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ST. PERPETUA, AND FELICITAS, MM. WITH THEIR COMPANIONS

Monday, March 07, 2005
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Today, March 7th, the Church remembers the Holy Martyrs Saints Perpetual and Felicity and their compainions. The following entry appeared today in Butler's Lives of the Saints.
Saints Perpetua and Felicity pray for us all and inspire us with your zeal and lives and lead us all to Christ through the Immaculate Heart of Mary.
Omnia Pro Jesu Per Mariam!
Ed
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March 7th

ST. PERPETUA, AND FELICITAS, MM. WITH THEIR COMPANIONS.


From their most valuable genuine acts, quoted by Tertullian, l. de
anima, c. 55, and by St. Austin, serm. 280, 283, 294. The first
part of these acts, which reaches to the eve of her martyrdom, was
written by St. Perpetua. The vision of St. Saturus was added by
him. The rest was subjoined by an eye-witness of their death. See
Tillemont, t. 3, p. 139. Ceillier, t. 2, p. 213. These acts have
been often republished; but are extant, most ample and correct, in
Ruinart. They were publicly read in the churches of Africa, as
appears from St. Austin, Serm. 180. See them vindicated from the
suspicion of Montanism, by Orsi, Vindicae Act. SS. Perpetuae et
Felicitatis.

A.D. 203.

A VIOLENT persecution being set on foot by the emperor Severus, in
202, it reached Africa the following year; when, by order of
Minutius Timinianus, (or Firminianus,) five catechumens were
apprehended at Carthage for the faith: namely, Revocatus, and his
fellow-slave Felicitas, Saturninus, and Secundulus, and Vibia
Perpetua. Felicitas was seven months gone with child; and Perpetua
had an infant at her breast, was of a good family, twenty-two
years of age, and married to a person of quality in the city. She
had a father, a mother, and two brothers; the third, Dinocrates,
died about seven years old. These five martyrs were joined by
Saturus, probably brother to Saturninus, and who seems to have
been their instructor: he underwent a voluntary imprisonment,
because he would not abandon them. The father of St. Perpetua, who
was a pagan, and advanced in years, loved her more than all his
other children. Her mother was probably a Christian, as was one of
her brothers, the other a catechumen. The martyrs were for some
days before their commitment kept under a strong guard in a
private house: and the account Perpetua gives of their sufferings
to the eve of their death, is as follows: "We were in the hands of
our persecutors, when my father, out of the affection he bore me,
made new efforts to shake my resolution. I said to him: 'Can that
vessel, which you see, change its name?' He said: 'No.' I replied:
'Nor can I call myself any other than I am, that is to say, a
Christian.' At that word my father in a rage fell upon me, as if
he would have pulled my eyes out, and beat me: but went away in
confusion, seeing me invincible: after this we enjoyed a little
repose, and in that interval received baptism. The Holy Ghost, on
our coming out of the water, inspired me to pray for nothing but
patience under corporal pains. A few days after this we were put
into prison: I was shocked at the horror and darkness of the
place, for till then I knew not what such sort of places were. We
suffered much that day, chiefly on account of the great heat
caused by the crowd, and the ill-treatment we met with from the
soldiers. I was moreover tortured with concern, for that I had not
my infant. But the deacons, Tertius and Pomponius, who assisted
us, obtained, by money, that we might pass some hours in a more
commodious part of the prison to refresh ourselves. My infant
being brought to me almost famished, I gave it the breast. I
recommended him afterwards carefully to my mother, and encouraged
my brother, but was much afflicted to see their concern for me.
After a few days my sorrow was changed into comfort, and my prison
itself seemed agreeable. One day my brother said to me: 'Sister, I
am persuaded that you are a peculiar favorite of Heaven: pray to
God to reveal to you whether this imprisonment will end in
martyrdom or not, and acquaint me of it.' I, knowing God gave me
daily tokens of his goodness, answered, full of confidence, 'I
will inform you tomorrow.' I therefore asked that favor of God,
and had this vision. I saw a golden ladder which reached from
earth to the heavens; but so narrow, that only one could mount it
at a time. To the two sides were fastened all sorts of iron
instruments, as swords, lances, hooks, and knives; so that if any
one went up carelessly he was in great danger of having his flesh
torn by those weapons. At the foot of the ladder lay a dragon of
an enormous size, who kept guard to turn back and terrify those
that endeavored to mount it. The first that went up was Saturus,
who was not apprehended with us, but voluntarily surrendered
himself afterwards on our account: when he was got to the top of
the ladder, he turned towards me and said: 'Perpetua, I wait for
you; but take care lest the dragon bite you.' I answered: 'In the
name of our Lord Jesus Christ, he shall not hurt me.' Then the
dragon, as if afraid of me, gently lifted his head from under the
ladder, and I, having got upon the first step, set my foot upon
his head. Thus I mounted to the top, and there I saw a garden of
an immense space, and in the middle of it a tall man sitting down
dressed like a shepherd, having white hair. He was milking his
sheep, surrounded with many thousands of persons clad in white. He
called me by my name, bid me welcome, and gave me some curds made
of the milk which he had drawn: I put my hands together and took
and ate them; and all that were present said aloud, Amen. The
noise awaked me, chewing something very sweet. As soon as I had
related to my brother this vision, we both concluded that we
should suffer death.

