On March 7, 202, the woman Perpetua and Felicitas were martyred for their Christian Faith in Carthage, Africa. They were arrested and executed because they were “catechumens.” A “catechumen” is a person who is undergoing basic instruction in the Christian Faith. Their teacher (Saturus), called a “catechist,” was also arrested and executed along with other Christians (catechumen Revocatus and Secundulus). While under house arrest, the catechumens were all baptized.
The emperor Septimus Severus had forbidden conversions to Christianity and so persecutions against Christians broke out across the empire. Vibia Perpetua was a 22-year-old noble woman with an infant child. Felicitas (or Felicity) was her slave, who was pregnant when arrested. She was going to be spared because the law prohibited the execution of pregnant woman, but she gave birth to a baby girl three days before the “games” were scheduled, and so was eligible for execution. Both ladies were able to make arrangements for their children to be raised in Christian homes. Perpetua resisted numerous appeals from her father to renounce the Christian faith and save her physical life. During their imprisonment, Perpetua and Felicitas witnessed to their faith with such conviction that the officer in charge became a follower of Jesus.
The account of their martyrdom was written by an eye-witness, quite possibly Tertullian. It incorporates visions recorded by Perpetua while under arrest. The martyrs were thrown to wild animals; leopards and bears for the men and a mad heifer for the woman. The men were thus killed but, while the heifer did attack the ladies, it did not kill them. The crowds demanded their death, so Felicitas were put to the sword.
The account of their martyrdom became very popular, and their commemoration spread extremely quickly throughout the entire Church. Augustine, who quotes numerous times from the account of their martyrdom, had to caution his hearers to not treat the account at the same level they would the Bible. Their courage and faithfulness has been an inspiration throughout the centuries to believers facing martyrdom.
Prayer: O God, the King of saints, in whose strength Your servants Perpetua and Felicitas and their companions made a good confession, staunchly resisting, for the cause of Christ, the claims of human affection, and encouraging one another in their time of trial: Grant that we who cherish their blessed memory may share their pure and steadfast faith, and win with them the palm of victory; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.
Other Appropriate Prayers:
For confidence in God’s care
For courage to confess Christ
For strength to support those who suffer
For those who are currently persecuted for the Christian Faith
A copy of the “The Passion of Holy Martyrs Perpetua and Felicitas” can be found on-line at: http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/text/tertullian24.html.
Blessings in Christ,
Pastor John Rickert