Ss. Perpetua & Felicity
In the late second century, in Carthage, there lived a beautiful noblewoman named Perpetua. She was twenty-two years-old. She had an infant son. She had a servant named Felicity who was married and pregnant. In sharp contrast to so many saints of the early Church stand these clear facts about the lives of these women and their companions, children, and friends. The reason we know as much about them as we do is because Perpetua did something amazing for us. She kept a journal. I know not why she wrote of her life. Perhaps she was a primitive blogger. Whatever the case, the Christian faithful for centuries have been glad she did. This journal, a diary of sorts, contains not only entries from Perpetua but also a page from another martyr, and a final concluding account by an eyewitness. One source lists that the witness is believed to be Church Father Tertullian.
In the persecution of 202 Perpetua, Felicity, and companions (Saturninus, Secundulus, and Revocatus) were rounded up and thrown in jail. Another, a layman named Saturus, went willingly to be with them in the dungeon. While imprisoned, Perpetua’s nursing son was taken from her. She held firm to her faith. Felicity delivered her child. He, too, was taken from her and she, too, remained firm in her faith. It is Saturus who had converted the lot. In the year 203 the group of faithful servants were first mauled by wild beasts — my source didn’t specify; but we can imagine some kind of large lion — and then beheaded. According to Hoever:
So shaken was the executioner by St. Perpetua’s commanding aristocratic appearance that she herself hed to guide his blade to her neck.
What a woman… Seriously? She had to guide the blade to her neck? Often times I know this feeling. I have to shielf my own beauty so that my students can complete their assignments. By the way, I just read a Gospel passage about those who humble themselves and being exalted so perhaps I need to rethink that last sentence. In any event, Perpetua and Felicity provide witness to the incredible faith that had to prevail in the hearts and minds of the earliest followers of Christ. I’ve often noted to my students that it is a miracle that the Church survived those first three centuries considering that all worldly power was bent on Her destruction. But with such beauty and grace going forth to sacrifice joyfully in the name of the Christ, the Way, one has to wonder almost how the Church didn’t take hold in every corner of the world.
In a final note, Ss. Perpetua and Felicity are mentioned in the Roman Canon, the Eucharistic Prayer (I) of the mass. This is a high honor as their names follow those of the Apostles and early bishops. However, many historians believe that the Felicity mentioned with Perpetua is a different martyr from the mid-second century.