"After some days, a rumor being spread that we were to be
examined, my father came from the city to the prison overwhelmed
with grief: 'Daughter,' said he, 'have pity on my gray hairs, have
compassion on your father, if I yet deserve to be called your
father; if I myself have brought you up to this age: if you
consider that my extreme love of you, made me always prefer you to
all your brothers, make me not a reproach to mankind. Have respect
for your mother and your aunt; have compassion on your child that
cannot survive you; lay aside this resolution, this obstinacy,
lest you ruin us all: for not one of us will dare open his lips
any more if any misfortune be fall you.' He took me by the hands
at the same time and kissed them; he threw himself at my feet in
tears, and called me no longer daughter, but, my lady. I confess,
I was pierced with sharp sorrow when I considered that my father
was the only person of our family that would not rejoice at my
martyrdom. I endeavored to comfort him, saying: 'Father, grieve
not; nothing will happen but what pleases God; for we are not at
our own disposal.' He then departed very much concerned. The next
day, while we were at dinner, a person came all on a sudden to
summon us to examination. The report of this was soon spread, and
brought together a vast crowd of people into the audience-chamber.
We were placed on a sort of scaffold before the judge, who was
Hilarian, procurator of the province, the proconsul being lately
dead. All who were interrogated before me confessed boldly Jesus
Christ. When it came to my turn, my father instantly appeared with
my infant. He drew me a little aside, conjuring me in the most
tender manner not to be insensible to the misery I should bring on
that innocent creature to which I had given life. The president
Hilarian joined with my father, and said: 'What! will neither the
gray hairs of a father you are going to make miserable, nor the
tender innocence of a child, which your death will leave an
orphan, move you? Sacrifice for the prosperity of the emperor.' I
replied, 'I will not do it.' 'Are you then a Christian?' said
Hilarian. I answered: 'Yes, I am.' As my father attempted to draw
me from the scaffold, Hilarian commanded him to be beaten off, and
he had a blow given him with a stick, which I felt as much as if I
had been struck myself; so much was I grieved to see my father
thus treated in his old age. Then the judge pronounced our
sentence, by which we were all condemned to be exposed to wild
beasts. We then joyfully returned to our prison; and as my infant
had been used to the breast, I immediately sent Pomponius, the
deacon, to demand him of my father, who refused to send him. And
God so ordered it that the child no longer required to suck, nor
did my milk incommode me." Secundulus, being no more mentioned,
seems to have died in prison before this interrogatory. Before
Hilarian pronounced sentence, he had caused Saturus, Saturninus,
and Revocatus, to be scourged; and Perpetua and Felicitas to be
beaten on the face. They were reserved for the shows which were to
be exhibited for the soldiers in the camp, on the festival of
Geta, who had been made Caesar four years before by his father
Severus, when his brother Caracalla was created Augustus. St.
Perpetua relates another vision with which she was favored, as
follows: "A few days after receiving sentence, when we were all
together in prayer, I happened to name Dinocrates, at which I was
astonished, because I had not before had him in my thoughts; and I
that moment knew that I ought to pray for him. This I began to do
with great fervor and sighing before God; and the same night I had
the following vision: I saw Dinocrates coming out of a dark place,
where there were many others, exceeding hot and thirsty; his face
was dirty, his complexion pale, with the ulcer in his face of
which he died at seven years of age, and it was for him that I had
prayed. There seemed a great distance between him and me, so that
it was impossible for us to come to each other. Near him stood a
vessel full of water, whose brim was higher than the statue of an
infant: he attempted to drink, but though he had water he could
not reach it. This mightily grieved me, and I awoke. By this I
knew my brother was in pain, but I trusted I could by prayer
relieve him: so I began to pray for him, beseeching God with
tears, day and night, that he would grant me my request; as I
continued to do till we were removed to the damp prison: being
destined for a public show on the festival of Caesar Geta. The day
we were in the stocks I had this vision: I saw the place, which I
had beheld dark before, now luminous; and Dinocrates, with his
body very clean and well clad, refreshing himself, and instead of
his wound a scar only. I awoke, and I knew he was relieved from
his pain.

