Autobiographical Martyrdom of St. Perpetua

Thanks to Bender, today we read a most interesting and impressive story.

St. Perpetua and her friend St. Felicity were martyred in Rome; Perpetua, who was nursing her infant, left what is believed to be the first autobiographical diary written by a woman, of her time of oppression for her Christianity:

. I suckled my child, which was now enfeebled with hunger. In my anxiety for it, I addressed my mother and comforted my brother, and commended to their care my son. I was languishing because I had seen them languishing on my account. Such solicitude I suffered for many days, and I obtained for my infant to remain in the dungeon with me; and forthwith I grew strong and was relieved from distress and anxiety about my infant; and the dungeon became to me as it were a palace, so that I preferred being there to being elsewhere.
2.1. After a few days there prevailed a report that we should be heard. And then my father came to me from the city, worn out with anxiety. He came up to me, that he might cast me down, saying, “Have pity my daughter, on my grey hairs. Have pity on your father, if I am worthy to be called a father by you. . . . Lay aside your courage, and do not bring us all to destruction; for none of us will speak in freedom if you should suffer anything.” These things said my father in his affection, kissing my hands, and throwing himself at my feet; and with tears he called me not Daughter, but Lady. And I grieved over the grey hairs of my father, that he alone of all my family would not rejoice over my passion. And I comforted him, saying, “On that scaffold whatever God wills shall happen. For know that we are not placed in our own power, but in that of God.” And he departed from me in sorrow.

More an their martyrdoms, here.

Sts. Perpetua and Felicity are among our most honored of Saints; they are included in the Litany of Saints along with Mary and Michael the Archangel and the better-known heroes of the faith, Mary Magdalene, Francis, Dominic, Teresa of Avila, Catherine, etc.

It always amuses me when I hear the “DaVinci Code” nonsense about how the Catholic Church “suppressed” the holiness and heroism of its women. From the first, the Church empowered women and freed them in ways that had been unimaginable before – and yes it has honored these women equally. The Virgin Martyrs – so often treated to disdainful snorts in an age that can only jeer at virgins and think ill of them – were women who declared themselves “free in Christ” and thus no one’s chattel or bargaining chip. At a time when women were wives or whores and not much else, they said they were something else entirely and consecrated themselves to Christ and put themselves to use in His service, all of their own free will. Women like Perpetua and Felicity died rather than have their consciences dictated to them.

In a way, that is “true” freedom – the freedom to declare oneself and be oneself, no matter the cost, and cost it does.

As I wrote a while back:

…Heavens! Anyone can serve in full-time ministry if they really want to – without ever being ordained. I’m thinking of some of the great women of our so-called ’sexist’ church who managed, without ordination, to minister autonomously and so effectively that they renewed the face of the church. Catherine of Siena counseled not only the lay men and women around her but the pope as well – while writing extraordinary treatises. Theresa of Avila managed to reform an order, to build scores of monasteries for both men and women, without waiting around for someone to tell her she could, and without insisting that her own terms be met before she could give her all. It was the same with Hildegard of Bingen, who only wrote music, plays, books on medicine and so much more, in an era where women – at least secular women – didn’t aspire to such things because the secular world was not open to it, as the church was.

And dare I point out – though none of these women spoke from a pulpit, their words still echo and reverberate – their voices were never silent. While it’s easy to label the church ’sexist’ I am not entirely certain she has earned the name. Since the dawn of Christianity, within the church, women were educating themselves and others, writing books, imagining and then building schools, hospitals, policies and procedures. These were women of unqualified brilliance who understood that their calling – all of our callings – began with ONE calling, the most fundamental: to love, and to – out of love – do that which we can do, humbly and with gratitude.

Perpetua and Felicity were fore-runners of the Christian woman who was neither virgin or nun but still consecrated to Christ by virtue of faith. Today I ask them to pray for all of us modern women (and men!) living in the secular world, to help us stay strong in faith, and courageous when life seems particularly hard and unjust!

Slightly off-topic, reader Nora sends this video of a fast-growing order of new Catholic sisters.

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