm with certainty that that inscription is the gravestone of the martyrs.

The martyrdom was originally commemorated on March 7. These martyrs appear on all the ancient calendars and martyrologies, like for example, on the Filocalian Calendar of Rome (354 A.D)


Source: Butler, Lives of the Saints, Vol I

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