"Some days after, Pudens, the officer who commanded the guards of
the prison, seeing that God favored us with many gifts, had a
great esteem of us, and admitted many people to visit us for our
mutual comfort. On the day of the public shows my father came to
find me out, overwhelmed with sorrow. He tore his beard, he threw
himself prostrate on the ground, cursed his years, and said enough
to move any creature; and I was ready to die with sorrow to see my
father in so deplorable a condition. On the eve of the shows I was
favored with the following vision. The deacon Pomponius,
methought, knocked very hard at the prison-door, which I opened to
him. He was clothed with a white robe, embroidered with
innumerable pomegranates of gold. He said to me: 'Perpetua, we
wait for you, come along.' He then took me by the hand and led me
through very rough places into the middle of the amphitheatre, and
said: 'Fear not.' And, leaving me, said again: 'I will be with you
in a moment, and bear a part with you in your pains.' I was
wondering the beasts were not let out against us, when there
appeared a very ill-favored Egyptian, who came to encounter me
with others. But another beautiful troop of young men declared for
me, and anointed me with oil for the combat. Then appeared a man
of prodigious stature, in rich apparel, having a wand in his hand
like the masters of the gladiators, and a green bough on which
hung golden apples. Having ordered silence, he said that the bough
should be my prize, if I vanquished the Egyptian: but that if he
conquered me, he should kill me with a sword. After a long and
obstinate engagement, I threw him on his face, and trod upon his
head. The people applauded my victory with loud acclamations. I
then approached the master of the amphitheatre, who gave me the
bough with a kiss, and said: 'Peace be with you, my daughter.'
After this I awoke, and found that I was not so much to combat
with wild beasts as with the devils." Here ends the relation of
St. Perpetua.

St. Saturus had also a vision which he wrote himself. He and his
companions were conducted by a bright angel into a most delightful
garden, in which they met some holy martyrs lately dead, namely,
Jocundus, Saturninus, and Artaxius, who had been burned alive for
the faith, and Quintus, who died in prison. They inquired after
other martyrs of their acquaintance, say the acts, and were
conducted into a most stately place, shining like the sun: and in
it saw the king of this most glorious place surrounded by his
happy subjects, and heard a voice composed of many, which
continually cried: "Holy, holy, holy." Saturus, turning to
Perpetua, said: "You have here what you desired." She replied:
"God be praised, I have more joy here than ever I had in the
flesh." He adds, Going out of the garden they found before the
gate, on the right hand, their bishop of Carthage, Optatus, and on
the left, Aspasius, priest of the same church, both of them alone
and sorrowful. They fell at the martyr's feet, and begged they
would reconcile them together, for a dissension had happened
between them. The martyrs embraced them, saving: "Are not you our
bishop, and you a priest of our Lord? It is our duly to prostrate
ourselves before you." Perpetua was discoursing with them; but
certain angels came and drove hence Optatus and Aspasius; and bade
them not to disturb the martyrs, but be reconciled to each other.
The bishop Optatus was also charged to heal the divisions that
reigned among several of his church. The angels, after these
reprimands, seemed ready to shut the gates of the garden. "Here,"
says he, "we saw many of our brethren and martyrs likewise. We
were fed with an ineffable odor, which delighted and satisfied
us." Such was the vision of Saturus. The rest of the acts were
added by an eye-witness. God had called to himself Secondulus in
prison. Felicitas was eight months gone with child, and as the day
of the shows approached, she was inconsolable lest she should not
be brought to bed before it came; fearing that her martyrdom would
be deferred on that account, because women with child were not
allowed to be executed before they were delivered: the rest also
were sensibly afflicted on their part to leave her alone in the
road to their common hope. Wherefore they unanimously joined in
prayer to obtain of God that she might be delivered against the
shows. Scarce had they finished their prayer, when Felicitas found
herself in labor. She cried out under the violence of her pain:
one of the guards asked her, if she could not bear the throes of
childbirth without crying out, what she would do when exposed to
the wild beasts. She answered: "It is I that suffer what I now
suffer; but then there will be another in me that will suffer for
me, because I shall suffer for him." She was then delivered of a
daughter, which a certain Christian woman took care of, and
brought up as her own child. The tribune, who had the holy martyrs
in custody, being informed by some persons of little credit, that
the Christians would free themselves out of prison by some magic
enchantments, used them the more cruelly on that account, and
forbade any to see them. Thereupon Perpetua said to him: "Why do
you not afford us some relief, since we are condemned by Caesar,
and destined to combat at his festival? Will it not be to your
honor that we appear well fed?" At this the tribune trembled and
blushed, and ordered them to be used with more humanity, and their
friends to be admitted to see them. Pudens, the keeper of the
prison, being already converted, secretly did them all the good
offices in his power. The day before they suffered they gave them,
according to custom, their last meal, which was called a free
supper' and they ate in public. But the martyrs did their utmost
to change it into an Agape, or Love-feast. Their chamber was full
of people, whom they talked to with their usual resolution,
threatening them with the judgments of God, and extolling the
happiness of their own sufferings. Saturus smiling at the
curiosity of those that came to see them, said to them, "Will not
tomorrow suffice to satisfy your inhuman curiosity in our regard?
However you may seem now to pity us, tomorrow you will clap your
hands at our death, and applaud our murderers. But observe well
our faces, that you may know them again at that terrible day when
all men shall be judged." They spoke with such courage and
intrepidity, as astonished the infidels, and occasioned the
conversion of several among them.

The day of their triumph being come, they went out of the prison
to go to the amphitheatre. Joy sparkled in their eyes, and
appeared in all their gestures and words. Perpetua walked with a
composed countenance and easy pace, as a woman cherished by Jesus
Christ, with her eyes modestly cast down: Felicitas went with her,
following the men, not able to contain her joy. When they came to
the gate of the amphitheatre the guards would have given them,
according to custom, the superstitious habits with which they
adorned such as appeared at these sights. For the men, a red
mantle, which was the habit of the priests of Saturn: for the
women, a little fillet round the head, by which the priestesses of
Ceres were known. The martyrs rejected those idolatrous
ceremonies; and, by the mouth of Perpetua, said, they came thither
of their own accord on the promise made them that they should not
be forced to any thing contrary to their religion. The tribune
then consented that they might appear in the amphitheatre habited
as they were. Perpetua sung, as being already victorious;
Revocatus, Saturninus, and Saturus threatened the people that
beheld them with the judgments of God: and as they passed over
against the balcony of Hilarian, they said to him; "You judge us
in this world, but God will judge you In the next." The people,
enraged at their boldness, begged they might be scourged, which
was granted. They accordingly passed before the Venatores,* or
hunters, each of whom gave them a lash. They rejoiced exceedingly
in being thought worthy to resemble our Saviour in his sufferings.
God granted to each of them the death they desired; for when they
were discoursing together about what kind of martyrdom would be
agreeable to each, Saturninus declared that he would choose to be
exposed to beasts of several sorts in order to the aggravation of
his sufferings. Accordingly he and Revocatus, after having been
attacked by a leopard, were also assaulted by a bear. Saturus
dreaded nothing so much as a bear, and therefore hoped a leopard
would dispatch him at once with his teeth. He was then exposed to
a wild boar, hut the beast turned upon his keeper, who received
such a wound from him that he died in a few days after, and
Saturus was only dragged along by him. Then they tied the martyr
to the bridge near a bear, but that beast came not out of his
lodge, so that Saturus, being sound and not hurt, was called upon
for a second encounter. This gave him an opportunity of speaking
to Pudens, the jailer that had been converted. The martyr
encouraged him to constancy in the faith, and said to him: "You
see I have not yet been hurt by any beast, as I desired and
foretold; believe then steadfastly in Christ; I am going where you
will see a leopard with one bite take away my life." It happened
so, for a leopard being let out upon him, covered him all over
with blood, whereupon the people jeering, cried out, "He is well
baptized." The martyr said to Pudens, "Go, remember my faith, and
let our sufferings rather strengthen than trouble you. Give me the
ring you have on your finger." Saturus, having dipped it in his
wound, gave it him back to keep as a pledge to animate him to a
constancy in his faith, and fell down dead soon after. Thus he
went first to glory to wait for Perpetua, according to her vision.
Some with Mabillon,1 think this Prudens is the martyr honored in
Africa, on the 29th of April.

In the meantime, Perpetua and Felicitas had been exposed to a wild
cow; Perpetua was first attacked, and the cow having tossed her
up, she fell on her back. Then putting herself in a sitting
posture, and perceiving her clothes were torn, she gathered them
about her in the best manner she could, to cover herself, thinking
more of decency than her sufferings. Getting up, not to seem
disconsolate, she tied up her hair, which was fallen loose, and
perceiving Felicitas on the ground much hurt by a toss of the cow,
she helped her to rise. They stood together, expecting another
assault from the beasts, but the people crying out that it was
enough, they were led to the gate Sanevivaria, where those that
were not killed by the beasts were dispatched at the end of the
shows by the confectores. Perpetua was here received by Rusticus,
a catechumen, who attended her. This admirable woman seemed just
returning to herself out of a long ecstasy, and asked when she was
to fight the wild cow. Being told what had passed, she could not
believe it till she saw on her body and clothes the marks of what
she had suffered, and knew the catechumen. With regard to this
circumstance of her acts, St. Austin cries out, "Where was she
when assaulted and torn by so furious a wild beast, without
feeling her wounds, and when, after that furious combat, she asked
when it would begin? What did she, not to see what all the world
saw? What did she enjoy who did not feel such pain. By what love,
by what vision, by what potion was she so transported out of
herself, and as it were divinely inebriated, to seem without
feeling in a mortal body?" She called for her brother, and said to
him and Rusticus, "Continue firm in the faith, love one another,
and be not scandalized at our sufferings." All the martyrs were
now brought to the place of their butchery. But the people, not
yet satisfied with beholding blood, cried out to have them brought
into the middle of the amphitheatre, that they might have the
pleasure of seeing them receive the last blow. Upon this, some of
the martyrs rose up, and having given one another the kiss of
peace, went of their own accord into the middle of the arena;
others were dispatched without speaking, or stirring out of the
place they were in. St. Perpetua fell into the hands of a very
timorous and unskillful apprentice of the gladiators, who, with a
trembling hand, gave her many slight wounds, which made her
languish a long time. Thus, says St. Austin, did two women, amidst
fierce beasts and the swords of gladiators, vanquish the devil and
all his fury. 'the day of their martyrdom was the 7th of March, as
it is marked in the most ancient martyrologies, and in the Roman
calendar as old as the year 354, published by Bucherius St.
Prosper says they suffered at Carthage, which agrees with all the
circumstances. Their bodies were in the great church of Carthage,
in the fifth age, as St. Victor2 informs us. Saint Austin says,
their festival drew yearly more to honor their memory in their
church, than curiosity had done to their martyrdom, They are
mentioned in the canon of the Mass

ENDNOTES

1 Anal ect. t. 3, p. 403.

2 Victor, l. 1, p. 4.

(Taken from Vol. I of "The Lives or the Fathers, Martyrs and
Other Principal Saints" by the Rev. Alban Butler, the 1864 edition
published by D. & J. Sadlier, & Company)
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